What is ‘Iconoclasm’

What is ‘Iconoclasm ‘ ? With Reference to Byzantium

Historical background: the icons.

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If we were to utilize the iconophile cantonments ain histories for the period before iconoclasm, and for the usage of icons so there would be small uncertainty as to the importance of the icon as a cult object in 7th century Byzantium. Christian iconography is readily available and identifiable from as early a the 2nd century, [ 1 ] but the exact relationship between it and its audience, i.e. Christian worshippers, remained far from clear until the 7th century. [ 2 ] Surprisingly few texts, or even hints of physical grounds, survive that address the basic inquiry of how icons were incorporated into the life of the early church. [ 3 ] It is merely in the latter phases of the 6th and throughout the 7th century that a consistent organic structure of composing emerges ( or survives ) that addresses this inquiry. [ 4 ] This increasing grounds has been used by some bookmans to reason for an increasing icon cult during this period, this thesis has held sway from some old ages now, [ 5 ] but it is progressively coming under onslaught. Doubts have been raised about the cogency and genuineness of the narrations, and possibly pre-iconoclastic cults were the creative activity of station iconoclastic authors. [ 6 ] The building and deconstruction of the thought of a pre-iconoclastic cult of icons has mostly been based on texts. It is of import, hence, that the lasting stuff grounds from the period should be examined and incorporated into the treatment, since, at least on the surface ; there appears to hold been an image rich civilization in the part. We can see big Numberss of little scale devotional objects and public plans, such as St.Demetrios in Thessaloniki and Santa Maria Antiqua in Rome. We should now analyze whether the being of these images can be interpreted as the being of a cult of icons ; so, is a cult is seen to be, is its being sufficiency to hold caused the iconoclasm itself.

An object presently in the Vatican can be used to present some of the cardinal issues that define the statue of the icon in period. The object in inquiry is a little box from the Sancta Sanctorum ; the exterior ornament on the box shows toe cross on Golgotha. The spear and sponge are besides suggested, although the ornament is damaged. Key Christian symbols are besides present, the Chi-Rho, Alpha and Omega. [ 7 ] The box itself is a reliquary, it contains rocks, wood and fabric set into a hard-boiled paste. Some of the objects are accompanied by labels that claim them to hold come from specific sites in the holy land. [ 8 ] The point is peculiarly notable because the inside of the palpebra is painted with five scenes ; the cardinal of which shows the crucifixion. The other preserved images are of the Nativity and one of the grave of the Ascension. The images are non in any chronological order, but they do stand for sites visited on a pilgrim’s journey. Iconographically the box day of the months from the ulterior sixth of early 7th century and offers us Christ’s narrative every bit good as stuff remains of that narrative. [ 9 ]

This box and its contents represent an interesting dual representation ; the illustrations do non co-occur with the contents of the box itself. The icons, so, are non merely be interpreted as a ocular word picture of the box’s contents. Some have suggested that the box was a mass produced point whose ornament would therefore predate the aggregation of the contents. Even if the box itself, and therefore the iconography, were mass produced, this would non contradict the possible significance of the imagination. The images, in all likeliness, mark the continuance of the claims to material truth made by the artifacts themselves. [ 10 ]

This possibility can be explored to an extent in the living Hagiographas of Leontios of Neapolis. Leontios’s constructed duologues give a fundamentalist place to the Jews, viz. , that images of God are were purely forbidden by the Second Commandment. Through his duologues, Leontios demonstrates an indifference to the stuff, but what he leaves the reader with is a series of stuff agencies by which to retrieve a historical and bodied God. Leontios concern is non with holy organic structures or artifacts ; he addresses these merely in order to pull analogies for the possible authorization of noncorporial relics. His chief purpose is t draw the recollection of Christ, who left behind no organic structure himself. [ 11 ] It seems that when Leontios engages in a treatment of the topographic point of images within Christianity, he considers icons to belong within the same class of cognition irrespective or their manufactured beginnings. [ 12 ]

