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Iconoclastic Council, 754



The holy and Ecumenical synod, which by the grace of God and most pious command of the God-beloved and orthodox Emperors, Constantine and Leo,(2) now assembled in the imperial residence city, in the temple of the holy and inviolate Mother of God and Virgin Mary, surnamed in Blachernae, have decreed as follows.

Satan misguided men, so that they worshipped the creature instead of the Creator. The Mosaic law and the prophets cooperated to undo this ruin; but in order to save mankind thoroughly, God sent his own Son, who turned us away from error and the worshipping of idols, and taught us the worshipping of God in spirit and in truth. As messengers of his saving doctrine, he left us his Apostles and disciples, and these adorned the Church, his Bride, with his glorious doctrines. This ornament of the Church the holy Fathers and the six Ecumenical Councils have preserved inviolate. But the before-mentioned demi-urgos of wickedness could not endure the sight of this adornment, and gradually brought back idolatry under the appearance of Christianity. As then Christ armed his Apostles against the ancient idolatry with the power of the Holy Spirit, and sent them out into all the world, so has he awakened against the new idolatry his servants our faithful Emperors, and endowed them with the same wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Impelled by the Holy Spirit they could no longer be witnesses of the Church being laid waste by the deception of demons, and summoned the sanctified assembly of the God-beloved bishops, that they might institute at a synod a scriptural examination into the deceitful colouring of the pictures ( omoiwmatwn ) which draws down the spirit of man from the lofty adoration ( latreias ) of God to the low and material adoration ( latreian ) of the creature, and that they, under divine guidance, might express their view on the subject.

Our holy synod therefore assembled, and we, its 338 members, follow the older synodal decrees, and accept and proclaim joyfully the dogmas handed down, principally those of the six holy Ecumenical Synods. In the first place the holy and ecumenical great synod assembled at Nice, etc.

After we had carefully examined their decrees under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we found that the unlawful art of painting living creatures blasphemed the fundamental doctrine of our salvation--namely, the Incarnation of Christ, and contradicted the six holy synods. These condemned Nestorius because he divided the one Son and Word of God into two sons, and on the other side, Arius, Dioscorus, Eutyches, and Severus, because they maintained a mingling of the two natures of the one Christ.

Wherefore we thought it right, to shew forth with all accuracy, in our present definition the error of such as make and venerate these, for it is the unanimous doctrine of all the holy Fathers and of the six Ecumenical Synods, that no one may imagine any kind of separation or mingling in opposition to the unsearchable, unspeakable, and incomprehensible union of the two natures in the one hypostasis or person. What avails, then, the folly of the painter, who from sinful love of gain depicts that which should not be depicted--that is, with his polluted hands he tries to fashion that which should only be believed in the heart and confessed with the mouth? He makes an image and calls it Christ. The name Christ signifies God and man. Consequently it is an image of God and man, and consequently he has in his foolish mind, in his representation of the created flesh, depicted the Godhead which cannot be represented, and thus mingled what should not be mingled. Thus he is guilty of a double blasphemy--the one in making an image of the Godhead, and the other by mingling the Godhead and manhood. Those fall into the same blasphemy who venerate


the image, and the same woe rests upon both, because they err with Arius, Dioscorus, and Eutyches, and with the heresy of the Acephali. When, however, they are blamed for undertaking to depict the divine nature of Christ, which should not be depicted, they take refuge in the excuse: We represent only the flesh of Christ which we have seen and handled. But that is a Nestorian error. For it should be considered that that flesh was also the flesh of God the Word, without any separation, perfectly assumed by the divine nature and made wholly divine. How could it now be separated and represented apart? So is it wish the human soul of Christ which mediates between the Godhead of the Son and the dulness of the flesh. As the human flesh is at the same time flesh of God the Word, so is the human soul also soul of God the Word, and both at the same time, the soul being deified as well as the body, and the Godhead remained undivided even in the separation of the soul from the body in his voluntary passion. For where the soul of Christ is, there is also his Godhead; and where the body of Christ is, there too is his Godhead. If then in his passion the divinity remained inseparable from these, how do the fools venture to separate the flesh from the Godhead, and represent it by itself as the image of a mere man? They fall into the abyss of impiety, since they separate the flesh from the Godhead, ascribe to it a subsistence of its own, a personality of its own, which they depict, and thus introduce a fourth person into the Trinity. Moreover, they represent as not being made divine, that which has been made divine by being assumed by the Godhead. Whoever, then, makes an image of Christ, either depicts the Godhead which cannot be depicted, and mingles it with the manhood (like the Monophysites), or he represents the body of Christ as not made divine and separate and as a person apart, like the Nestorians.

