minima maxima sunt

The Small things are the Great things; as in a grain of mustard seed.

Archive for the month “July, 2012”

Found this site while working on a future blog of my own and thought it would be fun to try the re-blog option.

Here come the Iconoclasts

Iconoclasm seems to have always been a part of human history. The word is Greek for “image breaker” and refers to the destroying of icons, images, statues etc, often for religious purposes but also for political, such as the burning of a flag. The issue of Iconoclasm concerning actual Icons of the church has an interesting history.

Now right off the bat, I’m going to say something that may be unpopular with some; and that is that I am not always opposed to Iconoclasm. I think there are images and idols which certainly needed to be destroyed or put down. For instance the destruction of Nazi symbology, like the swastika, is not only justifiable but was simply the right thing to do. In respect to religion it gets a bit more touchy. There are clearly acts of iconoclasm in the Hebrew Scriptures, such as found in the conquest of Canaan and the purging of paganism from Israel. We also see Israel the victim as the Temple was Jerusalem destroyed by the Persians and later by Rome. In church history we see such acts from both the church and those opposed to the church. It can sometimes be difficult to always agree with such destruction in a fair and just way, other than to accept it based on the times and customs of the day.

What I would like to focus on rather than the right and wrong of iconoclasm, is how iconoclasm was found within the church. In other words the controversy, not found between opposing belief systems, but rather within.

I have often heard the criticism concerning Icons, which are found in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions. They are sometimes compared to the worship of false Idols, which is not only prohibited in the Sacred Scripture but also from within Catholic and Orthodox teaching. Much of the criticism came from Anti-Catholic sources especially after the reformation, where many churches and monasteries were raided for their riches, under the claim of iconoclasm. Treasures that belonged to the church (i.e., the catholic people), were now in the hands of a local ruler, or landowner, as a private possession. This, of course is the reality of the situation, but the engine that drove it was the idea that such art, riches and etc in the church was somehow wrong or false and indicative of worshipping a false God, an accusation that was not accurate.

One has to be sympathetic with the concern, even if it was a false concern. It is after all easy to allow many things to push God out of the way. Work, peer pressure, political views, pessimism and even religious viewpoints have proven to be more damaging to ones faith than a statue or image. G.K. Chesterton once said:

Idolatry is committed, not merely by setting up false gods, but also by setting
up false devils; by making men afraid of war or alcohol, or economic law, when
they should be afraid of spiritual corruption and cowardice.

I have seen this very thing in the anti-catholic world, from many discussions and arguments. The anti-catholic agenda becomes so big and in a way too sensational that it drives the persons faith. It becomes more important to discuss cults than the gospel, more interesting to speak ill of the Mother of God than to speak of her Son. I have even seen communion serviced interrupted to point out that the grape juice and crackers are just grape juice and crackers and not the true Body and Blood of Christ as “those Catholics” believe. The difference in belief is understandable given the separation between post-reformation sects and the ancient church, but the timing of bringing up anti-catholicism during a ritual that is supposed to be something more on the profound and contemplative side of even non catholic services, really demonstrates a type of idolatry to me, and I felt this way even when I considered my self against the ancient church.

What I find interesting in all of this is that the iconoclasm was not just a post-reformation problem in the church. The issue of icons was also challenged in the early middle ages, Byzantine, 8th century,  where instead of the concerns over the use of images of any kind the controversy was that there was only one image which was acceptable. The Eucharist. The issue may have been driven by Mohommedan influence in the middle east.

In the later iconoclasticism the challenge focused on the belief that no image was to be made, that the church was full of idolatry, and the Eucharist especially, was the worse king of abuse. The iconoclasm of the early church held just the opposite, that the most perfect image was that found in the Eucharist, being of the same substance,  and therefore all else should be dispensed with. Balanced in the center of all this is the church which from the earliest times used symbols, art, and sacrament. It understood that even in the prohibitions from the Hebrew Scriptures, there were exceptions like the Seraphs on the Ark and on the curtain which hid the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle; it believed that with the incarnation, where God became part of the physical world that such prohibitions were dispensed with. Christ being the proof of an invisible God made visible; it also saw art as a means of communication, which helped to teach the gospel and other stories from the scriptures to a world that was mostly illiterate.

To those who maybe have looked forward to the art in my posts, I must ask your pardon. It’s hard to find pictures of an iconoclast.

Oooops! Here is one.

The Iconoclast theologian John the Grammarian and an Iconoclast bishop whitewash an image of Christ, from a 9th century Psalter

Brother Lawrence

July 21st is the memorial of St. Lawrence of Brindisi; a Capuchin Franciscan priest, scholar, teacher and gifted with languages. He could read and speak fluently in Italian, Latin, Hebrew, Greek, German, Bohemian, Spanish, French and some sources even suggest Syriac. More than just a tool to communicate, this gift also allowed him to read the Sacred Scriptures in their original languages as well as later translations. Further, it is claimed that he also knew the entire Bible in the original languages by memory, which along with his grasp of  languages is why this was considered a supernatural gifting.

