Saturday, December 11, 2004

Leo III and Christmas

Emperor Leo III always seems to get bad press in the history books. I am not sure I have found one yet that treated him even fairly. Leo III was the emperor of Constantinople in A.D. 717-740 followed by his son, Constantine V (740-775). In 726, Leo III began a propaganda campaign against images of Christ. He seems to have been motivated by the 2nd Commandment, although it appears hard to deny that he was also an orthodox Chalcedonian (many historians do try to deny this). The propaganda did not really work, so Leo ordered that the image of Christ on top of the palace be thrown down and broken. Of course riots ensued.

I think about Leo III a lot during Christmas. Never will one see more icons of Christ than at Christmas. Every yard becomes a place for statues of the baby Jesus. Stamps in the mail have pictures of our Lord, and this year many will receive a DVD of Mel Gibson’s The Passion. I truly believe that if someone were to smash all the icons, riots would ensue. Protestants forget their faith during the Christmas season an bring out statues of Christ, not only to decorate their lawn, but to set up inside their house on their mantle like the old household gods of old. Sadly many churches put on nativity plays, and Christ is either the cutest recently born child in the church or a stuffed doll. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problems with Christmas as a feast day for the church or as a holiday, but I do have a problem with images of Christ.

The Council of Hieria, A.D. 754, included 338 bishops, and they declared that only legitimate representation of Christ is “the bread and wine in the holy supper.” The reason, Christology. If Christ is one person in two natures, and the natures are not to be united or divided, mixed or separated as all Reformed Creeds suggest following the Council of Chalcedon, then any picture of the person of Jesus Christ is a picture of both divine and human natures. It is that simply. Every nativity scene and play is a representation of God, God made flesh yes, but God nonetheless. That is strictly forbidden in the second commandment. Thus, every nativity scene reminds me of Leo III because he took a stand. When we don’t take a stand every Christmas it shows our ignorance, or worse our unfaithfulness, or worse our indifference.