Heretics, Icons, and the Incarnation
A little while ago I had a post on my son which included a reference to Nestorianism. In the post I made a connection between having pictures of Christ and Nestorianism. It should be pointed out that I was actually confusing my heretics. Although, I think in a way the connection still holds. First, the heresy I meant to reference was Docetism which teaches that the incarnation was an illusion, thus God the Son did not really take on human flesh; rather, it only seemed as though he did. This is part of the argument of the iconodules who defend the making of images of Christ: Where Deuteronomy forbids images on the basis that Moses and the elders did not see any form or likeness on the mountain, Christians have always maintained that we have now seen a form and a likeness, even Jesus Christ, the express image and icon of the invisible God (Heb. 1:3). Nestorious on the other hand, rather than down playing the humanity of Christ, downplayed the deity of Christ. His contention was the Jesus was empowered or inspired by God the Son, but that he was not himself God the Son incarnate. Even though I was mixing up my heresies, I think the association actually still works. Occasionally, iconodules argued that their artistic renderings were acceptable because they only depicted the humanity of Christ. To which the iconoclasts (the ones taking hammers to church) rightly argued that they were falling into Nestorianism, separating the natures of Christ. Which I would agree with, if that really were the rationale for artistic renderings of Christ. However, as it turns out, the absolute ban on images seems to actually go back the other way. If Christ cannot be depicted then it would appear that not only may there be an incipient docetism in the works, but Nestorianism is also a denial of the incarnation. According to that sorry Christology, Jesus was merely a man that got really lucky. But the point is that Nestorious saw no need for God to become a man. His soteriology only needed a good man to show us the way. But the story of the gospel is that we needed God to come down to us and bring us back to himself. We were not merely sick and in need of a few vitamins. We were dead and needed God to come down and touch us with his hands, die, and in his resurrection, raise us back to life. And all that just to say that pictures of Christ (done well and tastefully) can serve to remind the faithful that God has indeed become a man in Christ. We have beheld his glory, even the glory of the only begotten of the father, full of grace and truth. So I’m still sticking to my claim: we’re not Nestorians but neither are we docetists. And if there’s anything else that’s bad, we’re not it.
Lastly, I should add that while I’m generally more sympathetic to the icondules than to the iconoclasts. I am not in any way, shape, or form condoning the EO or RC practices of bowing to, making out with, dancing with, talking/praying to, or burning incense before the aforementioned pictures. Gives me the creeping fantods.