Thursday, April 12, 2007

Resurrection pictures/icons


I have seen many pictures/icons of the resurrection/holy week in many blogs and one question comes to mind: Why do these people put icons in their blogs when they are (supposed to be) Roman Catholics. Icons do not really express much: they are not that clear and few peole ever get their real meaning (and are able to explain it). They are not as instructive as the paintings and images in the Roman Catholic world. We have enough pictures of everything that actually portray what the Church teaches and in a very clear and beautiful sense. In addition, most icons are not that beautiful. It's not that they cannot be beautiful, it's that whoever makes just does not try to make them beautiful. And of course, the worse thing regarding icons is that the exclusive use of icons are (to a great extent) a remnant of the Iconolastic heresy. Take a look at these ones for example:

Now, compare those to the ones we use in the West (for the most part). There is a huge difference! Any comments, explanations, clarifications that any of you might want to offer?
The only thing I do like about Eastern paintings/icons is their use of colors (most of the time).


Anonymous said...

Hi I came across your blog and thought it was cool until your trashing of icons..icons are holy paintings that monks or nuns paint after much fasting and prayer. They are employed in the WEST as well as the East, it is just that the East do not use statues that gives the impression that there is an East and West division. So please try and be more open to this very old and pious work of coul be the bridge that bring the East lung and the West lung of the Church to breathing again..

latinmass1983 said...

Hi anonymous,

I would not consider what I said "trashing." I just don't see the beauty that icons are supposed to convey. I know it is a pious work and that people who do it are supposed to fast and pray (in the West, Murillo, after fasting, prayers and many Holy Commuions painted the Immaculate Conception (s)). I respect them and the icons, especially if they are blessed, but they are not beautiful or very instructive.

The only icons that are beutiful are those based on Western images and manner of painting. Hallowedground.wordpress has one example of that. There is also an icon of Bl. John XXIII, but you can tell that they are not Eastern icons.

One of the reasons why the East does not use statues is the influence of Islam and the Iconoclastic heresy. They did not (and still do not) want to use icons so that it doesnt look like adoration of images. Also, they have associated statues with the West (again, because the West was not as influenced by Islam centuries ago), that they do not use them because they do not want to be "latinized."

I have not found a really good reason for the East not to use statues or make icons more beautiful. Beauty is supposed to guide us to God, Who is True Beauty... icons do not seem to do this.

You can try giving me a good explanation that will make me change my mind.

latinmass1983 said...

I am not saying that we should get rid of Icons, but that they should be more beautiful.

latinmass1983 said...

Like this one:

Ken said...

I have to agree with you. I kinda like the Icons, however there does seem to be a certain subtle "self-hatred" of Western Culture, which manifests itself in many ways. This one is regarding Religion. Many Neo-Cats will praise Eastern Liturgies to the Heavens, but when you mention TLM, you are called Schismatic, nostalgic, or too bound up with aesthetics. Icons have a significance that is known and understood by the East, fine, let them keep them. Many folks now are "into" Icons, and have no idea of the symbolism attributed to them be Easterners.

Carolina Cannonball said...

Well... now you struck a nerve. ;-)

I am a budding iconographer and a roman catholic. Icons are very instructional and are not in nature trying to be pretty. They are not considered art. They are to be used like a devotional item... like the rosary. Learning to read icons is a wonderful treasure, icons tell stories in their gestures and even in the use of color. Every detail respresents something.

When you say "few get their meaning" it is because they have limited exposure to them. All Easterners understand icons because they are as familar with them as (using the same example) the rosary. Once you learn more I feel confident you will appreciate them more.

They are created in a state of prayer, after much fasting, in total silence, some written in candlelight only and by hands that have been blessed. The artist isnt supposed to make them pretty or put any of themselves into the icon... no artistic expression is allowed. Its humbling to create and not even sign the work. The holy spirit guides the icon writer. The image is not to be altared from its original text. Brush strokes are not to be made visible. It is written in pains staking layers, one coat at a time. The process is painful and ardous.

I would gladly offer my simple knowledge to you about this subject if you like. I can recommend reading materials and answer any questions you like.

Anonymous said...

They are not as instructive as the paintings and images

To you, they might not be instructive, but otherwise this statement is without fact. Further, icons are not 'paintings' and they are not 'art'.

a remnant of the Iconolastic heresy
Icons are not a heresy. If you believe this, you are as ignorant of icons as you are of the other things you write about.

We have enough pictures
Yes, by all means, if some 23 yr. old says we have enough of something then it must be so. I'll petition the Holy Father to send out art squads to strip the Eastern Catholic churches of all you dislike.

latinmass1983 said...


