CAUSES OF THE BEGINNING OF ICONOCLASM IN BYZANTINE EMPIRE

Destruction_of_icons_in_Zurich_1524

In the eighth century, an outrageous heresy appeared in Byzantine Empire, which is known as Iconoclasm. There are several reasons which caused it. In this essay we will try to examine them.

I-Protopresbyter John Meyendorff’s opinion

First of all let us review Protopresbyter John Meyendorff’s opinion on this issue. He notes three reasons of which the first is religious and cultural problems. ”From their pagan past, Greek-speaking Christians had inherited a taste for religious imagery. When the early Church condemned such art as idolatrous, the tridimensional form practically disappeared, only to reappear in a new, Christian, two dimensional version. Other Eastern Christians particularly the Syrians and the Armenians, were much less inclined by their cultural past to use of images…. The emperors who provided iconoclasm were of Armenian or Isaurianorigins.’’[1]

            The second one is confrontation with Islam. ”Islam constantly claimed to be latest, and therefore the highest and purest, revelation of the God of Abraham, and repeatedly leveled the accusations of polytheism and idolatry, against the Christian doctrine of trinity and the use of icons. It was to the charge of idolatry that the Eastern-born emperors of the eight century responded. They decided to purify Christianity to enable it better to withstand the challenge of Islam.’’[2]

The third one is the heritage of Hellenic spiritualism. For the substantiation of his opinion Father John testified Porphyry, who writes:”If some Hellens are light-headed enough to believe that the gods live inside idols, their thought remains much purer than that (of the Christians) who believe that the divinity entered the virgin Mary’s womb, became a foetus, was engendered, and wrapped in clothes, was full of blood, membranes, gall and even viler things.’’

Probably nobody denies that there was a serious influence of Hellinic spiritualism on the Byzantine Empire in every period, but we don’t find it advisable to admit the last one as the main cause of iconoclasm.

Further, this scholar continues:”Indeed Christian iconography began to flourish as early as the third century. In origenist circles, however, influenced as they were by platonic spiritualism which denied to matter a permanent God-created existence and for when the only true reality was ,,inteleqtual’’ iconoclastic tendencies survived.’’[3]

II-Protopresbyter Alexander Shmemann’s opinion

Protopresbyter Alexander Shmemann in his book titled “The historical road of Eastern Orthodoxy’’ pays relatively less attention to the beginning of Iconoclasm. He divides this issue into three groups. Two of them coincide with John Meyendorf’s opinion but the third is different.

            ,,Some have seen in it the influence of the Mohammedan east with its ban on human images, and an attempt at a certain psychological compromise with Islam; others – the first revolt against the Church of the idea of a “secular” culture inspired by the Emperors, and a struggle for the liberation of art from every sort of suffocating “sacralism”; while a third group, finally, have detected a new outburst of the perennial Hellenic “spiritualism” for which the veneration of icons was a manifestation in religion of the artificial and the material.’’[4]
 III-Vasili Bolotov’s  two additional causes
            Vasili Bolotov noticed two additional causes. First one is the fanaticism of Christians:”There appeared the customs of taking icons as godparents for one’s children, of adding paint scraped from icons to the Eucharistic wine, of laying the sacrament upon an icon so as to receive it from a saint’s hand, etc. “In the great majority of these phenomena, no doubt, a crude distortion of church ritual made itself felt, the honor paid to icons approached idol-worship and honoring their very material substance was permitted.”[5]
            We disagree with Vasily Bolotov and suppose that may be such a reason  was only additional cause and not the main one. There existed  much more serious manifestations of Fanaticism throughout Byzantine history but none  of them caused iconoclasm.

The second one is irrational and looks like the accusations of early Christians. In the summer of 726, in the Mediterranean Seaa volcano erupted and an island emerged merging with the Holy Island. In ByzantineEmpire, natural phenomena were considered as anger of God, which caused Christians by veneration of icons.

