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§ 101. The Iconoclastic War, and the Synod of 754.

The history of the image-controversy embraces three periods: 1) The war upon images and the abolition of image-worship by the Council of Constantinople, a.d. 726–754. 2) The reaction in favor of image-worship, and its solemn sanction by the second Council of Nicaea, a.d. 754–787. 3) The renewed conflict of the two parties and the final triumph of image-worship, a.d. 842.

Image-worship had spread with the worship of saints, and become a general habit among the people in the Eastern church to such an extent that the Christian apologists had great difficulty to maintain their ground against the charge of idolatry constantly raised against them, not only by the Jews, but also by the followers of Islam, who could point to their rapid successes in support of their abhorrence of every species of idolatry. Churches and church-books, palaces and private houses, dresses and articles of furniture were adorned with religious pictures. They took among the artistic Greeks the place of the relics among the rude Western nations. Images were made to do service as sponsors in the name of the saints whom they represented. Fabulous stories of their wonder-working power were circulated and readily believed. Such excesses naturally called forth a reaction.

Leo III., called the Isaurian (716–741), a sober and energetic, but illiterate and despotic emperor, who by his military talents and successes had risen from the condition of a peasant in the mountains of Isauria to the throne of the Caesars, and delivered his subjects from the fear of the Arabs by the new invention of the “Greek fire,” felt himself called, as a second Josiah, to use his authority for the destruction of idolatry. The Byzantine emperors did not scruple to interfere with the internal affairs of the church, and to use their despotic power for the purpose. Leo was influenced by a certain bishop Constantinus536536    Not Theophilus, as Baronius and Schlosser erroneously call him. See Hefele, III. 372. Theophanes mentions also a renegade Beser, who had become a Mohammedan, and then probably returned to Christianity and stood in high honor at the court of Leo. of Nakolia in Phrygia, and by a desire to break the force of the Mohammedan charge against the Christians. In the sixth year of his reign he ordered the forcible baptism of Jews and Montanists (or Manichaeans); the former submitted hypocritically and mocked at the ceremony; the latter preferred to set fire to their meeting-houses and to perish in the flames. Then, in the tenth year (726),537537    There is considerable confusion about the beginning of the conflict and the precise order of events. See Hefele, III. 376 sqq. he began his war upon the images. At first he only prohibited their worship, and declared in the face of the rising opposition that he intended to protect the images against profanation by removing them beyond the reach of touch and kiss. But in a second edict (730), he commanded the removal or destruction of all the images. The pictured walls were to be whitewashed. He replaced the magnificent picture of Christ over the gate of the imperial palace by a plain cross. He removed the aged Germanus, patriarch of Constantinople, and put the iconoclastic Anastasius in his place.

These edicts roused the violent opposition of the clergy, the monks, and the people, who saw in it an attack upon religion itself. The servants who took down the picture from the palace gate were killed by the mob. John of Damascus and Germanus, already known to us as hymnists, were the chief opponents. The former was beyond the reach of Leo, and wrote three eloquent orations, one before, two after the forced resignation of Germanus, in defence of image-worship, and exhausted the argument.538538    See summaries of his λόγοιἀπολογητικοίin Schrceckh and Neander. The islanders of the Archipelago under the control of monks rose in open rebellion, and set up a pretender to the throne; but they were defeated, and their leaders put to death. Leo enforced obedience within the limits of the Eastern empire, but had no power among the Christian subjects of the Saracens, nor in Rome and Ravenna, where his authority was openly set at defiance. Pope Gregory II. told him, in an insulting letter (about 729), that the children of the grammar-school would throw their tablets at his head if he avowed himself a destroyer of images, and the unwise would teach him what he refused to learn from the wise539539    According to older historians (Baronius), the pope even excommunicated the emperor, withdrew his Italian subjects from their allegiance, and forbade the payment of tribute. But this is an error. On the contrary, in a second letter, Gregory expressly disclaims the power of interfering with the sovereign, while he denies in the strongest terms the right of the emperor to interfere with the Church. See the two letters of Gregory to Leo (between 726 to 731) in Mansi, XII. 959 sqq., and the discussion in Hefele, III. 389-404.. Seventy years afterwards the West set up an empire of its own in close connection with the bishop of Rome.

