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Bible Dictionaries

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary

Iconoclastes

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or ICONOCLASTAE, breakers of images: a name which the church or Rome gives to all who reject the use of images in religious matters. The word is Greek, formed from imago, and rumpere, "to break." In this sense not only the reformed, but some of the eastern churches, are called iconoclastes, and esteemed by them heretics, as opposing the worship of the images of God and the saints, and breaking their figures and representations in churches. The opposition to images began in Greece, under the reign of Bardanes, who was created emperor of the Greeks a little after the commencement of the eighth century, when the worship of them became common.

See IMAGE. But the tumults occasioned by it were quelled by a revolution, which, in 713, deprived Bardanes of the imperial throne. The dispute, however, broke out with redoubled fury under Leo the Isaurian, who issued out an edict in the year 726, abrogating, as some say, the worship of images; and ordering all the images, except that of Christ's crucifixion, to be removed out of the churches; but, according to others, this edict only prohibiting the paying to them any kind of adoration or worship.

This edict occasioned a civil war, which broke out in the islands of the Archipelago, and, by the suggestions of the priests and monks, ravaged a part of Asia, and afterwards reached Italy. The civil commotions and insurrections in Italy were chiefly promoted by the Roman pontiffs, Gregory I. and II. Leo was excommunicated; and his subjects in the Italian provinces violated their allegiance, and rising in arms, either massacred or banished all the emperor's deputies and officers. In consequence of these proceedings, Leo assembled a council at Constantinople in 730, which degraded Germanus, bishop of that city, who was a patron of images; and he ordered all the images to be publicly burnt, and inflicted a variety of severe punishments upon such as were attached to that idolatrous worship. Hence arose two factions, one of which adopted the adoration and worship of images, and on that account were called iconoduli or inconolatrae; and the other maintained that such worship was unlawful, and that nothing was more worthy the zeal of Christians than to demolish and destroy those statues and pictures which were the occasion of this gross idolatry; and hence they were distinguished by the titles of icono-machi (from image, and I contend) and iconoclastae. the zeal of Gregory II. in favour of image worship was not only irritated, but even surpassed, by his successor Gregory III. in consequence of which the Italian provinces were torn from the Grecian empire. Constantine, called Copronimus, in 754, convened a council at Constantinople, regarded by the Greeks as the seventh aecumenical council, which solemnly condemned the worship and use of images.

Those who, notwithstanding this decree of the council, raised commotions in the state, were severely punished, and new laws were enacted to set bounds to the violence of monastic rage. Leo IV. who was declared emperor in 775, pursued the same measures, and had recourse to the coercive influence of penal laws, in order to extirpate idolatry out of the Christian church. Irene, the wife of Leo, poisoned her husband in 780; assumed the reins of the empire during the minority of her son Constantine; and in 786 summoned a council at Nice, in Bithynia, known by the name of the Second Nicene Council, which abrogated the laws and decrees against the new idolatry, restored the worship of images and of the cross, and denounced severe punishments against those who maintained that God was the only object of religious adoration. in this contest the britons, Germans, and Gauls, were of opinion that images might be lawfully continued in churches; but they considered the worship of them as highly injurious and offensive to the Supreme Being. Charlemagne distinguished himself as a mediator in this controversy: he ordered four books concerning images to be composed, refuting the reasons urged by the Nicene bishops to justify the worship of images, which he sent to Adrian, the Roman pontiff, in 790, in order to engage him to withdraw his approbation of the decrees of the last council of Nice.

Adrian wrote and answer; and in 794 a council of 300 bishops, assembled by Charlemagne, at Francfort, on the Maine, confirmed the opinion contained in the four books, and solemnly condemned the worship of images. In the Greek church, after the banishment of Irene, the controversy concerning images broke out anew, and was carried on by the contending parties, during the half of the ninth century, with various and uncertain success. The emperor Nicephorus appears upon the whole to have been an enemy to his idolatrous worship. His successor, Michael Curopalates, surnamed Rhangabe, patronized and encouraged it. But the scene changed on the accession of Leo, the Armenian, to the empire, who assembled a council at Constantinople, in 812, that abolished the decrees of the Nicene council. His successor, Michael, surnamed Balbus, disapproved of the worship of images, and his son Theophilus, treated them with great severity. However, the empress Theodora, after his death, and during the minority of her son, assembled a council at Constantinople in 842, which reinstated the decrees of the second Nicene council, and encouraged image worship by a law. The council held at the same place under Protius, in 879, and reckoned by the Greeks the eighth general council, confirmed and renewed the Nicene decrees. In commemoration of this council, a festival was instituted by the superstitious Greeks, called the Feast of Orthodoxy.

The Latins were generally of opinion that images might be suffered, as the means of aiding the memory of the faithful, and of calling to their remembrance the pious exploits and virtuous actions of the persons whom they represented; but they detested all thoughts of paying them the least marks of religious homage or adoration. The council of Paris assembled in 824 by Louis the Meek, resolved to allow the use of images in the churches, but severely prohibited rendering them religious worship: nevertheless, towards the conclusion of this century, the Gallican clergy began to pay a kind of religious homage to the images of saints, and their example was followed by the Germans and other nations. However, the Iconoclastes still had their adherents among the Latins; the most eminent of whom was Claudius, bishop of Turin, who, in 823, ordered all images, and even the crosses to be cast out of the churches, and committed to the flames; and he wrote a treatise, in which he declared both against the use and worship of them. He condemned relics, pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and all voyages to the tombs of saints; and to his writing and labours it was owing, that the city of Turin, and the adjacent country, was, for a long time after his death, much less infected with superstition than the other parts of Europe.

The controversy concerning the sanctity of images was again revived by Leo, bishop of Chalcedon: in the 11th century, on occasion of the emperor Alexius's converting the figures of silver that adorned the portals of the churches into money, in order to supply the exigencies of the state. The bishop obstinately maintained that he had been guilty of sacrilege; and published a treatise in which he affirmed, that in these images there resided an inherent sanctity, and that the adoration of Christians ought not to be confined to the persons represented by these images, but extend to the images themselves. The emperor assembled a council at Constantinople, which determined that the images of Christ and of the saints were to be honoured only with a relative worship; and that the invocation and worship were to be addressed to the saints only, as the servants of Christ, and on account of their relation to him as their master. Leo, dissatisfied with these absurd and superstitious decisions, was sent into banishment. In the western church, the worship of images was disapproved, and opposed by several considerable parties as the Petrobrussians, Albigenses, Waldenses, & 100: till at length this idolatrous practice was abolished in many parts of the Christian world by the reformation.

See IMAGE.

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Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Iconoclastes'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/cbd/i/iconoclastes.html. 1802.

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