John of Damascus on Holy Images Refuted Part 1
This work by John of Damascus is foundational to the Anchoretic rejection of the Protestant Reformation. If Isaac Taylor ripped out the heart of the Anchoretic system with his Ancient Christianity –, I will, through Calvin, Owen, Gillespie, and Bishop Hall, rip out its brain for all the world to see its hemorrhaged and cancerous state. If Damascus’ book falls, we from the Puritan Reformed tradition stand vindicated in our bitterness against a world of Christianity in rebellion. We will await an international apology from the Eastern Orthodox, Romanist, Anglican, Lutheran and Anabaptist Churches.
The following is taken from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library edition (London: Thomas Baker, 1898) with copy and paste text support from Fordham University’s Internet History Sourcebook’s website:
Psa 97:7 Let all those be ashamed who serve graven images, Who boast themselves of idols; Worship Him, all you gods.
Deut 5:6 ‘I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 7 ‘You shall have no other gods before Me. 8 ‘You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.
Deut 4:15 “So watch yourselves carefully, since you did not see any form on the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire, 16 so that you do not act corruptly and make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, 17 the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the sky, 18 the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water below the earth.
“These injunctions were given to the Jews on account of their proneness to idolatry. Now we, on the contrary, are no longer in leading strings. Speaking theologically, it is given to us to avoid superstitious error, to be with God in the knowledge of the truth, to worship God alone, to enjoy the fulness of His knowledge. We have passed the stage of infancy, and reached the perfection of manhood. We receive our habit of mind from God, and know what may be imaged and what may not. The Scripture says, “You have not seen the likeness of Him.” (Ex. 33.20) What wisdom in the law-giver. How depict the invisible?” (pg. 8)… It is clear that when you contemplate God, who is a pure spirit, becoming man for your sake, you will be able to clothe Him with the human form. When the Invisible One becomes visible to flesh, you may then draw a likeness of His  form. (pg. 8-9)
>>>This is Damascus’ primary error. He thinks that the reason God forbid images was because the OT people of God had not seen an image to depict. This is mistaken. Moses saw a form of God as an Old Testament Saint: Num 12:8 With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the LORD shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses? Matthew Henry Commenting says, “God allowing him that favour because he was above the temptation of idolatry; but for the people who had lately come from admiring the idols of Egypt, they must see no resemblance of God, lest they should have pretended to copy it, and so should have received the second commandment in vain; “for” (says bishop Patrick) “they would have thought that this forbade them only to make any representation of God besides that wherein he showed himself to them, in which they would have concluded it lawful to represent him.” http://www.ccel.org/ccel/henry/mhc1.Deu.v.html
To further embarrass Damascus, he says on page 15, “Of old, God the incorporeal and uncircumscribed was never depicted.” Yes he was, Num 12:8.
You see, the visible image of God was not the reason why he forbade them images. He only mentions that they did not see any image to further exclude any excuses they may have had to twist the 2nd Commandment; much as the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Churches have.
Damascus argues that Abraham worshipped the sons of Emmor in Gen 23:7.
>>>Calvin’s addresses this in his Commentary on Genesis 23:7,
“As to the use of the word signifying ‘to adore,’ it is simply taken for the reverence, which any one declares, either by bowing the knee, or any other gesture of the body. This may be paid to men, as well as to God, but for a different end; men mutually either bend the knee, or bow the head, before each other, for the sake of civil honor; but if the same thing be done to them, for the sake of religion, it is profanation. For religion allows of no other worship them that of the true God. And they childishly trifle who make a pretext for their idolatry, in the words dulia and latria, since the Scripture, in general terms, forbids adoration to be transferred to men. But lest any one should be surprised that Abraham acted so suppliantly, and so submissively, we must be aware that it was done from common custom and use. For it is well known that the Orientals were immoderate in their use of ceremonies. If we compare the Greeks or Italians with ourselves, we are more sparing in the use of them than they. But Aristotle, in speaking of the Asiatics and other barbarians notes this fault, that they abound too much in adorations. Wherefore we must not measure the honor which Abraham paid to the princes of the land by our customs.”
