Thursday, 3 October 2013

Icons of God the Father?

I've had my fair share of conversations and debates about icons, usually with my Catholic and Orthodox friends. Are icons good? Should we pray to them? Do they violate the 2nd commandment? Etc. But for some reason we've NEVER talked about images of God the Father, not even once. Until now, it never occurred to me to bring up the subject. It just wasn't on my radar---I never knew about them. I guess I'm just a naive Protestant after all. However, this seems like a very big deal to me. Sure, images of Christ and Saints are one thing. But images of the Father? Really?

Images of God the Father are common in the Roman Catholic Church. Nobody seems to have a problem with them. Arguments I've heard defending such images includes:
      (a) taking John 14:9 out of context, "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father",
      (b) appealing to the Council of Trent, which says that veneration directed toward 
      an image is paid to the person it represents, not to the image itself; and
      (c) vague appeals to the Prophet Daniel's vision of the "Ancient of Days."
Personally, I think these arguments are factitious. I believe it's indefensible to even make images of God the Father, to say nothing of setting up such images for veneration.

Description: Depiction of God the Father with his typical "triangle" halo, located in the sanctuary in St. Peter's Catholic Church, in Saint Charles, Missouri. The Holy Ghost is symbolized by a dove with a special "cross" halo.

Description: A stained glass window depicting the Father (and Holy Spirit) at St. Virgil Church, in Morris Plains, New Jersey

Description: Bas-relief showing coronation of Virgin Mary by Jesus Christ and God the Father, located in the Sandomierz Museum, Poland

Description: God the Father with His Right Hand Raised in Blessing, Girolamo dai Libri c. 1555.

Description: made in 18th century, located in Calvary hermitage, Alcora, Spain.

To be fair, some will point out that images of God the Father are prohibited in Eastern Orthodoxy (according to the 7th "ecumenical" council), and from what I can tell this appears to be technically true. Not only that, but the Russian Orthodox took it upon themselves to officially banned such images in 1667 AD. For these reasons, images of God the Father are less pervasive in Eastern Orthodoxy, and somewhat controversial.

However, that apparently doesn't stop folks from making such images and venerating them. It wasn't difficult at all for me to find the images below, some of which are quite famous:

Description: The inscription for this Russian icon reads "LORD SABAOTH".

Description: The Holy Trinity, a Greek Orthodox wall painted icon at the ceiling of the entrance of the Vatopedion Monastery at Agion Oros (Mount Athos), Greece.

Description: This is the famous Kursk Root Icon, shown here without its usual blue and gold covering. This icon has supposedly worked many miracles, beginning in 1298 AD and continuing to the present day. God the Father is depicted above Mary, along with a dove representing the Holy Ghost. You can read more about the icon here and here.

(Not to be confused with the Eastern Orthodox.) This includes the Ethiopian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and a few others. The Oriental Orthodox only recognize the first three "ecumenical" councils and didn't take part in any of the later councils. So as you might expect, they don't care very much about the 7th "ecumenical" council. Therefore (from what I've read) depictions of God the Father aren't as controversial in this group. But I'm no expert in this, so don't take my word for it. Since these groups are small, it was difficult for me to find many icons and images from their churches at all. However, it wasn't hard to find the following example: 

Description: Ethiopian Orthodox Icon depicting the coronation of the Virgin Mary by Jesus and God the Father. (As an aside, check out that source and look through some of those Ethiopian Orthodox icons. I've never seen icons like THAT before. Some of them look almost like cartoons...)

1 comment:

  1. The one with the Son in the bosom of the Father is interesting, though I agree about pictures of the Father.