The only admissible figure of the humanity of Christ, however, is bread and wine in the holy Supper. This and no other form, this and no other type, has he chosen to represent his incarnation. Bread he ordered to be brought, but not a representation of the human form, so that idolatry might not arise. And as the body of Christ is made divine, so also this figure of the body of Christ, the bread, is made divine by the descent of the Holy Spirit; it becomes the divine body of Christ by the mediation of the priest who, separating the oblation from that which is common, sanctifies it.

The evil custom of assigning names to the images does not come down from Christ and the Apostles and the holy Fathers; nor have these left behind then, any prayer by which an image should be hallowed or made anything else than ordinary matter.

If, however, some say, we might be right in regard to the images of Christ, on account of the mysterious union of the two natures, but it is not right for us to forbid also the images of the altogether spotless and ever-glorious Mother of God, of the prophets, apostles, and martyrs, who were mere men and did not consist of two natures; we may reply, first of all: If those fall away, there is no longer need of these. But we will also consider what may be said against these in particular. Christianity has rejected the whole of heathenism, and so not merely heathen sacrifices, but also the heathen worship of images. The Saints live on eternally with God, although they have died. If anyone thinks to call them back again to life by a dead art, discovered by the heathen, he makes himself guilty of blasphemy. Who dares attempt with heathenish art to paint the Mother of God, who is exalted above all heavens and the Saints? It is not permitted to Christians, who have the hope of the resurrection, to imitate the customs of demon-worshippers, and to insult the Saints, who shine in so great glory, by common dead matter.

Moreover, we can prove our view by Holy Scripture and the Fathers. In the former it is said: "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth;" and: "Thou shall not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath;" on which account God spoke to the Israelites on the Mount, from the midst of the fire, but showed them no image. Further: "They changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man,... and served the creature more than the Creator." [Several other passages, even less to the point, are cited.]


The same is taught also by the holy Fathers. [The Synod appeals to a spurious passage from Epiphanius and to one inserted into the writings of Theodotus of Ancyra, a friend of St. Cyril's; to utterances--in no way striking--of Gregory of Nazianzum, of SS. Chrysostom, Basil, Athanasius of Amphilochius and of Eusebius Pamphili, from his Letter to the Empress Constantia, who had asked him for a picture of Christ.]

Supported by the Holy Scriptures and the Fathers, we declare unanimously, in the name of the Holy Trinity, that there shall be rejected and removed and cursed one of the Christian Church every likeness which is made out of any material and colour whatever by the evil art of painters.

Whoever in future dares to make such a thing, or to venerate it, or set it up in a church, or in a private house, or possesses it in secret, shall, if bishop, presbyter, or deacon, be deposed; if monk or layman, be anathematised, and become liable to be tried by the secular laws as an adversary of God and an enemy of the doctrines handed down by the Fathers. At the same time we ordain that no incumbent of a church shall venture, under pretext of destroying the error in regard to images, to lay his hands on the holy vessels in order to have them altered, because they are adorned with figures. The same is provided in regard to the vestments of churches, cloths, and all that is dedicated to divine service. If, however, the incumbent of a church wishes to have such church vessels and vestments altered, he must do this only with the assent of the holy Ecumenical patriarch and at the bidding of our pious Emperors. So also no prince or secular official shall rob the churches, as some have done in former times, under the pretext of destroying images. All this we ordain, believing that we speak as doth the Apostle, for we also believe that we have the spirit of Christ; and as our predecessors who believed the same thing spake what they had synodically defined, so we believe and therefore do we speak, and set forth a definition of what has seemed good to us following and in accordance with the definitions of our Fathers.

