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Three Treatises on the Divine Images (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press Popular Patristics Series) [Paperback]

St. John of Damascus

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Product details

  • Paperback: 164 pages
  • Publisher: St Vladimir's Seminary Press,U.S.; 1 edition (1 May 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0881412457
  • ISBN-13: 978-0881412451
  • Product Dimensions: 19.2 x 12.3 x 1.2 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 411,012 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.8 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well worth it 3 Aug 2004
By Canicus - Published on
When Christians began destroying all sorts of religious images in the 8th century, St. John of Damascus put pen to paper to defend their practice, and anyone who wishes to say that Christians who use images in worship are idolators must first deal with this book.

He makes three basic arguments. First, he points out they did not worship images, but revere them as a window or pointer towards a heavenly reality, much like how most Christians would treat the printed Word (the book itself is not sacred, the messages contained in it are).

Secondly, the use of images is not only not forbidden in the Old Testament, but is actually commanded (the Ark, for instance, or the bronze serpent). Thus, only "idols" are forbidden, not images (actually, it is the word "eidol" in the Septuagint that St. John would have used).

Third, when God became man, He effectively gave us an image, Himself. To deny that images have a valid place in worship is to deny the Incarnation of Christ, and the Trinity is the very heart of Christianity.

St. John the Damascene makes these arguments bluntly and succinctly. He believed that he was holding up the traditional view of Christianity, and he did this in Syria, then controlled by Islam which forbids the use of images. His defence made him unwelcome in the Empire and it placed him at odds with a core teaching of his rulers. Given that he thus risked his life to write these, Christians should give him a firm hearing.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Theological-dynamite for today's disunity 4 Jan 2008
By Stratiotes Doxha Theon - Published on
When the Byzantine emperor Leo III and sided with the iconoclasts and ordered the destruction of images he came into direct conflict with the traditions of the church. St. John of Damascus risked livelihood and life to publicly denounce the iconoclasts and Leo by name in these 3 treatises. The first treatise seems an immediate from-the-hip response, the second is provided to expound on some of the ideas that some readers/hearers might have misunderstood, the third is a more detailed and thorough response to iconoclasm and church authority in general.

St. John takes on the iconoclasts from several directions. With respect to their use of scriptural prohibitions against images, St. John responds with church tradition as the guide to interpreting scripture and challenges those who would "remove the ancient boundaries, set in place by our fathers" [Prov 22:28]. He reminds his listeners several times in these sermons that, "Not only has the ordinance of the Church been handed down in writings, but also in unwritten traditions." And ends the first sermon on that theme with, "Therefore I entreat the people of God, the holy nation, to cling to the traditions of the Church. " Referring to Ezek 20:25 in light of Matt 19:7-8 with Heb 1:1-3, St. John says, "And I say to you, that Moses, on account of the hardness of heart of the sons of Israel, ordered them not to make images, for he knew their tendency to slip into idolatry. But now it is not so; we stand securely on the rock of faith enriched by the light of knowledge of God." The authority of the church to interpret scripture based on the sacred tradition is without doubt in John's eyes. It is a direct challenge to those in John's day (and ours) who would attempt to claim scripture alone guided by private interpretation alone as the final authority on faith and morals.

With respect to the authority of the emperor to arrogate the authority of the church, St. John responds forcefully on the basis of apostolic succession, "It was not to emperors that Christ gave the authority to bind and loose, but to apostles and to those who succeeded them as shepherds and teachers." Several times he refers to emperor Leo by name so there can be no doubt of his meaning.

St. John is not shy to imply that the iconoclasm movement is, in essence, nothing more than a resurgence of the Manichee heresy that viewed matter as inherently evil. He challenges this heresy with "You abuse matter and call it worthless. So do the Manichees, but the divine Scripture proclaims that it is good. [Gen 1:31]" And when challenging the view that images of matter could not be made or venerated he responds, "For just as the holy Fathers destroyed the sacred places and temples of the demons and in their place raised up temples in the name of the saints, and we reverence them, so they destroyed the images of the demons and instead of them put up images of Christ and the Mother of God and the saints." And, St. John further asserts, "I do not venerate matter, I venerate the fashioner of matter, who became matter for my sake, and in matter made his abode, and through matter worked my salvation. I reverence therefore matter and I hold in respect and venerate that through which my salvation has come about, I reverence it not as God, but as filled with divine energy and grace." St. John also links images with the veneration of saints and contends that removing an image of a saint is the same as not venerating them, and, he contends concerning the saints, "It is just as bad not to offer the honor due to those who are worthy, as it is to offer inappropriate glory to the worthless."

