Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Scriptural understanding of image

Another talk presented at our Icon exhibit "Images of Eternity."
This talk was given by Dn. Thomas Lynch.

The Christian understanding of image is intrinsically connected to the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ. By which I mean, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” i And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” ii In another place it is written that Jesus Christ is the exact image ( Greek: Icon) of the invisible God who is beyond human comprehension: Jesus, “Who being the brightness of his (God's) glory, and the express image of his (God's) person...” iii, The Father’s dear soniv “Who is the image (Greek: Eikon, Ikon) of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, ...all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.”v

...By him were all things created...” So we read of the mystery of creation in Genesis, that God, when creating humankind, said “ And God (Elohim: plural, a revelation of the mystery of the Trinity) said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: ...So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” vi In the most ancient texts of the Old Testament Scripture, the Greek Septuagint, which were used by the Apostles and the Lord Himself, the word image here is “Icon”, just as it usually is in the New Testament writings. There is a cohesiveness and unity of thought, of revelation. Jesus is the Icon of the Invisible God, existing before time and from all eternity, and man is created as the image, the icon, of the Eternal Word, the Pre-Eternal Image of God, by whom all things were created. St Athanasius comments:

“You must understand why it is that the Word of the Father, so great and so high has been made manifest in bodily form.... He has been manifested in a human body for this reason only, out of the love and goodness of His Father for the salvation of us men. We will begin, then, with the creation of the world and with God its Maker, for the first fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning. There IS thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation; for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word Who made it in the beginning.”

For God is good-or rather, of all goodness He is Fountainhead, and it is impossible for one who is good to be mean or grudging about anything. Grudging existence to none therefore, He made all things out of nothing through His own Word, our Lord Jesus Christ; and of all these His earthly creatures He reserved especial mercy for the race of men. Upon them, ..., upon men who, as animals, were essentially impermanent, He bestowed a grace which other creatures lacked - namely, the impress of His own Image, a share in the reasonable being of the very Word Himself, so that, reflecting Him and themselves becoming reasonable and expressing the Mind of God even as He does, though in limited degree, they might continue for ever in the blessed and only true life of the saints in paradise. But since the will of man could turn either way, God secured this grace that He had given by making it conditional from the first upon two things -namely, a law and a place. He set them in His own paradise, and laid upon them a single prohibition. If they guarded the grace and retained the loveliness of their original innocence, then the life of paradise should be theirs, without sorrow, pain or care, and after it the assurance of immortality in heaven. But if they went astray and became vile, throwing away their birthright of beauty, then they would come under the natural law of death and live no longer in paradise, but, dying outside of it, continue in death and in corruption. This is what Holy Scripture tells us, proclaiming the command of God, "Of every tree that is in the garden thou shalt surely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil ye shall not eat, but in the day that ye do eat, ye shall surely die." 1 "Ye shall surely die"- not just die only, but remain in the state of death and of corruption.

You may be wondering why we are discussing the origin of men when we set out to talk about the Word's becoming Man (and about Image and Icon). The former subject is relevant to the latter for this reason: it was our sorry case that caused the Word to come down, our transgression that called out His love for us, so that He made haste to help us and to appear among us. It is we who were the cause of His taking human form, and for our salvation that in His great love He was both born and manifested in a human body. For God had made man thus (that is, as an embodied spirit), and had willed that he should remain in incorruption. But men, having turned from the contemplation of God to evil of their own devising, had come inevitably under the law of death. Instead of remaining in the state in which God had created them, they were in process of becoming corrupted entirely, and death had them completely under its dominion. For the transgression of the commandment was making them turn back again according to their to their nature; and as_they had at the beginning come into being out of non- existence, so were they now on the way to returning, through corruption, to non-existence again.”vii

The Eternal, self-existent God the Word took our form, our nature, and so became our Brother.viii He was and is both 'Son of Man' and 'Son of God': both completely identifying and joining our humanity, except without sin, and retaining the fulness of the Image of God. Thus being joined to us while at the same time keeping complete union with the Father, and being the very Image of the Father, He is able to restore us to our lost position, to restore us to the Image of God. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”ix God in Christ, the Creator condescending to become part of His creation, is a wonder beyond wonders. For love of us and longing to provide the way of our restoration He did what He did. He did so not for man alone, but to free and lift all of creation which was enslaved through man's rebellion to the curse and corruption. All of creation is lifted and cleansed by Christ's life, death and resurrection, and made a fitting vessel for His goodness and love.The Creator came as a creation, and through this recreated all things, making all things new, especially to him who believes. Dehumanized man was made capable of true humanity again. Even more, he is recreated in the Image of Him who created Him, and made, even more, a child and heir of God and Christ. Through Jesus' birth, man is able to be reborn, to be set free, to begin again on the true path of life. Jesus as the Image of the Father, and His union with man, through His death and resurrection, could recreate and restore man to the lost image of God.
He sanctified the body by being in it.
He sanctified creation by entering it.
He descended below, He ascended above, He fills all things. x