We can now widen our expression at the iconography of the period to another organic structure of stuff, once more one in which relic and material coexist ; the ampullae [ 13 ] and items that were removed from sanctum sites. [ 14 ] One aggregation of ampullae is of peculiar involvement, these are from the holy land and were likely acquired by the queen of Lombardy, Theodolinda and now at the pecuniary of St. John the Baptist at Monza and the pecuniary of St. Columbanus at Bobbio. [ 15 ] This is a aggregation of little lead-tin flasks upon which are a assortment of images. These images range from individual scenes to complex arrays of scenes. The ampullae that is of most involvement is no. 5 from Monza, the contrary of which shows the two sufferer at the grave of Christ. [ 16 ] In the scriptural narrative, they are greeted by the angel who tells so that Christ has risen. The image on the ampulae, nevertheless, has been transformed. [ 17 ] The cave of the scriptural history is non depicted ; alternatively, the inside of the Anastasis Rotunda in Jerusalem is portrayed. A similar transmutation was noted earlier with the images on the Vatican box. This appears to be a form of disregarding historical distance is copied on the forepart of the ampulae presently under treatment. This image is of the crucifixion, but is itself altered ; the Christ figure is reduced in size to a flop and the most infinite is given to a word picture of the cross. The cross is the focal point of devotedness of the two pilgrims who are seen kneeling at its pes. As if the ocular imagination is non clear plenty, an lettering runs around the exterior, it is in Grecian, but translates as “Oil of the Wood of Life of the Holy Places of Christ” . [ 18 ] What this ampullae appears to give us is something of a duologue between the historical beginnings of “the pilgrimage” and the pilgrims ain memories of the topographic points he visited that gave rise to the scriptural narration. Here, the crucifixion is commemorated by the worship and fear of the cross itself, the cross has become the icon and Christ’s grave has been moved to the Anastasis Rotunda, presumptively one of the sites that the pilgrim visited on his travels in the Holy Land.

The contents of the flask ampullae are besides interesting ; the lettering tells us ( or claims at least ) that the ampullae contains oil from the wood of the tree of life. This oil was proverbially powerful ; a description of which was given by the 6th century Piacenza pilgrim “when the oral cavity of one of the small flasks touches the wood of the cross, the oil immediately bubbles over, and unless it is closed really rapidly it all spills out” . [ 19 ] The oil is transformed by contact with the cross and imbued with marvelous belongingss, the oil was so used to guard off devils and act as a remedy for many complaints. [ 20 ]

These illustrations are interesting in respects to the relationship between stuff points and the sanctum. There seems to be the chance that common affair, i.e. Wood, fabric, rock, oil etc. can be transformed into a holy relic or icon. Their power comes, non from what they are in and of themselves, but from contact with an bing sanctum relic, in this case the cross of the crucifixion, which was, in bend, empowered through contact with the organic structure of Christ. The stuff, therefore transformed, is authenticated and identified by lettering and imagination word picture. These images serve to, non merely place the contents, but to tag the pilgrims’ pilgrim’s journey. The ampullae, and other points, such as the Vatican box, serve as stuff cogent evidence of the contents’ contact with the sanctum, but besides to turn out the carriers contact with the sanctum. The experience may good be fanciful, there is no direct grounds that Theodolinda undertook a pilgrim’s journey herself, these artifacts offer a “virtual” pilgrim’s journey.

These relics, to an extent, offer us an image of how the cult of the icon emerged. When Leontios of Neapolis ( above ) introduced a fresh treatment of Christian material civilization into Christian literature, he noted a changed function for the imagination that led to it being granted value, in and of itself, as non verbal cogent evidence of an historical being. Therefore, when images and relics were placed following to one another, they were to be interpreted and contemplated and understood in analogue, as material representations of a historical individual or event. The icon itself besides may supply an avowal of the relic’s individuality. [ 21 ] The chief intent of an icon was to be a agency of widening the touch of the relic, through a touchable interaction of relic – icon – perceiver.

Kitzinger [ 22 ] has noted, with involvement, how the cult of relics basically led to the cult of the icon in Christian pattern in the period. The two are different, nevertheless ; with the cult of relics, perceiver is presented with the organic structure, or portion of the organic structure, ownership of, or point in some manner connected with, a holy individual, frequently Christ. These points are defined by the fact that they, or the individual, has been in contact with the holy relic. As we can see in the text of Leontios of Neapolis, the physical presence of an object becomes the key to a historically true event. By physical contact with the artifact ( s ) there is a kind of existent physical hint with the yesteryear still preserved, in some ways you are really reaching the sanctum itself. The icon, nevertheless, is a picture or other physical rendition ; it is a created object, a adult male made point. In order to integrate and formalize the icon into an already bing pattern, i.e. the cult of the relic ; the guardians of the cult of the icon had to reason that the image they created could prolong contact in the signifier of the memory of an original word picture, whose industry was in some manner marvelous itself. [ 23 ]

There are cases where the manufactured icon itself took on the position of a relic ; these icons are known asacheiropoietaicons, [ 24 ] those icons that are non made by manus. These icons, the claim is, are non manufactured, but their beginnings is ascribed to some miracle. In early illustrations it is the contact between the portrayal and the portrayed that licensed this signifier of representation. As such, they continued to be portion of the cult of the relic, whilst avoiding some of the booby traps of the cult of the icon, i.e. that it was manufactured and non, in any existent manner, sanctum. These images were in bend copied.

