Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Symbols are Beautiful...

Why is it that so many churches, especially non denominational ones, lack symbolism and art? Why is it that my initial gut reaction to symbols in the Church, is one of caution? I think it is because I have a Reformation mentality.

One of the ideas that sprung out of the Reformation spirit is that Catholics practice idolatry. (Notice I said the Reformation spirit. Martin Luther, being the official leader of the Reformation, never really had a problem with the use of symbols in the Church.) Idolatry is defined as [1]:

1. the worship of a physical object as a god.

In the spirit of the Reformation, many people taught and believed that symbols were something that should be avoided like the plague. That same belief is with us today. This is why so many Protestant churches lack symbols, icons, statues or any other art that may appear to be too....let's just face it....Catholic. It is almost as if the more bare the church is, the better. At most there may be a Cross or the Christian flag (does anyone know where the Christian Flag came from, by the way?). Beyond that, most Protestant churches are pretty bare. Using this same mentality, we shouldn't decorate our homes. We should take down all of the pictures that we have in our home, that remind us of our family, right?

This is not biblical at all. As a matter of fact, things that were regarded as holy were adorned with art. The Ark of the Covenant was decorated with gold, and on the top sat two angels (cherubim). In similar fashion, Solomon's Temple had gold floors, angels and various other art. We are human, and as humans, we use symbols and images in order to express ourselves. Of course we are called to express our faith through the use of symbols and art. This has been a part of the Judeo-Christian heritage from the beginning.

The blatant rejection of any and all images is just the resurfacing of a heresy that was battled by the Church by St. John Damascene in the early 700's. If you are interested in learning more or reading about what St. John wrote regarding this, you can find his writing Apologia Against Those Who Decry Holy Images. Needless to say, the heresey goes against the beliefs of the faith.

Why are images and symbols so important? Because it conveys a message. Earlier this year, my wife's grandmother passed. One of the items that we received from her was a prayer kneeler. Every time I see this kneeler, can you guess what I am so inclined to do? That is right, I pray. It is a visual reminder that I am a child of God and God wants me to talk to Him. If I didn't have that kneeler, I am sure that I would pray, but it would be a lot less.

My wife just gave me a 4 Way Medal. On it are pictures of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Miraculous, St. Joseph and St. Christopher. On the back is the following message "I am a Catholic. Please call a Priest", in the event that I am hospitalized or injured. Do I believe that it is some kind of lucky charm that has power? No. I wear it as a reminder of my faith, and in case of emergencies. I want people to know to contact a Priest if I am sick or dying and cannot communicate (James 5:14-15).

Let's not be afraid to learn more about the symbols of our Christian Heritage. Symbols and art are a part of our Christian story. It is part of the legacy that our brothers and sisters in Christ, over the ages, have left for us to enjoy and learn from. God bless...

[1] Merriam Webster Dictionary On-line
[2] Wikipedia - Reformation Iconoclasm


Anonymous said...

I like this post and agree 100%. Keep up the great work and have a Merry Christmas!

Catholic Symbols

Carlus Henry said...

God bless you Ed, and thank you for the kind words.

Merry Christmas.