LEARN TO LIVE, LIVE TO LEARN
“To know much and taste nothing-of what use is that?” ―St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio
Altar and retablo, Parroquia de San Juan Bautista (Liliw, Laguna)
This is a pretty serious claim that we need to address right away. Saying that Catholics worship statues is based on a grave misunderstanding or complete ignorance of the Biblical facts surrounding statues.
In Exodus 20:4–5, God condemned the carving of statues for the sake of worshipping them as idols: "You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods."
Here, God was talking to the Israelites because they were around pagan lands who all worshipped many gods and created idols for the purpose of worshipping. These pagans thought that trees and cows and many other things were all gods, and they build statues to represent these deities. The Israelites even fell into their pagan idolatry building a golden calf to worship false god, Baal of Peor. Evangelicals have a preconceived notion about Catholic statues and icons as “idols". Following Exodus 20:4–5, an image becomes an idol only if two things are present: first, if it represents a false god and secondly, if it is worshipped. From this we can infer that it is not the making of statues or images that is the problem, it is making them to worship — that is the issue! God forbids the worship of images as gods, but he doesn’t ban the making of images.
La Festejada, Santuario Nacional de Nuestra Señora de Lourdes (N.S. Amoranto, Quezon City)
Those who oppose religious statuary forget about the many passages where the Lord commands the making of statues. In fact, throughout the Old Testament, God had images made for holy purposes:
The foregoing Scriptures highlight that God actually commanded the use of statues and images in religious contexts.
Revered 1712 image of the Sto Niño de Pandacan lost in 2020 Pandacan church fire (Manila)
Evangelicals also use Deuteronomy 4:15–18 in their attack of statues and images. According to them, the Israelites did not see God under any form when he made the covenant with them; therefore we should not make symbolic representations of God either.
In ancient times, Israel was forbidden to make any depictions of God because he had not revealed himself in a visible form. Given the pagan culture of their neighbors, the Israelites might fall into the temptation to worship God in the form of an animal or some natural object. But later God did reveal himself under a visible form. In the incarnation of Christ his Son, God showed mankind his selfie. Jesus' Incarnation has opened up an entirely new economy of iconography and statuary. Saint Paul said, “He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15). Our Lord said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). Therefore, Christ is the tangible, divine "selfie" of the unseen, infinite God.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that God ordained or permitted the making of images that pointed "symbolically toward salvation by the incarnate Word" (CCC 2130). For Catholics, statues and images are reminders of holy men and women, Jesus and of God, not idols. The statues or images have no power in and of themselves. They remind us of heavenly things and point our souls to the holy and divine. To us, having statues is just as natural as having photos in facebook or Instagram to remind us of our family and friends. But reminding ourselves of loved ones is a far cry from idolatry, isn't it?
Divino Salvador del Mundo, Centuries-old image of the Nazorean owned by Jesus Reyes (Cabatuan St., Quezon City)
When Catholics pray before a statue, we are not adoring the stone, fiberglass or wood used to create it. They remind us of the virtues displayed by those depicted. Statues are instruments, tools to be used in the spiritual life and not ends in themselves.
So while it may seem that Catholics are worshiping statues, we are not. We are using statues, as God permits, as images that point us to God and the redemptive act of Jesus. Anyone who says otherwise doesn't know his or her Bible and is guilty of erroneously and superficially reading the First Commandment.
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum