Thursday, November 05, 2009

History of the Iconoclastic Controversy

I just finished reading A History of the Iconoclastic Controversy, and it is a very good book. It is not all straight history as he stops to examine the arguments from each side at each period in the conflict, of which he believes there are three. The author, Dr. Edward Martin, clearly favors the Iconophils (lovers of images), but overall is a fairly balanced view and is willing to admit when arguments are good or bad or unanswered. Obviously as someone who is against icons I have some quibbles with some of his review of the argumentation, but still the book is good. I learned a lot of history that I did not before, and Martin makes some excellent points about the increasing dependence of the iconophils on tradition as their authority. Martin even seems to argue that this reliance on tradition is what helps end theological thought in the Eastern Orthodox Church. And by comparing the arguments in the first round with the arguments of the last round, he makes a pretty good case.

The major failure of the book in my opinion is Martin’s removal of what was going on in the western church to the last two chapters of the book as if they were completely divorced, which is what he argues. I think he fails in his understanding of the Carolingian Church and its disregard of icons. He dismisses most of the rejection of the Second Council of Nicaea by the Franks as politically motivated, and I think that is fairly narrow. He also is too dismissive of Claudius of Turin, who he admits is basically a Protestant Reformer a few hundred years out of place. The fairly low rate reaction to Claudius needed to be explored more, and if he had put the goings on in the Western Church side by side with the Eastern Church, then it would have made a different picture. In fact, it probably would have made a picture of the church in the 8th and 9th century that had a majority of its members rejecting icons. Something that is not really taught in church history courses.

Still, that complaint aside, I think the book is good. It is well researched and a pretty easy read. I enjoyed the book and might look for more works by the Dr. Martin.