Images in the church
Chapter XI … Calvin now turns to the subject of idolatry and its application in his time, that of images and sculptures in the church. With the exception of some stained glass images in today’s Protestant churches, this issue has been settled, but Calvin clearly took the practice in the Roman and Eastern churches of representations of deity to task as a violation of the 2nd commandment.
He show that idols are yet another symptom of mankind’s basic problem with God: rebellion. He refutes various arguments put forth by the church in the defense of images even claiming that they are often immodestly dressed, thus poor instructors for the masses. He deals with the argument oft heard even today that the images are only honored, not worshipped. There were even bishops that he quoted who explicitly anathematized those who did not worship images.
The human is, so to speak, a perpetual forge of idols. The human mind … dares to imagine a god suited to its own capacity. The mind conceives the idol, the hand gives it birth.
He deals with art in general and allows that which does not depict deity, e.g. representations of historical events and pictures.
Chapter XII … Calvin gives the clarion call to worship only God, and no thing or no one else.
Question: We often hear the following definition of idolatry from the pulpit. “If it takes the place of God in your life, it’s an idol … money, power, fame, beauty, etc.” I wonder if Calvin would agree. What really is idolatry? I suspect he would refer to the imprint upon humankind of deity, and our attempts to run or rebel from facing the holiness of the God of the Universe, and the above as licentiousness, pure and simple.
Another question: What about galleries of art by the masters which depict deity?