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Wednesday, 19 August 2015

The Iconoclast movement

The Byzantine Emperor Leo III begins the Iconoclast (the breaking of images) movement in 726 by ordering the removing of the giant gold icon of Christ that stood over the bronze gates of the Imperial Palace facing Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. An angry mob rioted and the unfortunate official who was sent to replace the icon of Christ with a cross was murdered.

Four years later, Leo III forbade the use of images in worship, except the cross, by Imperial decree. It was feared that the growing power of the Arabs, which was threatening the Byzantine empire, was due to the Byzantine sin of icon worship. This view was opposed by Pope Gregory II and was an important cause of difference between the Roman and Byzantine churches.

A Syrian monk and leading theologian, John of Damascus, opposed and fought the edicts arguing that as Christ had become visible flesh it was permissible to show respect to his human nature. Therefore images of Christ such as icons were vehicles by which honor could be paid to the Savior.  Consequently icons could be seen as metaphorical channels through which prayer can formulate the ideas that were being used to justify religious icons.

After calling a synod in 731, the new Pope, Gregory III excommunicated the Byzantine emperor, Leo III and threatened to excommunicate all iconoclasts.

At Nicaea in 787, a council formally reversed the Iconoclast movement started by the Byzantine Emperor Leo III. Their decree drew largely on the writings of John of Damascus. It also insisted that relics were to be used in the consecration of every church despite the fact there weren't not enough saints' bodies to go round. 

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