It can be seen, so, that a cult of the relic had existed for some clip in Christianity, but that a cult of the icon besides evolved. It seems likely that the cult of the relic was the more important, given that the relic had, in some manner, been in contact with an existent sanctum artifact, like the cross. The cult of the icon became more important over the period. Churches had been filled with holy relics and icons for several hundred old ages before iconoclasm took clasp. With this in head it is difficult to gestate of how and why iconoclasm began at all in Byzantium.

The sudden visual aspect of iconoclasm [ 25 ] on the Christian Byzantine scene has sometimes been attributed to the physical propinquity of Islamic universe. In Islam the really thought of stand foring the human signifier, be it secular or Godhead, was abhorrent. It is besides easy to reason that the Byzantine Emperor, Leo III, whose roots are in Syria, was non influenced by Islamic beliefs and patterns ; although to exactly what extent this is true can merely be speculated.

From the Christian point of position, nevertheless, it should be remembered that this new and radical philosophy of iconoclasm was in world an obvious collorary to the Monophysite place taken by many Christians. The Monophysite place was basically that we should accept merely the godly nature of Christ, which by definition, therefore, would be impossible make depict in any iconographic or symbolic signifier, and we hence have to reject the human nature of Christ. Christians could non, hence, logically O.K. of a physical manufactured word picture of Christ in human signifier. With this in head, it is no surprise at all that more of the enthusiasm for this new philosophy of iconoclasm came from the Eastern states in which Monophysitism had ever been more prevailing and deep rooted, and which had ever been influenced by near eastern mysticism and doctrine, and less so from the more mercenary West.

Even though iconoclasm was mostly limited to the eastern states, it did hold a strong instance. Ever since the beginning of the 7th century, the cult of the icon had been steadily turning in importance and popularity. Equally far as Christian fundamentalists were concerned, the cult of the icon was going unmanageable to the point where sanctum images were openly worshiped in their ain right, and non for what they had originally represented. Idolatry had become so widespread that icons on occasion even served as godparents at baptisms. [ 26 ] In what they considered to be a reaction and protest against crying heathen manner devotion that a figure of bishops in Asia Minor adopted an iconoclast pronunciamento and became captive upon distributing their thoughts every bit widely as possible throughout the Empire.

The Emperor, Leo III, despite his beginnings in Syria, gave no early indicants of understanding with the new motion of iconoclasm, rather the contrary. On a figure of occasions during a besieging in the early 7th century he made full usage of Constantinople’s most celebrated icons, the VirginHodegeteria, [ 27 ] holding it paraded up and down the metropoliss walls to instil bravery into his work forces, and of class to strike fright into the Black Marias of the enemy. Contrary to this, nevertheless, he made no protest when in 723 the Caliph Yazid, holding been cured of some complaint by a Judaic sorcerer, was persuaded by the sorcerer to publish a decree telling the immediate devastation of all Christian icons in all churches, markets, public edifices and private houses throughout his rule. [ 28 ] There is some grounds that this same Judaic sorcerer had besides visited the Emperor in Constantinople and put similar force per unit area on him: [ 29 ] it is certain that in 725 the image breaker bishops of Asia Minor did so.

Leo’s alteration of bosom, from a general who evidently saw the benefits of the usage of icons, to a adult male happy to see such things destroyed, was non a self-generated act. It would look that the Emperor’s determination was the consequence of a combination of Muslim and Jewish influences, together with, possibly the strongest of all, force per unit area from a figure of his ain key Christian subjects. In 725 Leo even made the determination to present a series of discourses in which he attached the surpluss of the iconodules [ 30 ] which he, and the bishops of Asia Minor, held to be in crying neglect of the 2nd commandment as passed down through Moses.

In 726, Leo decided it was clip to put an illustration to the image breakers. Confronting due easts towards St. Sophia across the wide unfastened infinite of the Augusteum was the rule gateway to the imperial castle, known as the Chalke. A old gateway had been destroyed by a rabble during the Nika riots some old ages antecedently, and had been built by the emperor Justinian. The new gateway was a brilliant construction in its ain right. [ 31 ] Procopius [ 32 ] Tells us that it was a tall domed edifice with a cardinal dome, the inside riveted with slabs or marble above which wee a series of mosaics stand foring the triumphs of Justinian and Belisarius. The walls were lined with statues, some of them antediluvian, many of former emperors. Outside, above the great bronze doors that gave the edifice its name, stood a huge aureate icon of Christ.

