Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Christ Against Nicaea II (?)

This post is basically an open challenge to any Eastern Orthodox apologist, or anyone, to prove that their practice conforms not only to Scripture, but the traditions of the Church. I've looked for defenses of Orthodoxy that can explain the evidence of the first five centuries of church history, but I've found nothing. All I get is confused argumentation, theological reasoning that tends towards the a-historical, and stupid pragmatic arguments. The only justification I can find is Development of Doctrine. Ok, if you accept that method then you're basically a perennialist and a pagan and have signed up for the quasi-totalitarian clique of John Henry Newman. That's a path many legit and serious Orthodox have declared war on at all costs. Good, but I don't think there's a way out for them. For example, see Irenaeus describe the gnostic, semi-pagan, Carpocratians:

They [the Carpocratians] also possess images, some of them painted, and others formed from different kinds of material; while they maintain that a likeness of Christ was made by Pilate at that time when Jesus lived among them [Note: One should consider parallels with the story of King Abgar of Edom-cal]. They crown these images, and set them up along with the images of the philosophers of the world; that is to say with the images of Pythagoras, and Plato, and Aristotle, and the rest. They also have other modes of honoring these images, after the same manner of the Gentiles. (Against the Heretics, 1.25.6)
By "same manner of the Gentiles" Irenaeus is referring to venerating the deity or divine figure through the image. The point is, and it's huge, pagans were not so stupid to literally think their god was made out of wood or stone. When Jews, Christians, and even pagan philosophers, insulted the practice of idols, they were going beyond some simple minded critique. It was not so much that they really thought pagans thought that their god was a piece of wood, but that men could, with their own hands, create a space for gods to reside, using their own imagination to make a god that looks like created and corporeal stuff. There's a two fold sin and error: 1) man inventing the terms of agreement with the gods; 2) gods residing in images that look like dumb and deaf created things. While YAH indwelt the Temple in Jerusalem, His space was not an image, but an empty throne surrounded by the angelic host and symbols of creation. When the God of Israel revealed His face, it was on His own terms and it was the face of a living man: Jesus the Christ. Before that we get glimpses of temporary visions, brief interactions, and heavily symbolic and figural appearance.

And that's the kicker because there's a HUGE difference between Christian art and iconography. If Orthodox apologists don't understand it, that's either because they're ignorant or deceitful. There's major conceptual difference between what a piece of art is, what it's supposed to do, and how one treats it. To point out that Christians had art in the catacombs or decorating their churches (c.f. 3rd century Dura Europos church and synagogue) is totally irrelevant to this argument. Gregory the Great, 6th century(!) bishop of Rome, defends the utility of art as visual Scripture, a retelling of scenes for the unlettered. That's *NOT* the same as claiming that the image gives you a portal from type to prototype and that you can travel through this portal with one's venerative actions. That's precisely what Gregory the Great was saying was not happening in trying to restrain the zealous bishop Serenus. Gregory says this:

For pictorial representation is made use of in churches for this reason; that such as are ignorant of letters may at least read by looking at the walls what they cannot read in books. Your fraternity therefore should have both preserved the images and prohibited the people from adoration of them, so that persons ignorant of letters may have something so that they may gather knowledge of the story and the people might not sin through adoration of a picture. (Gregory the Great to Serenus Epistle 9.105)

Ok, the Damascene says that we do not venerate created matter but the Creator who made all matter. That's obscurantism. Yes, I'm sure some of these congregants believed that wall-pictures had some potency to effect reality. Well, that sounds pretty par for the course in folk Orthodoxy. Whose restraining these people? But I'm really bending backwards on this one because no one can tell me what Gregory thinks these people are doing. Is it that they are really worshiping gems, paint, and mosaic tile? Gregory and Serenus think these people are even dumber than pagans? Unlikely!

To the contrary, the same arguments Damascene used were being deployed before Gregory ever wrote Serenus. Augustine was quite aware that critiques that Christians had used against pagans were being turned against them and these new practices. He even offers the counter-example from said Christians that "'We' they say, 'don't adore images, but what is signified by the image'". Augustine's response was that it'd still be wiser to pray directly to the saint, not through an object (Sermon 198.17).

Iconodulia is, and has been, about far more than pictures. It's about what these icons are doing. And for iconic theology it's that these types access a more substantial reality that abides through the presentation. It's metaphysical, not didactic or intellectual. That's why icons are, many times, portraits. It's why figurative and symbolic art is generally absent. The distinction within art is absolutely fundamental to this debate because art is not just art. Christians defense of using art came with several caveats about how this is, precisely, not what pagans use idols for. There's nothing like later iconic practice for centuries, not until well established pagan customs regarding portraiture and veneration became normative within the Christian Empire.

It's easy to pretend like the Copts and the Syrians don't exist, but while both of them have near-opposite appraisals of Ephesus (431) neither possessed anything like Byzantine iconodulia. In contrast, they used symbolic art to draw their minds to the work of Christ, usually displaying plain crosses (compare with 4th century bishop Cyril of Jerusalem's explanation of symbolic uses of the cross).

The problem is best laid out by Margaret Robin Jensen's Face to Face: Portraits of the Divine in Early Christianity (2005) in her summary of the early church's relation to portrait art:

In summary, the problem of portraits was at least twofold: they were likely to be misused-set up and covered with garlands, scented with smoking incense, illumined with votive candles, and offered worship or prayer like [not the same, but 'like'--cal] the idols of the polytheists--and they were false and imitative copies of something that was absolutely beyond their ability to represent. [...] The usefulness of art was in the realms of the symbolic and didactic, where it referred directly to the intellectual and cognitive realm of ideas and arguments, stories and lessons. And visual representations of stories and lessons are unlikely to attract offerings of flowers, incense, or even prayers. (28)
I'm seriously open to revision, but the argument has to be along the lines of history and Scripture. If you say, "Look at the Temple!" or "Look Christ was Incarnate!" that is worthless: clearly the Apostles did not draw the same conclusions, nor did Christians for centuries. The only ones who came to these conclusions were syncretists: pagans who added Christ to their pantheon (as the emperor Alexander Severus was believed to have done). If you're going to bind people under this stricture, as Nicaea II, you can't call it the faith of the Apostles or the Fathers (well, you'd keep Damascene).

I'm being polemical, but again, I'm just trying to understand how an Orthodox person justifies this from the criteria of Tradition (capital t) and the consensu patri. Please respond if you're Orthodox or are an iconodule, and pass along if you're not.

