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The Early Church Fathers on Pictures and Images.


  • Early Church Fathers
  • From the Scriptures



  1. Tertullian, (A.D. 160-218)

Tertullian, (A.D. 160-218), North African; ecclesiastical writer, Christian apologist and lawyer, son of a centurion and contemporary of St. Irenæus, a native and citizen of Carthage. The zeal and ability with which he defended the Christian cause, and vindicated its faith and discipline, have immortalized his name, though it has suffered by his adoption, around the year A.D. 200, of some of the Montanist's errors, whose cause he is thought to have supported until his death. His works are numerous, and are written with great ability and erudition, but in an harsh style.

"You may begin from parables: Where is the lost sheep sought for by the Lord, and carried back upon His shoulders? Let the very pictures of your chalices come forth, if even in them the interpretation of that animal will clearly shine forth, whether it portray the restoration of a sinner that was a Christian, or a Gentile."

De Pudicti. n. 7, p. 559.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 304




God alone is the object of our worship and adoration but Catholics use pictures and images similar to relics for:

      • the representations of Christ
      • the mysteries of their blessed religion, and
      • the holy saints of God

to honor and venerate them and to enliven their memories towards heavenly things, beyond what is due to every profane figure. They don't believe there is any virtue in the picture or image, but the honor given to the picture or image is referred to the prototype, or the thing being represented. Christians and even secularists do this today when they carry a picture or image of their family in their wallets.


In the Old Testament, only images of strange gods were prohibited as appears not only from the words in Exodus 20:5 and Deuteronomy 5:7, but also from the cherubim (Exodus 25:18) and the brazen serpent (Numbers 21:8), which Yahweh ordered to be made. The mural decorations of the Jewish synagogues in the early Christian period from excavations abundantly attest to this.


There is a question therefore, not of a separate commandment which forbids the worship of all images, but of an application of the precept forbidding the worship of strange gods. The prohibition of image worship, already discussed, does not contemplate the case of an image of Yahweh, most probably forbidden in the Book of the Covenant. Deuteronomy 4:16 insists, however that he did not appear in material form lest the people should be led to make an image out of him and misapprehend his spiritual nature. The prohibition of idols is found in the Book of the Covenant. It appears here in an amplified form most probably as a later addition to the decalogue to illustrate and safeguard the first commandment. The Latin division of the commandments is thus the more reasonable one and the more likely to be original.




The Church's Scriptures that support Pictures and Images:


Jesus recounts Moses lifting up the carved image of a serpent in the wilderness

14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life."


John 3:14-15

The Lord commands Moses to make two (statues|images) of cherubims from beaten gold

18 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying. . . . Thou shalt make also two cherubim of beaten gold, on the two sides of the oracle.

Exodus 25:18

The Lord commands Moses to make a (statue|image) of a brazen serpent

8 And the Lord said to him; make a brazen serpent, and set it up for a sign; whosoever being struck shall look on it, shall live. 9 Moses therefore made a brazen serpent, and set it up for a sign, which when they that were bitten looked upon, they were healed.

Numbers 21:8-9

The Israelites display an ungodly use of the images the Lord commanded Moses to make

4 He (Ezechias) destroyed the high places, and broke the statues in pieces, and cut down the groves, and broke the brazen serpent, which Moses had made; for till that time the children of Israel burnt incense to it, and he called his name Nohestan.

2 Kings 18:4

Solomon furnishes the temple with carved images of cherubim, palm trees and open flowers

29 He carved all the walls of the house round about with carved figures of cherubim and palm trees and open flowers, in the inner and outer rooms. 30 The floor of the house he overlaid with gold in the inner and outer rooms. 31 For the entrance to the inner sanctuary he made doors of olivewood; the lintel and the doorposts formed a pentagon. 32 He covered the two doors of olivewood with carvings of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers; he overlaid them with gold, and spread gold upon the cherubim and upon the palm trees. 33 So also he made for the entrance to the nave doorposts of olivewood, in the form of a square, 34 and two doors of cypress wood; the two leaves of the one door were folding, and the two leaves of the other door were folding. 35 On them he carved cherubim and palm trees and open flowers; and he overlaid them with gold evenly applied upon the carved work.

1 Kings 6:29-35

Products of Hiram the Bronzeworker done for Solomon: lions, oxen, and cherubim.

23 Then he made the molten sea; it was round, ten cubits from brim to brim, and five cubits high, and a line of thirty cubits measured its circumference. 24 Under its brim were gourds, for thirty cubits, compassing the sea round about; the gourds were in two rows, cast with it when it was cast. 25 It stood upon twelve oxen, three facing north, three facing west, three facing south, and three facing east; the sea was set upon them, and all their hinder parts were inward. 26 Its thickness was a handbreadth; and its brim was made like the brim of a cup, like the flower of a lily; it held two thousand baths. 27 He also made the ten stands of bronze; each stand was four cubits long, four cubits wide, and three cubits high. 28 This was the construction of the stands: they had panels, and the panels were set in the frames 29 and on the panels that were set in the frames were lions, oxen, and cherubim. Upon the frames, both above and below the lions and oxen, there were wreaths of beveled work.


1 Kings 7:23-29

Solomon carved cherubim on the walls.

7 So he lined the house with gold — its beams, its thresholds, its walls, and its doors; and he carved cherubim on the walls.


2 Chronicles 3:7


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