Man, in Christ, is made a “kingdom of kings and priests” xi to offer spiritual sacrifices of thanksgiving and praise to the Lord of all creation.
Man is made a living stone, built into a spiritual house for God to dwell in. He was a dead stone, insensible to God: now in the Rock Christ he is partaker of the divine nature.xii
It is written in the Old Testament that Israel passed through the river Jordan as on dry land. God caused the river to stop, and they passed over dry-shod.
And it came to pass, when all the people were clean passed over Jordan, that the LORD spake unto Joshua, saying,Take you twelve men out of the people, out of every tribe a man, And command them, saying, Take you hence out of the midst of Jordan, out of the place where the priests' feet stood firm, twelve stones, and ye shall carry them over with you... And Joshua said unto them, Pass over before the ark of the LORD your God into the midst of Jordan, and take ye up every man of you a stone upon his shoulder, according unto the number of the tribes of the children of Israel:
That this may be a sign among you, that when your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean ye by these stones? Then ye shall answer them, That the waters of Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it passed over Jordan, the waters of Jordan were cut off: and these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever.”xiii St Paul writes that the Old Testament stories are examples and allegories for us.xiv God, who forbade the worship of created matter as God, yet ordains matter as a memorial, sign and example: not as an object of worship, which is reserved for God alone, but as an aide and witness. The stones represented the tribes of Israel. Stones because they were not yet truly made alive in God. Now those who believe and obey Christ are made living stones: and God the Holy Spirit continues to instruct His servants to set up memorials - Icons - to the living stones whose lives are joined to Christ. The great cloud of witnesses surrounds usxv, not just in the Spirit, but in the matter which God has sanctified by His becoming matter. They speak to us in words beyond words in Icons, images of the image of God,Christ, whom they are joined to:
“ For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest,...
But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels,
To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,
And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant...”xvi
Are come... in the Spirt, and in the body as well, when you enter a sacred space filled with the memorials to the “ just men made perfect and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant”, the living stones and the Living Stone.

The ancient prohibition of God against images was not directed at images per se (Or else why would God himself have commanded images to be made: the Brass Serpentxvii, the Cherubim overshadowing the Mercy Seatxviii, the appointments of Solomon's temple like the brazen oxenxix, the adornments of the Tabernacle of meetingxx, etc, etc); but rather the prohibition was directed at 2 main defects:
  1. The worship of material,created things as the uncreated, uncontainable, incomprehensible God.
    (This has ever been the deluding work of man's archenemy, the devil, who is ever trying to impose his image on man and seduce man to worship him and demons. (See Revelation 19.20; 20.4, 10) We have an enemy that ever desires to impose on us a false image and obstruct the image of Christ – (2 Corinthians 4.4,6)
  2. Because God had not yet revealed His form or Image -
    And the LORD spake unto you out of the midst of the fire: ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice. Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the LORD spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire:
Lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female, The likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air.”xxi
Now that God has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, has taken human form, has joined His divinity to matter, it is fitting and good to portray Him, as well as those who are evident signs of His divinizing, Christifying, sanctifying work in man. St John said “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;xxii God has come in the flesh, and dwelt among men. Iconography bears eloquent and true testimony to this. That which was granted to the Apostles, to see the Lord, is given to us in a physical approximation which conveys deep spiritual truth. We “see” through the Spirit granted medium of the Icon.
Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:
And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.
For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.”xxiii Icons bear faithful witness to the coming of Jesus in the flesh, and stand against the raging of the devil and the ravages of men who wish to obscure the fullness of the redemption that is in Christ.
iJohn 1.1
ii John1.14
iiiHebrews 1.3
ivColossians 1: 12, 13
vColossians 1:15-17
viGenesis 1.26,27
vii St Athanasius, On the Incarnation: St Vladimir's seminary Press, Crestwood NY: pgs. 26, 28,29
viii Psalm 22.2 : Hebrews 2.12 -“I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.”
John 20:17: Jesus said.. go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God."
x Ephesians 4.9,10
xi1Peter 2.5,9
xii2 Peter 1.4
xiii Joshua 4.ff
xiv Galatians 4.24, 1 Corinthians 10.11
xv Hebrews 12.1
xvi Hebrews 12.18-24
xvii Numbers 21. 8, 9
xviii Exodus 25. 19,20
xix 2 Chronicles 4.3,4
xx Exodus 25 - 28
xxi Deuteronomy 4. 12 -17
xxii 1 John 1.1
xxiii I John 4.2,3 & 2 John 1.7