Until Gnosticism’s Mystical Leaven Made Icons Seem Unobjectionable

Rev. Bruce G. Buchanan:
Originally Posted by Jeri TannerView Post
Would 2 Corinthians 5:16 be relevant here: “Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more.”

Indeed, this verse is quite relevant to the issue. When men infantile themselves, and refuse to remain true and to insist there is one correct orientation to Jesus, they do themselves and others disservice.

The disciples first of all, along with original detractors, and those indifferent, and finally all those who have received the gospel message of the Risen Lord–everyone has been introduced to the One Jesus, the Man who was also God.

The disciples had to move from a state where they viewed Jesus purely after the flesh, that is exclusively as a man, then perhaps a great man, then as the greatest man ever. They had to go from where they began–and Paul started in an even worse condition since he began by thinking of Jesus as a human criminal devilish blasphemer who got what was coming to him–and end up worshipping this One as God with us, Emmanuel.

Pictures of Jesus, besides being necessarily artificial imaginations, must either be idolatrous (by prompting worship, the very essence of the practice); or else besides promoting a fiction, they encourage the Nestorian heresy by presenting “just” the humanity of him whose two natures cannot be divided. The image is more than fiction: it is impossible; and to say “No, but it is possible,” is to place oneself cheek-by-jowl with the heretic.

But this intention, however much it is dressed up in pragmatic terms–as in the case: “theology or the Bible for the unlettered or the young”–deliberately walks in the opposite direction of the original disciples. Instead of beginning where they began, where men naturally begin thinking of another man as someone essentially like themselves; or wherever men start off with Jesus, and then raising him higher, higher, higher all the time….

No, instead the pragmatist reduces Jesus to someone he thinks will more easily be accommodated in the darkened thinking of the lost person. He assumes entirely the wrong original perception on the part of the child or the rebel. Their problem is not fundamentally that Jesus may be or become too “ethereal” for their access; but that being God he is not known to them at all.

The point of the Incarnation is not that a man became God; which is the natural regression of our thinking when we put the process in reverse, and is the telos for those we teach by the wrong method and motive. Not everyone ends up there, but that fact doesn’t make rationalizing the wrong process all OK.

The point of the Incarnation is that God became a man (what did he become? flesh, you know: feel your skin, look in a mirror, cut yourself, get emotional–yea, that); and then selected witnesses came to recognize that what they saw, heard, and handled was more than they ever expected. He was more than they knew. They did not have to drop down to some baseline to find a Jesus to connect with.

Wait, what about Gnosticism? You mean, the spiritualizing religion where Jesus is etherealized? Do pictures of Jesus effectively combat modern variants of Gnosticism? Hmmm, are pictures of Jesus an idea that worked in the 2nd & 3rd centuries? Or, was that a “solution” that introduced images of Christ and icons into a church that was free of them prior to that moment?

The early church came to be filled with all sorts of humanistic-Jesus heresies, and also the excessively spiritualized. We can’t blame the introduction of images for them; but we can say that the church thoroughly shunned depictions of Christ until in the East and the Greek-speaking church Gnosticism’s mystical leaven made icons seem unobjectionable, or even salutary.

Pictures of Jesus are endemic to the world of heresy. They are the natural outgrowth of humanistic heresies such as Adoptionism and Appolinarianism. They are a useless and ultimately harmful treatment for spiritualizing heresies like Docetism and Eutychianism. A bad-cure will prevent a proper cure from being introduced, and will not only fail to heal the harm; it will then nurse new errors. At the present time, Iconoclasm (the purposeful removal of images/icons as the idols they are) is regarded by many churches of both Eastern and Western tradition as a heresy in its own right, rejected by Second Nicaea in A.D.787.

The answer to spiritualizing heresies isn’t discovered in images of Jesus, or in any proposition that compromises the Creator-creature distinction lying at the heart of the first Table of the Law. The answer IS the Creator-creature distinction; and a proper appreciation for and use of the Old Testament as Christian Scripture.

One of the losses of the first few centuries of the church, only gradually recovered and come into its own in the Reformation, was the OT as integral to the revelation of Jesus Christ; along with the understanding that OT saints were “Christians” before there was such a name or formal connection. It is not as if the OT was unknown; but that its essence became (for a variety of reasons) largely inaccessible, even to teachers of the church.

Faith of the OT does not express a fundamentally different outlook from faith of the NT. Only one’s orientation to the Coming One is different. The outward conduct of the true religion was suited in former days to the conditions antecedent to His arrival. The “accidents” of the faith were quite distinct, and we don’t simply map our current covenant-expression onto an OT schematic in order to understand the connections.

But it was a tremendous loss to the church to enter a time of profound forgetfulness respecting the only Bible the earliest church possessed (the OT), the very Scriptures the living apostolic witnesses interpreted to converts as the Hope now fulfilled in Christ–witness that was then safeguarded to future generations by inscripturation in the pages of the NT.

The very earthiness of the OT grounds our Religion in a deeply human, creational reality. It is that reality God the Son condescends to enter as fully and completely as could possibly be–a scandalous and foolish entry. But that happening is exactly what is revealed in Scripture. Unwillingness or inability to grapple with those facts is what brings on the spiritualizing heresy; or, makes the humanistic heresy plausible.

Either way, the absolute prohibition of images of deity fundamental to biblical religion going back to the beginning is not excepted in the Person of Christ, nor does the Incarnation logically lead to softening of this command and expectation.

Source: http://www.puritanboard.com/showthread.php/91050-An-article-defending-pictures-of-Christ, Comment #13

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