On holy icons in the Western Church

On the Western side of the Church, Benedict XVI (2000, The Spirit of the Liturgy) has emphasized five fundamental principles regarding both the need and the function of images in the universal Church, particularly holy icons. These principles are that:

  1. Icons are, “Images of beauty, in which the mystery of the invisible God becomes visible, are an essential part of Christian worship” (p. 131);
  2. “Sacred art finds its subjects . . . beginning with creation and continuing all the way from the first day to the eighth day” (p. 132);
  3. “Images point to a presence, they are essentially connected with what happens in the liturgy” (p. 132);
  4. “Their whole point [of images] is to lead us beyond what can be apprehended at the merely material level, to awaken new senses in us, and to teach us a new kind of seeing, which perceived the Invisible in the visible . . . It comes from an interior vision and thus leads us to such an interior vision. It must be a fruit of contemplation . . . a prayer and seeing undertaken in communion with the seeing faith of the Church. The ecclesial dimension is essential . . . [providing] an essential connection with the history of the faith, with Scripture and Tradition” (p. 133);
  5. “The Church in the West . . . must achieve a real reception of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, Nicaea II, which affirmed the fundamental importance and theological status of the image in the Church. The Western Church does not need to subject herself to all the individual norms concerning images that were developed at the councils and synods of the East . . . There must, of course, be no rigid norms. Freshly received intuitions and the ever-new experiences of piety must find a place in the Church . . . [Furthermore] art cannot be “produced” . . . it is always a gift . . . it has to be received, otherwise it is not there (pp. 134-135).
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