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Patrick Dickensheets wrote:

Hi, guys —

I am a practicing Catholic.  I don't mean to cut down my own faith; I am just asking for a clarification.

  • Do we not go against the engraved image commandment with the Rosary, crucifixes, statues of saints, etc?

It seems to be spelled out very well in the Bible as to worshiping God as a spirit.

  • What am I missing?

Thank you,


  { Do Catholics go against 'the engraved image' commandment in the Bible (e.g. the Rosary)? }

Mike replied:

Hi Patrick,

Two of my colleagues, Bob and Eric, answered your question in other off-line e-mail dialogues.  The dialogues were pretty long, so I'm just giving you the important portion of their replies that pertains to your question.

The question in one dialogue was:

Why did the Catholic Church take away the second commandment and break the tenth commandment into the ninth and tenth?

Bob replied:

With respect to the breaking down of the commandments. The "ten" commandments are listed in both, the books of Exodus 20:2-5 and Deuteronomy 5:6-9 and have slightly different lists in each place. There actually is no numerical distinction in the books to indicate what the ten consist of. Jewish sources have traditionally broken the list down in different ways according to whichever Rabbinic school they were associated with. Likewise, Protestant and Catholics have also broken them down differently, but neither has done it with malice. They are merely drawing from different ancient traditions.

(There have been anti-Catholic sects that try to break the list down to condemn particularly Catholic religious practices and art.)

There is no omission of the second commandment (here I am assuming that you are referring to the " ' you shall carve no image..' verse" that comes from Deuteronomy 5:8.) This is directly condemning a practice of idol worship that is referred to in the first part of the verse "no other gods." There was an ancient practice of worshiping these things as though they were in fact, gods, but even the Lord himself instructed the Jews to fabricate what would be considered "graven images" in several places, most notably in the construction of the Ark of the Covenant, the central reliquary in Jewish worship.

"Make two cherubim of beaten gold for the two ends of the propitiatory, fastening them so that one cherub springs direct for each end. The cherubim shall have their wings spread out above, over in the propitiatory with them; they shall be turned toward each other, but with their faces looking toward the propitiatory"

(Exodus 25: 18ff).

These images that adorned the most holy object of Jewish veneration would be damnable according to the interpretation of the fundamentalists that condemn Catholic art. To be consistent, they would have to condemn God as well.

Catholics do not worship images, but use them as means to instruct and remind us of the events and saints they represent, to inspire us to imitate and reflect on God's grace and heroic accomplishments in his faithful. Holy music is meant to do the same. They lift our senses and imagination, but can in no way take the place of God, who is infinite and glorious. Lastly, the breaking down of the final two commandments has to do with the emphasis taken from the Early Church with respect for purity as something unique, and singled out by Christ:

"every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart...(Matthew 5:28).

Thus the two commandments each focus on two important, but distinct, areas of human concupiscence:

  • freedom from lust, and
  • freedom from greed or avarice with respect to others goods.

While interrelated, the distinction brings the necessary focus on maintaining an inward control with respect to carnal desires.


The question in another dialogue was:
Since icons, statues, etc. are all supposed to depict things that reside in heaven or earth, aren't they against biblical teaching?

Eric replied:

No. Biblical teaching forbids worshipping images or otherwise making them idols (which we don't do). This is demonstrated by the fact that God actually commanded the Israelites to make certain images of creatures and use them in worship (Numbers 21:6-9, Exodus 25:18-19).

A longer argument, which I can state only briefly and probably can't do justice, goes along the following lines. God forbade images because God had no image but when God became incarnate in Christ, he took upon himself an image — he took the form of man. He joined himself to creation, and united God and man. In fact, he made us partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4) and filled us with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19). Consequently, since God took the form of man, and himself became a living icon, it is legitimate for us to make a representation of God in material form. Moreover, since the saints have a share in the divine nature and the fullness of God (and reflect the divinity of Christ), it is legitimate to make images of them as well. We would contend, therefore, that something substantial happened at the Incarnation, that the God who had no form prior to that, is now in material form; and to reflect that awesome truth, we make images of Christ and those he has glorified. These images we venerate, (never worship).


Hope this helps,


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