Friday, December 05, 2014

Happy St John Damascene Day

St. John Damascene Priest and Doctor of the ChurchHappy St John Damascene day!
I don't know if it is by accident or design that he is celebrated during Advent, but he is one of the great defenders of the Incarnation.

I thought I would have fun this morning, w3e had a class of 9/10 year olds in for Mass this morning, so I tried explaining iconoclasm and iconophilia to them.
St John of course was a resident of Damascus, in Syria which until 636 had been a Christian city, John was born 10 years after it conquest by Islam. It is worth noting that the Koran says more about Jesus than Mohamed, it is Jesus, not Mohamed who will come as judge at the end of time. Islam denies the idea that God could ever become Man and could suffer and die on the cross.

St John saw Islam as being a Christian heresy, a re-capitulation and extension of Arianism, which ends up by denying God's ability to transcend himself and become one with his creation. The doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation affirm God becomes one with us, he descends to us, becoming Man, and raises us up so the we might become Divinised. For Islam at best man may become a servant or slave of God, but never a Son.

Iconoclasm is more than denying that God can be portrayed, on its simplest level it is about the destruction of icons but underlying that thought is a dis-ease with the notion that God can become one with us, that he can be seen in flesh and blood, the next stage of course is to deny that Holy Eucharist or the Sacraments can be a meeting with the Divine, and beyond that, that we cannot encounter sanctifying Grace.

The Protestantism of the 16th Century was the Wests Iconoclastic crisis, the Counter Reformation the triumph the Iconophiles. Perhaps our problem is that in the West we have never quite taken Second Council of Nicaea seriously enough and so the period after the Vatican II becomes another period of Iconoclasm. It can be seen literally in the purposeful destruction of imagery in churches.

 More than that, it has lead to the profanation of the Sacred Liturgy, to reducing the sacraments to something self referential, to seeing the Church as something quite human rather than of Divine origin and end, and of God's presence in the world. It sees the priesthood and episcopate as mere jobs that even someone in serious sin can do.

Vatican PopeIn many ways the Extra-ordinary Synod on the Family was a battle between iconoclasts and iconophiles, those who believe marriage is an image of the unbreakable union of Christ and his Church and those who don't.

There is an iconophile mindset that always wants to see the image of God and experience his presence, just as there is an iconoclastic mindset wants to move away from God and to shut him out. Iconoclasm is dangerous. |Euthanasia and abortion become so easy if we do not see in the vulnerable the image of God.

I am concerned by a iconoclastic mindset in the Church, not only does it 'wreckovate buildings' but it excludes images of Christ and ultimately the person of Christ from the Church's life, I was given some posters recently to be distributed advertising a Catholic event, lots of pictures of bishops, none of Christ: that is an iconoclastic mindset.


ACC92 said...

I thought I'd comment here so you can check this message and not publish it, if you'd be so kind

I read on a facebook thread from a former seminarian who was at this particular college at the time that the mural which was removed/painted over/whatever and he said it was not done by ++Cupich but by his predecessor.

Thank you and God Bless you, Fr!

Kneeling Catholic said...

Thank you for this post, Father!

The photographs of the'worship spaces' are horrid....I laughed so hard when the 'crescat' girl referred to the Pope's chapel at the motel as 'the mother ship'!

If you haven't already, check out Tom Holland's 'Shadow of the Sword'. He notes with frustration that the birth of Islam was not documented by the Arab conquerors themselves until 150 years after the fact. Holland tries to compensate for that vacuum--- by covering instead what was going on with Persian Zoroastrians and Byzantium Catholics (and other near-eastern Christian and pagan sects) during the 6th and 7th centuries.

Holland has some very beautiful, moving stories about the Christians of that time. For example he narrates how the Emperor Heraclius, after having successfully led a 4 year campaign to recover the True Cross from its Persian captors, takes his shoes off and carries It himself back into holy city.

(and how one the early Umayyad conquerors --I think Mu'awiyah--himself walked the via Dolrosa and prayed at Golgotha)

Mighty Joe Young said...

Smashing, Father. It got me to thinking about the changes in the Book of Blessings which, as M.J understands it, was premised on the ideology of Karl Rahner who held that grace was not something to be called down from Heaven via a blessing but that it was, rather, a ritual that revealed /opened up the grace alreadv existing in the world.

(So, in my local Parish is it Holy Water or Wholly Water now?)

In any event, your framing of what is happening is unique and useful.

God Bless you

Athelstane said...


It seems that the wreckovation (there really is no other word) had begun by February 1989, at which time the Josephinum’s rector was still Monsignor Dennis Sheehan.

That said, Msgr. Cupich made no effort to stop or modify the renovation, but saw it through to completion, and apparently made no effort to undo any of it.

As it happens, a new effort is underway to restore some beauty to the chapel, through the offices of William Heyer Architect:

Jacobi said...

A good analysis Father. We are in an iconoclastic phase and a very dangerous one. But what do we do about it?

annmarie said...

Iconoclasts also forget that to strip all the visual from a Church is to force people to rely on what they know and remember (and all too easily get wrong!). A missionary once went to South America, and was suddenly struck by how much Protestantism relied on people being able to read - all very well for us, but not so for those who had not had the opportunity to go to school. We forget how recently we have become literate. She also noticed a multitude of Christians, all claiming to have the true Biblical interpretation were these poor people to know which was right?

She, and her husband, became Catholics.