IMAGES IN CATHOLIC CHURCHES
One of the surprising things that propagators and defenders of things Catholic are confronted with is the continual iteration and reiteration of objections to Catholic teachings and practices, which have been answered time and again during the Catholic centuries. The latest thing received of this sort regarding Catholic worship, came to our desk from Catherine Conway of Los Angeles, Calif., which was answered as follows.
Dear Madam:---"It is always nice to know what people think," as you say in answer to my evaluation of things Catholic; though it awakens a sense of pity, rather than condemnation, when the thinker thinks she knows what she is writing about, when she does not.
Such assumptions as you pen recall an Irishman's definition of the head of an anti-Catholic as a bulbous excrescence of special use as a receptacle for fancies, follies, passions, prejudices, predelictions, false notions, and misconceptions, for anything and everything, save rational judgments.
To liken the Catholic Church to a "heathen temple" because she has statues, images, and holy pictures in her centers of worship, is a gross misconception of Catholic belief and practices, to put it mildly, from which I prayerfully hope this letter will help deliver you. That I will succeed is somewhat doubtful, considering the arrogant suggestion that I "read the Scriptures" in order to be in harmony with your erroneous conception of Holy Writ.
In the first place, the Catholic Church does not "set up images, statues, and pictures" in her churches" as idols" to be worshipped, as did the pagans, who were rightly condemned for so doing. Such things are not "idols," save when Divine worship is bestowed upon them, which the Catholic Church forbids. They are venerated by Catholics, not worshipped, as you no doubt venerate pictures and trinkets of persons who are near and dear to you.
To venerate is not to worship, as James M. O'Neill says in his gold mine of information---"Catholicism and American Freedom,"---I have just read, which was written in refutation of charges, including your charge, made by Paul Blanshard, whose anti-Catholic assumption you echo. To "venerate," says Webster's Dictionary, is to regard with reverential respect, or with admiration and deference, to revere."
If you were so fortunate as to elevate yourself above the anti-Catholic animus which darkens your vision, you would realize how absurd it is to make the thousandth-time refuted charge that Catholics violate the Commandments, by making and venerating images of Christ, His Blessed Mother, and the other Saints, considering that they do not use them as idols, as did the pagans. St. Jerome said over eleven centuries before Protestants destroyed the relics, crucifixes, images of Saints in the Catholic Churches they confiscated, under the devilish inspiration of Luther, Henry VIII, and "Good Queen Bess":---"We do not worship, we do not adore, we do not bow down to creatures rather than the Creator, but we venerate the relics of Martyrs, in order to adore Him Whose Martyrs they are" (Ad Reprium).
Aside from the testimony of St. Jerome, and others of foremost standing during the Christian centuries before the Bible, privately interpreted, was assumed to be of superior authority to the Church that gave the Christian Bible to the world, frescoes and images were painted and carved in the catacombs, which evidence the fact that veneration of such things was in accord with God's will.
If you were to abide by Exodus 20:4, which you stress, without regard to Exodus 20:5, then the making of a "likeness of anything that is in Heaven above or in the earth beneath, or of those things that are in the waters under the earth" would be a sin. Then would the photographing of the sun, moon, and stars "in the heavens above"; then would photographs of man, animals, reptiles on the earth, or fish in the waters, be a violation of God's law. To understand God's command, one must include the verse that follows Exodus 20:5, which you exclude, that plainly declares these things are not to be made to adore or serve, actions that the Catholic Church prohibits.
Your interpretation of the Commandments inferentially charges God with violating His Own law. In Exodus 25:18-20 we find God ordering the Jews to make images of Angels for the sides of the oracle, the medium through which communications were received from God in the holy of holies.
Why do we decorate our classrooms with pictures of heroes and statesmen?
Why do we set up monuments in public squares? Why do we remove our hats before the flag of our country? It is because these objects bear some virtue, power or efficacy in themselves? No! That would be idolatry pure and simple. Any ordinary person will answer that they are honored for what they stand for and not for what they are. Pictures and statues remind us of those we admire, love, and strive to imitate; and we take our hats off to the Star Spangled Banner because it symbolizes our beloved country.
That is what Catholics do when they kiss crucifixes, when they honor pictures and statues of Our Lord, of His beloved Mother Mary, and of His Saints. They reverence them as souvenirs of those they admire and love, whose heavenly aid Catholics desire in the battle through our wicked world, on to an eternity of happiness. Is not the crucifix, which Protestants ignore, a fitting object to inspire sentiments of sorrow for our sins, and gratitude for what Jesus did for us? Do not pictures and images of Mary and of the Saints remind us of their lives, of the heroic virtues they practiced? Were not some of the decorations on cathedrals, in the days before the printing press was invented, called the "Bible of the Poor," because, like an "eyeword," they served to teach the illiterate the principal events related to sacred writings?
Do elevate yourself above the anti-Catholic spirit manifested in your communication. Then will you be blest, at least, with a realization of the enormity of assuming to take the one, and the only Christ-established Church to task for her venerating practices.