St. John's eloquence alone makes this an enjoyable and inspiring read. The relevance to the issues related to images which St. John touches upon (relics, hagiography, Mary, icons, statues, scripture and tradition) are still hindering our unity today and that makes this work all the more valuable to us. This is a must read for anyone interested in the development of Christian doctrines or church history.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I very good book 11 Jan 2014
By Donna Vernal - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I enjoyed this for the very fact that I am not good at reacting to non believers questions about my faith and this book helped me so much I will read it a second time. It is very easy to follow as well and not many of the books like this are. I think it is a very good book.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Fresh Translation, with a Remarkable Scholarship of Theology and Ecclesiastic History 27 April 2007
By John Philoponus - Published on
"John of Damascus helped to secure the future of art in the service of Christ. Without his brilliant defense, both profound and at times earthly, we might well have had no icons, murals, and mosaics in churches to elevate and enrich our spirits." L. Wickham, Cambridge Divinity

Icons then & now:
The Orthodox attitude toward icons developed out of the iconoclastic struggle of the eighth and ninth centuries. During the reformation, early church reformers were iconoclasts, they believed it impossible to portray the divinity of Christ, and thus found it heretical to portray only his humanity. The Eastern solution to the icons of Christ was to focus on the image, which God made visible in the flesh, emphasizing the divine nature of the humanly experienced Christ. This strictly adhered to a traditional portrayal by copying a likeness from one image to another, revert to early 'iconic writings', rather than mere imagination or interpretation. The features of icons are similar because they are portraits based on historical prototypes, unlike Western art, individual visualizations of figures available for unending imagination. These representations help Eastern Orthodox in worship, though inevitably flawed, by providing a blurred vision of spiritual truth.

Icons, a Western View:
"...the icon Fr. Barbour purchased wherein one sees the women 'Orthodoxy, and 'Hellas,' this is a coy and clever rhetorical strategy. ... It is also suggestive of that ubiquitous caricature of Orthodoxy we are all well aware of: the Orthodoxy that is nothing more than the idolatrous synthesis of faith and cultural identity." The Ochlophobist, Oct. 06
The very different response of the West to an iconoclastic challenge led to a different Christ figure than that of the East, which emphasized his humanity. The Christ figure, Dostoevsky portrays, in Myshkin is very much a Western Christ, one who is undeniably human, vulnerable to suffering and death, not a deity in human form, who is offering us salvation. Dostoevsky has dislocated the iconography of Christ, East and West, to carry out what might be called an iconoclastic project of his own. In portraying the 'truly good man,' an even necessary task for an artist, he runs the risk of producing an authoritative discourse which answers those questions which must remain open, only dealt with through the experience of suffering. If he were to create the image, he would destroy its power. These issues were far ahead of John Damuscene when he wrote his apologies.

Louth Translation & commentary:
John of Damascus wrote 'Against Those Who Attack the Divine Images' in debating the iconoclastic Byzantine theologians of the 8th century, and the imperial powers violently rejecting icons veneration. He defended the tradition of using icons in liturgical and private prayers, reminding the Church that their use is a safeguard to a central doctrine of orthodox Christian faith: the Incarnation of the Word. In Jesus Christ, God became man, and therefore, can be depicted in icons.
This fresh, complete translation, of John's three treatises on the divine images more clearly display the issues at stake, both then and now. This translation by the eminent patristic scholar, in modern English, renders these central treatises accessible, to scholars and laymen alike. John's message remains pertinent today, for those who still regard icons with suspicion.

John of Damascus:
Andrew Louth task was initiated by his study on John of Damascus, unlike JND Kelly on Golden Mouth, is a remarkable combination of theology and scholarship. He is capable to analyze the various influences discernible in the numerous writings of John. Louth's scholarly methodology combines the historical analysis of literary association with the exposition of the thematic content of the texts, demonstrating an enviable mastery of the Greek patristic literature. This study sets John's theological work in the context of the process of defining, preserving, and defending the church doctrine. He explores John's achievement as a theologian of icons and as a liturgical poet. Louth depicts John as standing at the end of the creative era of patristic thought but addressing that thought to a new age of expanding Islam and Christian iconoclasm, in which his Arab monastic community, despite its remoteness from Byzantium, played a strategic role in articulating theological defense.

Fr. Andrew Louth:
Professor of Patristic and Byzantine Studies, U. of Durham. He taught patristics in Oxford University, and Byzantine and Medieval history in the University of London. His research interests lie mostly in the history of theology of the Greek tradition, within the Byzantine Empire. His books include: Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition: from Plato to Denys, Discerning the mystery: an essay on the nature of theology, books on Dionysius the p-Areopagite, Maximos the Confessor, John Damascene, and on the tradition of desert Christian spirituality.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Defense of icons 2 Aug 2008
By Elisa Heilman - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I ordered this book to help me write a paper on icons. It is very informative. It is the exact words of John of Damascus translated into English. The treaties tend to repeat each other because they were all written at different times. It defends the use of icons very well.
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