 IV-Wrong opinion about confrontation between Asian and Byzantine art

While examining iconoclasm,the scholar James North pays a special attention to Asian art, and considers that iconoclasm was an opposition of Asian art against Byzantine one and mentions a Syrian bishop, who forbade the veneration of icons in the sixth century.[6] In the concrete we disagree with this scholar about this issue. Due to, there existed many confrontations  between various kind of art in different periods  and all  of them were clearly dispirited from iconoclasm.

 V- Scot Brown’s opinion about   financial incentive

The scholar Chad Scot Brown in his article titled ‘’Icons and the Beginning of the Isaurian Iconoclasm under Leo III’’ emphasized financial incentive. ,, One possible motive was that enacting this measure would help to solidify and focus the people’s support toward the sanctity of his sacred rule. “Iconoclasm effectively centered power in the hands of the emperor at the expense of the church and monks, and this transfer of power the educated class resented as well.”

As a great deal of the educated class were also iconophiles, the ensuing persecution they suffered also served to slow or stop the educational systems set up in Constantinople.

Leo’s assumption of heightened authority within the church, as well as his persecution of iconophiles, removed a great deal of power from the hands of the priests and monks.’’[7]

VI-conclusion

            Thus we have considered the opinions of different scholars on the reasons which caused the occurrence of Iconoclasm in Byzantine Empire andconclude that they were: Religious and cultural problems; confrontation with Islam; the heritage of Hellenic spiritualism; the fanaticism of the veneration of icons; the eruption of the volcano; the opposition of Asian art to Byzantine one and financial incentives. After  foreceeing  everything  we don’t consider that the confrontation of Islam and the eruption of volcano, were the main causes of beginning of iconoclasm. In conclusion we can admit that the main causes of the beginning of iconoclasm were   Religious-Cultural problems of the Empire and the financial interests of the Authorities, because in this period there was a considerable amount of  wealth in temples and monasteries, most of all, the church items, such as valuable icons and  iconoclasm was a very convenient reason for appropriating  them.

NOTES :

[1] -BYZANTINE THEOLOGY; Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes; John Meyendorff; pg.42

[2] – BYZANTINE THEOLOGY; Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes; John Meyendorff; pg.42-43

[3]- BYZANTINE THEOLOGY; Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes; John Meyendorff; pg.43-44

[4]-Protopresbyter Alexander Shmemann,-‘’The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy’’;http://www.schmemann.org/byhim/byzantiumiconoclasm.html

[5] – Vasily Bolotov-A history of the church in the period of ecumenical councils; pg.656

[6] – James B.North, A history of the church; pg.211

[7] -Chad Scott Brown;University of Utah;Member ΦΑΘ–ΑP;Published in Historia: the Alpha Rho Papers, Vol II.

 

Bibliography

Chad Scott Brown; University of Utah; The alpha RHO Papers; vol II.

James B.North, A history of the church; Tbilisi 2012

John Meyendorff ;BYZANTINE THEOLOGY; Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes; New yourk; Fordham University Press; 1979

Protopresbyter Alexander Shmemann, in his book- ‘’The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy’’; 1963

Vasily Bolotov-A history of the church in the period of ecumenical councils; Tbilisi 2009

[1] -BYZANTINE THEOLOGY; Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes; John Meyendorff; pg.42

[2] – BYZANTINE THEOLOGY; Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes; John Meyendorff; pg.42-43

[3]– BYZANTINE THEOLOGY; Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes; John Meyendorff; pg.43-44

[4]–Protopresbyter Alexander Shmemann,-‘’The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy’’;http://www.schmemann.org/byhim/byzantiumiconoclasm.html

[5] – Vasily Bolotov-A history of the church in the period of ecumenical councils; pg.656

[6] – James B.North, A history of the church; pg.211

[7] -Chad Scott Brown;University of Utah;Member ΦΑΘ–ΑP;Published in Historia: the Alpha Rho Papers, Vol II.

Advertisements

დატოვე კომენტარი

Filed under ENGLISH

კომენტარის დატოვება

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / შეცვლა )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / შეცვლა )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / შეცვლა )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / შეცვლა )

Connecting to %s