(1) If anyone shall not confess, according to the tradition of the Apostles and Fathers, in the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost one godhead, nature and substance, will and operation, virtue and dominion, kingdom and power in three subsistences, that is in their most glorious Persons, let him be anathema.

(2) If anyone does not confess that one of the Trinity was made flesh, let him be anathema.

(3) If anyone does not confess that the holy Virgin is truly the Mother of God, etc.

(4) If anyone does not confess one Christ both God and man, etc.

(5) If anyone does not confess that the flesh of the Lord is life-giving because it is the flesh of the Word of God, etc.

(6) If anyone does not confess two natures in Christ, etc.

(7) If anyone does not confess that Christ is seated with God the Father in body and soul, and so will come to judge, and that he will remain God forever without any grossness, etc.

(8) If anyone ventures to represent the divine image ( karakthr ) of the Word after the Incarnation with material colours, let him be anathema!

(9) If anyone ventures to represent in human figures, by means of material colours, by reason of the incarnation, the substance or person (ousia or hypostasis) of the Word, which cannot be depicted, and does not rather confess that even after the Incarnation he [i.e., the Word] cannot be depicted, let him be anathema!

(10) If anyone ventures to represent the hypostatic union of the two natures in a picture, and calls it Christ, and fires falsely represents a union of the two natures, etc.!

(11) If anyone separates the flesh united with the person of the Word from it, and endeavours to represent it separately in a picture, etc.!

(12) If anyone separates the one Christ into two persons, and endeavours to represent Him who was born of the Virgin separately, and thus accepts only a relative ( sketikh ) union of the natures, etc.

(13) If anyone represents in a picture the flesh deified by its union with the Word, and thus separates it from the Godhead, etc.

(14) If anyone endeavours to represent by material colours, God the Word as a mere man, who, although bearing the form


of God, yet has assumed the form of a servant in his own person, and thus endeavours to separate him from his inseparable Godhead, so that he thereby introduces a quaternity into the Holy Trinity, etc.

(15) If anyone shall not confess the holy ever-virgin Mary, truly and properly the Mother of God, to be higher than every creature whether visible or invisible, and does not with sincere faith seek her intercessions as of one having confidence in her access to our God, since she bare him, etc.

(16) If anyone shall endeavour to represent the forms of the Saints in lifeless pictures with material colours which are of no value (for this notion is vain and introduced by the devil), and does not rather represent their virtues as living images in himself, etc.

(17) If anyone denies the profit of the invocation of Saints, etc.

(18) If anyone denies the resurrection of the dead, and the judgment, and the condign retribution to everyone, endless torment and endless bliss, etc.

(19) If anyone does not accept this our Holy and Ecumenical Seventh Synod, let him be anathema from the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, and from the seven holy Ecumenical Synods!

[Then follows the prohibition of the making or teaching any other faith, and the penalties for disobedience. After this follow the acclamations.]

The divine Kings Constantine and Leo said: Let the holy and ecumenical synod say, if with the consent of all the most holy bishops the definition just read has been set forth.

The holy synod cried out: Thus we all believe, we all are of the same mind. We have all with one voice and voluntarily subscribed. This is the faith of the Apostles. Many years to the Emperors! They are the light of orthodoxy! Many years to the orthodox Emperors! God preserve your Empire! You have now more firmly proclaimed the inseparability of the two natures of Christ! You have banished all idolatry! You have destroyed the heresies of Germanus [of Constantinople], George and Mansur [ mansour , John Damascene]. Anathema to Germanus, the double-minded, and worshipper of wood! Anathema to George, his associate, to the falsifier of the doctrine of the Fathers! Anathema to Mansur, who has an evil name and Saracen opinions! To the betrayer of Christ and the enemy of the Empire, to the teacher of impiety, the perverter of Scripture, Mansur, anathema! The Trinity has deposed these three!(1)

from The Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Church, trans H. R. Percival, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd Series, ed. P. Schaff and H. Wace, (repr. Grand Rapids MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1955), XIV, pp 543-44



