Saturday, August 3, 2013

On the Seventh Ecumenical Council

There seems to be quite a buzz going around about the recent editing of FIFNA’s statement of belief. This revision seems to require belief in certain doctrines that are outside the bounds of classical Anglicanism. First, to avoid speculation, the new declaration can be read here:

The problematic portions are obviously # 5 and 8.

Suffice it to say that I find these alterations problematic for rather obvious reasons. However, rather than offer a systematic deconstruction of the new declaration, I’d like to focus on one particular issue. This is equally relevant due to a certain Reformed Episcopal Bishop’s response to the whole matter (link: The issue is that of the Seventh “Ecumenical” Council and really the whole issue of “councils” altogether. There is this strange notion out there that we, as Anglicans, are obligated to adhere to a council because a bunch bishops get together and sign some sort of declaration of beliefs (interesting that the Reformed Episcopal Bishop doesn’t accept TEC’s declarations when its bishops get together…). Moreover, what relation do a set of Greek canons have to do with the English Church or any other Church for the matter?

I want to focus on the issue by looking at our formularies. The principal text from which I will draw my material is the Homily against the peril of Idolatry and superfluous decking of Churches, which is the longest of the homilies in the Books of Homilies. It is thought that Bishop Jewell wrote this particular homily. The nature of the authority of the Homilies is one that is essential to Anglican theology and identity. The Homilies were meant to accompany the Articles of Religion as they are referenced in that document in two particular places. First in Article XI on Justification and in Article XXXV, which establishes their general authority in the Church of England and her daughter churches.

The Homily against the Peril of Idolatry and the superfluous decking of Churches speaks against the use of images in Christian churches. It explains in great detail why this should not be practiced. We adhere to the Homilies because of their explanation of the truths of Scripture. Consequently, the homily also addresses the issue of superfluous decoration of Churches with all sorts of gold and precious medals, not to mention images as well. Firstly, the issue of the Second Council at Nicea is quickly resolved, if we consider the Homilies, especially this one in particular. The Council is denounced as heretical for its upholding of the worship of images:
And, if this be not sufficient to prove them image worshippers, that is to say, idolaters, lo, you shall hear their own open confession. I mean not only the decrees of the second Nicene Council under Hirene... in which, as they teach that images are to be honoured and worshipped (as is before declared), so yet bold blazing of manifest idolatry to be done to images set forth of late, even in these our days, the light of God's truth so shining that, above other their abominable doings and writings, a man would marvel most at their impudent, shameless, and most shameful blustering boldness, who would not at the least have chosen them a time of more darkness as meeter to utter their horrible blasphemies in, but have now taken an harlot's face, not purposed to blush, in setting abroad the furniture of their spiritual whoredom. (p. 237)

The condemnation of the Council is so blatantly obvious, no other words are necessary or could be added to further clarify its meaning. Some might try and say that other aspects of the Council are agreeable to Scripture, which might be true in some respects, but the issue at hand and the issue most associated with the Second Nicene Council is the issue of images. Some of the other decisions made at the council are good and should be upheld, especially those relating to Christ’s nature. Some are local canons that were meant to be upheld in that place.

The questions arises as to why the issue of images is such an important one, especially when we see the sort of language employed in the Homily. Obviously, Scripture condemns the worship of idols, being one of the Ten Commandments and all (Exodus xx, 4-6; Deuteronomy iv, 15-18). We know that Jesus upholds the law when he states, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill (Matthew v, 17). St. Paul condemns idolatry in various places in his letters (I Corinthians x, 14; II Corinthians vi, 16-17). St. John likewise condemns idols (I John v, 21). The Homily notes that idolatry is equivalent to marital infidelity, playing off the metaphors of the idolatry of Israel in the Old Testament:
Doth not the word of God call idolatry spiritual fornication? Doth it not call a gilt or painted idol or image a strumpet with a painted face? Be not the spiritual wickedness of an idol’s enticing like the flatteries of a wanton harlot? Be not men and women as prone to spiritual fornication, I mean idolatry, as to carnal fornication? (p. 248)
The Homily also rightly denounces the distinction made by the Second Council at Nicea between images and idols:
“But, lest any should take occasion by the way of doubting by words or names, it is thought good here to note first of all, that, although in common speech we use to call the likeness or similitudes of men or other things images, and not idols, yet the Scriptures use the said two words, idols and images, indifferently for one thing alway.” (p. 168)
… [W]herefore our images in temples and churches be indeed none other but idols, as unto the which idolatry hath been, is, and ever will be committed. (p. 169) 
Consequently, images are not to be used in the church, firstly, because the church is the “temple of God” a place of prayer and thanksgiving for the great benefits we have received of His mercy. Secondly, the church is the place where the Gospel is preached, God’s Word heard and studied, and the place where the Sacraments are rightly and duly administered. Having this in mind, the Homily rejects the use of images in the church, based on the authority of Scripture:
Which sentence, although it be chiefly referred to the temple of the mind of the godly, yet, seeing that the similitude and pith of the argument is taken from the material temple, it enforceth that no ungodliness, specially of images or idols, may be suffered in the temple of God, which is the place of worshipping God, and therefore can no more be suffered to stand there, than light can agree with darkness, or Christ with Belial; for that the true worshipping of God and the worshipping of images are most contrary, and the setting of them up in the place of worshipping may give great occasion to the worshipping of them. (p. 161)
Which place enforceth, both that we should not worship images, and that we should not have images in the temple, for fear and occasion of worshipping them, though they be of themselves things indifferent; for the Christian is the holym temple and lively image of God, as the place well declareth to such as will read and weigh it. (p. 178)
And first this is to be replied out of God’s word, that the images of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, either severally, or the images of the Trinity, which we had in every church, be by the Scriptures expressly and directly forbidden and condemned, as appeareth by these places. (p. 214)

