The Associated Press (Feb. 2014) reported the story of an “oil-weeping” statue of Mary in a small town in northern Israel which attracted over 2,000 pilgrims. Many of such stories of statues of “Mary” or “Jesus” effecting miraculous cures are common in Catholic or Eastern Orthodox circles.
Some of these claims are simply outrageous. “St” Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938), a Catholic mystic, was said to have seen “Mary” and was said to have lost appetite for normal food except for the host (communion wafer). She claimed “Jesus” also appeared to her and instructed her to get an artist to produce his portrait for the whole world to worship. This image is called “the image of Divine Mercy” and is venerated till date. But why would Jesus command someone to break God’s second commandment?
The Catholic Encyclopedia (vol VII, 636) admits: “through the images which we kiss, and before which we uncover our heads and kneel, we adore Christ and venerate the saints whose likenesses they are.”
Perhaps this was why the statue of St. Peter in Rome was so much kissed on the foot at a time that its toes wore off! Why would any Christian kiss or kneel to worship an image? How do Catholics know for sure that they images they bow to are really the “likenesses they are” representing? Have you seen the real Mary, Jesus or saints physically before? Did they pose for a photo shoot? Different portraits of Jesus or Mary have been produced by different artists of different nationalities at different eras. Certainly, all of these can’t represent the same individuals.
In Scripture, none of the inspired writer ever mentioned the use of images in worship to God in the tabernacle or temple rites EXCEPT when Israel was backslidden and served pagan gods. The Bible denounced religious images as the works of man’s hands; imitations of creations, made of dead materials and a folly to make them part of one’s worship (see Dt 4:16, Is 2:8, 40:19-20). This include images supposedly of God or heavenly beings such as Jesus or Mary.
The early Christians were not adverse to art but had no images of Christ. The Synod of Elvira (305/306) prohibited veneration of images in the church. Christian leaders such as Epiphanus condemned those trying to introduce images of “Christ” or “saints.” He wrote about a church in his time:
“It bore an image either of Christ or of one of the saints…Seeing this, and being loth that an image of a man should be hung up in Christ’s church contrary to the teaching of the Scriptures, I tore it asunder…” (Jerome’s Letter 51:9)
Early church father, Tertullian noted that the law against images is still in place in the church (On Idolatry, 5). Origen stated that the Christian view of images is the same as the Jewish view (Against Celsus, 7:64)
Catholic scholar, Ludwig Ott agrees:
“Owing to the influence of the Old Testament prohibition of images, Christian veneration of images developed only after the victory of the Church over paganism.” (Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 1974, 320)
“Images were unknown in the worship of the primitive Christians…The admission of images into the church in the 4th and 5th centuries was justified on the theory that the ignorant people could learn facts of Christianity from them better than from sermons or books.” (Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature 4:503, 504)
Even when images were introduced, several emperors condemned their use as heresy and ordered them destroyed. In 784 A.D when Tarasius, an advocate of images, became the Partriarch of the East idolatry became revived in the church. This trend spread to the West through the Synod of Frankfurt in 794.
By 850, the cult of image worship had grown in churches along with stories of supposed miracles performed through them. In 1188, it was declared that a denial of images was a denial of God. In 1225, it was said that Christ was not Christ unless He was graven.
Thomas Aquinas also claimed that an image of Christ claims the same veneration as Christ Himself. At the Council of Trent (1551-1552) image worship was made a dogma (compulsory belief) for Catholics till date.
This “christian” idolatry persists because people want to walk by sight rather than by faith. They want God (or Jesus) in a form that they can see, touch and kiss rather than serving Him in spirit and truth. They also want to persist in the traditions of pagans who had images and icons of their deities.
Image worship leads people into spiritual bondage. God must be worshiped as He has prescribed not as we think He should be worshiped. “To whom could you liken God? What image could you contrive of him” (Is 40:18)
“And I [God] will utter my judgements against them touching all their wickedness, who have forsaken Me…and WORSHIPPED THE WORKS OF THEIR OWN HANDS” (Jer 1:16)
“For outside [of heaven] are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers and IDOLATERS” (Rev 22:15).