The reader will find all the information he desires with regard to the great iconoclastic controversy in the ordinary church-histories, and the theological side of the matter in the writings of St. John Damascene. It seems, however, that in order to render the meaning of the action of the last of the Ecumenical Councils clear it is necessary to provide an account of the synod which was held to condemn what it so shortly afterward expressly approved. I quote from Hefele in loco, and would only further draw the reader's attention to the fact that the main thing objected to was not (as is commonly supposed) the outward veneration of the sacred icons, but the making and setting up of them, as architectural ornaments; and that it was not only representations of the persons of the Most Holy Trinity, and of the Divine Son in his incarnate form that were denounced, but even pictures of the Blessed Virgin and of the other saints; all this is evident to anyone reading the foregoing abstract of the decree.


(Hefele, History of the Councils, Vol. V., p. 308 et seqq.)
The Emperor, after the death of the Patriarch Anastasius (A.D. 753), summoned the bishops of his Empire to a great synod in the palace Hieria, which lay opposite to Constantinople on the Asiatic side of the Bosphorus, between Chrysopolis and Chalcedon, a little to the north of the latter. The vacancy of the patriarchate, facilitated his plans, since the hope of succeeding to this see kept down, in the most ambitious and aspiring of the bishops, any possible thought of opposition. The number of those present amounted to 338 bishops, and the place of president was occupied by Archbishop Theodosius of Ephesus, already known to us as son of a former Emperor--Apsimar, from the beginning an assistant in the iconoclastic movement. Nicephorus names him alone as president of the synod; Theophanes, on the contrary, mentions Bishop Pastillas of Perga as second president, and adds, "The Patriarchates of Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem were not represented [the last three were then in the hands of the Saracens], the transactions began on February 10th, and lasted until August 8th (in Hieria); on the latter date, however, the synod assembled in St. Mary's Church in Blachernae, the northern suburb of Constantinople, and the Emperor now solemnly nominated Bishop Constantine of Sylaeum, a monk, as patriarch of Constantinople. On August 27th, the heretical decree [of the Synod] was published."

We see from this that the last sessions of this Conciliabulum were held no longer in Hieria, but in the Blachernae of Constantinople. We have no complete Acts of this assembly, but its very verbose oros (decree), together with a short introduction, is preserved among the acts of the Seventh Ecumenical Council.

This decree was by no means suffered to remain inoperative.

(W. M. Sinclair. Smith and Wace, Dictionary of Chr. Biog., sub voce Constantinus VI.)
The Emperor singled out the more noted monks, and required them to comply with the decrees of the synod. In A.D. 766 he exacted an oath against images from all the inhabitants of the empire. The monks refused with violent obstinacy, and Copronymus appears to have amused himself by treating them with ruthless harshness. The Emperor, indeed, seems to have contemplated the extirpation of monachism. John the Damascene he persuaded his bishops to excommunicate. Monks were forced to appear in the hippodrome at Constantinople hand in hand with harlots, while the populace spat at them. The new patriarch Constantinus, presented by the emperor to the council the last day of its session, was forced to foreswear images, to attend banquets, to eat and drink freely against his monastic vows, to wear garlands, to witness the coarse spectacles and hear the coarse language which entertained the Emperor. Monasteries were destroyed, made into barracks, or secularized. Lachanodraco, governor of the Thracian Theme, seems to have exceeded Copronymus in his ribaldry and injustice. He collected a number of monks into a plain, clothed them with white, presented them with wives, and forced them to choose between marriage and loss of eyesight. He sold the property of the monasteries, and sent the price to the Emperor.Copronymus publicly thanked him, and commended his example to other governors.

