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IMAGE WORSHIP

By section 8 of the Public Worship Regulation Act 1874, complainants may take proceedings if it is considered that “ any alteration in, or addition to, the fabric, ornaments or furniture has been made without legal authority, or that any decoration forbidden by law has been introduced into such church . . . provided that no proceedings shall be taken . . if such alteration or addition has been completed five years before the commencement of such proceedings.” The following are the principal cases on the subject: in Boyd v. Philpotts, 1874 (L.R., 4 Ad. fs* Ec. 297; 6 P.C. 435), the Exeter reredos case, the privy council, reversing the bishop's judgment, allowed the structure, which contained sculptures in high relief of the Ascension, Transfiguration and Descent of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost, together with a cross and angels; in R. v. the Bishop of London, 1889 (23 Q.B.D. 414, 24 Q.B.D. 213), the St Paul's reredos case, the bishop refused further proceedings against the legality of a structure containing sculptured figures of Christ on the Cross and the Virgin and Child. In Clifton v. Ridsdale, 1876 (1 P. fs” D., 316), a metal crucihx on the centre of the chancel screen was declared illegal as being in danger of being used superstitiously, and in the same case pictures or rather coloured reliefs representing the “Stations of the Cross ” were ordered to be removed on the ground that they had been erected without a faculty, and were also considered unlawful by Lord Penzance as connected with certain superstitious devotion authorized by the Roman church.


IMAGE WORSHIP. It is obvious that two religious votaries kneeling together before a statue may entertain widely different conceptions of what the image is and signifies, although their outward attitude is the same. The one may regard it as a mere image, picture or representation of the higher being, void in itself of value or power. It is to him, like the photograph hung on a wall of one we love, cherished as a picture and no more. But the other may regard it, as a little girl regards her doll, as an animated being, no mere picture, but as tenement and vehicle of the god and fraught with divine influence. The former is the attitude which the Latin Church officially inculcates towards sacred pictures and statues; they are intended to convey to the eyes of the faithful, especially to the illiterate among them, the history of Jesus, of the Virgin and of the saints. The other attitude, however, is that into which simple-minded Latin peasants actually lapse, as it is also that which characterizes other religions ancient or modern which use pictures or sculptures of gods, demons, men, brutes, or of particular parts and organs of the same. With the latter attitude alone does the present article deal, and it may conveniently be called idolatry or image worship. For the history of the use of images in Christian worship see Iconoclasts.

The image or idol differs from the fetish, charm, talisman, phylactery or miraculous relic, only in this, that either in the fiat or the round it resembles the power adored; it has a prototype capable of being brought before the eye and visualized. This is not necessarily the case with the worshipper of aniconic or unshaped gods. The Semite or savage who sets up a sacred stone or Bethel believes indeed that a divine power or influence enters the stone and dwells in it, and he treats the stone as if it were the god, kisses it, anoints it with oil, feeds the god in it by pouring out over it the blood of victims slain. But he is not an idolater, for he has not “ made unto himself any graven image, nor the likeness of anything that is in heaven above or in the water beneath or in the water under the earth.”

The question arises: must the stage of aniconic gods historically precede and lead up to that of pictures and images? Are the latter a development of the former? In the history of human religions can we trace, as it were, a law of transition from sacred stock and stone up to picture and image? Is it true to say that the latter is characteristic of a later and higher stage of religious development? It was perhaps the facility with which a pillar of stone or wood can be turned into an image by painting or sculpturing on it eyes, ears, mouth, marks of sex and so on, which led anthropologists of an earlier generation to postulate such a law of development; but facts do not bear it out. In the first place, what we are accustomed to call higher religions deliberately attach greater sanctity to aniconic gods than to iconic ones, and that from no artistic incapacity. The Jews were as well able as their neighbours to fashion golden calves, snakes and the minor idols called teraphim, when their legislator, in the words we have just cited, forbade the ancillary use of all plastic and pictorial art for religious purposes. And of our own Christianity, Robertson Smith remarks as follows: “ The host in the Mass is artistically as much inferior to the Venus of Milo as a Semitic Maṣṣēba was, but no one will say that medieval Christianity is a lower form of religion than Aphrodite worship.”

Here then in the most marked manner the aniconic sacrament has ousted pictures and statues. It is the embodiment and home of divine personality and power, and not they. Equally contradictory of any such law of development is the circumstance that the Greeks of the 5th and 4th centuries B.C., although Pheidias and other artists were embodying their gods and goddesses in the most perfect of images, nevertheless continued to cherish the rude aniconic stocks and stones of their ancestors. If any such law ever operated in human religious development, how can we explain the following facts. In the shadowy age which preceded the Stone age and hardly ended later than 10,000 B.C., the cave-dwellers of the Dordogne could draw elks, bisons, elephants and other animals at rest or in movement, with a freshness and realism which to-day only a Landseer can rival. And yet in the European Stone age which followed, the age in which the great menhirs and cromlechs were erected, in which the domestication of animals began and the first corn was sown, we find in the strata no image of man or beast, big or little.

Whence this seeming blight and decay of art? Salomon Reinach, guided by the analogy of similar practices among the aborigines of Australia, and noticing that these primitive pictures represent none but animals that formed the staple food of the age and place, and that they are usually found in the deepest and darkest recesses of the caves where they could only be drawn and seen by torchlight, has argued that they were not intended for artistic gratification (a late motive in human art), but were magical representations destined to influence and perhaps attract the hunter's quarry. In a word this earliest art was ancillary to the chase. It is a common practice in the magic of all ages and countries to acquire control and influence over men and animals by making images of them. The prototype is believed to suffer whatever is done to the image. Reinach, therefore, supposes that in the Stone age which succeeded, pictorial art was banned because it had got into the hands of magicians and had come to be regarded as inevitably uncanny and malefic. This is certainly the secret of the ordinary Mahommedan prohibition of pictures and statues, which goes even to the length of denying to poor little Arab girls the enjoyment of having dolls. It is felt that if you have got a picture of any one, you have some power of harming him through it; you can bind or loose him, just as you can a Djinn whose name you have somehow learned. It is as dangerous for your enemy to have a picture of you as for him to know your name. The old Hebrew prohibition of graven images was surely based on a like superstition, so, far as it was not merely due to the physical impossibility for nomads of heavy statues that do not admit of being carried from camp to camp and from pasture to pasture. Possessing no images of Yahweh the Jews were also not exposed to the same risk as were idolaters of having their gods stolen by their foes and used against them. Lastly, the restriction to aniconic worship saved them from much superstition, for there is nothing which so much stimulates the growth of a mythology as the manufacture of idols. The artist must indeed start with imaginative types, revealed to him in visions or borrowed from current myths. But the tendency of his art is to give rise to new tales of the gods. There is perpetual action and reaction between picture and myth; and a legislator desiring to purify and raise his countrymen's religion must devote no less attention to their plastic art than to their hymnology.

Motives drawn from homoeopathic magic may thus explain

the occasional disuse and prohibition of pictorial and plastic