Thanks for your post. What you say does make sense, but I do not get why they are not supposed to be "art." Something that is to be used as devotional, isn't it supposed to convey its meaning without "much effort," such as paitings, which the Church called or calls "the Bible of the poor." If we really need to just look at their expressions, etc. (which in themselves are not very expressive), then icons cannot be considered the Bible of the poor. Poor people are not going to get a book and read the whole history of icons in order to understand the meaning of every single one of them (or the ones they see).

I do not know if you get what I'm trying to say.

latinmass1983 said...


If they are not paintings or art, then what are they? How can they be devotional objects if you have to be an Eastern Catholic to get their meaning (assuming you are an active member of the Church because otherwise you won't be familiar with the meaning).

I think I said "the EXCLUSINVE use of icons," are a remnant of the Iconoclastic heresy. Do remember that this heresy arose in the East, and it was through an influence of Islam that it spread and became rooted in the East. After that, Eastern Christians did not want to use statues (indirectly). Another reason was that they did not want to be "latinized or westernized," so they did not adopt the use of images and used icons exclusively.

Carolina and anonymous:

Why is there a difference between the icons used by most Eastern Christians and those used by the Maronites? The ones used by the Maronites are beautiful, and I am sure that they are not any less devotional items than the ones used by the Byzantine Catholics. This does not stop the Maronites from making icons beautiful.

Anonymous, regardless of my age, if we have enough of something, we have it and we can make more! If you do not like my point of view, that's fine, but don't stick to the age thing because I could do the same and to your decision to be "anonymous."

Now, I never said that we should get rid of icons or destroy them (Iconoclastic actions). I did, however, ask why they are not painted more beautifully and in a more expressive way. Regardless of how devout the painter (iconographer) might be, that does not mean that because of that we have to say that something is beautiful when it is not.

Murillo, as I said before, fasted, too, and he received Holy Communion in preparation to paint the Immcaulate Conception(s). His works, however, are easier to understand even for Eastern Catholics, if they were to just look at the paintings, and they are beautiful... and not so "deformed" as many times icons are.

Carolina Cannonball said...

I do get what you are trying to say. Books, no. Verbal tradition yes. Oma explains to her granddaughter what her Oma told her. Us Catholics, Western or Eastern alike, know about tradition (little t).

I don't suppose the poor illerate Westerns had to find books on the subjects of the rich symbolism found in religious western art. Someone told them the symbols for the 4 evangelists were an angel, ox, eagle, and a lion.

You seem to forget that the western art also symbolism that many want "get" upon first glance... they get caught up in a pretty image and might not try to read further into the theology that the art is converying.

The austere nature of icons is for that very purpose. it is not about the "art" and beauty of the icon but about the deep theological message being presented for meditation.

Carolina Cannonball said...

oy... forgive my grammer and the absence of any ability to proof read.

"western art also symbolism that many want "get" upon first glance."

that was supposed to read...

"western art also has symbolism that many won't "get" upon first glance". said...

I am a Greek Orthodox Christian. One of the first icons of the Virgin Mary is attributed to Luke the Apostle. Most icons today are reworked using older icons as a basis. Therefore icons are a tradition dating back to the Apostles themselves. Also, the "Iconoclastic Heresy" is rooted in the second commandment, which would make statues heretical as well. The reason for the backlash against icons was that some early Christians attributed divine qualities to the wood and paint of the icons as opposed to the saints and situations they represented. Icons are the original tools for Christian worship kept alive by the Eastern Orthodox Church even under the oppression of the Muslims. The most ridiculous thing you've said here was, "Do remember that this heresy arose in the East, and it was through an influence of Islam that it spread and became rooted in the East." Islam tried to destroy the Christian church, how could they possibly have influence in "the rise of icons"? If anything, they destroyed most Byzantine icons, and the few that survived did so thanks to the INTENSE Christian devotion of the oppressed. The western tradition of statues "arose" while the Eastern Orthodox Church was struggling to stay alive, so please refrain from calling iconography a "heresy", and get your history and timeline straight. As far as the aesthetic quality of icons, Carolina put it best when she wrote: "The austere nature of icons is for that very purpose. it is not about the "art" and beauty of the icon but about the deep theological message being presented for meditation." Go to an Eastern Orthodox service some day and look around at the beautiful icons and try not to enter a meditative state. I dare you!

latinmass1983 said...


I think you should re-read what I wrote.

1) I never said that iconography is a heresy. Iconoclastic views/practices are!

2) I never said that Islam contributed to the rise of the use of icons. I said that it contributed to the exclusive use of icons in the East.

3) I've been to an Easter Orthodox Church before. I know there is something better, especially because it is in complete union with the Pope - which is older than the tradition of the use of icons!

Austerity does not always have to be expressed in "ugly" and deformed figures. Beauty and art are also part of Christian tradition and good inspiring things that also lead to meditation and prayer.

I dare you to deny that!