Likewise, images are not to be considered as a matter adiaphora or “indifferent” in the life of church:
Where they say that images, so they be not worshipped, as things indifferent may be tolerated in temples and churches; we infer and say for the adversative, that all our images of God, our Saviour Christ, and his Saints, publicly set up in churches and temples, places peculiarly appointed to the true worshipping of God, be not things indifferent nor tolerable, but against God’s law and commandment, taking their own interpretation and exposition of it. (p. 222)
However, an important point must be made. Anglicanism is not historically “iconoclastic” in the Zwinglian sense. The Homily is not giving every Christian the right to march down to his parish church and smash the images and statues there. This is condemned by the Homily:
Here note, what the people of God ought to do to images, where they find them. But, lest any private persons, upon colour of destroying of images, should make any stir or disturbance in the commonwealth, it must always be remembered, that the redress of such public enormities appertainethb to the magistrates and such as be in authority only, and not to private persons (p. 175).
Note that the authority to remove images is denied to individuals but it is reserved for the civil magistrate. In another place this is referenced, making a reference to the Kings of the Old Testament:
And of this ground of man’s corrupt inclination, as well to spiritual fornication as to carnal, it must needs follow, that, as it is the duty of the godly magistrate, loving honesty and hating whoredom, to remove all strumpets and harlots, specially out of places notoriously suspected or resorted unto of naughty packs, for the avoiding of carnal fornication; so is itl the duty of the same godly magistrate, after the examples of the godly kings Ezechias and Josias, to drive away all spiritual harlots, I mean idols and images, specially out of suspected places, churches and temples, dangerous for idolatry to be committed to images placed there, as it were in the appointed place and height of honour and worship (as St. Augustine saith), where the living God only, and not dead stones nor stocks, is to be worshipped: it is, I say, the office of godly magistrates likewise to avoid images and idols out of churches and temples, (p. 249)
Two other quick things I should mention in relation to the Homily. The Homily gives, what I think, are another good line of reasoning against the use of images. Of course, the chief reason we oppose them is because of the teaching of Scripture. However, the Homily makes a good point by mentioning that we do not know what God looks like, he has not revealed his “face” to us in that sense. Neither do we truly know the image of Christ. Every one who makes an icon of Christ is inherently making an idol by offering his or her own “image” of Christ, which we are then commanded to “venerate”. The Homily notes this in two places:
For both they thought it to be no longer that which it was, a stock or a stone, and took it to be that which it was not, as God, or an image of God. Wherefore an image of God is not only a lie, but a double lie also. But the devil is a liar, and the father of lies [John 8:[44].]: wherefore the lying images which be made of God, to his great dishonour and horrible danger of his people, came from the devil. (p. 215)
 And yet it appeareth that no image can be made of Christ but a lying image, as the Scripture peculiarly calleth images lies. For Christ is God and man: seeing therefore that of the Godhead, which is the most excellent part, no imageq can be made, it is falsely called the image of Christ: wherefore images of Christ be not only defects, but also lies. Which reason serveth also for the images of Saints, whose souls, the more excellent parts of them, can by no images be represented and expressed: wherefore they be no images of Saints, whose souls reign in joy with God, but of the bodies of Saints, which as yet lie putrified in the graves. Furthermore, no true image can be made of Christ’s body, for it is unknown now of what form and countenance he was. (p. 217)
The recent buzz over the change of wording in FIFNA’s declaration really has little to o with FIFNA. It is a question of authority, where does authority lie? What sort of authority do our Formularies have? It is these sorts of questions which this sort of controversy causes. If we just took our own identity seriously, we wouldn’t have these sorts of problems in the first place.

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