Constantine V., surnamed Copronymos,540540    The surname Κοπρώνυμος(from κόπρος, dung) was given him by his enemies on account of his having polluted the baptismal gont in hid infancy. Theophanes, Chronogr. ed. Bonn. I. 615 He was also called Cabellinus, from his love of horses. during his long reign of thirty-four years (741–775), kept up his father’s policy with great ability, vigor and cruelty, against popular clamor, sedition and conspiracy. His character is very differently judged according to the doctrinal views of the writers. His enemies charge him with monstrous vices, heretical opinions, and the practice of magical arts; while the iconoclasts praise him highly for his virtues, and forty years after his death still prayed at his tomb. His administrative and military talents and successes against the Saracens, Bulgarians, and other enemies, as well as his despotism and cruelty (which he shares with other Byzantine emperors) are beyond dispute.

He called an iconoclastic council in Constantinople in 754, which was to be the seventh oecumenical, but was afterwards disowned as a pseudo-synod of heretics. It numbered three hundred and thirty subservient bishops under the presidency of Archbishop Theodosius of Ephesus (the son of a former emperor), and lasted six months (from Feb. 10th to Aug. 27th); but the patriarchs of Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria, being under Moslem rule, could not attend, the see of Constantinople was vacant, and Pope Stephen III. disregarded the imperial summons. The council, appealing to the second commandment and other Scripture passages denouncing idolatry (Rom. 1:23, 25; John 4:24), and opinions of the Fathers (Epiphanius, Eusebius, Gregory Nazianzen, Chrysostom, etc.), condemned and forbade the public and private worship of sacred images on pain of deposition and excommunication, but (inconsistently) ordered at the same time that no one should deface or meddle with sacred vessels or vestments ornamented with figures, and formally declared its agreement with the six oecumenical councils, and the lawfulness of invoking the blessed Virgin and saints. It denounced all religious representations by painter or sculptor as presumptuous, pagan and idolatrous. Those who make pictures of the Saviour, who is God as well as man in one inseparable person, either limit the incomprehensible Godhead to the bounds of created flesh, or confound his two natures, like Eutyches, or separate them, like Nestorius, or deny his Godhead, like Arius; and those who worship such a picture are guilty of the same heresy and blasphemy. The eucharist alone is the proper image of Christ. A three-fold anathema was pronounced on the advocates of image-worship, even the great John of Damascus under the name of Mansur, who is called a traitor of Christ, an enemy of the empire, a teacher of impiety, and a perverter of the Scriptures. The acts of the Synod were destroyed except the decision (o{ro”) and a brief introduction, which are embodied and condemned in the acts of the second Nicene Council.541541    Mansi, XIII. 205-363; Gieseler, II. 16; Hefele, III. 410-418.

The emperor carried out the decree with great rigor as far as his power extended. The sacred images were ruthlessly destroyed and replaced by white-wash or pictures of trees, birds, and animals. The bishops and clergy submitted; but the monks who manufactured the pictures, denounced the emperor as a second Mohammed and heresiarch, and all the iconoclasts as heretics, atheists and blasphemers, and were subjected to imprisonment, flagellation, mutilation, and all sorts of indignities, even death. The principal martyrs of images during this reign (from 761–775) are Petrus Kalabites (i.e. the inhabitant of a hut, kaluvbh), Johannes, Abbot of Monagria, and Stephanus, Abbot of Auxentius, opposite Constantinople (called “the new Stephanus,” to distinguish him from the proto-martyr). The emperor made even an attempt to abolish the convents.542542    On these persecutions see, besides Theophanes, the Acta Sanct. of the Bolland. for Oct., Tom. VIII. 124 sqq. (publ. Brussels, 1853), and Hefele, III. 421-428.

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