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Early Christian Attitudes to Images [Paperback]

Stephen Bigham
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

30 Jun 2004
For all iconophiles, that is, those who accept the dogma of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, but especially the Orthodox who claim that the icon has a sacramental and mystical character, it is naturally disquieting to hear the claim that the early Christians were aniconic and iconophobic. If this claim is true, the theology and the veneration of the icon are seriously undermined. It is, therefore, natural for iconophiles to attempt to disprove the thesis according to which the early Christians had no images whatsoever (aniconic) because they believed them to be idols (iconophobic). It is equally natural for iconophiles to want to substantiate, as much as this is possible, their deep intuition that the roots of Christian iconography go back to the apostolic age. This study weakens the notion and credibility of the alleged hostility of the early Christians to non-idolatrous images, providing a more balanced evaluation of this question.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Orthodox Research Institute (30 Jun 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 097456186X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0974561868
  • Product Dimensions: 23 x 15 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,908,881 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exactly What I was Looking For 10 Jun 2011
Format:Paperback
This book contained, I believe, all the questions and the answers that I was seeking for in regard to images in the early Church and how that relates to icons in the later Orthodox Church.

Basically, what Bigham does is put a dent in the hostility theory, which claims that the early Church was against all images whatsoever (iconophiles). This he is very clear about though. He makes no claim to having demolished it.

What is very interesting is that he admits that icons as the EOC understands them today are a development of what the early Church understood them to be. This is groundbreaking really, because the EOC claims to have an unbroken line of doctrinal orthodoxy from the times of Jesus to our own day. If one of their defining councils (the 7th) is based on development of doctrine (something that Newman put solidly within the field of Christian doctrinal study), then it puts a serious dent in their claims of unchanged Apostolicity.

What is interesting is that Development of Doctrine is always after the fact. It is quite easy to say after some doctrine has been altered that this was "development" rather than alteration. The early Church had no concept of Development of Doctrine. Tertullian does speak of a Development of Discipline, which RC's sometimes use in defense of Development of Doctrine, but this is discounted on two counts.

1. this writing is post-Montanist, and they believed the Holy Spirit was giving them new revelation

2. He specifically states in the passage that there is no Development of Doctrine. He is here making a distinction, and a case for Montanism, that it is still holding the Faith Once Delivered.

Every Ante-Nicene writer either does not deal with the subject of images at all or is hostile.
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Amazon.com: 3.3 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Long overdue reevaluation 7 April 2011
By David Withun - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
In Early Christian Attitudes toward Images, Fr. Steven slowly and meticulously picks apart the arguments put forward by modern scholars (most of them Protestants) in support of the hostility theory, carefully exposing the false assumptions, the deliberate misreadings, and the many internal contradictions. Perhaps one of the most important points that Fr. Steven makes in this book is that it is absurd and futile to try to find exact answers to 8th (and, later, 16th) century questions in the 1st-3rd centuries. Iconodules and iconoclasts are both mistaken if they think they can find anyone in the early Church with exactly their iconology. What is possible, though, and very important as well, is to find the seeds of one or the other in the early Church. Whichever seeds you find will tell you which is the flower that was planted and which is the weed that needs to be uprooted and removed far from the garden. That is exactly what Fr. Steven Bigham does in this book. I do recommend a read.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exactly What I was Looking For 10 Jun 2011
By Dave Kinsella - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book contains, I believe, all the questions and the answers that I was seeking for in regard to images in the early Church and how that relates to icons in the later Orthodox Church.

Basically, what Bigham does is put a dent in the hostility theory, which claims that the early Church was against all images whatsoever (iconophiles). This he is very clear about though. He makes no claim to having demolished it.

What is very interesting is that he admits that icons as the EOC understands them today are a development of what the early Church understood them to be. This is groundbreaking really, because the EOC claims to have an unbroken line of doctrinal orthodoxy from the times of Jesus to our own day. If one of their defining councils (the 7th) is based on development of doctrine (something that Newman put solidly within the field of Christian doctrinal study), then it puts a serious dent in their claims of unchanged Apostolicity.

But here is what Bigham says. He obviously doesn't feel that development of doctrine dents his position if understood properly:

"Few defenders of the idea of Tradition claim that nothing has changed since the beginning of the Church, and everyone recognizes that all the changes that have taken place have not necessarily been for the good. We can easily see in the New Testament itself several theological tendencies, both practices and beliefs, that no longer exist or have been radically changed. A healthy doctrine of Holy Tradition makes a place for changes, and even corruption and restoration, throughout history while still affirming an essential continuity and purity. This concept is otherwise known as indefectibility: the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. This theoretical framework, indefectibility, takes change and evolution into account but denies that there has been or can be a rupture or corruption of Holy Tradition itself."

