These two reached out to each other seemingly rejoining Eastern to Western Churches, though it was in fact the very last Synod that the two hurries would attend to formulate a common dogma. Still, that they clarified in the 8th Century during a tumultuous dispute about icons known as the “iconoclastic” controversy the theology and the proper purposes Of the icon and related religious images which remained effectively a religious vehicle of both the Eastern and Western Churches to our day remains an important achievement of this Council.
An important question this essay will try to address, one repeatedly raised without a conclusive explanation in the considerable literature on the subject, is why the issue of icons which went sack to the earliest days of Christianity and continued long after the iconic crisis of Nicola II had in this instance such remarkably violent turn.
Nicola II is rich in documentation, but lacking evident motivation for its historical players with commentators tending to offer a variety of causes as their motivation, indeed expressing perplexity sometimes about the reason why the iconoclastic controversy flared up and offering a range Of answers, committing themselves to none.. There may be in the issue over icons and such holy images more than just a theological controversy among scholars as many commentators suppose.
We hall return later to ground in political events much which was perplexing in the” iconoclastic controversy’, but note for now only what happened when Hadrian I received and responded favorable to a letter from Irene and sent two representatives of the Pope, both incidentally called Peter, gathered in preparation for the Synod in Constantinople where the gathering was originally scheduled for an event that was recorded in history as Nicola II.
The pleasantries in Constantinople it seems were interrupted by the violent entry of the palace guard which had overthrown many a Roman Emperor and now threatened the unsteady rule of the new one. That is why, eventually, the Council awaited the arrival of reliable troops and reassembled at Nicola on September 24, 787 to meet with a delegation sent by the new Pope to heal the division between Western and Western Churches and to overturn the policy of iconoclasm .
Not only had Leo spent his first year of rule narrowly averting a Turkish invasion, but had he a mind to turn his thought to theological issues, he would be forcefully brought back to a reality in which as Philip Hughes points out, in Byzantium Six emperors had been dethroned within the space of twenty-one years. Four perished by the hand of the public executioner, one died in obscurity, after being deprived of sight, and the other was only allowed to end his days peacefully in a monastery, because Leo felt the imperial scepter firmly fixed in his own grasp.
Every army assembled to encounter the Saracens had broken out into rebellion. The Bulgarians and Escalations wasted Europe up to the walls of Constantinople; the Saracens ravaged the whole of Asia Minor to the shores of the Bosporus But let’s look first at other theories as the basis of the disputes and debates that were identified by a scholar familiar with the complex material as “one of the greatest political crisis in Byzantium. 3 What happened at the Synod was carefully documented, but Ladder too finds it inexplicable why it had raised such passions in its own time.
It was, he noted later, a theological controversy of long duration which had become perhaps more heated, but certainly not of different nature from what Plato, Phil, Origin and Gregory of NASA and many others whose subtle theology is certainly more congenial and orderly than what happens when they enter into political events. 4 There are a good many websites from the Catholic Church softening the edges of the bloody period into almost mystical channels by which a seemingly mindless policy as reversed by sensible theology.
Leo Ill was Urine’s husband through decades of bitter crackdown on idols. She may not have had to dissimulate, for she may have at the time firmly sided with her husband. ‘What exactly the mentality was that underlay Leo Oil’s anti-image policy we shall probably never know,” one commentator observed seeming to give management issues as a valid motivation for the determined and violent breaking of icons throughout his administration. “That he was a great reorganizes of the whole machinery of the state is certain.
Inevitably, in this particular state, the Byzantine Empire, his meant a deep interest in the welfare of religion. “5 That a long-standing theological controversy conducted amicably turned bitter then softened with reason and God’s grace is certainly one line of explanation for the revolutionary events which brought together the effective ruler of Byzantium and the new Pope, except that it was, unique for Church Synods, East or West, a gathering almost bereft of controversy along theological lines, perhaps concealing explosive political issues veiled by the language of theology. Unlike the first Council of Nicola, the second one was extremely well commented with exchanges of letters, testimonies, reports and proclamations preceding the event, leading to a unanimous decision characteristic of the quality of the debate, needless to say supporting the production of representative religious art as fully in the spirit of the Gospels.
To give an example of goings on which more resemble one of Stalin’s congresses than the spirited debates over Aryanism in the first Council of Nicola, patriarch Tarsus Of Sicily opened from a position Of new power under the rule of Leo Oil’s wife Irene who acted as Regent until the growth of her son, the new Emperor, still a boy.
It is reported the first session of what was billed as a Synod of the Church, all sides were urged to open their hearts and speak freely, A jarring note, not untypical of Stalinist Congresses followed with the resignation and recantation of the Patriarch Paul IV, the closest ally of the forces of iconoclasm and terror of heretics in favor of the new Patriarch Tarsus the star of the session, who accepted the contrition of the Patriarch who had seen the error of his ways and sought now only retirement.