Addendum: I realize that my above list is primarily composed of western Latin speaking Christians. So I can imagine an idiotic reply: "Aha! Evil Latin Christianity messed up again!" Well, Epiphanius has to be explained away. Also I left out quoting Origen, who in his Against Celsus, rejects even wall art. Given that Origen was the "teacher of the saints", leaving a demonstrable impact on figures ranging from the Capadoccians to teachers like Didymus and monks like Antony the Great, there would have to be positive evidence from these figures that they reject Origen's conclusions. There's some evidence Basil has stated toleration for wall art in churches, but, again, that's still multiple steps from iconodulia. Where there's no evidence a silent and invisible tradition has to be cooked up. If you're going to believe that, you might as well believe that St. Peter was a pope, tiara and all, with a council of cardinals and reigning over the Romagna.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Glory of the Cross

I don't normally just offer a pick-me-up of Christian commentary, but I really liked the words of St. John Chrysostom. He was a rock-solid preacher, who suffered for his boldness, and really shows the potential disruptive power in preaching. Peculiarly poised during the era when the Constantinian settlement was cementing, having lived through Arians and the apostate Julian, he witnessed the legal establishment of the Church by Theodosius. However, this never stopped Chrysostom from his hard-edged preaching.

While hagiography tends to show consensus among the saint, it's not hard to see in John's multiple exiles through the scheming of Alexandria's Theophilus a precursor to the Nestorian controversy. Cyril was the nephew (!) of Theophilus, and engaged another Syrian patriarch of Constantinople for what seemed to be an impolitic embrace of a certain grammar or faction. While more recent scholarship has redeemed the image of Cyril, correcting the 18th/19th century image of a would-be pharaoh who used his episcopal throne to command rampaging armies of monks, the consensus is still that Nestorius was not a Nestorian, even if he was arrogant and condescending. It's hard to say that Cyril nailing Nestorius to the mast with accusations of Two-Sons theology is substantially different than Theophilus harassing John with his supposed Origenism. While Ephesus provided a more useful formula for Christ's humanity (though one seriously prone to error, requiring revision in Chalcedon, and further elaboration in Constantinople II and III), the Synod of the Oak appeared to be a mere hatchet job. Of course that's only in retrospection: Theophilus and entourage proclaimed their orthodox zeal uprooting Origenism. Instead, John's willingness to shelter fleeing monks was a pretext to hammer the Syrians. In like manner, Ephesus took place without the Syrian delegation, which is hard to say whether it was intentionally trying to buy time through delay or genuinely struggled to arrive. From some Syrians, the council was another Synod of the Oak, another political hatchet job under pretext of orthodox zeal to defend Constantinopolitans who rejected Nestorius' ban on Theotokos language.

Anyway, that's enough on that. Here's the Golden-Mouthed:

Now this desire to be loved exceedingly comes from loving exceedingly. For this cause too He said to the Apostles, He that loves father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me. Matthew 10:37 For this cause He bids us esteem that even which is in the most close connection with us, our soul or, life, John 12:25, as second to the love of him, since He wishes to be beloved by us with exceeding entireness. For we too, if we have no strong feelings about a person, have no strong desire for his friendship either, though he be great and noble; whereas when we love any one warmly and really, though the person loved be of low rank and humble, yet we esteem lovefrom him as a very great honor. And for this reason He Himself also called it glory not to be loved by us only, but even to suffer those shameful things in our behalf. John 12:23

However, those things were a glory owing to love only. But whatever we suffer for Him, it is not for love alone; but even for the sake of the greatness and dignity of Him we long for, that it would with good reason both be called glory, and be so indeed. Let us then incur dangers for Him as if running for the greatest crowns, and let us esteem neither poverty, nor disease, nor affront, nor calumny, nor death itself, to be heavy and burdensome, when it is for Him that we suffer these things. For if we be right-minded, we are the greatest possible gainers by these things, as neither from the contrary to these shall we if not right-minded gain any advantage.

But consider; does any one affront you and war against you? Does he not thereby set you upon your guard, and give you an opportunity of growing like God? For if you love him that plots against you, you will be like Him that makes His Sun to rise upon the eviland good. Matthew 5:45 Does another take your money away? If you bear it nobly, you shall receive the same reward as they who have spent all they have upon the poor. For it says, You took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing that you have in heaven a better and an enduring substance. Hebrews 10:34 Has any one reviled you and abused you, whether truly or falsely, he weaves for you a very great crown if you bear meekly his contumely; since he too, who calumniates, provides for us an abundant reward. For rejoice, it says, and be exceeding glad, when men say all manner of evil against you falsely, because great is your reward in Heaven. Matthew 5:12 And he too that speaks truth against us is of the greatest service, if we do but bear meekly what is said. For the Pharisee spoke evil of the Publican, and with truth, still instead of a Publican he made him a righteous man. Luke 18:11 And what need to go into particular instances. For any one that will go to the conflicts of Job may learn all these points accurately. And this is why Paul said, God for us, who against us?Romans 8:31 As then by being earnest, we gain even from things that vex us, so by being listless, we do not even improve from things that favor us. For what did Judas profit, tell me, by being with Christ? Or what profit was the Law to the Jew? Or Paradise to Adam? Or what did Moses profit those in the wilderness? And so we should leave all, and look to one point only, how we may husband aright our own resources.

And if we do this, not even the devil himself will ever get the better of us, but will make our profiting the greater, by putting us upon being watchful. Now in this way it is that Paul rouses the Ephesians, by describing his fierceness. Yet we sleep and snore, though we have to do with so crafty an enemy. And if we were aware of a serpent nestling by our bed, we should make much ado to kill him. But when the devilnestles in our souls, we fancy that we take no harm, but lie at our ease; and the reason is, that we see him not with the eyes of our body.

And yet this is why we should rouse us the more and be sober. For against an enemy whom one can perceive, one may easily be on guard; but one that cannot be seen, if we be not continually in arms, we shall not easily escape. And the more so, because he has no notion of open combat (for he would surely be soon defeated), but often under the appearance of friendship he insinuates the venom of his cruel malice.

In this way it was that he suborned Job's wife, by putting on the mask of natural affectionateness, to give that wretchless advice. And so when conversing with Adam, he puts on the air of one concerned and watching over his interests, and says, that your eyes shall be opened in the day that you eat of the tree. Genesis 3:5 Thus Jephtha too he persuaded, under the pretext of religion, to slay his daughter, and to offer the sacrifice the Law forbade. Do you see what his wiles are, what his varying warfare? Be then on your guard, and arm yourself at all points with the weapons of the Spirit, get exactly acquainted with his plans, that you may both keep from being caught, and easily catch him. For it was thus that Paul got the better of him, by getting exactly acquainted with these. And so he says, for we are not ignorant of his devices. 2 Corinthians 2:11 Let us then also be earnest in learning and avoiding his stratagems, that after obtaining a victory over him, we may, whether in this present life or in that which is to come, be proclaimed conquerors, and obtain those unalloyed blessings, by the grace and love toward man, etc.

