"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Monday, December 21, 2015

Pushing Back Against Roman Catholic Iconoclasm

I have too often had recourse to quoting Joseph Ratzinger's observation in The Spirit of the Liturgy that there is a pronounced spirit of iconoclasm in the Western Church going back to its lack of adequate reception of Nicaea II's teaching on icons. (On the problematic non-reception of Nicaea II in the West, see T.F.X. Noble's invaluable study, Images, Iconoclasm, and the Carolingians.)

That iconoclasm emerged with renewed vengeance after Vatican II as Ratzinger noted (and many others have also). If anyone doubts that such a spirit of destructiveness is still at work in the Latin Church today, then one need look no further than to the literal and utterly infuriating iconoclasm at the Roman Catholic Church of Our Saviour in New York only this year--in 2015! That "pastor" should have been run out of town or hauled up for ecclesiastical trial in any self-respecting church but has not been. Shame on him and shame on his bishop.

As an antidote to this Western iconoclasm, at least in part, a book published this year promises to be healing medicine: Jeana Visel, Icons in the Western Church: Toward a More Sacramental Encounter (Liturgical Press, June 2015), 144pp.

About this wholly welcome, long overdue, and sadly all-to-necessary book the publisher tells us:
Within the Eastern tradition of Christianity, the eikon, or religious image, has long held a place of honor. In the greater part of Western Christianity, however, discomfort with images in worship, both statues and panel icons, has been a relatively common current, particularly since the Reformation. In the Roman Catholic Church, after years of using religious statues, the Second Vatican Council’s call for “noble simplicity” in many cases led to a stripping of images that in some ways helped refocus attention on the eucharistic celebration itself but also led to a starkness that has left many Roman Catholics unsure of how to interact with the saints or with religious images at all.
Today, Western interest in panel icons has been rising, yet we lack standards of quality or catechesis on what to do with them. This book makes the case that icons should have a role to play in the Western Church that goes beyond mere decoration. Citing theological and ecumenical reasons, Visel argues that, in regard to use of icons, the post–Vatican II Roman Catholic Church needs to give greater respect to the Eastern tradition. While Roman Catholics may never interact with icons in quite the same way that Eastern Christians do, we do need to come to terms with what icons are and how we should encounter them.

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