Opinion

Catholic Apologetics 3 Do Catholics Worship Idols?

Images In The New Testament And The Apostolic Era

By Benedict Hodubar

In our previous discussions on this topic, it was established that every image has a prototype without which an image is both useless and meaningless.

It was also made plain that any treatment rendered to an image is simply for its prototype and not for the image. Also the images both within and on the walls of the temple built by King Solomon and the second temple shown to Prophet Ezekiel were well highlighted. (1kings 6:23-29 &Ezekiel 41:18-20).

The second temple shown to Prophet Ezekiel was in existence until Our Lord Jesus came. He certainly saw at least, the mystifying images which covers all the walls of the temple. In the gospel of Matthew 5:21-38, Jesus reveals the true intent of the Ten Commandments, rather than its legalistic interpretations.

Although idolatry is far more than what it was to the ancient Israel, images as they relate to idols were not mentioned. In the New Testament, Christians commit idolatry even when they are nowhere close to any image of a deity. St. Paul rather warns Christians to flee from idols that are not only images but also material attachment as well. (Ephesians 5: 5; 1Cor. 5: 1-6; Col.3: 5, etc. St. Paul mentions that idols (not only of images, but also of earthly things) are demons and any act of direct or indirect involvement with them remains forbidden and highly prohibited.

(1 Co1. 10: 14-22). Idolatry now includes, not only worshipping idols through designated images or items, but also passion for material things, especially wealth and power. “Put to death therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature; sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire and greed WHICH IS IDOLATRY.” (Col. 3: 5)

Therefore, whatever a Christian turns to whenever he is favoured or disappointed that is not God remains his god. Whatever we assign credence for success that is not God makes us liable for this offence. To such we are enslaved and to them we worship and adore.

That is the place of the Uncreated Creator in the heart of every Christian. Jealousy, though an evil emotion, yet in some instances, the only appropriate response. A man is naturally jealous of his wife . He would refuse to share her most intimate relationship with another man. In the same way, God feels about His people. To Him we belong and to Him alone.

Thus, images as a whole were not condemned in the New Testament. But it could be appreciated to bring in here, a tradition of the Church which may help us to understand the true stand of the Church on issues concerning images as a whole. The shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa has been for centuries and remains even till now the major place of pilgrimage in the central Europe and, without doubt, is one of the most venerable sites in honour of Our Lady in the world.

According  to tradition, the image of Mary was painted by St. Luke the Evangelist on a wooden board made by St. Joseph. As with other work attributed to earlier century to Luke, including the famous image of Mary in the Borghese Chapel of the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome, the Czestochowa icon is now believed to have originated sometime during the ninth century in Greece or Italy.

Around the year 1000 AD, it was given to the princes –wife of Vladdimir of Kiev and in 1383 AD, was brought to its present location by prince Opolszyk of Belz in the Ukraine. The prince established a monastery to care for the icon on a hill , Jasna Gora ( hill of light) just above the town of Czestochowa. The present Basilica which houses the icon was built in the year 1600

Over the centuries pilgrims, who included numerous members of royalty and religious leaders from throughout Europe and the Middle East, placed precious metals over much of the image. The rest part of the image became blackened from the smoke of torches and votive lights around it.

This explains the still darkened features of the representations of the icon, though a major restoration I 1925 helped to renew many features that had been obscured . The three scars on the Virgin’s face apparently resulted from a desecration of the painting by robbers about 50 years after it was brought to Poland.

For centuries and up to this day, the icon and shrine of Jasna Gora has exercised a political role in Poland far beyond, but obviously closely connected with, its religious significance. After the Spanish forces failed to capture the Monastery after a bitter siege in 1656, Our Lady of Czestochowa was proclaimed Queen of Poland and today, it is the great symbol of Polish national pride and of that nation’s determination to preserve its freedom and faith.

Thus, the pilgrimage of Pope John Paul II to Jasna Gora during his visit to Poland was considerably more than a religious act, a fact which wasn’t missed by either the people of the Communist Polish government.

In a larger but somewhat similar way, the icon is for the Poles, what the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe has become for many of the poorer people of Mexico, a proud symbol of their Catholic faith and a rallying point for the oppressed and the persecuted.

Thus, sacred images are no where condemned in any part of the Scriptures, rather holy images are often protective Sacramental to anybody, community or country that dedicates self to such Sacramental. The stability that is observes in the Poles, Mexico, Russia and so many countries that has so far dedicated themselves to Sacramental could as well apply to Nigeria if this country is, as well given to God through the Sacramental.

SACRAMENTALS AND RELICS IN THE SCRIPTURES

Sacramental is a symbol or sacred item that help Christians obtain celestial blessings and help. In the Scriptures we have many items that serve that purpose. As in every image, Sacramental has its prototype, as well as relics. The faith deposited on the prototype of the Sacramental gives a sanctifying achievement to the Christian. The woman with the issue of blood offers a splendid example “If I shall touch only His garment, I shall be healed.” With this mindset, the woman began to move towards the person of Christ. As she forced herself among the crowd, she came in contact with people’s garments including those of the apostles whose garments were equally potent enough to give such healing. As soon as she touched His garment, her spirit reached for the healing spirit in Christ and something happened- healing. The garment was only a linking factor, a sacramental. Perhaps Christ knew who touched Him and for what purpose, but He made it public so as to let us know the value of sacred images. She did not commit idolatry.        This is the same thing with a devotee who kissed the Crucifix on a Good Friday. His lips touched the crucifix and divine blessing follows it.

Other Sacramental in the Scriptures include;

In Acts 5: 15, people placed their sick ones where Peter’s shadow can touch them , when this happened, they were healed.

In Acts 19: 11-12, the sick were healed by spreading an them, handkerchiefs or apron, that were taken from St Paul; evil spirits were also driven away from them.

In John 9: 6, Jesus mixed saliva with earth so as to give a blind man  sight; He who heals from afar.

In 2 Kings, 2:21, prophet Elisha used salt to sanitize water in a river;

In Exodus 17:5-7, Moses used his staff to create passage in the Red Sea including many other miracles in Egypt.

RELICS

The dead bodies of holy men are equally holy and sanctifying. In the early centuries of the Church, even in the catacombs, altars were built on their tombs. Their bones and other remains are sacred and use extensively among Christians.

2) In Mark 16: 1- and Luke 24: 1-3, the women went to the tomb early on Esther Morning to anoint the body of Jesus Christ.

3) Joseph of Arimathia, an honourable councilor demanded from Pilate, the dead body of Jesus Christ.

4) Angels kept watch over the tomb of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

5) In 2 kings 13: 21, invaders were chasing people carrying a dead body of a man. The bearers threw away the corpse which happened to fall on the tomb of Elisha. The dead man immediately came to life again and walked away.

6) In Jude 1: 9, the Scripture says,” Yet Michael the Arch Angel when contending with the devil as he dispute about the body of Moses; dare not bring against him a railing accusation.” It could be observed that dead bodies of holy men are useful even in the spirituality. There are many instances where Sacramental are powerfully used in the Scriptures and are not considered idols.

Benedict Hodubar, a Teaching Minister (CCRN)  at St John’s Parish, Writes from Umuokpu, Anambra State(08035019059)

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