Damascus argues (pg. 9),
>>>”Jacob worshipped his brother Esau and Pharao, the Egyptian, but on the point of his staff.* (Gen 33.3) ”
It does not say that. It simply says that he bowed down seven times. It says nothing of worshipping anyone. Calvin comments on this passage,
“This, indeed, he might do for the sake of giving honor: for we know that the people of the east are addicted to far more ceremonies than are in use with us. To me, however, it seems more probable, that Jacob did not pay this honor simply to his brother, but that he worshipped God, partly to give him thanks, and partly to implore him to render his brother propitious; for he is said to have bowed down seven times before he approached his brother. Therefore, before he came in sight of his brother, he had already given the token of reverence or worship. Hence we may conjecture, as I have said, that this homage was paid to God and not to man: yet this is not at variance with the fact, that he also approached as a suppliant, for the purpose of assuaging his brother’s ferocity by his humiliation. If any one object, that in this manner he depreciated his right of primogeniture; the answer is easy, that the holy man, by the eyes of faith, was looking higher; for he knew that the effect of the benediction was deferred to its proper season, and was, therefore, now like the decaying seed under the earth. Therefore, although he was despoiled of his patrimony, and lay contemptible at his brother’s feet; yet since he knew that his birthright was secured to him, he was contented with this latent right, counted honors and riches as nothing, and did not shrink from being regarded as an inferior in the presence of his brother.”
Again Damascus argues, ” Josue and Daniel worshipped an angel of God; (Jos. 5.14) they did not adore him.”
>>>That was the second person of the Trinity, yet another visible image of a divine person in the OT dispensation which forbid images. The problems don’t seem to cease for this man.
Damascus summarizes his primary distinction between worship and adoration saying,
“The worship of latreia is one thing, and the worship which is given to merit another.” (pg. 9-10)
>>>This is the classic distinction between latria and dulia. Calvin refuted this in detail in his Institutes 1.12.3
“3. Laying aside subtleties, let us examine the thing. When Paul reminds the Galatians of what they were before they came to the knowledge of Gods he says that they “did service unto them which by nature are no gods,” (Gal. 4:8). Because he does not say λατρια, was their superstition excusable? This superstition, to which he gives the name of δυλια, he condemns as much as if he had given it the name of λατρια. When Christ repels Satan’s insulting proposal with the words, “It is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve,” (Mt. 4:10), there was no question of λατρια. For all that Satan asked was προσκὺνεσις (obeisance). In like manners when John is rebuked by the angel for falling on his knees before him (Rev. 19:10; 22:8, 9), we ought not to suppose that John had so far forgotten himself as to have intended to transfer the honour due to God alone to an angel. But because it was impossible that a worship connected with religion should not savour somewhat of divine worship, he could not προσκὺνει̑ν (do obeisance to) the angel without derogating from the glory of God. True, we often read that men were worshipped; but that was, if I may so speak, civil honour. The case is different with religious honour, which, the moment it is conjoined with worship, carries profanation of the divine honour along with it. The same thing may be seen in the case of Cornelius (Acts 10:25). He had not made so little progress in piety as not to confine supreme worship to God alone. Therefore, when he prostrates himself before Peter, he certainly does it not with the intention of adoring him instead of God. Yet Peter sternly forbids him. And why, but just because men never distinguish so accurately between the worship of God and the creatures as not to transfer promiscuously to the creature that which belongs only to God. Therefore, if we would have one God, let us remember that we can never appropriate the minutest portion of his glory without retaining what is his due. Accordingly, when Zechariah discourses concerning the repairing of the Church, he distinctly says not only that there would be one God, but also that he would have only one name—the reason being, that he might have nothing in common with idols. The nature of the worship which God requires will be seen in its own place (Book 2, c. 7 and 8). He has been pleased to prescribe in his Law what is lawful and right, and thus restrict men to a certain rule, lest any should allow themselves to devise a worship of their own. But as it is inexpedient to burden the reader by mixing up a variety of topics, I do not now dwell on this one. Let it suffice to remember, that whatever offices of piety are bestowed anywhere else than on God alone, are of the nature of sacrilege. First, superstition attached divine honours to the sun and stars, or to idols: afterwards ambition followed—ambition which, decking man in the spoils of God, dared to profane all that was sacred. And though the principle of worshipping a supreme Deity continued to be held, still the practice was to sacrifice promiscuously to genii and minor gods, or departed heroes: so prone is the descent to this vice of communicating to a crowd that which God strictly claims as his own peculiar right!” (John Calvin, “Institutes”, Christian Classics Ethereal Library Site, available at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.iii.xiii.html, [accessed August 2011] )
Damascus says (pg. 11-12)
“If, therefore, Holy Scripture, providing for our need, ever putting before us what is intangible, clothes it in flesh, does it not make an image of what is thus invested with our nature, and brought to the level of our desires, yet invisible?”
