Images and Idols

One of the things that Catholics seem to get bombarded with is that we worship idols. We bow to statues (thus worshiping them), we pray to Saints (thus worshiping them), and that above all, we worship a cracker-wafer-god. And on top of all that, we justify this madness by taking out the commandment not to commit idolatry.

These are some serious accusations…if only they were true. Last night I stumbled across a website about how Rome is the Whore of Babylon, and these were just a few of the false accusations against the Church. I’ll start with the ten commandments issue. I need you, though, to open your Bible to Exodus 20, go ahead, don’t be shy. Ignore all inserted headings and such, and just look at the Scripture. As God is speaking to Moses does he enumerate the commands he is giving? Does he say, “Commandment one: have no other God’s before me.” Not in my Bible. Traditionally, Protestants have numbered the commandments this way:

  1. You shall have no other gods
  2. Create no graven images and do not worship them
  3. Do not take the name of the Lord in vain
  4. Keep the Sabbath holy
  5. Honor your mother and father
  6. Do not kill
  7. Do not commit adultery
  8. Do not steal
  9. Do not bear false witness
  10. Do not covet

Traditionally Catholics have numbered them thusly:

  1. Have no other gods and do not worship idols
  2. Do not take the Lord’s name in vain
  3. Keep the Sabbath holy
  4. Honor your mother and father
  5. Do not kill
  6. Do not commit adultery
  7. Do not steal
  8. Do not bear false witness
  9. Do not covet your neighbor’s things
  10. Do not covet your neighbor’s wife

Interestingly enough, we are accused of eliminating the second commandment, but really, if you take the simple time to actually read the commandments as we number them, you will see that no text or precept is eliminated, but rather having no others god and not worshiping idols is very much the same thing. We have not eliminated the command, we have just ordered it with the first. And we split coveting into two parts because my neighbor’s wife is very different than his car, and coveting one is very different from coveting the other.

With that said, do we still ignore the command by making statues and such? No. Not making graven images is not the spirit of the command. The spirit of the command is to not worship those things that we make, nor to place our trust in any god but God. In fact, by looking at the old testament and the temple, you will see graven images everywhere, at the request of our God. You will also see rich imagery in the writings of the Psalms, comparing God to a shepherd, to eagles, to a mother hen. Though they are not physical manifestations, the words drum up images in our mind and place them with God in our worship. Could this not fall under idolatry? And what about the alphabet? The letters in our alphabet are very much images. It is impossible to look at the word pencil (provided you understand english) and not envision a pencil. Words are very powerful images. Especially those more primitive alphabets that use picture hieroglyphics to convey meanings. No, God did not intend for no graven images to be made, he intended for these images to be used properly.

The question becomes, do we worship our statues? No!!! Supposedly pictures like this one shown to the left are evidence that Catholics worship statues. In the most charitable way possible, I say that this is quite silly. Just because a Catholic looks at a statue while the pray does not mean that they worship or pray to the statue. When I say my Rosary I like to sit in the front pew in front of the altar where we have a small statue of Our Lady of Fatima. I do not believe that the statue is Mary. I do not pray to the statue. I do not worship the statue. Rather, it lifts up my mind and my heart to things above. I see the look on the statues face, and it shows me the emotion of someone I cannot see, of Mary’s love for me, of her love for Christ. It reminds me of the beauty of God’s own Mother. But I know that the statue is just a stone and that’s it. So I do not worship it, but I worship the one who created it: God, the Father of Heaven and Earth.

Now what about that wafer-god. Well, first of all, it is not a wafer, but is Jesus Christ, in the flesh. Both Scripture and historical doctrine attest to this. You can read all about the belief in the Real Presence here, here, and here. There should be no doubt in our minds about what Christ intended, and what the Catholic Church teaches and has always taught is just that. This is the epicenter of all faith in Christ, the Eucharist. It is something that ever Christian must confront. They, like the Jews in John 6, must make the decision to either believe and trust Christ on this point or to walk away. Indifference does not work here. It is not both ways. It either is or it isn’t. We all have to decide what we believe and stand firm on it.  I will say, though, that if I am wrong, if the Catholic Church is wrong on this point, we are on our way to Hell because if we’re wrong, we really have been worshiping bread and wine, and that is idolatry. It doesn’t matter if I really believed it was Christ. Those pagans who were driven out of the Promised Land for their idolatry honestly believed that their idols were gods. It didn’t change the fact that they were sinning and worshiping false gods and thus were punished. If the Eucharist is not God, then I am going to Hell first class. But seeing as that all of the evidence points to it being Christ, that’s not going to happen.

In conclusion, Catholics are not idolaters.