The Christian relationship to icons is very interesting. Over the centuries, there has been a controversy over if sacred images are effective in connecting the believer to the sacred. Other monotheistic religions do not have the same affinity for images as Christianity does. Judaism strictly forbids images in order to follow the Second Commandment, “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth”. Islam is similar in that it forbids images of God and of the prophet in fear of idolatry. The fear is if images of the prophet were allowed, the believers would make Muhammad into a sacred being. Straying from monotheistic religions, Hinduism and Buddhism both support images with the idea that images provide access to the sacred. But these religions are so different from Christianity, so it is hard to say that these religions influenced the Christian love for images. Since icons are specific to Christianity, how did the idea of such images emerge? Why are icons sacred for Christians?
First, what is an icon? In our world there are many different icons that we do not notice in our day-to-day lives. There are icons on signs that tell us what to do, how to act, or what a thing holds. For example, there are icons, called WHIMIS symbols, on cleaning materials to tell the user how to use the product and what would happen if the product is not used properly. Icons are more than images in that an icon holds a specific meaning that can help to direct our actions. More often than not, the word icon is used in a religious perspective to describe a certain type of image. As Martin states, “The icon insists that we respond as …
…the icon is not the sacred. It is simply a pathway to find the sacred. If the believer makes the sacred into the icon, the whole purpose of the icon is lost. As Besancon states, “The painted face does not ‘circumscribe’ divine nature, or even human nature: it circumscribes the composite hypostasis of the incarnate Word”.
BIBLIOGRAPHYBesancon, Alain. “The Image in Dispute.” In Forbidden Image: An Intellectual History of Iconoclasm, translated by Jane Marie Todd, 109-146. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
Gerhard, H. P. The World of Icons. London: John Murray, 1971.Luke, Theotokos of Vladimir, 1130, tempera on panel, 104 cm. x 69 cm., Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.
Martin, Linette. Sacred Doorways: A Beginner’s Guide to Icons. Massachusetts: Paraclette Press, 2002.
Raphael. Madonna del Granduca. 1505. Oil on wood. 33 in. x 22 in. Palazzo Pitti, Florence.