(Harnack. History of Dogma, Vol. V., p. 325 [Eng. Tr.].)
The clergy obeyed when the decrees were published; but resistance was offered in the ranks of the monks. Many took to flight, some became martyrs. The imperial police stormed the churches, and destroyed those images and pictures that had not been secured. The iconoclastic zeal by no means sprang from enthusiasm for divine service in spirit and in truth. The Emperor now also directly attacked the monks; he meant to extirpate the hated order, and to overthrow the throne of Peter. We see how the idea of an absolute military state rose powerfully in Constantinople; how it strove to establish itself by brute force. The Emperor, according to trustworthy evidence, made the inhabitants of the city swear


that they would henceforth worship no image, and give up all intercourse with monks. Cloisters were turned into arsenals and barracks, relics were hurled into the sea, and the monks, as far as possible, secularized. And the politically far-seeing Emperor, at the same time entered into correspondence with France (Synod of Gentilly, A.D. 767), and sought to win Pepin. History seemed to have suffered a violent rupture, a new era was dawning which should supersede the history of the Church.

But the Church was too powerful, and the Emperor was not even master of Oriental Christendom, but only of part of it. The orthodox Patriarchs of the East (under the rule of Islam) declared against the iconoclastic movement, and a Church without monks or pictures, in schism with the other orthodox Churches, was a nonentity. A spiritual reformer was wanting. Thus the great reaction set in after the death of the Emperor (A.D. 775), the ablest ruler Constantinople had seen for a long time. This is not the place to describe how it was inaugurated and cautiously carried out by the skilful policy of the Empress Irene; cautiously, for a generation had already grown up that was accustomed to the cultus without images. An important part was played by the miracles performed by the re-emerging relics and pictures. But the lower classes had always been really favourable to them; only the army and the not inconsiderable number of bishops who were of the school of Constantine had to be carefully handled. Tarasius, the new Patriarch of Constantinople and a supporter of images, succeeded, after overcoming much difficulty, and especially distrust in Rome and the East, after also removing the excited army, in bringing together a General Council of about 350 bishops at Nicaea, A.D. 787, which reversed the decrees of A.D. 754. The proceedings of the seven sittings are of great value, because very important patristic passages have been preserved in them which otherwise would have perished; for at this synod also the discussions turned chiefly on the Fathers. The decision ( oros ) restored orthodoxy and finally settled it.

I cannot do better than to cite in conclusion the words of the profoundly learned [Anglican!] Archbishop of Dublin, himself a quasi-Iconoclast.

(Trench. Lect. Medieval Ch. Hist., p. 93.)
It is only fair to state that the most zealous favourers and promoters of this ill-directed homage always disclaimed with indignation the charge of offering to the images any reverence which did not differ in kind, and not merely in degree, from the worship which they offered to Almighty God, designating it as they did by altogether a different name. We shall very probably feel that in these distinctions which they drew between the one and the other, between the "honour" which they gave to these icons and the "worship" which they withheld from these and gave only to God, there lay no slightest justification of that in which they allowed themselves; but these distinctions acquit them of idolatry, and it is the merest justice to remember this.

(Trench. Ut supra, p. 99.)
I can close this Lecture with no better or wiser words than those with which Dean Milman reads to us the lesson of this mournful story: "There was this irremediable weakness in the cause of iconoclasm; it was a mere negative doctrine, a proscription of those sentiments which had full possession of the popular mind, without any strong countervailing excitement. The senses were robbed of their habitual and cherished objects of devotion, but there was no awakening of an inner life of intense and passionate piety. The cold, naked walls from whence the Scriptural histories had been effaced, the despoiled shrines, the mutilated images, could not compel the mind to a more pure and immaterial conception of God and the Saviour. Hatred of images, in the process of the strife, might become, as it did, a fanaticism, it could never become a religion. Iconoclasm might proscribe idolatry; but it had no power of kindling a purer faith."


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(c)Paul Halsall Feb 1996
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