The native icon ad to countless different points today. For example, we use this indigenous to refer to the small graphic symbols in our software and to powerful social figures (here’s a list of 300 “Cultural Icons”).

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Nevertheless, these different meanings retain a link to the word’s initial meaning. Icon is Greek for “image” or “painting” and also during the middle ages era, this expected a spiritual image on a wooden panel supplied for prayer and devotion. Much more specifically, icons involved typify the arts of the Orthodox Christian Church.

Iconoclasm refers to the damage of pictures or hostility towards visual depictions in general. In a more specificly, words is provided for the Iconoclastic debate that shook the oriental Empire for much more than 100 years.


Figure 2. Christ Pantocrator (The ruler of the Universe), Catacombs of Commodilla, fourth century


Open hostility toward religious representations began in 726 once Emperor Leo III publicly take it a position versus icons; this brought about their removal indigenous churches and also their destruction. There had been countless previous theological disputes over intuitive representations, their theological foundations and legitimacy. However, nobody of these brought about the tremendous social, political and social upheaval that the Iconoclastic Controversy.

Some historians think that by prohibiting icons, the Emperor seek to incorporate Muslim and also Jewish populations. Both Muslims and Jews viewed Christian images (that dated the earliest time of Christianity) together idols and in direct opposition come the Old testament prohibition of visual representations. The an initial commandment states,

You shall have no various other gods prior to me. Friend shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness that anything the is in heaven above, or in the planet beneath, or the is in the waters under the earth. You shall not adore them, nor offer them (Exodus 20:3–5).

Another theory suggests that the prohibition was an effort to restrain the farming wealth and power of the monasteries. They created the icons and also were a major target the the violence that the Iconoclastic Controversy. Various other scholars market a much less political motive, saying that the ban was generally religious, an attempt to exactly the wayward exercise of worshiping images.

The cause for Leo III’s prohibition might have even been the substantial volcanic eruption in 726 in the Aegean Sea taken as a sign of oh my gosh anger over the veneration the icons. Over there is no one an easy answer to this complicated event. What we do know is the the prohibition essentially caused a civil battle which shook the political, society and spiritual spheres of the empire. The conflict pitted the emperor and specific high church officials (patriarchs, bishops) who supported iconoclasm, against other bishops, lower clergy, laity and also monks, who safeguarded the icons.


Figure 3. Khludov Psalter (detail), nine century. The image represents the Iconoclast theologian, man the Grammarian, and also an iconoclast bishop destroying picture of Christ. (State historical Museum, Moscow)


The original theological basis for iconoclasm was reasonably weak. Debates relied largely on the Old testament prohibition (quoted above). However it to be clear that this ban was not absolute due to the fact that God likewise instructs exactly how to make 3 dimensional depictions of the Cherubim (heavenly spirits or angels) because that the Ark that the Covenant, i m sorry is likewise quoted in the Old Testament, simply a pair of chapters ~ the passage that prohibits pictures (Exodus 25:18–20).

Emperor Constantine V provided a an ext nuanced theological rationale for iconoclasm. He declared that each visual depiction of Christ necessarily ends in a heresy due to the fact that Christ, according to generally embraced Christian dogmas, is simultaneously God and also man, unified without separation, and also any intuitive depiction of Christ one of two people separates this natures, representing Christ’s humanity alone, or confuses them.


Figure 4. Madonna through Christ, nine century, mosaic, Hagia Sophia (Istanbul). This mosaic follows the iconoclastic crisis and revives stylistic facets from at an early stage Christian art.


The iconophile (pro-icon) counter-argument was most convincingly articulated through St. John of Damascus and also St. Theodore the Studite. They declared that the iconoclast arguments were merely confused. Photos of Christ execute not depict natures, being either divine or human, however a concrete person—Jesus Christ, the incarnate child of God. They declared that in Christ the an interpretation of the Old testimony prohibition is revealed: God prohibited any representation of God (or anything that might be worshiped as a god) since it was difficult to depict the invisible God. Any kind of such representation would therefore be one idol, essentially a false depiction or false god. Yet in Christ’s person, God became visible, together a concrete person being, so painting Christ is necessary as a proof that God truly, not seemingly, became man. The fact that one deserve to depict Christ witnesses oh my god incarnation.

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The very first phase of iconoclasm finished in 787, as soon as the seventh Ecumenical (universal) the supervisory board of bishops, met in Nicaea. This board of directors affirmed the watch of the iconophiles, ordering every right-believing (orthodox) christians to respect divine icons, prohibiting at the very same time their adoration as idolatry. Emperor Leo V initiated a second period of iconoclasm in 814, but in 843, Empress that Theodora proclaimed the repair of icons and also affirmed the decisions of the saturday Ecumenical council. This occasion is still commemorated in the Orthodox Church together the Feast of Orthodoxy.