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The Third Iconoclasm

The two roots onto which Western Christendom was grafted proposed very different notions about depicting the gods.  The Greeks famously made images of Athena and Zeus, always depicting them as man writ large, and were untroubled by this glaring anthropomorphism.  Hebrew tradition, on the other hand, said nothing about making or worshiping images of God.  It did, however, specifically forbid the making and worshiping of images of any creature on the earth, in the sky, or in the sea.  (We can only presume that the images of the cherubim, which God commanded to be made, were not worshiped.)  About making images of God and worshiping them, the Old Testament is silent, presumably because any attempt to depict God was bound to be inauthentic and would degenerate into idolatry.  There was a kind of framed space in the Hebrew imagination that must remain empty.  God’s actions might be known, but men could not see His face and live.

Then an event promised by Isaiah occurred in the little town of Bethlehem.  God was with us.  A portrait had been painted within the empty frame.  Suddenly, we knew the face of God.  We beheld the glory of Christ, the glory “as of the only begotten Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.”  Show us the Father, Philip asked, and His reply was, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.”  Jesus Christ is, in Saint Paul’s...

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