What is interesting is that Development of Doctrine is always after the fact. It is quite easy to say after some doctrine has been altered that this was "development" rather than alteration. The early Church had no concept of Development of Doctrine. Tertullian does speak of a Development of Discipline, which RC's sometimes use in defense of Development of Doctrine, but this is discounted on two counts.

1. this writing is post-Montanist, and they believed the Holy Spirit was giving them new revelation

2. He specifically states in the passage that there is no Development of Doctrine. He is here making a distinction, and a case for Montanism, that it is still holding the Faith Once Delivered.

Every Ante-Nicene writer either does not deal with the subject of images at all or is hostile. But what he shows is that all of these writers who do deal with the subject are dealing with pagan art and not a Christian art, purified of pagan idolatry. He shows that men like Tertullian were highly sensitized to pagan art and images since it was all around them. They were probably bombarded with it, and so a very strong stance against art in general should be expected. Also, I have noted in my own reading that Tertullian was an extremist. This is shown not only from his writings, but from his later fall into Montanism with its strict ascetic practices and lack of grace for those who had sinned once after baptism. I personally take much of what Tertullian wrote with a grain of salt these days.

He does not deal at all with archaeology which provides very strong evidence against the hostility theory, but does not support very much his Orthodox position.

In the end, he is very honest with the facts, and I salute him for that. More could be said, but I hope that will suffice. Sorry for the delay. My wife is abroad and I am at home, very sick with the 6 children.

I will write for you what the back of the book says as there is very little information about this book on the web and I only knew it was what I was looking for because of another reviewer on www.Amazon.com. I have not as yet read the book myself, but I am very excited about it.

For all iconophiles, that is, those who accept the dogma of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, but especially the Orthodox who claim that the icon has a sacramental and mystical character, it is naturally disquieting to hear the claim that the early Christians were aniconic and iconophobic. If this claim is true, the theology and the veneration of the icon are seriously undermined. It is, therefore, natural for iconophiles to attempt to disprove the thesis according to which the early Christians had no images whatsoever (aniconic) because they believed them to be idols (iconophobic). It is equally natural for iconophiles to want to substantiate, as much as this is possible, their deep intuition that the roots of Christian iconography go back to the apostolic age. This study weakens the notion and credibility of the alleged hostility of the early Christians to non-idolatrous images, providing a more balanced evaluation of this question.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Fr. Steven Bigham is an Orthodox priest in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, in the Carpatho-Russian Diocese. He teaches in the program Certificat en théologie orthodoxe (Certificate in Orthodox Theology) at the Université de Sherbrooke (Quebec). He specializes in iconology (history and theology of icons). He has authored several books and articles on the subject. Fr. Steven is married and has two children.

Table of Contents:

Preface

I. The Theory of the Early Christians' Hostility Toward Images
1. Aniconic and Iconophobic
2. Icon, Idol and the Hostility Theory
3. Absolute or Relative Prohibition
4. The Argument from Tradition

II. The Jewish Attitudes Toward Images
1. Introduction
2. A Theoretical Framework
3. The Application of the Hypothesis: The Old Testament
4. The Illuminated Bible
5. Between the Exile and Herod the Great
6. From Herod the Great to the Destruction of the Temple: Josephus and Philo
7. After the Destruction of the Temple: Rabbinical Judaism

III. The Early Christian Images
1. Introduction
2. The New Testament
3. Traditions Relating to the New Testament
4. The Pro-Constantinian Literature
5. The Archaeological Monuments

IV. Eusebius of Caesarea and Christian Images
1. Introduction
2. At Paneas, the Statue of Christ and the Woman with a Hemorrhage: The History of the Church VII, XVIII
3. At Paneas, the Statue of Christ and the Woman with a Hemorrhage: Commentary on Luke 8:43-48
4. The Image of the Three Visitors to Abraham: The Proof of the Gospel
5. The Cross in the Hand of a Statue of Constantine: The History of the Church IX, IX, 10
6. A Cross in the Hand of a Statue of Constantine: The Life of Constantine I, XI
7. Rejection of Christ's Image: The Letter to Constantia
8. Evidence from the Life of Constantine
9. Analysis of the Data
10. Conclusion

Annex: Texts in Translation

Index

About the Author
1 of 15 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars against the evidence 1 Aug 2012
By John B. Carpenter - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The book professes to be about the "early church" (which would normally refer to the church prior to the conversion of Constantine, c. 312). Therefore, his evidence should come in or around that period. That the author professes to defending the opinions of a council centuries later, does not inspire confidence that this is a balanced and historically unbiased treatment.
Contrary to what the author may have you believe, the evidence from the early church is clear:
Canon 36 of the Council of Elvira states, "Pictures are not to be placed in churches, so that they do not become objects of worship and adoration." It is evidence.
Eusebius wrote Constantia (c. 327) to tell her that he didn't believe that the people who make pictures of Christ were Christians.
Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis, in Cyprus, to John, Bishop of Jerusalem (c. 394), Letter 51, recounts how he destroyed an image he found' in a church.
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