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Catholic Icons and Faith Traditions

Though we strive to offer Catholic rosary pouches of incredible quality and value, but what we feel is even more special about these products is the opportunity to get pieces of Church history into the hands of everyday people. If you’re familiar with Catholic Christianity or especially with Orthodox Christianity, chances are you have a bit of knowledge on iconography, but it may be a new subject to you if you have a background in the Protestant Church. Whichever camp you find yourself in, we would like to offer a little information here about the history and meaning of iconography in the Church.

Catholic Icons and Their Early History

Catholic iconography has been around as long as Christian belief has, with tradition having it that Saint Luke the Evangelist made the very first ones. They were of the Virgin Mary, which makes them especially noteworthy since he was someone who would have seen her face to face. The tradition continues that he showed the painted icons to her, and she blessed them, hoping that the grace of Christ might be imparted to the icons so that all that saw them could be blessed.

As Christian belief became established as the approved religion of Rome in the centuries to follow, the symbolism of Catholic iconography was allowed an opportunity to flourish, especially in the Eastern Roman empire - or later the Byzantine empire. For this reason, in what was once Byzantine territory (The north coast of Africa, Israel, Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy) iconography is a huge influence visible in the art and architecture, even to this day.

Catholic Icons and Controversy

However, iconography really found strength in a niche during the seventh and eighth centuries. This was the era when controversy really began surrounding the nature and purpose of iconography. The core of the argument against its usage is the Old Testament’s statutes and stories warning against idolatry. For example, Deuteronomy 4:15-16, 23-24 says, “Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female...Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the Lord your God has forbidden you. For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.”

The key topic of concern, then, was whether or not Catholic iconography was to be considered idolatry. If it was idolatry, then there was no question, it needed to be removed from the Church. However, if iconography was determined to be something entirely apart from idolatry, then it could continue to serve as a meaningful symbol that believers could be blessed by. Unfortunately, this debate was never solved definitively, and it is still a matter of contention to this day. Catholic believers and especially Orthodox believers are generally comfortable with Catholic icons, but most Protestant denominations want nothing to do with them. If you’re one of the former, we are glad Catholic iconography is a part of your life and that your interest in it has brought you to our page. If you’re the latter, we’re not here to pressure you into buying a product that makes you feel uneasy within your convictions, but we do ask that you read on. We’ll be discussing the symbolism and heart behind iconography as a whole, and it is our hope that you’ll consider these ideas with an open mind; perhaps Catholic icons are another tool God wishes to use to strengthen your faith.

Catholic Icons’ Meaning and Purpose

Catholic icons are generally artistic renderings of either Catholic Saints or of important moments in Christian history, such as the nativity. Though, they are made with a more specific purpose than pure aesthetic merit. They are made by people familiar with belief, prayer, and fasting, such that their artistic abilities can be used to bring God glory and that the art they create can bless others by turning their hearts and minds toward Heaven. The idea in the making of Catholic icons, then, is much like the sentiment expressed in Colossians 3:1-2, which says, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not things that are on earth.” If we were to draw a comparison, albeit and imperfect one, the making of Catholic icons is a similar process to the manner in which scripture was penned; a person of strong faith creates from their own mind by the guidance of God’s Spirit something that ultimately reveals Him and His Kingdom.

If we go a bit further into Colossians 3, we get a sense for the design philosophy behind Catholic icons, with verses 3 and 4 saying, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” In contrast to art from the Renaissance period and forward, icon design isn’t about realism - rather, representing the subject as he or she really appeared on the earth. Instead, Catholic icons are meant to show that Saints in heavenly glory, bestowed upon them by the truly glorious God. Philippians 4:20-21 gets at this, with Saint Paul writing, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” When you look upon a Catholic icon, you aren’t looking upon a person and worshipping them, you are instead looking at what God’s grace has transformed them into and giving Him the glory for it.