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The Early Church Fathers on Pictures and Images.


  • Early Church Fathers
  • From the Scriptures



  1. St. Methodius of Olympus, (A.D. 250-311)
    Eusebius of Cæsarea, (A.D. c.263-338)
    St. Gregory of Nazianzen, (A.D. 318-389)
    St. John Chrysostom, (A.D. 344 - 407)
    Prudentius, (Aurelius Prudentius Clemens), (A.D. 348-c.413)
    Blessed Jerome of Jerusalem, (flourished in A.D. 385)
    St. Asterius Of Amasea, (A.D. c.350-400)
St. Methodius of Olympus, (A.D. 250-311), Asia Minor; bishop, ecclesiastical writer, martyr.

In this fragment occurs the following passage:

"Reflect that God has various images of Himself; some made, as it were, of gold, formed, that is, of a spiritual and purer substance, such are the angels; but some made of plaster or of brass such are men. Since then, here on earth, every image of a king, on account of his figure that is impressed thereon, is valued and honored, so is it by no means to be thought that we, who are the image of God, are so far to be dishonored as to have to be utterly annihilated."

St. Methodius, Bibl. PP. t. iii. pp 831-832.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 305

"The images of earthly kings, even though they may not be made of the more precious substances of gold and silver, have honor from all men; for men, after venerating those made of the more precious material, do not make small account of those made of a viler material, but honor every such image on earth, even though it be of plaster or of brass ; and whosoever utters a contumelious word against any one such whatever, is not let go as if he had despised a piece of clay, or judged as having slighted a piece of gold, but as having acted impiously against the King himself, and Lord. The golden images which we make of the Lord's angelic principalities and powers, we make unto His honor and glory."

The above extract is given by St. John Damascene as being from St. Methodius, in his:
Orat. iii. de Imagin. t. i. p. 301,
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 305

Eusebius of Cæsarea, (A.D. c.263-338), appointed Bishop of Cæsarea in A.D. 314, Roman historian, exegete and Christian polemicist, scholar of the Biblical canon who was deeply embroiled in the Arian controversy.

"Since I have fallen upon the mention of this city (Cæsarea-Philippi), I do not think I ought to pass over a circumstance which deserves to have its remembrance preserved amongst us. They say that the woman who labored under an issue of blood, and who obtained a cure of her complaint from our Savior, as we learn from the sacred Gospels, was born here, that her house is shown in the city, and that there remains a wonderful monument of the Savior s bounty towards her. For near the gates of her house there is said to stand, on a lofty pedestal of stone, a representation in brass of a woman on her knees, and with her hands stretched out before her as in the act of supplication; and facing this another upright statue of a man, made of the same material, fairly enveloped in an outer garment, extending a hand to the woman. At the feet of this statue, out of its base, there is said to grow a strange kind of plant, rising up to the hem of the robe of brass, and that it is a choice cure for all kinds of diseases. They say that this statue is the image of Jesus. It has remained to this day, as we, when dwelling in that city, saw with our own eyes. And it is no wonder that they of the Gentiles who were formerly benefited by our Savior should have done this, when we have learnt, that the images also of the Apostles, Peter and Paul, and even of Christ Himself, are preserved in paintings. As is likely, the men of old were accustomed without discrimination (or, unguardedly), in this manner to honor amongst themselves after a Gentile custom such a had been their benefactors."

H. E. L. vii. c. xviii.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 304-306

Frequent mention is made by Eusebius of various images of the cross used under Constantine, and it will not be unprofitable to cite a few passages, in order to enable the reader to understand in what light this practice was viewed by this historian. Having described (L i. De Vita Const, c. xxviii.) the appearance of the cross to Constantine, he says in the next chapter:

"The emperor said that he doubted within himself what this appearance could be, and that night came on him whilst still pondering and busied in reflection; that then Christ the Son of God appeared to him during his sleep, with the sign which he had seen in Heaven, and ordered him to make a representation of the sign which he had seen in the heavens, and to use it as a defense, on his standards, for his armies."

Then follows a description of the (Labarum. In c. xxiii. Ibid), he tells us that Constantine sent for certain Christian priests to interpret the meaning of the vision and sign:

"they told him it was God, the only-begotten Son of the one and alone God; and that the sign which he had seen was the symbol of immortality, and a trophy of the victory over death which he had gained when he came upon this earth."

In the second book he introduces the pagan Licinius as scoffing at the cross, "as a disgraceful symbol with which Constantine dishonored his army," and then goes on to remark that, in the battles that ensued, complete victories were gained, "the saving sign being advanced in front of the emperor's armies"

"For where soever this sign appeared the enemy fled, and the victorious soldiers pursued. Which, when the emperor perceived, as soon as he noticed any division of his troops in difficulty, he ordered the saving sign to be advanced there as the means of securing victory, and victory instantly followed upon his order, resolution and strength, by a kind of divine certainty, being added to the combatants."