Friday, December 7, 2018

The Whole Host of Heaven

I recently read the late David Nicholls' piece on "the Political Theology of John Donne", which was a fragment of his larger project to correlate images of God and images of government or the earthly sovereign. Nicholls' project is not to draw causative lines, which he admits in his unfinished trilogy that such an approach is intellectually feeble and dishonest. However, he does believe theology is not done in a vacuum and that a given social fabric shows parallels in thought between how God governs the universe and how the sovereign governs the realm. This mode of thinking is clearly visible as far back as St. Basil, when he compared monotheism to the monarchy of the empire, unlike the chaotic paganism of polytheistic republics. Of course, Nicholls is careful to mention disjuncture. According to Nicholls, the hard edge of English puritanism has an absolute, near tyrannical, vision of God's power and authority, but that does not fit their advocacy for a monarch bound by ancient privileges and parliamentary law.

Anyway, Nicholls is keen to point out that John Donne had a rich trinitarian theology that paralleled some of his concerns in the earthly realm. While Donne was a courtier and somewhat of a flatterer, he was not beyond cautioning that the monarch be strictly attentive to his court, to parliament, and the interests of the people. He did not believe the monarch was above the law, but was best situated to govern when surrounded by a plurality of councilors and advisers. Of course, Donne never veered from his support of monarchy. Simultaneously, Donne was adamant about the monarchy of the Father; he was of that generation of late Elizabethan and Jacobean churchmen who plunged into patristics. He was not a proto-Laudian; rather Laud himself was a product of this interest. The Church of England had two major intellectual currents, patristic studies/resourcement and continental synthesis. I think many of the battles erupted along these front lines, where many churchmen were situated somewhere in both. But Lancelot Andrewes was not a pelagian, a crypto-Romanist, or a medievalist; rather he was an Augustinian who had serious reservations about the direction of the Continental Reformed. In contrast, William Ames was an avid purveyor of Theodore a Beza, and contributed towards a hardening of Calvinist confessional theology, seeking a concrete perfection in formulaic precision. Ames took issue that anything smacked of Rome or veered from a core concept of Reformational theology.

Donne's emphasis on the monarchy of the Father emerged from an emphasis on the patristic doctrines of the trinity that received attention. The Word and the Spirit eternally were present from the Father, and the Godhead contained a plurality as a singular. The Father never ruled, never even was, without His Word, and thus the Father was not, could not, be arbitrary in reign. God was never without His Wisdom. However, Donne was keen to emphasize that this core identity of who God was spilled out into God's creative efforts. The heavenly court was a flutter with the wings of angels and the prayers of the saints. All of this fit God's revelation of Himself to us in Scripture. Thus Donne writes:

"not only an onely God in heaven; but a Father, a Son and a Holy Ghost in that God; which are names of a plurality, and sociable relations, conversable notions. There is not only one angel, a Gabriel; but to thee all angels cry aloud; and cherubim and seraphim are plural terminations; many cherubs, many seraphs in heaven. There is not only one monarchal apostle, a Peter, but the glorious company of the apostles praise thee"

Donne thought that the church was, as it is now, a plural society as well. Constituted by various dioceses and bishops, in various countries and of various tongues, there was not a single body to rule them all. This plural body was not only populated by the living saints, but the faithful departed among a whole host of angels. Donne was clear to resist the urge among some to "depopulate his country and leave him without subjects", defending the "ministry and protection of angels" and "the prayers of the saints in heaven for us", Donne was opposed to the Roman cult of the saints. He blasted those who "changed the kingdom of heaven into an oligarchy". While he venerated Mary Mother-of-God, he attacked the popular Roman idiom that she ran the heavenly court of mercy, arguing "howsoever subtle men may distil out of them a wholesome sense, yet vulgarly and ordinarily they beget a belief, or at least a blind practice, derogatory to the majesty and monarchy of God". In short,
"Jehovah is the name of the whole Trinity, and there are no more, no queen-mother in heaven, no councillors in heaven in commission with the Trinity"
I emphasize all of this because even though John Donne was hardly a crypto-Catholic, he was not willing to depopulate heaven, as many contemporary Reformed, in England and elsewhere, were doing. Attacking perceived superstition, many Reformed peoples reduced Heaven to the abode of God. In a long arc, this gets to the quasi-Deism of rational theology in the 18th century, where the cosmos is merely God and the tangible world of matter. Heaven may be the abode of biblical creatures and the departed, but it has no relation to earthly affairs. Biblical prohibitions on necromancy and contacting the dead were not because communication was possible, but this belief was childish and stupid. Biblical events did not speak to the contemporary moment, as they were miraculous exceptions to the normal order of things, or belonged to different eras of covenantal history (which can be a convenient method to banish the strange out of our lives).

I think this depopulation of Heaven was part and parcel with an attempt to "disenchant" the world as Weber put it. This objective was not exactly secularization. Many Reformational figures were not aiming to remove God from the world, but were concerned with obscene beliefs that plagued Christian practice. There was nothing to fear from a dark woods besides the all common concerns of bandits, wild animals, and getting lost. There were no demons lurking. A thrust of the Reformation was an optimism in the world; there was little to fear when one had the Electing God behind him.

But behind that was, also, an early modern obsession with the mystical and the occult. While Reformed preachers would bellow against paganism, idolatry, and superstition, utilizing skeptical empirical arguments that would slowly morph into rationalism, their congregants, even some of the preachers, dabbled in alchemy, astrology, and many magicks by another name. England hosted occultists like John Dee and Edmund Spenser. Puritan New England was the home to many strange occultic practices, concern for the demonic, etc. Rationalism took over, but the occult never went away. The Freethinking Enlighteners were many times Freemasons*, engaging in strange and hidden rites that were cutting to behind to the true religion of Reason. Robespierre's odd rededication of the Parisian Notre Dame to the Temple of the Supreme Being was not from nowhere, but seemed to pop out fully formed from the heads of many Jacobin enthusiasts. The 19th century saw a continued expansion of Freemasonry, that in England, by 1900, over 25% of the civil service population was a part of a lodge. It drove many out, including the arch-warlock Aleister Crowley, to join and/or pioneer new, more secretive and more selective, occult organizations. Even today, while Europe seems to be the pioneer in secularization, many who do not believe in a personal god have belief in aliens, a vague benevolence of "the universe", or dabble in magical practices like astrology, crystals, and tarot.

