Monday, August 30, 2010

Idols & idolatry

“4 You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them…” (Exod 20:4-5).

What is the scope of this prohibition?

i) V4 is stated in blanket terms. If, however, we take it without further qualification, it contradicts the representational art which God commanded to decorate the tabernacle.

If, therefore, we honor the inspiration of Scripture, then the force of v4 must be modified in some respect.

ii) The logical way to harmonize v4 with the representational art in the tabernacle is to view v5 as a qualification on the generic statement in v4.

iii) On that view, v4 is not an absolute prohibition. Rather, the intended scope of v4 is delimited by the specifications in v5. And that concerns the motives of the worshiper.

iv) That, in turn, raises the question of how we are meant to construe the force of v5. And this involves the function of idols in idolatry. What purpose did they serve?

To my knowledge, idols were fashioned to make the gods accessible to the worshiper. The idol mediated the presence of the god it depicted. That was a way of reaching the gods and even manipulating the gods. It was a two-way conduit, by which the worshiper could interact with the god, and vice versa.

On a related note, if you brought offerings to the idol, then the corresponding god would be compelled to return the favor.

v) The Pentateuchal prohibition against divine images would therefore apply to any analogous use of divine images. Does a modern-day worshiper use a divine image to facilitate contact with God? If so, then that is idolatrous. That is forbidden.

vi) This is not the only potential problem with divine images. As I’ve noted before, since Yahweh is invisible, we cannot know what he is like apart from his self-disclosure.

vii) What about, say, a statue of the virgin Mary? Is that idolatrous? Mary is not a goddess, so an artistic depiction of Mary is not inherently idolatrous.

But that also depends on the use to which the statue is put. In Catholic theology, Mary is, herself, a way of making God available to the worshiper. And a statue of Mary is a way of focusing one’s prayers to and through Mary to God.

In that respect, a statue of Mary is idolatrous twice over.

5 comments:

  1. Great post Steve.

    Regarding the issue of Mary and the saints... )which btw I'm not defending), A catholic theologian once said to me that the whole issue depends on what you mean by asking someone to pray for you?

    In their theology they don't see any difference in asking someone who is alive here to pray for them... and asking someone who is dead in this world to asking them...Its to do with how they perceive the state of the dead..

    Again I am saying I'm not defending this position... it does however make a difference to how we portray them praying to Mary and the saints.. its not that long ago that we dropped the term "Pray" from legal terminology towards a judge in that "I pray you will consider" or "I Beseech you will consider"

    The question to ask is whether they actually worship Mary as God or any other statue... or they use the statue as a method to remember...

    This is a whole different topic to making Mary co-redemptrix mother of God... !!shudders!!

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  2. craigbenno1 wrote:

    "A catholic theologian once said to me that the whole issue depends on what you mean by asking someone to pray for you? In their theology they don't see any difference in asking someone who is alive here to pray for them... and asking someone who is dead in this world to asking them...Its to do with how they perceive the state of the dead...The question to ask is whether they actually worship Mary as God or any other statue"

    Prayer to the deceased wouldn't have to involve "worship as God" in order to be sinful. There's no reason to expect the deceased to hear our prayers, scripture and early patristic sources condemn attempts to contact the deceased, and the practice is absent in contexts in which we'd expect it to appear if it had been accepted in Biblical and early patristic times.

    We've covered this issue in depth in previous threads. See, for example, here, here, here, here, and here. There's a lot more that I haven't linked. Those who pray to Mary frequently do more than "asking Mary to pray for them". See the examples I cited here, and search the web for other examples of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox prayers to Mary. Those prayers are far different than a discussion with a living person, in which you ask that person to pray for you.

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  3. There are two Catholic presuppositions in Marian prayer:

    i) Mary has maternal leverage with Jesus.

    i)i Mary can intercede for us because she has supererogatory merit.

    For instance, look at this prayer (see below); when you ask a friend to pray for you, is this how you frame your request?

    **************

    Heart of Mary, Pray for us. Heart of Mary, according to the heart of God, Pray for us. Heart of Mary, united to the Heart of Jesus, Pray for us. Heart of Mary, organ of the Holy Ghost, Pray for us. Heart of Mary, sanctuary of the Divine Trinity, Pray for us. Heart of Mary, tabernacle of God Incarnate, Pray for us. Heart of Mary, immaculate from thy creation, Pray for us. Heart of Mary, full of grace, Pray for us. Heart of Mary, blessed among all hearts, Pray for us. Heart of Mary, throne of glory, Pray for us. Heart of Mary, most humble, Pray for us. Heart of Mary, holocaust of Divine Love, Pray for us. Heart of Mary, fastened to the Cross with Jesus Crucified, Pray for us. Heart of Mary, comfort of the afflicted, Pray for us. Heart of Mary, refuge of sinners, Pray for us. Heart of Mary, hope of the agonizing, Pray for us. Heart of Mary, seat of mercy, Pray for us.

    Immaculate Mary, meek and humble of heart: R. Make our hearts according to the Heart of Jesus.

    Let us pray. O most merciful God, Who, for the salvation of sinners and the refuge of the miserable, wast pleased that the Most Pure Heart of Mary should be most like in charity and pity to the Divine Heart of Thy Son, Jesus Christ: grant that we who commemorate this sweet and loving Heart may, by the merits and intercession of the same Blessed Virgin, merit to be found according to the Heart of Jesus. Through the same Christ, Our Lord. R. Amen.

    http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/prayers/view.cfm?id=1121

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  4. Brilliant treatment of Ex 20:4,5.

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  5. A compilation of most if not all our posts on the topic of graven images and the second commandment can be found here.

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