>>Not all the time. This is the exact problem that Empiricism has with abstract ideas. What image did justification take?
(continuing) “A certain conception through the senses thus takes place in the brain, which was not there before, and is transmitted to the judicial faculty, and added to the mental store.”
>>Here we have the classic Thomistic theory of memory images. Empiricism is a theory of demonstration where man moves through space and locates created natures through sensation that he believes can by a method of induction, give knowledge. Perception is inferred from sensation. And passing from perception, memory images that have remained from a previous sensation are through abstraction used to produce an abstract Idea. Now can it be proved that all men have remaining images? I can close my eyes and “see” the face of my family members. I can close my eyes and picture my bedroom. I can “hear” a number of tunes voluntarily. However, I cannot voluntarily call up images of things I have smelled. I cannot call up images of things I have felt. I cannot call up things I have tasted. Even in my dreams I can only recall things I have seen and heard. By my own “experience” I can attest that I do not have all 5 types of images. Some have denied that they have images at all. British scientist Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911), rejected the idea that all men have imagery (Gordon H. Clark, Clark Speaks From The Grave [Jefferson, Maryland.: The Trinity Foundation, 1986], 23; See also Dr. Clark’s Lecture Empiricism). There is no such thing as a sub-consciousness to appeal to for these images because the term is a logical contradiction. You are either conscious or you’re not. Can someone suffer pain without feeling it? The concept is logically absurd.
(contiuing) “Gregory, who is so eloquent about God, says that the mind, which is set upon getting beyond corporeal things, is incapable of doing it. For the invisible things of God since the creation of the world are made visible through images. (Rom. 1.20)”
>>This is nonsense. Verse 19 of Romans 1 makes very clear, “because that which is known about God is evident *****within them*********”. Visible images are not required to have knowledge that there is a God. I agree that the eternal ideas take form in time. I simply do not agree that this means knowledge comes through images.
“For if the law should forbid images, and yet be itself a forerunner of images, what should we say? If the tabernacle was a figure, and the type of a type, why does the law not prohibit image-making? But this is not in the least the case. There is a time for everything. (Eccl. 3.1)”
>>>Who said we forbid making images? We forbid making images **********that represent divine persons****** and we forbid worshipping anything else but divine persons.
Westminster Larger Catechism 109 says, “What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counselling, commanding, using, and anywise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; tolerating a false religion; *********the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever; all worshipping of it, or God in it or by it; the making of any representation of feigned deities, and all worship of them, or service belonging to them,********** all superstitious devices, corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretence whatsoever; simony; sacrilege; all neglect, contempt, hindering, and opposing the worship and ordinances which God hath appointed..”
 Numbers 15:39. And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the LORD, and do them; and that ye seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go a whoring.
 Deuteronomy 13:6-8. If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers; Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth; Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him.