Why did this happen? Is it just that Humans are endlessly addicted to superstitions? Is it merely our fault? I've been reading into the work of Michael Heiser, who has done a great job to popularize the Old Testament's "divine council worldview". To try and summarize his project briefly: Heiser argues that OT reveals a belief in various divine beings who've afflicted the creation with oppression and domination through transgressions, namely the mating with Human daughters and the creation of the Giant clans (Nephilim). The Bible has a fully supernatural worldview, that sees the world as full of angelic and demonic entities who are actively involved in governing the world. The God of Israel is not like any of these other divine beings, being the Creator and the Lord over all. But that does not mean that there is not an angelic host that participates in God's governing, nor evil spirits who've attempted to run God's creation into the ground. These wicked spirits are not merely fallen angels, but have become the gods of the nations. Thus it's not that Zeus, Odin, or Marduk aren't real, but that these names signify reigning spirits that hold mankind in bondage to their dark dominion. This view of things is not some kind of later Persian-Zoroastrian interjection into 2nd Temple Judaism, but is present all over the Old Testament, continued on in works like 1 Enoch, which shows clear connection to Mesopotaic and Canaanites origins. For Heiser, Jesus' victory includes a victory over the power of the demonic and demoniac. A focus on Human sin is not enough, though it's not wrong.

Here the work of Walter Wink, in addition to the clear insights of William Stringfellow, is appropriate. Wink emphasized that the powers and principalities were not merely personal phenomena, but also were coextensive with sociological phenomena. To wage war against systemic sins of oppression or injustice, for Wink, was to fight the Powers. Of course one could read demons as metaphors for social phenomena, but that's not necessary. Rather, we may believe in entities, reflecting some ontologically real being, that exists as, and through, social organizations. They exist and they reign and rule.

Here two mistakes might be made. If the Christian vocation is to do battle with these entities, we would expect Scripture to speak to this. It does, but many will offer alternative interpretations. There are many Pentecostals who see demons and come up with their own form of charms and spells to do battle with these personal entities. In contrast, those who make demons metaphors then believe that social activism is the path to exorcising the nations. Both of these miss the Apostolic teaching on this subject, which points to faithful Christian living, preaching the gospel, and remaining steadfast with the truth to battling the demons.

The problem is that Christians do not apprehend the cosmological dimensions to our lives, a raging war and battle. Weird cults and "superstitions" will continue to appear, not because people are bored, unhappy, stupid, or searching for meaning (though all of these are sufficient hooks for sure), but that dark angels prowl about looking for souls to feed upon. While Scripture tells us the Creator and Savior made man in His Image, all other Ancient Near Eastern accounts state that the gods made man to be a slave. Those are the stakes.

We need to repopulate the Heavenlies not because we've depopulated it, but because we've ignored the reality. As Jacques Ellul was clear to see: we've not become godless, but have traded old gods for new gods. It not only opens our eyes to God's glorious host of angels, saints, and martyrs, but also to the many enemies the people of the Messiah will face. We have many more enemies than we ever feared before, and yet we have more allies and friends than we ever dared dream. We can give thanks to Christ our Lord for His heavenly armies, and ask our general (as Donne put it), the Lord Sabaoth, for the services of His armies. Amen.

*I'm not a conspiracy theorist about Freemasonry running everything. I think there's a lot of diversity among Masons, where most are totally clueless about some of the darker or more disturbing aspects. For many, it's a social club. Of course, that's what makes Masonry rather insidious; for it has been a means for powerful people to connect and organize. Even without the occultic parts, which itself is a gateway to spiritual darkness, it has played a role in subverting governments and forming, or bolstering, cadres of elite. Freemasonry is one network, among many, that has helped to forge shadowy, and seemingly unlikely, partnerships among various elements within various organizations (government, ecclesiastic, corporate/economic, criminal, military, police/intelligence, etc.).

Addendum: To be extra, crystal, clear, I want to say that the focus should not be on seeking out demons, trying to find their names or engage them. It's only an awareness of what constitutes the darkness of this world. Like the sin in our own lives and the fear inducing constraints of this-World, the demonic are defeated in the normal means God has given us. But in terms of analysis, to be aware of an ontological gravity is just to give a different analytic edge to otherwise clear sociological concern. To talk about systems of greed or power politics, such as we saw in the recently deceased George H W Bush, is not different than referring to the rule of Mammon and Belial. To call the dead Bush brutal, corrupt, and a power-slave is to talk about someone in service to the Powers. These aren't metaphors, but they are co-equivalent terms to describe phenomena. As Peter Leithart has done well to point out, maybe our sociology needs to be thicker, more theologically drenched. The intractibility of evil goes beyond lack of resources or the depravity man is capable of. Thankfully, as St. Peter and St. Jude point out, Jesus has signaled doom for all spiritual wickedness. There's no future for the darkness in the Kingdom of the Messiah.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

The Wrong Kind of Medievalism: A Brief Thought on Red Toryism

"4Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all who were carried away captive, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon: 
5 Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit. 6 Take wives and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters—that you may be increased there, and not diminished. 7 And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace. 8 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are in your midst deceive you, nor listen to your dreams which you cause to be dreamed. 9 For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them, says the Lord." -Jeremiah 29:4-9
Over the years (brief though they may be) of thinking about the Middle Ages, I've gone back and forth. When I first became a Christian I swallowed the generic Protestant line that contrasted the "dark ages" of heresy and superstition to the light of the Reformation. This view deepened through investigation into the "proto-Protestant", non-gnostic and non-chiliastic, heretical groups (Waldenses, Lollards, etc.). However, having read quite a bit into the early modern period, my reassessment of the Reformation has soured (though it depends on the topic).

The Reformation became a time of great consolidation, where landed interests began to rapidly engulf the commons, the liberties of serfs shrunk to the point where they were becoming functional slaves,  massive wealth began to form around powerful land magnates and merchant houses, and monarchs or oligarchic states accrued levels of despotic power. Not only was this the case for Protestants, but also loyal sons of Rome. England is an interesting example, where ostensibly good Catholics gobbled up monastic lands and refused to return them, joining in projects of land enclosure and draining the fens. Reformers themselves had mixed opinions, reflecting both unease and a process of acclimatization. Usury was becoming a norm to regulate, not a social cancer; new potentate princes were to be flattered and schooled, not attacked for their despotic massing of power.

I've learned much from the 19th century revival of interest in the Middle Ages, not as sheer darkness, but a time of light. Some of this was Romantic fantasy, looking in the past for a cure for modernity. But some of it was a genuine reflection on what had been lost. Serious theorists (from lord Acton to Otto von Gierke) had no delusion about the horrible conditions of the Middle Ages, but they were not willing to cast it all into the dumpster. The Victorian/Edwardian era saw a reappraisal of the stupid (if I may say so) Whiggish interpretation of history, where everything led up to the triumph of Britain the liberal and modern world of free-trade. This perspective was serious questioned as imperial war-mongering surged, British industry began to tank, and poverty crippled the mass of English people. Other Euro peoples also questioned the alliance between industrial, monopolistic, manufacturing and finance/service capital in booming empires like the US and Germany. The Middle Ages seemed to offer an alternative, when special interests did not take over the machinery of state, where public institutions were not enthralled to the Rothschild spider or the Rockefeller octopus.

There was a shift to thinking about the common-good and the social. I have deep sympathies with this shift in thought. Politically and economically I am on the left and have much in common with socialists, a name I refuse to brandish as a dogma or badge of allegiance. However, the question is what exactly does the common-good mean? What social are we talking about?

