Monday, November 15, 2010

On Images -- Part 2: According to Cardinal Ratzinger

I have always been unusually sensitive about idolatry.  When I was in elementary school I went to a (protestant -- I'm a convert) Christian summer camp.  At one point at that camp, we were talking about the episode in Exodus when Moses is up on the mountain getting the ten commandments from God, while Aaron is down at the base of the mountain with the people.  The people give Aaron all their gold jewelry and Aaron forms it into a golden calf, which they then fall down and worship.  At the summer camp, in order to try to explain to a bunch of elementary school children what idolatry is, they played a pretend game with the "pizza god" that if you danced around this thing then the pizza god would give you a bite of pizza in your mouth.  All the other children danced around the thing and pretended to chew a bite of pizza.  I sat stubbornly on the bench and refused to participate.

Protestants sometimes characterize the Catholic use of images as idolatrous.  It is not.  In The Spirit of the Liturgy, Cardinal Ratzinger explains why (brief summary):  The invisible God has become man and has made Himself visible to us.  Even in Old Testament worship, images were not totally unknown:  the ark of the covenant had two cherubim of beaten gold on the cover, as God commanded Moses.  Icons (and all good sacred art) come from prayer and lead to prayer.  They are intended to draw the mind and heart to God.  Because of all this the Second Council of Nicaea regards iconoclasm as a denial of the Incarnation.  The Catholic use of images is not idolatrous because there is no worship of images, but only of God (even images of the saints are also images of God, because in conforming themselves and their lives to the will of God, the saints become more and more transparent, so that we can see God working in them).  The images are a sort of window into heaven.

On that note, here are a couple more of the image in use in our home:

A San Damiano Cross over the bed

St. Philip Neri


  1. Thank you for sharing this! I will bookmark it and keep it handy for when my Protestant family members give me a hard time...

  2. That is very good, deep theology. Great examples and analogies. Important topic for non-Catholic friends, also.