 Hosea 5:11. Ephraim is oppressed and broken in judgment, because he willingly walked after the commandment. Micah 6:16. For the statutes of Omri are kept, and all the works of the house of Ahab, and ye walk in their counsels; that I should make thee a desolation, and the inhabitants thereof an hissing: therefore ye shall bear the reproach of my people.
 1 Kings 11:33. Because that they have forsaken me, and have worshipped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Milcom the god of the children of Ammon, and have not walked in my ways, to do that which is right in mine eyes, and to keep my statutes and my judgments, as did David his father. 1 Kings 12:33. So he offered upon the altar which he had made in Bethel the fifteenth day of the eighth month, even in the month which he had devised of his own heart; and ordained a feast unto the children of Israel: and he offered upon the altar, and burnt incense.
 Deuteronomy 12:30-32. Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou inquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise. Thou shalt not do so unto the LORD thy God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods. What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.
 Deuteronomy 4:15-19. Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the LORD spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire: Lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female, The likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air, The likeness of any thing that creepeth on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the waters beneath the earth: And lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the LORD thy God hath divided unto all nations under the whole heaven. Acts 17:29. Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device. Romans 1:21-23, 25. Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things…. Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
 Daniel 3:18. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up. Galatians 4:8. Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods.
 Exodus 32:5. And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, To morrow is a feast to the LORD.
 Exodus 32:8. They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.
 1 Kings 18:26, 28. And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made…. And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them. Isaiah 65:11. But ye are they that forsake the LORD, that forget my holy mountain, that prepare a table for that troop, and that furnish the drink offering unto that number.
 Acts 17:22. Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. Colossians 2:21-23 (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.
 Malachi 1:7-8, 14. Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar; and ye say, Wherein have we polluted thee? In that ye say, The table of the LORD is contemptible. And if ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? and if ye offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith the LORD of hosts….But cursed be the deceiver, which hath in his flock a male, and voweth, and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing: for I am a great King, saith the LORD of hosts, and my name is dreadful among the heathen.
 Deuteronomy 4:2. Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.
 Psalm 106:39. Thus were they defiled with their own works, and went a whoring with their own inventions.
 Matthew 15:9. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
 1 Peter 1:18. Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers.
 Jeremiah 44:17. But we will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out of our own mouth, to burn incense unto the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, as we have done, we, and our fathers, our kings, and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem: for then had we plenty of victuals, and were well, and saw no evil.
 Isaiah 65:3-5. A people that provoketh me to anger continually to my face; that sacrificeth in gardens, and burneth incense upon altars of brick; Which remain among the graves, and lodge in the monuments, which eat swine’s flesh, and broth of abominable things is in their vessels; Which say, Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou. These are a smoke in my nose, a fire that burneth all the day. Galatians 1:13-14. For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: And profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.
 1 Samuel 13:11-12. And Samuel said, What hast thou done? And Saul said, Because I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that thou camest not within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered themselves together at Michmash; Therefore said I, The Philistines will come down now upon me to Gilgal, and I have not made supplication unto the LORD: I forced myself therefore, and offered a burnt offering. 1 Samuel 15:21. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice unto the LORD thy God in Gilgal.
 Acts 8:18. And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money.
 Romans 2:22. Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege? Malachi 3:8. Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.
 Exodus 4:24-26. And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the LORD met him, and sought to kill him. Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me. So he let him go: then she said, A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision.
 Matthew 22:5. But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise. Malachi 1:7, 13. Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar; and ye say, Wherein have we polluted thee? In that ye say, The table of the LORD is contemptible…. Ye said also, Behold, what a weariness is it! and ye have snuffed at it, saith the LORD of hosts; and ye brought that which was torn, and the lame, and the sick; thus ye brought an offering: should I accept this of your hand? saith the LORD.
 Matthew 23:13. But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.
 Acts 13:44-45. And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming. 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16. Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men: Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.
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