In chapters viii. and ix. he states that he learnt from Constantine's own lips, that of the fifty chosen to carry the Labarum, not one fell that clung round it; and he adds, that he had it from the same authority, that the staff which bore the cross received the weapons aimed at the standard-bearer, and served as a perfect defense. In chapter xvi. he notices that

"Licinius, having discovered by facts, what a divine and ineffable power there was in the saving trophy, by means of which the army of Constantine had learned to conquer, ordered his soldiers not to advance on any account against it, nor even incautiously to cast their eyes upon it; for it was fearful in power, and his enemy fought against him."

In the third book (c. ii.), having remarked that Constantine gloried in the name of Christian, he says:

"At one time signing his countenance with the saving sign, at another glorying in the victorious sign." (c. iii.)

"He also on a lofty tablet placed before the vestibule of his palace, placed, to be seen by all, the saving sign painted as resting on his head; but that enemy and adverse wild beast, which, by means of the tyranny of the ungodly, had vexed the Church, he represented under the shape of a dragon rushing headlong down. ... I am filled with wonder at the powerful understanding of the emperor, who, as it were, by a divine inspiration, symbolized those things which the words of the prophet had long before proclaimed."

Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 307-308

In the same work (I. iii. c. xlix.) he says:

"You might see at the fountains, in the middle of the market-places, representations of the Good Shepherd, well known to those acquainted with the divine word, and Daniel with the lions, fashioned in brass. . . . And so great was the love of God that possessed the soul of the emperor, that, in the noblest chamber of the royal palace, he fixed up the symbol of the saving Passion, and this the godly emperor seems to have made the defense of his empire."

Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 308

"The emperor honored that sign which brings victory, having learnt by experience the divinity that is in it. For by this he subdued the hosts of hostile troops; by this the powers of invisible demons are troubled (or, expelled); by this the vauntings of those who warred against God were repressed; by this slanderous and impious tongues were silenced; by this barbarous tribes were subdued; by this the childish follies of superstitious deceit were refuted; to this the perfection of all good things, the emperor, as if paying back a debt, has built in every part of the earth triumphal monuments."

De Laudio. Constant c. ix. p. 740.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 309

The following is the account given by Eusebius of the public respect shown by Constantine to the cross, immediately after his victory over Maxentius:

"He (Constantine), as if piety towards God had been inbred in him, was no wise moved by their acclamations, nor elated by their praises; but feeling deeply the assistance which he had received from God, he immediately ordered the trophy of the Lord's passion to be placed in the hand of his own statue; and the Romans having set up his statue, holding in its right hand the saving sign of the cross, in the most thickly peopled part of Rome, he ordered this very inscription, in the Latin language, to be placed on the base: "By this saving sign, the true proof of manly resolution, I freed your city from the yoke of the tyrant."

H. E. 1. ix. c. ix.
See also De Vita Constant. l.i. c. xl.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 306-307

St. Gregory of Nazianzen, (A.D. 318-389), Cappadocian; archbishop, theologian, Doctor of the Church.

"White and shining robes are such as are given to angels when they are represented in a bodily shape, this being, I fancy, a symbol of the purity of their nature."

T. i. Orat. xxiii. p. 409.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 309

St. John Chrysostom, (A.D. 344 - 407), Syrian; archbishop, Doctor of the Church. Born at Antioch in 344; he was ordained priest in A.D. 383, and raised to the see of Constantinople in the year A.D. 398. His eloquence gained him the title of Chrysostom, or the mouth of gold. His expositions of Scripture, especially the Epistles of St. Paul, are very valuable. This illustrious prelate died on his road to exile, in A.D. 407.

After having condemned a number of superstitious practices in use amongst Christians, he says:

"Now, that amongst Greeks (Gentiles) indeed these things should be done, is no marvel, but that, amongst those who worship the cross, and have been made partakers of ineffable mysteries, and who hold principles so sublime, this unseemliness should prevail, this is indeed a matter that deserves many tears. God has honored thee with a spiritual anointing, and dost thou defile thy child with mud? God has honored thee, and dost thou dishonor thyself? And when thou ought to inscribe the cross on his forehead, the cross, which affords an invincible security, dost thou put this aside, and fall into a Satanic madness? . . , How canst thou ask for the seal to be put, by the hand of the priest, where thou hast been smearing the mud? Let not these things be, brethren; but, from earliest childhood, encompass them with spiritual weapons, and instruct them to seal the forehead with the hand; and before they are able to do this with their (own) hand, do you imprint upon them the cross."

T. x. Hom. xii. in 1 Ep. ad Cor. n. 7, p. 126.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 310-311

"Whilst our father's house is burning, we are slumbering in a deep and senseless sleep. Yet whom has not this fire touched? Which of the images (or, statues) that stood in the Church?"

T. xi. Hom. x. in Ep. ad Ephes. n. 2, page 89.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 311

Prudentius, (Aurelius Prudentius Clemens), (A.D. 348-c.413), Roman Christian poet, born in the Roman province of Tarraconensis, now Northern Spain. He probably died in Spain, as well. The hymn Salvete, flores Martyrum, is by this writer.

