Saturday, January 01, 2005

Pictures of Christ

I am amazed at how accepted pictures of our Lord are today. Jeff Meyers links to a report that decides pictures of Christ are okay. It in effect decides all pictures are okay as long as they are not worshipped, but that is another matter. Here is a portion:

Another argument against portraiture of Christ is based on the idea that all such representations of Christ are necessarily limited to depicting His human nature, failing to do justice to the fact that the Second Person of the Trinity has both a human and a divine nature. But surely this line of reasoning fails to recognize the teaching of Scripture that God appeared in human form when He walked the earth, and that is what the people of Jesus's day saw--a man. Moreover, God was pleased to reveal to Peter and others that this man who lived among them was the Messiah, the Son of God--divine as well as human (Matt. 16:17). And so the apostle John testifies: "We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son" (John 1:14), and again, Jesus said, "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9).

I find this paragraph an astonishment. This paragraph is a defense of pictures? It is not even really historically accurate. First, most defenders of pictures admit they depict only the human nature. Even John of Damascus admitted that much. Second, it is the fact that the person of Jesus Christ is both divine (which is not to be pictured) and human that is the problem. Any picture of the person is a picture of divinity. Jesus was God and man. The verses quoted show exactly why it is so troubling to picture Christ as a man. “For anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” Can that be captured in a picture? No, never.

Basically you either have to admit that the divine nature can be pictured without violation of God’s law, or you have to say the natures can be separated and only the human nature is in the pictures. The former way opens the door to allowing pictures of the Holy Spirit and the Father since the divine nature can be pictured (few are willing to go there), and the latter destroys the formula of Chalcedon and makes one a Nestorian. Either way it is wrong.


pduggie said...

I wouldn't even say the "human nature" is in the picture. The only thing in the picture is the visual appearance of a human being.

Here's a question though: the WCF says you shouldn't even picture these things in your mind. Is that possible? Can you read about the Holy Spirit descending "in appearance like a dove" without picturing what a dove looks like? It seems like "trying not to think about pink elephants". We know what human beings look like. According to the WCF it seems we must somehow try *not* to imagine anything about Jesus human appearance when we think about him.

But how?

Lee said...

I think you can’t say it is a picture of a human being. It is a picture of certain human being. Here is my point. If you had a picture of Christ and someone who said, “Who is that a picture of?” How would you reply? Would you say, “O that is a human being”? Or would you say, “That is a picture of Christ.” If it is a picture of the person of Jesus Christ, then by the definition of Chalcedon it has to be a picture of both the divine and human nature. It must contain both because they are not to be separated. If the picture is just of a human being, either it is not a picture representative of Jesus at all, or it separates the two natures.

As for the WCF, I really can’t say. I personally don’t subscribe to the WCF, instead I follow the Three Forms of unity which avoids that particular thorn bush. I admit I think it would have been better if the WCF had left out that sort of language. However, I do have a few thoughts on it.
1. It may be that the Divines believed it to be impossible for sinful man, but something the commandment required anyway. It is in the discussion of what is forbidden by the second commandment. Perhaps our inability to stop from picturing it simply shows our sinfulness rather than a flaw in the Confession.
2. The other thought is that the Divines may have been saying, you shouldn’t need to think about his appearance in order to worship or understand the Bible. It may be that they would freely admit that a image of a dove or a man flickers across our mind when we read it, but we should not necessarily have to think on a dove or a man in order to worship the Son and the Spirit.

Just some thoughts.