Catholic traditions have long been tested by other faiths who feel as if some traditions may go against the teachings of the Bible. Catholics wish to clarify that they do not “worship” graven objects but they do however employee the use of images such as statues and art to revere and honor religious figure. Catholics argue that images are not bad and many examples are shown in the Bible of their uses. How the Commandments are number depends on if the Commandment about graven images is included.
Why Catholics Worship Graven Images
When looking at the commandments in a Catholic Bible versus a Protestant Bible there are no real differences. However these Commandments are not numbered, and here in lies the difference.The Protestant Bible begin their numbering of the Commandments on a different verse than that of the Catholic Bible. In the Catholic Bible this excludes the Commandment about graven images, however, Catholics believe that this is irrelevant based on the fact that they have already included the Commandment about not worshiping “any God before me”. Idolatry involves the worship of an object in substitution for God. Catholics feel that these two Commandments are virtually the same. This difference in numbering has led to the controversy of graven images and hence why some religions allow imagery to play a more prominent role in their worship. However to say that Catholics worship graven images is a falsity, they merely use images as tools to teach.
What are Graven Images?
Graven images are any images, statues, or objects that are worshiped as an idol ("Do catholics worship," 2012). Most of the idols cited throughout the Bible are statues. Statues and artwork are still frequent adorned of religious establishments throughout the world ("Do catholics worship," 2012). Idolatry is considered, "Idolatry is a perversion of man’s innate religious sense (Sparks, 2011). Catholics continue to condemn idolatry. Catholics are not allowed to bow down or pray to objects or crucifixes to prevent idolatry.
Examples of Graven Images in the Bible
Verses 8-9 forbid the making of graven images or idols ("Graven images: Altering," 1993). When Deut. 5:6-10 was combined some felt that Catholics were endeavoring to hide this Commandment ("Graven images: Altering," 1993). The Catholic Church disputes this accusation and cites examples throughout the Bible that support the idea that graven images are forbidden ("Graven images: Altering," 1993). One such incident is in Exodus 25:18-21, where a duo of angel statues was constructed for the Ark of the Covenant.
Later the sculptures of bronze serpents were also commanded by God to be used as graven images ("Graven images: Altering," 1993). Countless other examples of graven images are littered throughout the Bible with no indication that God is upset by this idolatry ("Graven images: Altering," 1993).
On the other hand there are also some examples that point to graven images as sinful. The golden calf, of Exodus 19:20, presents the potential hazards of idol worship. Worship of the golden calf led the Israelites to ruin and death. The Bible also warns against making an idol out of a person ("Graven images: Altering," 1993). Putting too much importance on an inanimate object or fake God is considered sinful.
God as a Visual Representation
There are also instances within the Bible in which God appears in visual forms. The Holy Spirit also appears in the form of a dove and as the tongues of fire ("Do catholics worship," 2012). Jesus is also considered the physical and visible representation of God. These images are known throughout all forms of Christianity as symbols for God. Symbols and idols are clearly two separate things. In Catholic worship symbols are welcome yet idols are not. Nearly all religions employee some form of symbolism and imagery within their teachings.
Images and Statues
The images of holy figures have been upheld in the Catholic Church as a sign of reverence and faith ("Graven images: Altering," 1993). They are not to be worshipped in the sense of an idol. The images themselves are not thought to have any special powers, instead this visual representations serve only as a reminder of the greatness of God ("Graven images: Altering," 1993). No one is required to revere graven images and praying to them is not encouraged. Followers are only encouraged to honor these religious figures and embrace them in their teachings. Catholics often consider rosaries and prayer cards as signs of their devotion to God. Many take comfort in keeping them with them at all times. They feel that these material objects are symbolic of God’s love and take comfort in their presence. Statues of angels frequently decorate Catholic churches. Once again they are not to be prayed to , but they serve to remind us that someone is watching us and loves us. Sometimes humans need a visual reminder of our unseen faith.
Art vs. Idols
When James Gibbons said that religious paintings were the bible of the ignorant, it is easy to see when looking back through history that he may just be right in his estimation ("Do catholics worship," 2012). For when one looks at the time periods when religious artwork was at its height of popularity, the majority of people were illiterate ("Do catholics worship," 2012). At these times, religious themed images would have been instrumental in teaching common people about the lessons and stories of the bible.
Religious art can be a powerful tool to anyone, ignorant, literate, or scholarly. Paintings help convey different stories and often messages that many may not have even realized while reading the Bible. Religious paintings are very interesting in that each is unique and no two painters interpret a subject of meaning the same way ("Do catholics worship," 2012). A great insight into how religion has changed over the course of history that might otherwise have been lost if not for art . Images have played an integral role throughout history and have served religion well.
Images are only as powerful as the power humans allow them to have over them. While showing reverence to a highly regarded religious figure is not considered inappropriate to Catholics, there remains a line between honor and idolatry. God forbade the worship of images, but he did not forbid the religious use ("Do catholics worship," 2012). After all religious films, videos, photographs, and paintings would have to be prohibited if that was the case. Obviously this is something we do not want within society!
In summary, the difference between Protestant and Catholic beliefs regarding graven images is the result of how the Commandments are numbered. Catholics feel like it is implied that idol worship is forbidden based on the previous Commandment “Thou shall not have any Gods before me.” ("Do catholics worship," 2012). Therefore, they do not feel the need to include the Commandment regarding graven images.
Catholics also argue that they did not alter the Commandments, just interpret them slightly differently. They feel that God does not condemn images as a whole, just idolatry. They cite many examples throughout the Bible that supports the idea that visual images are not bad, and are actually a healthy way of honoring key religious figures ("Do catholics worship," 2012). Throughout history images have been instrumental is spreading the word of God. In times when people were largely illiterate, images where the only way to educate the masses about religion ("Graven images: Do," 1999).
Catholics uses images such as painting and statue to remember and revere individuals, not worship them ("Do catholics worship," 2012). These images hold no special powers and should not by pray to. Images only have as much power as humans allow them to have. By not crossing the line between idolatry and honor, Catholics justify the presence of religious images within their Churches as a meaningful expression of faith.
Overall, the controversy surrounding graven images will likely continue to exist. After all everyone interprets religious texts differently and must rely on their own sense of morals and religious values to determine is graven images poses a threat to Christianity. Those that say that Catholic’s worship graven images are mistaken, there is a distinct difference between the use of imagery for education and decoration than as a substitution for God.
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