Sacred Imagery: A Defense
by Pauly Fongemie, Web Master


All around us images abound, now more powerful than the written word in the age of fast-paced technology. It is the impression that counts in these last days, and yet, never before has an assault on sacred imagery, those pertaining to the Holy Trinity, Angels and Saints, been more concerted and unrelenting. The age that worships the image as the sine qua non, simultaneously disparages the very images that can penetrate the heart and soul and move one to seek the grace of salvation. Perhaps you know the kind of thing I refer to: a public domain image of the Sacred Heart, cropped, with the face of Elvis Presley, "King of Rock n' Roll" replacing the splendor of the image of Christ our King; the magnificent image of one of the world's great Madonnas violated by "photoshopping" --- implanting an obscene image within the holy one, so that the Blessed Virgin Mary is stripped of her everlasting virginity, so to speak.  It is perpetual winter, with so many souls deadened to the ideal of purity in word and image, body and soul. This little treatise is less a denouncement of this debauchery, which I indeed deplore, than that of the moral licitness of the use of sacred art itself.

From time to time we receive e-mail taking us to task for displaying images of Jesus and Mary at all. The complaints are from "Sola Scriptura" Protestants, who usually cite the following Biblical passage from the Old Testament:

        I, the Lord, am thy God, Who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage . .  . Thou shall not have strange gods before Me. Thou shall not make to thyself a graven thing, nor the likeness of anything that is in Heaven above or in the earth beneath, nor of those things that are in the waters under the earth. [Exodus 20: 2-5]

They neglect to go further in the same book, for if they did do so, they would be confounded to learn that God tells Moses:

Thou shalt make also two cherubims of beaten gold on the two sides of the oracle. [Exodus 25: 18]

Now we know that God does not contradict Himself. The first passage is very clear, we are forbidden from making false idols to worship, for God is Supreme and alone to be adored.

The second is also as clear: we are commanded to make and erect sacred symbols or images, in this case, Angels, to adorn the sanctuary wherein we adore the God Who has created all such creatures. Sacred images, then, as directed by God are both pleasing to Him and us, for religion is more than an intellectual endeavor, it involves our whole being.

The Second Council of Nicaea, a dogmatic, infallible council, teaches:

"We, continuing in the regal path, and following the divinely inspired teaching of our Holy Fathers, and the tradition of the Catholic Church, for we know that this is of the Holy Spirit Who certainly dwells in it, define in all certitude and diligence that as the figure of the honored and life-giving Cross, so the venerable and holy images, the ones from tinted materials and from marble as those from other material, must be suitably placed in the holy churches of God, both on sacred vessels and vestments, and on the walls and on the altars, at home and on the streets, namely such images of our Lord Jesus Christ, God and Savior, and of our undefiled Lady, or holy Mother of God, and of the honorable Angels, and, at the same time, of all the Saints and of holy men. For, how much more frequently through the imaginal formation they are seen, so much more quickly are those who contemplate these, raised to the memory and desire of the originals of these, to kiss and to render honorable adoration to them, not however, to grant true latria according to our faith, which is proper to Divine nature alone; but just as to the figure of the revered and life-giving Cross and to the holy Gospels, and to the other sacred monuments, let an oblation of incense and lights be made to give honor to these as was the pious custom with the ancients. "For the honor of the image passes to the original"; 2 and he who shows reverence to the image, shows reverence to the substance of Him depicted in it." [COUNCIL OF NICAEA II, 787]  For a fuller excerpt, click HERE.

The people who contact us in outrage are most likely well-intended, if not as versed in Scripture as they might think, relying as they do on private interpretation, either their own or those they have entrusted the matter to. But St. Peter was instructed by Our Lord to feed His sheep, three times, for emphasis, and also promised that He would strengthen the faith of the First Pontiff so that he would in turn strengthen the faith of the other Apostles. It was to Peter and the Apostles that Our Lord confided everything to be taught. Scripture itself testifies that not all that was taught to be handed down is written there, hence, Tradition. In fact  Tradition, the oral teachings of Christ through the Apostles and their successors, was for the first few centuries the only source of the Divine mandate because the canon of the Bible, until Luther, accepted by all those who at the time became Protestants, was yet to be adopted and confirmed through the power of the Holy Spirit enlightening the early Church fathers.

As with the Bible, Luther exerted his vile influence and pernicious doctrines as to sacred imagery.

