Are Statues in Catholic Churches “Graven Images?”

Posted By on October 19, 2019


We are going to go to Anonymous
in Syracuse, Indiana. Anonymous, are you with us? Yes I am. And guess what the
question is? The question is: why are you Protestant? Why am I Protestant? Okay, well,
like many others, I’m Protestant mostly because I was born Protestant. I was
raised in an Anabaptist family. My parents were Amish,
I was raised Mennonite; and I live in a very large Mennonite community, and
honestly Catholicism was never even on my radar. I can relate. Yeah, like in
high school I think maybe we had one Catholic family, you know. And then
the little touches that I had with Catholicism, just, I wasn’t interested. You
know, like, I went to a Catholic wedding and it was, like, ridiculous. You know, like
everybody was drunk and it was crazy and it was just like, I couldn’t–
I can assure you, Anonymous, having been married two years ago in the
Catholic Church, the wedding with my wife was nothing like that, so that must
have been an anomaly. And mind you, it wasn’t the wedding; I’m
sure you’re talking about the reception. Exactly, you’re right! It would be really bad if it was at
the wedding. Right, exactly, it was the reception. But it was just, there was nothing
along the way that would have made me interested at all until about
three months ago. I have a long drive to work, and I was so tired of NPR, and I
couldn’t, you know, I didn’t want sports talk, I find
Christian radio pretty boring, and all of that. So I was just channel surfing and I
found Catholic radio, I–first of all, I was just blown away. So I’ve
been listening a lot the last three months,
but things that have–and there’s a lot of things I don’t have an issue with,
like the idea of a universal Church and a universal authority. I
actually believe in that, but it’s just hard–so who should have
that authority? That’s not really my question, though. Okay.
So what is really getting at you, Anonymous? Ok, so here let me tell you,
so why am I not Catholic? Yes, okay. And help me with this hurdle, and it might
just be personal, but it has to do with the physical part of Catholicism.
Okay. Like, I would hear stories sometimes
about, like, there was miracles by a Virgin Mary statue or something, and
she was crying, and I just felt like that just seems crazy. Like, you know,
hocus-pocus stuff or whatever. So that was in the past; but even now today, like
a couple times I’ve been in Catholic churches and I find the statues
really offensive. Like, personally offensive, and let me explain a little
bit why: growing up in the Amish tradition, you don’t even take
pictures, because those are “graven images,” you know? So like, in my home now, even
though I’m no longer even Mennonite, I’m just in a mainstream Protestant Church,
I don’t have nativities in my home, I don’t have pictures of Jesus in my
home, I don’t wear a cross with the crucifix. That is very consistent where many
Protestants are not, Anonymous. That’s right. I really appreciate what you’re saying. You
know what, I think I got the gist of this, so if I could jump in, Anonymous. I think
the key here is to understand, even from the Old Testament, that
that Amish sort of Mennonite understanding is really not
biblical. When you go back to the Old Testament, for example, in Exodus 20, where
you have the Ten Commandments, right, “Thou shalt not make any graven image of any
likeness of anything being in heaven or earth or under the sea;” if you go just
five chapters later, just five chapters, in Exodus 25:18, what do you have?
God commands Moses to make the Ark of the Covenant, and over the top
of the mercy seat you have two enormous five-foot-tall golden angels.
They’re cherubim. And so God commands–and I love the way that it’s
written there in the King James Version. It says: “Thou shalt make two golden
cherubim out of beaten gold.” So wait a minute, God said “No statues,” and then He
commands Moses to make a statue. And think of this as well:
the Ark of the Covenant, where you have these enormous
golden statues, became a source of God’s grace and God’s power for God’s people.
And then you go to Numbers chapter 21 verses 8 and 9 and you see, when Moses
and the children of Israel were in the wilderness and they began to rebel
against God, God sends a plague of snakes among them, Moses intercedes for them; God
commands Moses once again, He says: “Make a brazen serpent, put it up on a pole,” and
when the children of Israel looked to it, they were healed. Now, you and I
know that in John chapter 3 verses 11 and 12 in the New Testament, we find
that is a type or an image representing the coming Christ. But nevertheless, the
point is: God uses stuff. He uses the physical world to be instruments whereby
