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The Early Church Fathers on Pictures and Images.


  • Early Church Fathers
  • From the Scriptures



  1. St. Paulinus of Nola, (A.D. 353-431)
    St. Augustine of Hippo, (A.D. 354-428)
    St. John Cassian, (A.D. c.360 - 433)
    St. Nilus the Elder, (A.D. c.385 - c.430)
    Theodoret of Cyrus or Cyrrhus, (A.D. 393-458)
    Sozomen, (Salminius Hermias Sozomenus), (A..D. c.400-c.450)
St. Paulinus of Nola, (A.D. 353-431), Roman; convert and bishop Of Nola, Born at Bordeaux he was ordained priest in 393, and was appointed bishop of Nola in 409; may have been indirectly responsible for Augustine's Confessions. One who knew St. Paulinus well says he was "meek as Moses, as priestly as Aaron, innocent as Samuel, tender as David, wise as Solomon, apostolic as Peter, loving as John, cautious as Thomas, brilliant as Stephen, fervent as Apollos."

St. Paulinus Of Nola expostulates with Sulpicius Severus for having placed, in the baptistery of his basilica, a painting representing St. Martin of Tours, and his friend, the writer Paulinus.

"You did right to have a painting of St. Martin in the place where man is formed anew; he, by a perfect imitation of Christ, portrayed the image of a heavenly being; and thus the image of a celestial soul would meet, as an object of imitation, the eyes of those who were putting off in the laver the old man of earthly form. But what does my picture there, I, who neither equal children in innocence, nor men in wisdom?"

Ep. xii. ad Severum, p. 191, T. ii. Bib. Max. SS. PP.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 314-315

In one of the poems, given by Gallandius, St. Paulinus tells us, that a thief stole "an image of the cross, little thinking that it would prove instead of his treasure, his betrayer." Its recovery he describes as effected by the prayers of a boy to St. Felix.

Carm. Nat. xi. Galland. T. viii. p. 215, v. 381- 600.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 315

St. Augustine of Hippo, (A.D. 354-428), North African; born in Tagaste in A.D. 354, baptized in Milan in A.D. 387, ordained a priest in A.D. 391 and appointed bishop of Hippo in A.D. 395, Augustine is one of our greatest theologians. His numerous works display genius of the highest order, and have ever had great weight in the Christian churches. He is also a Doctor of the Church.

Speaking of certain writings falsely ascribed to our Savior, he says:

"When they wished to feign that Christ wrote something of this sort to His disciples, they reflected to whom especially it would be most readily believed that He might have written, as to persons who had been more familiarly attached to Him, unto whom this matter might be fitly entrusted as a secret; and there occurred to them Peter and Paul: I suppose they saw them painted together with Him in many places, for Rome is accustomed to honor with greater solemnity the merits of Peter and also of Paul on account of their martyrdom being on the same day. So did they indeed deserve to err, who sought for Christ and His Apostles, not in the holy writings, but on painted walls: no wonder that forgers were deceived by painters."

T. iii. De Consens. Evangelist. L.i.c.x.n.16, col. 1253.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 313

St. John Cassian, (A.D. c.360 - 433), ordained a deacon by St. John Chrysostom and a priest in Marseilles, a Christian theologian celebrated in both the Western and Eastern Churches for his mystical writings. He is known both as one of the "Scythian monks" and as one of the "Desert Fathers". His opinions on grace being in opposition somewhat to those of St. Augustine and the Church, caused him to be opposed by St. Prosper.

"As the hymns of the Consubstantialists were seen to be, in those chantings of hymns by night, accompanied with more splendor, for he (St. John Chrysostom) devised silver crosses, which supported lighted torches of wax, the Empress Eudoxia furnishing the money that was required for them, the Arians."

H.E.L. vi. c. viii. p. 322.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 316

St. Nilus the Elder, (c. A.D. 385 - c. 430) (also known as Nilus of Sinai, Neilos, Nilus of Ancyra), Syrian, was one of the many disciples and fervent students of St. John Chrysostom; an eyewitness of the martyrdom of Theodotus.

He gives the following advice to Olympius, who was about to build a church in honor of the martyrs, and who proposed to cover the walls with hunting and fishing scenes, so as to represent all the animal creation, and to erect therein "countless crosses," and "images of plaster," "To what you have written I will answer, that it would be trifling and puerile to delude the eyes of the faithful with the things named above, but it would be the act of a solid and masculine mind to represent, in the sanctuary towards the east, one, and only one cross; for through one saving cross is the human race saved, and to the hopeless is hope everywhere proclaimed. And fill the holy building on every side with the histories contained in the Old and New Testament, done by the hand of the most skilful painter; in order that they, who are not acquainted with letters, and are unable to read the divine Scriptures, may have a remembrancer of the worthy actions of those who have nobly served the true God, and be excited to emulate the glorious and celebrated excellencies, by which they despised earth for Heaven, and prized things invisible above the visible. But in that common building, when divided into many and various chambers, it is enough that each chamber have placed in it the precious cross."

L. iv. Epist. Ixi. pp. 491-92.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 316-317

Theodoret of Cyrus or Cyrrhus, (A.D. 393-458), Greek; an influential author, theologian, and Christian bishop of Cyrrhus, Syria (A.D. 423-457). He played a pivotal role in many early Byzantine church controversies that led to various ecumenical acts and schisms. His friendship for Nestorius embroiled him, for a time, with his great contemporary, St. Cyril of Alexandria.

Having spoken of the veneration in which Saint Simon Stylites was held, and of the crowds that flocked to him from all parts, not only of Europe, naming amongst the rest the British, but also from Asia, he says:

"as to Italy, it is superfluous to speak. For they say, that he has become so celebrated in mighty Rome, that they have set up at the entrances to all the workshops, small images of him, deriving (or devising) thence to themselves a kind of protection and safety."

Side note: The entire basilica seems to have been adorned with paintings. In one of his histories he tells us that the main events, both of the Old and New Testament, were represented; and he gives us a list and description of the chief among them, together with his reasons for having recourse to this kind of ornament. See Carm. Nat. ix. pp. 289-90.

T. iii. Hist. Reliq. c. xxvi. p. 1272.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 315

"Now Greeks, Romans, and Barbarians, treat of as God, the crucified, and venerate the sign of the cross."

T. v. Curat. Grcec. Affect. Disp. vi. p. 880.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 315-316

Sozomen, (Salminius Hermias Sozomenus), (A..D. c.400-c.450), Palestinian; was a historian of the Christian church. He composed an Ecclesiastical History in nine books, comprising the period between A.D. 324 and 439.

Of the statue said to have been erected at Caesaraea-Philippi, by the woman spoken of in the Scriptures as laboring under an issue of blood, he says:

"As soon as Julian (the apostate) learnt that in a city of Phoenicia, called Paneas, there was a remarkable statue of Christ, which the woman who had been freed from her infirmity, dedicated there, he overthrew it, and set up his own. But a sudden fire fell from Heaven, and tore the parts about the breast of that statue, and threw down the head and neck. . . . And, from that day to this, it has stood in this state, covered with the blackness caused by the lightning. But as to the statue of Christ, the Pagans of that time dragged it away, and broke it. But afterwards, the Christians having gathered the pieces together, placed them in the church, where they are even now preserved."

H.E. L. v. c. xxi. p. 212.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 3



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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