Then followed the contrition of three bishops, Basil of NCAR, Theodore of Myra and Theodosius of Moratorium leading to a grand finale after the bishops had been readmitted of seven other bishops who held their own conclave admitted as well the error of their way and were as a group readmitted to the Synod of Apostles and Fathers. 6 The second session continued with yet another bishop making his confessions.
Then was read a letter of support from the so-called “Oriental bishops” who were in fact were altogether ignorant that a Synod was even taking place for Muslim Arabs had taken over the territories assigned to the patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, which thereafter were never more than partially and temporarily recovered.
The letter of support from them and the monks said to be from the Orient representing them were fake, once again calling to our attention that there is behind the theological debate other forces which brought about this revolutionary change in the Eastern Church in Constantinople and its attempt at rapprochement with the Western Church in Rome . 7 There is a related line of inquiry inspired by the beauty of Byzantine Art that looks into the aesthetics of images and their reproduction as if an era had dawned in which the artists were valued in Byzantium as they are now for their cultural value rather than, as they were, treated as trade people.
Along these lines, Charles Barber argues in Figure and Likeness that the notion of art was the central issue of the iconoclastic controversy making the Byzantine maker of icons rather like an artist in post-modern times by which a fundamental crisis in Christian visual representation during the eighth and ninth centuries sought in art the ineffable mystical experience, that is, an aesthetic representation in which the crucial issue was the comprehensible representation of an incomprehensible God. It may be though that what appears as the language of a new aesthetic which gains room art what was once sought in religion had nothing to do with the nature of the art work, even in its representational aspect. In fact the Synod of Nicola II was not at all interested in artistic production since, after all, it was not the work itself but its veneration which was at issue. The declaration of the seventh session of second Council of Nicola returned the iconic image to its churches in symbolic, didactic and sacramental, not aesthetic roles, as God alone remained the proper object of worship. We declare that we defend free from any innovations all the written and unwritten ecclesiastical radiations that have been entrusted to us,” it was proposed without thought to aesthetic considerations beyond its almost fetishistic application. “One of these is the production and representational art; this is quite in harmony with the history of the spread of the gospel, as it provides confirmation that the becoming man of the Word of God was real and not just imaginary, and as it brings us a similar benefit. 9 Not really all that different from propaganda, however great the art we realize in the safety of our museums. So, it may be, that the legitimacy of icons and the propriety of venerating them was not at al the central issue of the controversy, though it is extremely pleasing to think how a great battle was fought over the proposition that the material element of life is not to be excluded from the plan of God’s redemption but leads us through art to a wonderfully romantic anticipatory insight into a higher world through the order and beauty of material nature.
To this end SST John of Damascus wrote: “l worship the Creator of matter who became matter for my sake; who willed to take His abode in matter; who worked out my salvation through matter Never will cease honoring the matter wrought which my salvation was wrought. “10th is in this vein also that many scholars look at specific religious practices, not so much the theology, to discover from where the passions that stirred up the iconoclastic controversy arise.
Even so, Anita Stresses cites the contemporary mystic exercise of “silent prayer” which was images in contrast to the many theologians like SST. John Climates and in the fourteenth century and SST. Gregory Plasma who supported the image cult 1 or it may have been, other motivations such as the rise of Islam with its strongly iconoclastic thrust as first proposed by
Arnold Toynbee in 1954 and many others since specifically the decision of the Caliph Bad-al-Maxim in 699 to replace his portrait on the coinage with verses from the Curran is one of the first attempts by a secular power to present itself as arbiter of anti-image religious doctrine, or else it was an ascetic iconoclastic movement arose in the Armenia at the end of the sixth and beginning of the seventh century in which Jewish argument against idolatry was used appearance of Armenian sect of Publicans in the Byzantine Empire coincided with the heights of the iconoclastic crisis, during the reign of Constantine V.
Shortly after the Council of Truly certain iconoclastic tendencies developed. They were probably due to certain practices that occurred among the aristocracy and clergy in the seventh century. In the seventh century embroidered images representing saints decorated the ceremonial robes of members of the Byzantine aristocracy. It was not unknown for priests to remove paint from icons to mix it with elements of the Eucharist, and sometimes the liturgy itself was celebrated on an icon instead of an altar.
It may well have been practices such as these which prompted some members of the clergy to question where the icon cult was leading. 3 A lot of “could”, “would” and “should” along with lining up alternative explanations seems to be characteristic in the study Of our subject, and betrays considerable uneasiness, so that quite literally a reputable website lining up scholarly reasons seriously proposes ‘the sheer barbarity of some Emperors (e. G.
Constantine V) who liked to destroy and burn things for fun. ” 14 But let’s look elsewhere for the bitterness that characterized this period in which the theological debate takes place in a specific context of the protracted collapse of the Roman Empire which left the Church as a prop for loyal power much weakened. The loss of the patriarchates of Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria meant that only two centers of power remained: Rome and Constantinople.