St John of Damascus: on Holy Icons 4

Saint John repeatedly asks us to think carefully about the difference between worship of God and the honour we pass to the icons bearing His image or those of His saints. Just as we might feel warmth or love looking at a garment – a scarf perhaps – of our loved one, we do not in any way love that actual garment but that it represents to us. 

EVERY one must recognise that a man who attempts to dishonour an image which has been set up for the glory and remembrance of Christ, of His holy Mother, or one of his saints, is an enemy of Christ, of His holy Mother, and the saints. It is also set up to shame the devil and his crew, out of love and zeal for God. The man who refuses to give this image due, though not divine, honour, is an upholder of the devil and his demon host, showing by his act grief that God and the saints are honoured and glorified, and the devil put to shame. The image is a canticle and manifestation and monument to the memory of those who have fought bravely and won the victory to the shame and confusion of the vanquished. I have often seen lovers gazing at the loved [88] one’s garment, and embracing it with eyes and mouth as if it was himself. We must give his due to every man, St Paul says “Honour to whom honour: to the king as excelling: or to governors as sent by him,” (Rom. 13.7) to each according to the measure of his dignity.

Where do you find in the Old Testament or in the Gospel the Trinity, or consubstantiality, or one Godhead, or three persons,* or the one substance of Christ, or His two natures, expressed in so many words? Still, as they are contained in what Scripture does say, and defined by the holy fathers, we receive them and anathematise those who do not. I prove to you that in the old law God commanded images to be made, first of all the tabernacle and everything in it. Then in the gospel our Lord Himself said to those who asked Him, tempting, whether it was lawful to give tribute to Caesar, “Bring me a coin,” and they showed Him a penny. And He asked them whose likeness it was, and they said to Him, Caesar’s; and He said, “Give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God that which is God’s.” (Mt. 22.17-21) As the coin bears the likeness of Caesar, it is his, [89] and you should give it to Caesar. So the image bears the likeness of Christ, and you should give it Him, for it is His.