he brings his blessing to his people. And so even in the Old Testament you have
that. Now even though you don’t have any images of God in the Old Testament,
because God in Deuteronomy 4:16 has a stricture against having images of God–
but even there it’s an interesting point here, Anonymous. He says–God tells them
why. He says: “I did not command you concerning the making of images when I
brought you out of Israel because I took no form among you.” So God tells them why.
“I don’t want you making forms because I didn’t take a form.” Well, guess what? In
the New Testament, He does: “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” And we
believe, Anonymous, that in the Incarnation, now God has become flesh. And
so while we only have that limited use of images in the Old Testament, we have a
much fuller sense of images in the New Testament because, well, principally in
Colossians chapter 1:14-15, especially verse 15, it says: “Christ is
the image of God, the firstborn of all creation.” And the Greek word there for
“image” is “eikon,” or “icon.” Christ is the ultimate icon because
of the Incarnation. We believe that in the the Incarnation God became physical, and
so he relates to us physically. Not that he didn’t in the Old; yes he did, through
the ark and the the brazen serpent and such. But now it’s
a much more intimate and physical relationship. So Tim, let’s pull this together,
and then Anonymous, we’ll hear from you. So you’re saying, Tim, that when God
said, “Do not make graven images,” He wasn’t saying, “Do not make images of any
kind,” because He later commanded people to make images; rather, He was forbidding
the creation of images people would worship in idolatry. Absolutely right,
Trent. And Anonymous, He’s condemning idolatry, not the making of statues,
because if He was condemning the making of statues, He contradicts himself.
Right, because He wouldn’t command you later to do something he said not to do before. So
Anonymous, that was a lot to take in; is that helpful for what you’re
searching through? It is helpful. I do– one question that you know I’d have as a
follow-up is the Old Testament and the New Testament thing, but I can read about
that. I do have one more question, though, that’s related to the physical, okay?
Like, to dwell in the tabernacle– you know, do you believe that the
presence of God is in the building? Like, the cathedrals or whatever? Like
I go there and the presence of God dwells there? Because
that’s a hang-up I have too, like in Ephesians 2 where it says “We are
being built into the dwelling place of God in spirit,” and “Where two or three are
gathered, I’m there in your midst.” So what what is it about, that the
presence of God is in a building? Absolutely. Here you ask a very
important question. First of all, we believe, just as you do, Anonymous, that
God dwells in all Christians in a special way. Through our baptism, the Holy
Spirit comes to dwell within us. Matthew 18:19, which you quoted, “Where two or
three are gathered together in my name, there am I in their midst,” so not only
is Jesus present with us via the Holy Spirit
individually through our baptism, just as when Jesus was baptized
the Holy Spirit descends upon him, “This is my beloved Son, in whom
I am well-pleased;” that’s, you know, Jesus didn’t need to be baptized, because he was
God, but He’s showing us this is the way that, as individuals, God the Holy Spirit
comes to dwell within us. So as individuals, God dwells within us.
Collectively, there is a special way in which God dwells within us, as you
mentioned in Matthew 18:19. So in other words,
we agree with you, Anonymous, on these things. However, there is a special way in
which Christ is present in his Church, and that is in the Eucharist. Because
Jesus comes, as he said in John 6:53, he said: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of
Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” Jesus said “This is my body” on
Holy Thursday, and St. Paul tells us, in 1 Corinthians 11:27-29, that
Jesus is actually present–body, blood, soul, and divinity–in the Eucharist; and
because of that fact, in the Tabernacles in all the apostolic Churches around the
world that have valid Eucharist, Jesus is present in–as Trent mentioned in the
last hour–in a physical reality. He’s present body, blood, soul, and divinity. So
there is a special presence even beyond that individual presence where the Holy
Spirit’s in us. He’s in us collectively; in Catholic Churches, he’s in the tabernacle,
body, blood, soul, and divinity. Anonymous, I hope that that’s helpful. If you have other
questions, call us back or go to Catholic.com.

Posted by Lewis Heart

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