Lawrence was born in Brindisi, Italy, July 22, 1559 under the name Giulio Cesare (Julius Ceasar). Taught by Franciscan Friars he would enter the Capuchins in 1575 taking the name Lawrence. He is the first Franciscan to be classed as a doctor of the church. Known for brilliant sermons, and teaching on the Sacred Scripture, he is one of many proofs that the Catholic Church in medieval europe was not lost on scripture as Protestantism would claim. As a matter of fact, St. Lawrence was instrumental in winning many Protestants back to the faith.

Lawrence believed that the incarnation was necessary regardless of sin:

“God is love, and all his operations proceed from love. Once he wills to
manifest that goodness by sharing his love outside himself, then the Incarnation
becomes the supreme manifestation of his goodness and love and glory. So, Christ was intended before all other creatures and for
his own sake
. For him all things were created and to him all things must
be subject, and God loves all creatures in and because of Christ. Christ is the
first-born of every creature, and the whole of humanity as well as the created
world finds its foundation and meaning in him. Moreover, this would have
been the case even if Adam had not sinned.

I find this an extremely fascinating subject; one that has been hinted by C.S. Lewis, Tolkien and several other authors in my own library. More to the point it puts to rest that sad criticism of God setting up mankind to fall. If Christ was intended whether or not man fell, then there was no need for man to fall as a requirement for the incarnation. No longer a necessity of predestination, mans fall is truly an act of free will, and here I see the importance of catholic teaching as the paradox of freewill and predestination are at a balance. Not teetering to either extreme of predestination or freewill; beliefs that make man a puppet or god impotent; it demonstrates how both predestination and freewill can operate together.

Jesos Konoronkwa

20120715-101217.jpgJuly 14th is the memorial of the Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha. Known as the Lily of the Mohawks, Kateri is the first female Native American to be venerated in the catholic church.

Born in 1657, she was the daughter of an Algonquin mother who was a convert as well, and a Mohawk chief. At a young age small pox took most of her family, and left her with a poor eyesight and a scarred face which is often represented in her iconography. In 1676 she converted and took the baptismal name of Catherine (Kateri) in honor of St. Catherine of Seina, and in the following year joined a religious community called the Holy Family.


Kateri Tekakwitha is known for living a virtuous life, helping the sick and elderly, teaching children and taking the vow of perpetual virginity. Kateri is the patron of ecology, people in exile, loss of parents, people ridiculed for their piety and Native Americans. She is often depicted with a turtle (tribe/clan), a lily, and a rosary.

Kateri died on April 17th, in the year 1680, at the age of 24 from an illness. The last words claimed she spoke were “Jesos Konoronkwa“, which is translated: “Jesus I Love You”.

Blessed Tekakwitha will be canonized on October 21, 2012.

Significator Horarum

Vespers, Compline, Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext and Nones. These are periods of prayers which are said through the day in the Divine Office and follow the Hours which are found in Breviaries or a Book of Hours, which is really just a type of Breviary for laymen. The tradition of the hours finds its roots in the Jewish tradition which prayed at the third, sixth and ninth hours of the day. Terce (9a.m.), Sext(noon), and Nones(3 p.m.) are Latin for three, six and nine, or the third, sixth and ninth hours of the day. The addition of the others comes from the Rule of St. Benedict, and are said at sundown (Vespers), evening (Compline), midnight (Matins), sunrise (Lauds) and the first hour (Prime).

In religious communities it was the responsibility of the monks to keep track of the hours so that prayers were said at the correct time. Using stars and constellations at night, and position of the sun in the day helped to keep the time. Devices like sundials in the day or an astrolabe at night were useful in keeping time in good weather, but bad weather rendered these useless. Candles which marked the hours or water clocks (clepsydra) would also have been helpful in determining the hours. However such devices were not always available in monasteries and so the use of liturgical prayers and psalms was employed to keep time. This responsibility was given to one of the monks who was called the Significator Horarum.

Psalm 1 from a Book of Hours

The Significator Horarum would Sing psalms or recite the Pater Noster (Lord’s Prayer) to keep time when weather prevented the use of star charts or sundials. This would have been like counting “one Mississippi, two Mississippi” in children’s games. When enough prayers were said to equal the right amount of time, the Significator Horarum would then notify another monk to wake or gather the community for prayers.

The Latin translation for Significator Horarum means a caller of the hours or indicator or time. In a way he is like a human clock, or rather a grandfather clock signaling the passage of time. In time new inventions would come along like mechanical clocks which took care of the problem of keeping time and maintaining the liturgy of the hours. When you stop to think about it, the divine office is really a continual prayer which has been going on for almost 1500 years, a great portion of which was maintained by the vigilant Significator Horarum.

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