This representation of Christ was likely the largest and best known icon in Constantinople ; this was besides the first icon that was singled out by Leo for devastation. The reaction of the public was instant and violent. The officer in charge of the military personnels assigned to destruct the icon of Christ was attacked by a group of indignant local adult females and killed. News of the iconoclasm spread rapidly through the Empire ; mutinies were reported among the fleet in the Aegean and within the ground forces in Thrace. Most of the Emperors topics had inherited the old Classical tradition, and saw this sort of iconoclasm as basically willful profanation. To most of the Emperors topics, icons were loved and revered and their devastation was detestable.

Leo, possibly surprised by the force of the reaction, seems to hold committed no farther Acts of the Apostless of iconoclasm, but that did small to easy tensenesss. In 727, the Italian dwellers of Ravenna rose in unfastened rebellion, backed by Pope Gregory. The Pope seems to hold been partially revolted by the iconoclasm, and partially insulted that the Emperor should be make up one’s minding affairs of philosophy. The fort asserted independency from the Empire. [ 33 ]

The unrest within the Empire was non the consequence of any formal grade or edict by the Emperor, but of a individual act of iconoclasm. Once to the full cognizant of the problem that the devastation had caused throughout the Empire, Leo may hold been expected to change by reversal the policy instantly, for fright of triping some sort of sacred war ; but he did non. What in fact happened was, for three old ages, he tried to negociate, unsuccessfully as it happens, with the leaders of the Christian church. [ 34 ] In 730, holding dismissed the iconodule patriarch Germanus, and replacing him with the decrepit acquiescent Anastasius ; Leo issued his one and merely edict of iconoclasm.

From this clip Forth, all holy images were to be destroyed ; those who failed to obey would be capable to immediate apprehension and penalty. Those iconophiles who refused to obey could henceforth anticipate persecution for disobeying the edicts of the Emperor. In the E of the Empire, this was to hold the greatest affect on the monasteries ; many of which possessed big aggregations of icons and holy relics [ 35 ] in many signifiers. Hundreds of monastics fled to Greece and Italy, others to the comeuppances of Cappadocia, transporting with them those relics and icons that could be easy concealed. The Pope, meanwhile, condemned the iconoclasm and wrote two letters to Leo puting out the Orthodox position on icons and their worship.

Leo responded by seeking to hold the Pope arrested, but he died before this could happen. His replacement, besides called Gregory, took a likewise difficult line and took the farther measure of unchurching those who were involved in iconoclasm. [ 36 ] Leo so transferred some of the dioceses from the domain of Rome to that of Constantinople, therefore escalating the ill will between E and West ; a ill will that lasted for 300 old ages before the concluding split occurred.

Leo’s last decennary in power, the 730’s, are something of a enigma, small is known of what occurred at this clip. They seem to hold been a comparatively quiet clip, despite the regular Saracen foraies in Asia Minor. Although we can merely truly theorize, the 730’s were likely a clip of the fulfillment of the image breaker edict ; the devastation of icons and holy relics and the grim persecution of those who failed to obey the edict.

The concluding old ages of Leo’s reign were, seemingly quiet, but far from happy for Christians. Leo III, like Heraclius, had achieved many important things during his reign. Heraclius, nevertheless, had striven to set an terminal to spiritual discord ; whereas Leo seems to hold done everything he could to promote it. [ 37 ] Upon his decease in 741, he left buttockss and Empire that was more profoundly divided than it had of all time been. It should be noted, nevertheless, that the division was about wholly on spiritual evidences, the Empire was now virtually secure from the of all time present Saracen menace.


For some clip up to the edict of Leo, the cult of the relic had been turning in importance. Out of this cult, it seems wholly natural that the cult of the icon had developed. For those inheriting the Graeco-Roman tradition, [ 38 ] there was nil at all incorrect with idolizing representation of the Godhead: but for fundamentalist Christians, such as the bishops of Asia Minor, or for those touched, nevertheless mildly, by Islam ; this was an detestable pattern. It was kindred to pagan devotion and must be stamped out. The cult of the icon besides raised a theological point with some bishops, the 2nd commandment had forbade representations of God, yet if Christ was to be considered godly so images of him were besides profane ; the theologically hard statement was if Christ could be separated into the human and the Godhead. It seems likely that if the cult of the relic and the icon had been less widespread so the edict would likely ne’er have been issued.


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