Here I take a line from the late David Nicholls who taught me this suspicion. The Medievalism of the Christian Socialist movement had various elements, but sadly the worst parts drove the movement into the ground, along with the successive rise of the Labour Party. What I'm talking about is the homogenizing idea of the Social, which ultimately feeds from the same Totalitarian trough of a single global order that motivated ancient ideas of Universal Monarchy/Empire, along with the liberal rendition of Free-Trade, which was a mask for a financial cabal in London, to remake the entire world. Of course, there are varieties of Totalitarianism: there are Totalitarians in One-Nation and Global Totalitarians. Trotsky may have been a horrible leader (something we'll never know), but we can certainly see that Stalin was horrible even as he played the strategic game of geo-politics. Stalin had a rather staid hand when it came to conquest: he was willing to deal with the Nazis (Molotov-Ribbentrop) and strike a detente with the US at the end of World War 2 (one that the US broke first). And yet when we look at the brutal massacre of the Gulags, in the Ukraine, and the partition of Poland, we'd not be wrong to call him a brutal and monstrous tyrant. Under Stalin's use of Communism, Lenin's Russia was consolidated as a Red Tsardom, a horrible regime that rapidly ameliorated under the corrupt party-boss oligarchy of successive premierships. But as a Tsardom, Russia as a single nation, a Big Society, was about centralized management towards a "common good".

Nicholls had a deep suspicion of the Medieval ideal of the Society, of a unified, even centralized, Christendom. He saw the ideas and theology of Cardinal Newman, both as a Tractarian and more so as a Roman Catholic, as brimming with a kind of totalitarian sentiment. It is, if I may revive a term shorn of bigotry, the core conceptual attraction of popery: a centralized, legitimating, authority that resolved and regulated by dictate and fiat. There's a kind of utopic hope for the Kingdom of God on Earth, the fusion together of all levels of society in a harmonic relationship. The result is nothing of the sort, but usually a corrupt bureaucracy reenslaved to the money men, or a brutal dictatorial absorption of all things into a comprehensive system that, at the behest of a coterie of court-theorists, attempts to remake the social fabric of a given nation. Thank God these projects tend to fail.

Hence why I am so hostile to Radical Orthodoxy, which raises many concerns that I share with them about modernity, global capitalism under the neo-Liberal regime of international "neutral" finance, and ideologies of liberalism. On the surface I might seem to find them congenial allies. Nothing of the sort! They're international utopians who want a Christendom of Virtue rather than a neo-liberal Market of Value. John Milbank is in love with the EU, and is burning that the UK has left/trying to leave. The problem with the EU is not the concept of a federal, multilateral, trade agreement, but that such has become a tool of financial interests to punish recalcitrant nations who violate the laws of investment and profitability. At the moment, the EU is transitioning from its role as a tool of NATO towards a kind of centralizing imperial bloc, centered on France and Germany, to make Europe an international player. We'll see if that happens.

Instead, when it comes to civic matters, I think James Madison's theory of a federal republic was the best appreciation of things as they stand in this world. No utopia. Instead, an awareness of man's weakness, corruptibility, and perverse desire; where peace and tranquility form from competing powers that restrain each other. Internationally, this means a commitment to multipolarity and multilateral agreement; nationally, it means a social pluralism. Various groups, various interests, various social bodies, exist on their own, on their own terms, and for their own interests. If there is to be a common-good, it is the mere common-good of mutual survival. A system of checks and balances and mutual prosperity becomes the glue the unites. Is it tenable? Perhaps in the short term. But it's a civil arrangement that ought to be desired, if not actually instantiated. The point is that there are no utopias. Global orders, whether the kindly idea of developmental capitalism as envisioned by Keynes, or the neo-Christendom of Milbank, with its Christendom-in-One-Country variety in Red Torism, is sheer folly. Whether by design or accident, its dream will turn into a nightmare.

Hence why I still believe in Medieval resourcement. Whether it was the "heretic" networks of Waldenses and Lollards, or the trade-guilds, baronial families, village communities, monastic orders, etc. these plural social bodies made single-rule difficult, if not impossible. As a Christian, I look upon the Waldenses and the Lollards are brethren, but were so were many under the Roman umbrella. It was only as the Middle Ages advanced, and imperial uniformity proceeded, that the window shrunk. The idea of forging a Rome between the pope and the emperor had many speed bumps, whether it was the Investiture Controversy or the French Avignon "Babylonian Captivity", the dream took a long time to forge, and in the mean time many godly people labored. But besides this, the first point, from a civic standpoint as a Christian, is that the social plurality was a good. Christendom as a diverse conglomeration and confederation of various social bodies was a unity far superior to the Hildebrant idea of imperial papacy or the Carolingian dream of a New Gothic Rome.

Hence why I, affiliating with "left", balk at blanket affiliation with the term "socialism". I have nothing but disdain for Red Toryism, a large joke that foolish Radical Orthodox people believed was tenable with the primiership of David Cameron. I also scorn all collectivist socialist projects, whether scientific Marxism, slow-burn bureaucrats like Fabians and Social-Democrats, or what have you. It should not be a surprise that New Labour so quickly swept the party of the workers: it had already accepted Keynsian economics and centralized international finance (hence it should be no surprise that the US dumped money into funding British Labour post-WW2). However, there are varieties of socialism that do exercise proper suspicion, and they are good.

For the sake of temporal peace, my hope is that professing Christians remove themselves from projects of internationalism and empire, whether utopic or "realist".

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Is Jesus a New Achilles?: Hermeneutics and Scriptural Fidelity

I ran through Iaian Provan's new work The Reformation and the Right Reading of Scripture, which is a clearly written and fresh tome in defense of "Protestant" hermeneutics of literal reading. By this Provan means that one must read Scripture attentively to not only the grammar and genre of a given part of Scripture, but also in light of other parts of Scripture. Scripture interprets Scripture. But this point is not in crudely reductionistic use of Scriptural grist for the doctrinal mill. Rather its tracing patterns and themes throughout the narrative, a figural appreciation of how events, persons, places, and all sorts of things appear again and again in patterns that signify continuities and breaks. There's much about the work that I have serious reservations about, but Provan does a good job reinvigorating confidence in Scripture as the sole authority for shaping Christian praxis and doctrine.

One element of Provan's crusade is to attack the reinvigorated allegorical method that men like Hans Boersma have attempted to revive for evangelicals. Even to the point of crude polarity, Provan sets up the old Antioch vs. Alexandria divide. While I have suspicions about this schema, I think Provan is right to signal an attack on the allegorical method as it was deployed by Philo, and utilized by Alexandrian Christians like Clement and Origen.

