On How to Debate Iconophobes

St. Hilarion Troitsky 1886-1929

Today we ever more frequently run up against this kind of reasoning: “We read such and such in Holy Scripture. The Church teaches differently. So the Church is wrong.” All kinds of sectarians monotonously chant in this manner ad nauseam. There are even those who echo these ideas while calling themselves Christians, that is, they have adopted incomprehensible arrogance in their attitude toward the Church, placing themselves far above her. Holding the point of view described above regarding the sources of doctrine, it is not easy to respond properly. Let us consider, for example, the issue of the veneration of icons. A sectarian points out the prohibition of images in the Old Testament (cf. Ex. 20:4), or the words of Christ about spiritual worship (cf. Jn. 4:23). For him icons are a contradiction. Do we respond by saying that the veneration of icons is based on Tradition? But Tradition is to be accepted only when it does not contradict Scripture. References, for example, to the Cherubim on the curtain of the Old Testament Temple are not very convincing. Thus, the dispute continues without end and to no avail because the missionaries themselves adopt the sectarian perspective, and that perspective by its very essence leads only to a battle of words, but not to the truth. In contrast, drawing from the idea of the Church, we do not even need to argue on the basis of Scripture; for us, our faith in the Church is enough. The fruitlessness of disputes “from the Scripture” was recognized long ago by Tertullian, who said that such arguments could only make your stomach and brain ill or cause you to lose your voice, falling finally into rabid fury from the blasphemies of heretics (Prescription Against Heretics, 17). He asserts that it is not worth appealing to Scripture, since victory is either unlikely or completely impossible. But a person of the Church can boldly reiterate these words, since to  him “it is quite the same to be taught by Scripture and by the Catholic Church” (The Confession of Dositheus). (Holy Scripture and the Church)

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