A fine piece by Fr Robert Hart on the Trinity

I draw your attention to his passage on the Iconoclasts …

calvinist-iconoclasts… since there have been iconoclasts other than the Mohammedans.

The Fathers who gathered for the second Council of Nicea knew that the heresy of the Iconoclasts was very dangerous indeed. The Iconoclasts failed to understand the difference between Christian icons and pagan idols. Christian icons are based on revelation, especially the ultimate revelation, the Incarnation: “The Word was made flesh.” Pagan idols are a deception, taught by human imagination at best, by demons at worst, to lure men away from the true God. Icons, on the other hand, are based on revelation, and point to the Truth. The true God is known only through the Son (John 14:6, 17:3). The Fathers at that Second Council of Nicea (787 AD) knew that if the Church rejected icons they would reject the iconic nature of revelation, the truth that the Word was made flesh. In time, they could refuse to believe in the Son, as he has been revealed through his human nature. In time, the knowledge of God could be lost, if the Iconoclasts were to prevail.

Iconoclasm had come from a new religion that had only recently appeared in human history (I John 2:18). The cruel god that Mohamed’s hordes proclaimed, as they ravaged and plundered the weak and defenseless, was the god of this Medieval desert unitarianism, the combination of all antichrists who had come before, be they Gnostic or Arian. This god cannot understand love, because he is not the One – Elohim of Israel, known more fully by the Church as “the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” The doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that “God is love,” as St. John put it (I John 4:8,16). But, about a god who is one and only one, through and through, with no plurality of Persons in him, we cannot speak of love; rather of an emptiness, a void in which eternity knows no compassion. G.K. Chesterton contrasted the God of revelation against the god of Islam very well:

“To us Trinitarians (if I may say it with reverence) — to us God Himself is a society. It is indeed a fathomless mystery of theology, and even if I were theologian enough to deal with it directly, it would not be relevant to do so here. Suffice it to say here that this triple enigma is as comforting as wine and open as an English fireside; that this thing that bewilders the intellect utterly quiets the heart: but out of the desert, from the dry places and, the dreadful suns, come the cruel children of the lonely God; the real Unitarians who with scimitar in hand have laid waste the world. For it is not well for God to be alone.” [From Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton. (chapter VIII)

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12 Responses to A fine piece by Fr Robert Hart on the Trinity

  1. Fr. Lawrence B. Wheeler says:

    It seems to be a bit of a stretch to blame the Iconoclasm of Byzantine church history on the influence of Islam alone.

    • I would agree. I have just checked that Mohammed predated Nicea II, for the time-line point of view. Islam seems only to have been one “stream” as a mixture of Nestorianism and other influences. I haven’t really studied the iconoclast controversy in great depth, but the Byzantine and Arabic worlds were distinct.

      Here’s something on the subject. More images of Christians torturing each other! I get sick of it! 😦

    • Dale says:

      But in some ways the Byzantine Church does still suffer from a type of semi-iconoclasm in its rejection of anything other than flat images.

      • Fr. Lawrence B. Wheeler says:

        Ah, but the Byzantine icons are so rich in color! The more contemporary issue lies in the Roman Church, which has suffered from a form of iconoclasm since Vatican II. They have disposed of most of their statues, which, though more lifelike in shape, often had no color.

      • Dale says:

        Hello Fr Lawrence, I think that might be construed as a very subjective comment!

        I find many of the ancient statues very colorful; unfortunately, many of the oldest statues no longer have vibrant colors because of fading over the years. But, as an example, the 19th century reredos in St Stephen’s Gloucester road, London, simply glow with color as do many of Pugin’s works as well. Not to mention the works by Bodley and Comper. Also, the older Russian ikons are considerably “Less colorful” than those of the Greeks; often employing very muted colors.

        Yes, Rome, since Vatican II most certainly has gone through an iconoclastic phase; as had happened in Constantinople, only centuries later.

  2. Patricius says:

    What a resourceful way of disparaging the Puritans!

    • Why? Would you join them? 😀

      I hardly see you breathing fire from atop the great pulpit in the Kirk of that place where they distil that fine double malt whisky…

      • Patricius says:

        To which particular whisky do you refer? I am not a connoisseur of whisky.

        I couldn’t preach (but then I haven’t tried) but some people say I write very forcefully. I care too much about Bishops to countenance the Kirk of Scotland. Christians without Tradition and episcopal polity have lost something truly essential. They have no connexion to the Apostles and so they can offer nothing but harsh words and judgements in a cold sermon hall on a Sunday morning. Bleak!

        Blessed William Laud, pray for us!

      • Of course I was joking. It’s not easy to get humour over on this soul-less machine.

        There’s an old story about a preacher saying that just about everyone would go to hell. “There will be wailing and gnashin’ of teeth“. An old lady cries out “What happens if we ain’t got no teeth?” The voice booms back from the pulpit – “Teeth will be provided!

    • Dale says:

      Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.
      H. L. Mencken

  3. Michael Frost says:

    An eternal human principle at work here: excess action leads to excess reaction. Not unlike what we see in Medieval Scholasticism leading to Reformation.

    Whenever I think about the veneration of icons/relics and intercession of the saints I remember what the Lutherans told us EOs in the 1980s during ecumenical dialogs that led to some interesting published papers on justification/sanctification and deification/theosis. Part of the Reformation was to recover the proper pneumatology. We as Christians must always ponder the Trinity and the Spirit’s role in human history, then, now, and in future. The Divine Spirit is not limited. So why focus so much time and effort on the created (e.g., deceased man and icon) and neglect the asking for the working of the Spirit? What can any creature do that the Spirit can’t? So a focus on the Spirit is always necessary. Come Holy Spirit, Come. A good lesson for recent Whitsunday and Trinity Sunday!

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