Now, elsewhere, I've shared sympathy for Origen, which reemerged from deep reservation and suspicion. I go back and forth a lot on Origen. The work of John Behr and Christopher Beeley have endeavored to revive Origen as the teacher of the saints, who has a great effect on figures ranging from Antony and Gregory the Wonderworker to the Capadoccians. He even left an imprint on Athanasius as well, though the bishop, unlike later Egyptians like Didymus the Blind, had a more subtle, and perhaps critical, use of the master. As an interesting side point, Behr has written a new translation of Origen's First Principles with an introduction which draws heavily on Panayiotis Tzamalikos, who has spent much of his career devoted to the study of Origen. I've seen almost no engagement with his arguments, but Tzamalikos argues that Origen was one and the same with the student of Ammonius Sacchus, who converted much later in life, shocking his pagan fellows, during which he wrote voluminously. Origen was a brilliant philosopher, who constituted a new system from the work of Anaxagoras primarily, and took this work into his engagement with Christian Scripture and theology. It should be noted that I get the vibe (whatever that's worth) that Tzamalikos has a particular axe to grind with the Greek Orthodox church, offering a vantage of Christianity that should be in intellectual collaboration with distinctly non-Christian scholarship to the enrichment of Christian theology. Tzamalikos sees Origen as the remarkable foundation of much of the doctrine that emerged in the 4th century, the key element in defeating Arianism and radically integrating Hellensitic philosophy into Christian theology. It's remarkable because Origen was a pagan for most of his life.

Now what does this last tangent have to do with Provan? Well, he targets Origen specifically as a purveyor of a hermeneutical method (perhaps its most brilliant and well-loved expositor) that turns the Scripture into a wax nose that ultimately demands an authority to determine it. For Origenists that authority would be the spiritual man, usually the experienced monk, who has dwelt sufficiently in the presence of God to unearth the correct reading of Scripture. Origen is not alone in this distinction of Christianity, with Clement of Alexandria previously discussing a tripartite hierarchy of Christians, of which the top (the "gnostic") had spiritual wisdom to access the truth of the text. Here, Provan offers an interesting account of what seems off with Origen, beginning with Parmigiano's The Madonna of the Rose (198):

"Parmigiano presents us with a woman whom we might well at first glance consider to be the biblical Mary, but whose right breast is visible through the thin veil of her garment, and whose pose overall reminds us more, in the end, of the pagan goddess Venus. It was with Aphrodite/Venus that the rose was associated in classical pagan myth and ritual. The child in the painting, for his part, has his left hand on a globe, suggesting Christ's role as savior of the world. Yet overall, he reminds us much more of Cupid than the infant Jesus. This is a Christ child of 'langorous pose, conspiratorial gaze, and prominent genitals,' all conspiring together to 'give the work its almost unhealthy intensity of mood.' So what are we looking at in this painting? Is it a Christian Madonna and Child, with ancient pagan allusions embedded within it? Or is it a pagan Venus and Cupid, whose Christian elements are only superficial and residual?
[...]
We do find exactly this ambiguity in Origen, however-to such an extent that we wonder if we are dealing in this instance with a Christian making use of pagan forms, or a pagan making use of Christian ones."

Is Provan being unfair to Origen? Previously, he contrasted Philo and Paul in their use of "allegory", where the latter's account of Sarah and Hagar has explicit focus on the larger picture of Scripture, its covenantal history. Philo, in contrast, utilizes the frozen fragments of Scripture to isolate analogies to concepts that were not only familiar, but excellent, in the eyes of his pagan colleagues. Philo was concerned, as many Jews in the Hellenic/Roman era, to prove to the Greeks that Jews were not only compatible with Hellenic culture, but were the best. Philo never abandoned being a Jew, to the contrary, it was his commitment to Judaism that drove his reinterpretation. But this hermeneutical shift was highly compromised. Scripture was taken in a-historical freeze-frame, unmoored from the context of the text and the canon, to offer lessons in virtue, the superiority of soul to body, and the soul's eventual freedom and release towards transcendence with God. The result flattened out Scriptural history into a broad narrative to which people attach themselves to the Nous/Logos/Henos etc.

Now Origen did not do this across the board. John Behr is quite clear that Origen saw the crucifixion and resurrection as the historical moment which tethered reality together. A faithful Origenist, Didymus the Blind was clear that if the allegorical method was applied to the cross, than it would follow that the resurrection too could be allegorized, and that would make the faith a fantasy. Behr sees this fixed point as sufficient to ground the faith, but the result is to destroy the notion of canon from within. Certainly portions of the Scripture are preserved when clearly speaking of the Messiah's person and work, but everything else that is not direct is then abused and forced into place. While Provan is wrong to say that Origen's (at least) hermeneutics had no safe-guard, he's right that it flattens Scripture, reducing the historical drama contained in the text. The peculiarities and details are reduced to easy tropes deployed to signal, again and again, the life and work of Christ.

I'm not exactly opposed to this method, at least not as much as Provan, but that's because to say that the whole of Scripture points to Christ includes His Body (i.e. the People of God) and various elements of His work. It doesn't all come down to the cross and spread out, even if the cross is the climax of the Messiah's coming into the world. However, allegoricalism, untethered from Scriptural narrative (in contrast to figuralism and typology), makes nonsense of Scripture. Plenty of early Christian figures, particularly Augustine and Theodore of Mopsuestia, complained that this approach devalued the faith and made it look foolish before educated pagans. Why? Because they knew the technique all too well. Allegory began as a textual means to deal with Homer. The official poet of the Hellenes, and closest thing to a sacred text, Greeks as early as the 6th century were uncomfortable with Homer's seemingly impious depiction of the gods. Allegory was a way of subduing the text to better fit contemporary sensibilities. Later Stoics in the 3rd century used the same method to rescript classic tales of the gods in such a way that eased their own anxiety at participating in obviously stupid civic cults. If the myths of divine rape, jealousy, murder, and theft can be retold in terms of a competition of virtue and vice in the life of man, then these texts can be found acceptable. Under allegory, Scripture was becoming like Homer for the Greeks.

This concern was not merely theoretical, but actual as well. Provan includes a summary of neoplatonist Porphyry's criticism of Christianity. Quoting from Porphyry (214):

"Some persons, desiring to find a solution of the baseness of the Jewish Scriptures rather than abandon them, have had recourse to explanations inconsistent and incongruous with the words written, which explanations,instead of supplying a defense of the foreigners, contain rather approval and praise of themselves. For they boast that the plain words of Moses are 'enigmas,' and regard them as oracles full of hidden mysteries; and having bewildered the mental judgement by folly, they make their explanations"

Provan goes on with further engagement with Porphyry (214-215):

"To demonstrate the absurdity of providing such 'explanations inconsistent and incongruous with the words written,' Porphyry proposes applying the Christian allegorical method 'to the struggle between Achilles and Hector in the Illiad [portraying[ this as the struggle between Christ (Achilles) and Satan (Hector), in the manner of Christian commentators.' Indeed, why not? In Porphyry's view, Origen had 'foisted Greek conceptions on foreign myths.' Why not foist Christian conceptions on Greek ones?"

