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Statues and Idolatry

 

Not long ago, I noticed a young woman walking back and forth in front of my store. She seemed upset and agitated. I was about to ask if I could be of help, when she burst in the front door, and said, “I’m here to save you, you are in the Whore of Babylon and if you don’t come out, you’re going to rot in hell fire.” Needless to say, I was a bit taken aback. I replied, “What is it about the Catholic Church that you find so bothersome?” Pointing to the statues on display she said, “You worship statues and that’s idolatry.” “Well,” I answered, “it certainly would be idolatrous if Catholics really did worship statues, but we do not. There are one billion-forty million Catholics in the world; do you think that we are all stupid enough to worship plaster?” Fortunately, she allowed me to explain the use of images in Catholic practice.

Enter any Catholic home and you will find statues of Jesus, Mary, or the Saints. These treasures of stone, bronze, marble, or even plastic are used to remind us of those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. Crucifixes remind us of the dramatic sacrifice of Christ. Statues or images are representations of those who found favor with God. Each statue represents a person, who demonstrated a specific charism. For example, a statue of Saint Joseph reminds us of the responsibilities of proper fatherhood. Joseph is also the patron of families, and of a happy death. The Blessed Mother is the purest example of proper motherhood.

One of the principle purposes of images is to help instruct. The state and city governments erect statues of the nation’s founding fathers to inspire patriotism and loyalty. The Church erects statues of Christ, His Mother and the saints to teach her citizens loyalty to God.

Sacramentals are objects, which serve to elevate our minds toward God. Statues are sacramentals blessed by Mother Church. Saint Paul told the Romans to render honor to whom honor was due. Honor certainly is due to Christ and in a different, lower degree, honor is also due to those heroic men and women who died following Christ. That is the basis, the principle for our veneration of images.

Statues adorn our churches and homes. There is a distinctive difference between Catholic and non-Catholic churches. Catholic churches present an atmosphere of beauty and warmth. This homelike feeling is due principally to the Presence of Christ in the tabernacle, but also the welcoming lifelike statues.

During the many ages before the invention of printing, Catholics learned their Faith from studying the figures of the saints and holy scenes in the stained glass windows of our churches.

Furthermore, statues spur us on to put in to practice what we have learned about the people represented. Statues of patriots inspire us to be more patriotic and less self-serving. At the same time, don’t you want to be more modest and pure-minded, more thoughtful of God and of others, every time you see a carving of Christ and His saints? Who can gaze upon a reproduction of the crucifixion without experiencing the same feeling as the penitent thief hanging next to the dying God-Man? Whoever cast his eyes upon the sweet face of Michelangelo’s Pieta, chiseled in immaculate marble, and did not wish to share the priceless purity that beams from her motherly expression?

Were it not repeated so often I would feel it a waste of time to answer the charge that the veneration of statues is idolatry. The simplest Catholic will tell you that he does not worship or adore or in any way honor the actual marble or stone of that figure. He honors the one represented. Let the Church explain her stand officially. I quote from the Council of Trent:

“The images of Christ, of the Virgin Mother of God, and the other saints, are to be kept especially in churches. Due honor and veneration is to be paid to them, not that we believe there is any divinity or power in them, not that anything is to be asked of them, not that any trust is to be placed in them, as the heathens of old trusted in their idols. . . on the contrary, the honor we pay to images is referred to the originals whom they represent; so that by means of images which we kiss and before which we bow, we adore Jesus Christ and we venerate His saints.”

The Catholic Church stresses the importance of religious atmosphere and environment, not only in the house of God, but also in the homes of the children of God. Yet, how many Christian homes are barren, totally barren, of religious images of any kind? What is the cause?

It is not ignorance, for you know full well that a little Christian atmosphere in your home is good for your spiritual health. Christian atmosphere makes the home peaceful and happy. The cause is indifference and thoughtlessness.

Perhaps these few remarks on the usefulness and reasonableness of statues will induce you to put one in your home, will lead you to appreciate the beautiful statues we have in Catholic churches, and will prompt you to remember more often and more devoutly the holy people they represent.

 

© 2004 – Victor R. Claveau

 

Part or all of this article may be reproduced without obtaining permission as long as the author is cited.

 

"Whatever a man seeks, honors, or exalts

more than God, that is the god of his idolatry."

-Archb. Ullathore (19th cent)

 

 

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