"Whilst on my journey to the world's mistress, Rome, a hope sprang up within me, that Christ would be triumphant. I was lying prostrate on a tomb, which a sacred martyr, Cassian, with his body dedicated (to God) made beautiful. Whilst with tear I was considering within myself my wounds, and all the labors and bitter pains of life, I raised my face upwards; there was before me, painted in dark colors, the representation of the martyr, covered with countless wounds, lacerated in every limb, and with the skin minutely punctured. Around him, oh sad sight, there was a countless crowd of boys who with their pens pierced the wounded limbs. . . . The keeper of the building said, in answer to my inquiries, That which thou seest, stranger, is no empty or idle fable. The picture tells a history [after the well-known history, he continues:] These are the circumstances which, expressed in colors, have excited your wonder: This is Cassian's glory. If thou hast any just, or praiseworthy desire, if there be anything that thou hope for; if thou be inwardly troubled, but whisper it. The most glorious martyr hears, believe me, every prayer, and those which he sees deserving of approval, he renders effectual. I then ran through the list of my secret difficulties; I then murmur forth my desires, and my fears, my household left behind in hopes of future good. I am heard. I visit Rome; I am successful; I return to my home, and I loudly praise Cassian."

Galland. T. viii. Hymn. ix. pp. 452-3.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 313-314

Blessed Jerome of Jerusalem, (flourished in A.D. 385), a presbyter of Jerusalem.

"As your Scripture no where permits you to adore the cross, why then do you adore it? Reply to this to us Jews and Greeks, and all the Gentiles who put this question to you." Answer: "On this account, O foolish and shameless of heart, did God perhaps permit every nation that venerated Him, without exception, to adore something on earth that was the handiwork of man, that you might not be able to reclaim against Christians in the matter of the cross, and the veneration (adoration) of images. As, therefore, the Jews venerated (adored) the ark of the covenant, and the two molten images of gold of the cherubim, and the two tables that Moses polished, though it was nowhere permitted of God that these things should be adored or worshipped, so neither do we Christians worship the cross as God, but as showing the sincere affection of our souls towards Him that was crucified."

Galland. t. vii. p. 530; ap. S. J. Damase; l. iii. De Imag. t.i. page 385.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 304-317

St. Asterius Of Amasea, (A.D. c.350-400), born in Cappadocia, bishop of Amasea (A.D. 380-390), after having been a lawyer. Not to be confused with the Arian polemicist, Asterius the Sophist.

"Thence I went to the temple of God to pray at leisure; and after having done this, as I was passing hurriedly through one of the porticoes, I saw there a certain picture, and the sight of it completely arrested me. You would have said it was one of Euphranor's skillful pieces, or of one of those old painters, who raised their art to so great eminence, making their canvas (tables) well nigh breathe into life. Come, if you please, for I have now leisure for the narrative, and I will explain the painting to you. . . . A certain holy woman, a spotless virgin, had consecrated her virginity to God. They call her Euphemia. By a tyrant of that time persecuting the truly religious, she very readily chose to encounter death. Her fellow-citizens and associates in the religion for which she died, admiring her as a resolute and holy virgin, reverencing her sepulcher, and also placing her bier near the temple, pay her honor, celebrating her anniversary as a common and crowded festival. . . . And the painter also has piously, by his art, to the best of his ability, represented on canvas the whole history, and placed the sacred spectacle near her sepulcher. And the beautiful work is as follows. The judge is seated aloft on his throne, looking at the virgin intently and fiercely . . . there are the magistrate's attendants, and numerous soldiers, and men with their writing tablets for their notes, and styles in their hands, one of whom has raised his hand from the wax, and looks earnestly at the virgin who is being questioned, with his whole countenance bent towards her, as though bidding her speak louder. . . . The virgin stands there in a dark robe, indicating her wisdom by her dress, and is of a beautiful countenance, as the painter has fancied her, but, to my judgment, beautified in mind by her virtues. Two soldiers force her towards the president (archon), one dragging her forward, the other urging her from behind. . . . One of the soldiers has seized the virgin's head and bent it back, and presents the virgin's face as to the other soldier, in a favorable posture for punishment, and he standing by her has dashed out her teeth. . . . The instruments of punishment are seen to be a mallet and chisel. At this I burst into tears, and my feelings intercept my words. For the painter has so plainly depicted the drops of blood, that you would say that they were really flowing from her lips, and would go your way sorrowing. After this there is a prison, and again the venerable virgin in her dark robes is seated alone, stretching out both her hands to Heaven, and calling upon God, the helper in trouble; and there appears to her whilst in prayer, above her head, the sign which it is the custom of Christians both to adore and to represent in colors, a symbol, I think, of the passion which awaited her. The painter then, a little further on, has lit up in an other compartment, a vehement fire . . . and has placed her in the midst of it, with her hands stretched out towards Heaven ; her countenance bears on it no sign of sadness; but, on the contrary, is lit up with joy, for that she is departing unto a blessed and incorporeal life."

Combefis, t. i. Enar. in Martyr. S. Euphem. pp. 207-210.
See also in the last of the Photian. Excerpta, the usual account of the statue erected by the Syrophenician woman, Ib.p. 285.
Also for some curious customs connected with pious pictures on clothing, see his sermon
"In Divit. et Lazar. Ibid. p. 6."
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 311-313



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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