It's a fair concern. Allegory cuts both ways, and it's easy to see how Origen's method appears to a pagan like Porphyry (a younger contemporary of Origen) as mere embarrassment with the text and a bizarre flaunting of it. We may not mind a take-over of pagan symbols to make a point; perhaps the duel between Achilles and Hector has buried in it some truth of the world. However, the problem is that this method becomes equivocally opened-up: anything is now Scripture when a certain set of conclusions is desired from the text. All written works can be bent into whatever shape or form. Certainly Homer had no intention to herald Achilles as something looking like the Messiah. We may say he spoke better than he knew, but not only do we have no warrant for that, it's also abusive of the text. Perhaps we should scale back from literary imperialism, lest we watch blasphemies happen to us. In fact that reversal is upon us as Jesus is warped, He is allegoricalized, into various forms that befit our zeitgeist. Whether it's Jesus as the gay lover of John for the sodomites, or Jesus as the Beautiful Soul for Romantics, or Jesus as the macho-killer for idiots like Mark Driscoll's Mars Hill schtic, it's a wax nose that defies textual limitation. Provan puts it this way: allegory takes the teeth out of text, whereas a literal reading allows the text to bite back, to refuse to bend to our designs and our reading strategies.

Frankly, in exegetical questions, I have a lot less sympathy with Origen and his students than with the Antiochenes, flowing from Diodore of Tarsus to Theodore of Mopsuestia and John Chrysostom, all three of whom were luminaries for the falsely called "Nestorian" Church of the East. I plan to write more (hopefully much more) later, but it's clear that the Christology of the East was far more faithful to biblical terminology even if it sat uneasy with the grammatical constructions formed through Ephesus and Chalcedon. I would argue that Chalcedon was a necessary correction to the madness emerging from Egypt, which further blossomed in Constantinople III and the vindication of Maximus the Confessor. In his neo-Chalcedonian theology, Maximus has a theological paradigm proximate to what the Church of the East taught, which sought to emphasize not only the humanity, but the particular humanity, of Jesus Christ. The Church of the East never taught anything resembling the Two-Sons doctrine that Nestorius was falsely condemned for teaching (even though I agree with John McGuckin that Nestorius was arrogant and opaque, while not a Nestorian).

I'll end with words from that blessed Syrian, the Golden-Mouthed, on the importance of Scripture (particularly in relation to the Incarnation; Homilies on Genesis, 58.13):
Do you see into what absurdity...people fall who are unwilling to take their cue from the norm of Sacred Scripture but rather have complete confidence in their own reasoning? 

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Remnant: Hope Among the Ruins

http://pilgrimunderground.blogspot.com/2018/11/the-blind-and-dangerous-hypocrisy-of.html


The above post shares a sentiment that is absolutely correct in both its context and its truth. The post is worth reading in general, as good commentary on the "realist" politiques among Christians, but here's the relevant section that caught my eye and made me sad:
Actually what the Church needs is to purge people like Mead, to call them to repentance and excommunicate them when they won't turn away from their bloodthirsty ideologies which promote avarice and murder even while seeking to cloak them with a veneer of moral integrity. Mead is a heretic and needs to be publically identified as such.
True, but how? And that's what breaks my heart. What is meant by "the Church"? How are Christians unified to even make such a pronouncement? Given the current ecclesiological climate, one can just skip over to the next church if one doesn't like it, or the leadership shoots too straight or the body actually exercises any self-regulation. This point is true even for Roman Catholics, or other more ecclesiologically focused bodies, where one can join another parish to find a priest who will be sympathetic to x or y despite, or in direct violation of, magisterial imprimatur. But imagining a situation to the contrary, what kind of ethic allows for churches (and I speak in the plural) to even respect each other's jurisdictions? If we want to abide by Scripture, how do we learn to make decisions together, to reason biblically, that doesn't become a raise to lowest-common-denominator literalism? Every generation has a Benjamin Hoadly which promotes a theologically liberal skeptical acid that atomizes people (for Evangelicals, it's people like Rachel Held Evans and Peter Enns).

As David Nicholls, a clear-eyed historian and historical theologian, puts it: individualism is the sunny fantasy of totalitarian collectivism. To atomize and individualize in a dogmatic and absolute sense is to clear the way for an absolute reality to dominate one's life. The only relationship is to the absolute, which may be the State for totalitarian communists and fascists, or it is reflected in the neo-Liberal ideology of the Market, or even in the neo-Tory communtarian emphasis on Society. All things find life from the solitary total that rules over and in all things. Individuals are freed from all intermediate bodies, only to become extensions and embodiment of the absolute. Social bodies with integrity outside of this purview are threats that are eroded through slow acid of disintegration and irrelevance, or through head-on attack. The family, trade unions, guilds, town/city governments, etc. are gutted of independence, and become extensions of the absolute. In the US, the federal integrity of states rapidly gave way as these posts became stepping stones towards the rule of a national government; they've slowly ceased to be able to offer resistance.

If churches are constitute actual, and living, social bodies, able even to resistant the domination from the forces of Cain, then they must be able to live and operate as such. And, of course, one major component of that is to be able to self-regulate. If one looks at the first centuries of the church, one quickly sees bishops, even metropolitan figures, who form the basis for something like 'excommunication' to even matter. People are talking in such a way where two churches can engage in harsh debate over the presence, or lack thereof, of a certain figure or person. Now a days, churches are so fragmented that an episode like that in 3rd century Africa, over the re-admittance of apostates, which Cyprian attempted to mediate, would never happen. In fact, the shame and sorrow is that this crisis only metastasized when the imperial government decisively acted on behalf of the "catholics" against the Donatists. The state interference (with not malevolent, but politique, reasons) ended up intensifying acrimony as Donatists, who were the majority and who had a wide berth of diversity (just look at Tyconius by mid/late 4th century), were now censured and persecuted.

Proto's request is absolutely true, but the only way is to rebuild a primitive episcopacy, churches linked together through interpersonal links. There needs to be solid foundations. That's not to say these structures can't be compromised. Surely, these social bodies were seduced, assaulted, and undermined on account of stable channels of leadership. But these bodies, even under attack, could regenerate, reform, and purify. There was no reliance on an outside authority structure or an outside political body. Rome's episcopal structure is nothing of the sort; it's an ecclesiastical hegemony under the kingship of Rome. Roman Catholicism, on paper, is committed to a disturbing centralization, which leaves bishops as mere extensions of the pope. Thank God that there have been Romanists who've bucked papal authority, both before and after Vatican I. Latin American churches have struggled to stand up under the buckling pressure of the demonized American branch of the church, with its CIA operatives and papal blessings.