The destruction of images was revived by Luther and the other Reformers of the sixteenth century. The churches and monasteries were the great museums of the art of the Middle Ages. Many priceless paintings and statues were demolished, frescoed walls were whitewashed; and gorgeous stained glass windows with figures of Christ and His Saints were ruthlessly smashed. The iconoclastic campaign was especially vehement in Germany, Holland and the British Isles. A traveler to these countries, visiting some of the desecrated Catholic churches which are now being used as Protestant houses of worship can scarcely fail to note the mutilated statues of Christ and the Saints still standing in their niches. [O'Brien, Rev. John A., THE FAITH OF MILLIONS]

The Puritans who colonized early America in the Northeast went even further as history attests. Much of modern Protestantism is imbued with their "puritanical" ideas. As Louis Kaczmarek, author of THE WONDERS SHE PERFORMS, wrote:

The material senses of man's body fuel the faculties of his soul-----his intellect, his will, his memory. The early Church understood the value of images using them to teach the truths of the faith. Today, the need for symbols and images continues; we need to return to our churches, our statues, our pictures, our traditional Stations of the Cross. The most effective media today-----television-----makes vital use of these truths. The mentors of Madison Avenue know that a picture is worth a thousand words.

Catholicism, the heart and soul of Christian practice embodies the Incarnation of Christ in all its devotions and pious works, much of it conducted with the aid of holy iconography, in keeping with the counsel of the Second Council of Nicaea and God's command to Moses.

To do so is not to worship Mary, the Angels and the Saints, but venerate them so as to give Glory to God.

No one believes that you and I worship our ancestors by displaying old sepia photographs of them. It is no different than with an image of the Madonna and Child or St. Joseph. They belong to our heavenly family. Ought not we take delight in their images, most especially, as they are part of our patrimony, the one that is most pre-eminent?

One of the men who wrote me identified himself as a Baptist. I know that there are as many variants of this sect as there are daisies blooming in the field down the road. But I recalled at the time that one of my cherished art books is that of the collection hosted by a great Baptist college, Bob Jones University, filled with images of Christ, the Saints and Our Lady. The Baptist church next door, our immediate neighbor, has an image of Christ in the entrance hall. I asked this gentleman if he had any images of his grandmother and if he worshipped her, and what he thought of the use of the image of Christ in his church bulletins and the like. He never wrote back, so I hope I struck a chord by which he might really think with perception, not parrot the new Puritans.

There is an old saying in the Church,  [paraphrased by me] that when a person ceases to gaze upon the Mother, he soon ceases possessing her Son.

In this regard I quote the following authors of sacred works:

   Catholics who have honored the Mother still worship the Son; while those who have now ceased to confess the Son, began by scoffing at the Mother. [Newman, quoted in the preface to St. Louis De Montfort, TRUE DEVOTION TO MARY, Montfort Publications, Bay Shore, N. Y.,  11706, p. 11] 

During the same period in history, Father Faber wrote,
        Here in England Mary is not half enough preached. Devotion to her is low and thin and poor. It is frightened out of its wit by the sneers of heresy. It is always invoking human respect and carnal prudence, wishing to make Mary so little of a Mary that Protestants may feel at ease about her. Its ignorance of theology makes it insubstantial and unworthy. It is not the prominent characteristic of our religion which it ought to be. It has no faith in itself. Hence it is that Jesus is not loved. . . .

Why the image of Our Lady of Fatima and not that of a famous Madonna?

Because we are in the times foretold by Our Lady of Fatima and because the Consecration of Russia is still to be done. Until this is accomplished we will suffer one chastisement after another. One of the effects of the loss of grace is a loathing for authentic holy things and the crass substitution of the profane in their place. The despoliation of Catholic sacred imagery demoralizes and taints all that it touches because a picture is, indeed, a thousand words, even more. Our Lady of Fatima is still calling us to Heaven's Peace Plan, the Five Saturdays of Reparation, the Brown Scapular, and the Consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart, whereby she will triumph over all the heresies embedded in the proliferation of the errors of Russia that have infected western societies. The Pilgrim Statue of Fatima travels the globe as a symbol of that call. I can think of no more fitting banner image than that of this statue. We selected yellow roses, a sign of friendship, that we will all be reminded to remain within the state of grace, the very friendship of God, and the white peony for prosperity: not the prosperity of financial gain and luxury, but the prosperity of peace. All things can be accomplished with God and perseverance in prayer. In the dead of winter the most fragrant flowers have been known to bloom, miraculously!



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