Calvin and Icons

What are your thoughts on icons and Christian art? One of the things I want to do this year is more clearly articulate what incarnational Christianity is all about, and that means delving into this subject. With that in mind I thought I would draw your attention to two articles which explore common ground and contrasts between the Orthodox (iconographic) and Calvinist (iconoclastic) traditions with some accompanying excerpts:

Orthodox-Reformed agreed statement on Christology. “As regards the connection between the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of the Incarnation, Orthodox and Reformed seem to follow two different kinds of approach which, however, are not incompatible. The Orthodox approach takes its beginning in the Mystery of the Incarnation which includes the whole saving economy as it is proclaimed in the Bible, confessed in the Patristic Tradition and experienced in the Divine Liturgy. The starting point of the Reformed approach to Christology and the mystery of the Trinity is the scriptural witness to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Both agree that their teaching about Trinity and Incarnation reflects the encounter with the reality of God as revealed in Christ.”

“Speaking of the union of natures in the person of Jesus Christ is normative for both the Orthodox and Reformed traditions. However, the term “nature” should not be understood statically, or abstractly, nor as if the human and divine natures were two individual instances of a generic concept of “nature’. What this language directs us toward is the reality of God assuming the reality of humanity in Jesus Christ, a movement of God to humanity and humanity to God in the unity of his person and history.”

“The divergent conclusions drawn by the Orthodox and Reformed traditions on the subject of iconography is a subject related to the above statement which might well form a point of entry for discussion at a future dialogue.”

Calvin vs the icon. “Because Calvin never dealt directly with the historic Christian nor the Eastern Orthodox position on icons, he never effectively refuted the Orthodox position nor addressed the historic Early Christian teaching and practice. His polemic may be valid in the context of the Reformation and when viewed against the abuses and excesses that the Reformation set out to right. However it should be noted that medieval Catholicism by Calvin’s time had diverged significantly from Eastern Orthodoxy and Nicea II. For this reason it can be claimed that Calvin’s polemic against the icons is incomplete and possibly invalid.”

I would encourage you to read the full articles.

Now, I belong to neither tradition, but I have been influenced by both, so I can see pluses and minuses with both. At the risk of oversimplification, ok, you need no more than briefly glance at this site to see where I come down on the use of iconography overall, but it would be a mistake to assume my personal use extends to icon veneration, because it doesn’t. What I found interesting here though, is that despite the obvious dispute over icons, both authors concluded there is common ground, or at least potential for common ground, particularly with the observation that both traditions have objections with artistically representing the Father over and against medieval Catholic excesses. That’s pretty much where I stand as well. Sorry Michaelangelo.

2 thoughts on “Calvin and Icons

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s