However, there's groundswell of movements within places like China and India of Christians constituting themselves as a solid block of churches, which are federalizing into a body able to withstand the batterings of state authorities and pagans. For us in the West, I still hope there's life in the ruins. I still think there are institutional fragments that ought to be recovered, and not jettisoned. There are still faithful bishops (I'm speaking biblically, in light of function, whether or not they wear the title); there are still faithful bodies to rally to. Denominations are hopeless and doomed, worthless bureaucracies, foolish machines from the mind of men.

If we are to move beyond being lonely prophets (which may be the vocation for many of us, depending on where we are), then we must forge bonds as the Holy Spirit prompts and unifies them. And the result must be a body that can stand on its two feet, receiving its orders and its glory from its Head. If there is ever to be an excommunication that means something, it must issue from an authority that has the God-given right to speak among a receptive body that does not just shrug its shoulders. It's for these reasons that I find ecclesiology such an important subject for Christians to wrestle with, lest we continue on as pawns within a totalitarian game. The goal is not to overthrow the system, but to sustain under pressure and assault in order to bear witness. The objective is not perfection, for that's a reality already promised unto us eschatologically, but to possess the intestinal fortitude and skeletal form not so much to resist, but to remain. Is that not what it means to be the "remnant"? It's not so much about a number; a remnant could be huge. But it's the constant, the presence of that which remains.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Become a Good Painter: Symbols, Icons, and Art

If you've been following along, I've gone back and forth on icons. Part of this has come from my brief inquiry into Eastern Orthodoxy, only to recoil backwards. Part of the attraction, I suppose, is the alien distance Byzantium and Muscovy has for an American, especially one disgusted with living in Babylon. I recall when I was beginning to look into it, I mentioned it to a dear friend of mine. He's a Christian, though not of a particularly well-grounded or intellectually clear faith. But he's from a Orthodox nation and a Jew, and he spoke to me with trepidation. He gave me a warning, vaguely mentioning some struggles his mother went through. I gave faux-consolation about it not being the same Orthodoxy as was his nation, but his unease was fair. It's easy to sweep away the past and idealize it when it is not in your face.

But I digress. I've spoken before in a way of a potential way forward for icons. However, I've backed off, particularly in regards to veneration, and yet still favorable to images for teaching and forming the imagination.

However, I've found at this art history blog on icons (here) that distinguishes between art (or maybe symbols) and icons. He has a few posts on the history of iconography in Christianity. In short, he distinguishes between images/art which was symbolic and episodic, engaging the mind in teaching and icons, with subsequent veneration. The former had roots in Greco-Roman culture, utilizing symbolic tropes for the purposes of conveying biblical stories. Thus the church and synagogue in Duros Europos had various art pieces depicting scenes of David, Moses, and Christ. Even Clement of Alexandria is quoted in saying Christians who use wax-seals should adopt images that connect to Christian themes (e.g. fish, boats, etc.), forbidding use of pagan themes or vanities. Icons, however, involved veneration and linkage, and were condemned as pagan ("gentile") rites. Of course condemnation meant that there were people who practiced these things. Irenaeus mentions that the Carpocratians utilized these "gentile" practices, and Alexander Severus (who was reputed to be favorable to Christians) had a portrait of Jesus, set aside portraits to Abraham, Orpheus, and Appollonius of Tyre. It was not until the seventh century when icons (in contrast to symbolic or episodic images/art) began to have apologists.

But what's most interesting is how, from a very early period, there was a clear-cut discomfort with the practice of icons. The following is from the Acts of John, an apocryphal collection of narratives about the St. John the Elder from the middle of the second century. It's worth consideration, especially when engaged with Orthodox apologetics for their theology of icons:

There came together therefore a gathering of a great multitude on John’s account; and as he discoursed to them that were there, Lycomedes, who had a friend who was a skillful painter, went hastily to him and said to him: You see me in a great hurry to come to you: come quickly to my house and paint the man whom I show you without his knowing it. And the painter, giving some one the necessary implements and colors, said to Lycomedes: Show him to me, and for the rest have no anxiety. And Lycomedes pointed out John to the painter, and brought him near him, and shut him up in a room from which the apostle of Christ could be seen. And Lycomedes was with the blessed man, feasting on the faith and the knowledge of our God, and rejoiced yet more in the thought that he should possess him in a portrait. 
And he took it and set it up in his own bedchamber and hung it with garlands: so that later John, when he perceived it, said to him: My beloved child, what is it that you always do when you come in from the bath into your bedchamber alone? do not I pray with you and the rest of the brethren? or is there something you are hiding from us? And as he said this and talked jestingly with him, he went into the bedchamber, and saw the portrait of an old man crowned with garlands, and lamps and altars set before it. And he called him and said: Lycomedes, what do you mean by this matter of the portrait? can it be one of your gods that is painted here? for I see that you are still living in heathen fashion. And Lycomedes answered him: My only God is he who raised me up from death with my wife: but if, next to that God, it be right that the men who have benefited us should be called gods -it is you, father, whom I have had painted in that portrait, whom I crown and love and reverence as having become my good guide. 
And John who had never at any time seen his own face said to him: You mock me, child: am I like that in form, [excelling] your Lord? how can you persuade me that the portrait is like me? And Lycomedes brought him a mirror. And when he had seen himself in the mirror and looked earnestly at the portrait, he said: As the Lord Jesus Christ lives, the portrait is like me: yet not like me, child, but like my fleshly image; for if this painter, who has imitated this my face, desires to draw me in a portrait, he will be at a loss, [needing more than] the colors that are now given to you, and boards and plaster (?) and glue (?), and the position of my shape, and old age and youth and all things that are seen with the eye. 
But do you become for me a good painter, Lycomedes. You have colors which he gives you through me, who paints all of us for himself, even Jesus, who knows the shapes and appearances and postures and dispositions and types of our souls. And the colors wherewith I bid you paint are these: faith in God, knowledge, godly fear, friendship, communion, meekness, kindness, brotherly love, purity, simplicity, tranquillity, fearlessness, grieflessness, sobriety, and the whole band of colors that paint the likeness of your soul, and even now raise up your members that were cast down, and levels them that were lifted up, and tends your bruises, and heals your wounds, and orders your hair that was disarranged, and washes your face, and chastens your eyes, and purges your bowels, and empties your belly, and cuts off that which is beneath it*; and in a word, when the whole company and mingling of such colors is come together, into your soul, it shall present it to our Lord Jesus Christ undaunted, whole (unsmoothed), and firm of shape. But this that you have now done is childish and imperfect: you have drawn a dead likeness of the dead.

*This text is clearly anti-gnostic, as its John clearly connects virtues in the soul to the effects one sees in the flesh. The point is not that the soul is important, forget about the body, but only the soul can shine forth through our flesh.