Defending the 12th century since the 14th; blogging since the 21st.

Catholicism, Conservatism, the Middle Ages, Opera, and Historical and Literary Objets d'Art blogged by a suburban dad who teaches law and writes stuff.

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Who was Cacciaguida? See Dante's PARADISO, Cantos XV, XVI, & XVII.

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Sunday, March 13, 2011
Feast of the Restoration of Icons

Aka Feast of Orthodoxy. First and foremost, a feast that, though not part of the Latin Rite calendar (either Ordinary or Extraordinary Form), we ought to be more aware of -- because of the importance of what it represents, the suppression of the heresy known as iconoclasm. If you don't understand why this is a heresy, and why its suppression is worth celebrating, then you don't understand the Incarnation, simple as that. Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy are as one on this, afaik.

(Btw, why do people keep saying that "Catholic" means "universal"? It doesn't: it means "kata holon," i.e. "according to the entirety," "in union with The Whole Thing," rejecting by-ways, rabbit-trails, and heresies. What does mean universal is "Roman"! As Msgr. Knox observed, a spiritual pilgrimage isn't an Odyssey, it's an Aeneid: your home base flames out, so you pick up what's best of your household "gods," in search of a pre-ordained destination, which is Rome. The lives of St. Peter and St. Paul are eerily close to this model. "Household gods" = Jewish roots. Trojan War = Pharisaical persecution followed by Roman-Jewish war. How does the book of Acts end, anyway? They finally return to Jerusalem? No.... They finally arrive at Byzantion/ Constantinople? No.... Luke turns to narrating the adventures of St. Andrew? No....)

No question, the Feast of Orthodoxy is good name for the feast commemorating the restoration of icons. But there might be others; e.g., Feast of Getting Your Chestnuts Pulled From the Fire by Rome Yet Again.

From the 1911 (pre-higher-criticism, pre-ritual-Catholic-self-denigration, and therefore reliable) Catholic Encyclopedia:

Iconoclasm (Eikonoklasmos, "Image-breaking") is the name of the heresy that in the eighth and ninth centuries disturbed the peace of the Eastern Church, caused the last of the many breaches with Rome that prepared the way for the schism of Photius, and was echoed on a smaller scale in the Frankish kingdom in the West. The story in the East is divided into two separate persecutions of the Catholics, at the end of each of which stands the figure of an image-worshipping Empress (Irene and Theodora).

Yes, twice during the 8th and 9th centuries, Byzantine Emperors -- abetted by compliant, state-appointed patriarchs -- decided that the tradition of veneration (not "worship": Catholics and Orthodox have always been as one on that point too, I think) of religious images, already ancient in both eastern and western Christendom, was a heresy (just like the next-door Muslims said it was -- what a coincidence), and set about deposing and torturing priests, monks and laymen who kept the ancient faith on this point.

Both times, the Bishop of Rome asked wtf was going on and demanded that the aforesaid emperors cease persecuting Orthodox Catholic believers (no distinction needed to be made in those days) and suggested that they work harder on running their empire, of which they were making quite enough of a nonsense, and make themselves scarcer in what concerns the Church exclusively. (Of course, as the 10th century would show, the Roman hierarchy needed no help in making a near-nonsense of the Church. That's why the Papal Reform of the 11th and 12th centuries was so important. Pope Gregory VII: that's the man!)

Returning to our story, and quoting again from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

The pope at that time was Gregory II (713-31). [We ran through Gregories betw. the 8th and 11th cents., didn't we?] Even before he had received the appeal of Germanus [a Patriarch of Constantinople and early hero of iconodule polemics] a letter came from the emperor [Leo the Isaurian, iconoclast] commanding him to accept the [iconoclast] edict, destroy images at Rome, and summon a general council to forbid their use. Gregory answered, in 727, by a long defense of the pictures. He explains the difference between them and idols, with some surprise that Leo does not already understand it. He describes the lawful use of, and reverence paid to, pictures by Christians. He blames the emperor's interference in ecclesiastical matters and his persecution of image-worshipers. A council is not wanted; all Leo has to do is to stop disturbing the peace of the Church.

The Second Council of Nicaea, 787, ruled authoritatively against iconoclasm. But in the East, it broke out again, thanks to that reliable symposium of learned theologians, the Byzantine army, and its levers of control (as in west-Roman Imperial times) over who the emperor would be. Patriarch Nicephorus ("Victory Bearer"?) courageously defended icons -- also arguing that he didn't need to defend them, b/c the issue had been settled by Nicaea II (I do like lawyerly argumentation!) -- and for his trouble got deposed, exiled, and replaced w/o fuss by an imperial appointee.

(Over in the West, not even an Emperor Henry IV, a Frederick II, or a Philip the Fair could have done that to a Pope, tho' they would have liked to. Emperor Henry would sometimes take it into his head that he had deposed "Hildebrand" -- Gregory VII -- but as I recall he didn't even claim to have appointed his successor, much less do so successfully.)

Meanwhile, back in the 9th century, the Orthodox/Catholic faithful of Constantinople appealed to Pope Paschal I, who denounced the new iconoclast emperor. Beyond that, he was not as effective in solving the crisis as Gregory II before him had been. Nonetheless, the second iconoclast outbreak produced the last and strongest affirmations of Roman primacy to emerge from Byzantine sources. The Catholic Encyclopedia, as might be expected, stresses this, but also acknowledges that, second time around, the solution came from with the East, albeit slowly, and with the help of palace coups, many sufferings by Orthodox/Catholics in Byzantium, and finally, the accession of a Orthodox/Catholic regent, Theodora:

In the same year (842) a synod at Constantinople approved of [iconoclast Patriarch] John VII's deposition, renewed the decree of the Second Council of Nicaea and excommunicated Iconoclasts. This is the last act in the story of this heresy. On the first Sunday of Lent (19 February, 842) the icons were brought back to the churches in solemn procession. That day (the first Sunday of Lent) was made into a perpetual memory of the triumph of orthodoxy at the end of the long Iconoclast persecution. It is the "Feast of Orthodoxy" of the Byzantine Church still kept very solemnly by both Uniates [sic: the term is accurate enough but out of favor, as it tends to sideline both the Catholicism and the small-o-orthodoxy of those so described] and Orthodox.

Emphasis added. Nicaea II, 787, was of course critical in putting down the dreadful heresy that was iconoclasm, a heresy that misunderstands and ultimately destroys the fundamental change in the spirit/matter, God/man relationship wrought by the Incarnation. But the Feast of Orthodoxy/Feast of Rome Saving Our Ass does not literally commemorate Nicaea II: it commemorates the physical restoration of the icons in Constantinople on the first Sunday of Lent, 842. But ultimately, does it matter? Both are eminently worth commemorating.