"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.