On the Holy Icons: St Theodore the Studite

Published by SVS Press, 1981.

‘On the Holy Icons’ was written by St Theodore the Studite as a defence of icons during the second iconoclastic period of the 9th century. These were historic periods of great tumult, where many icons where taken down from churches and destroyed by the iconoclasts, who regarded their veneration as idol worship. St Theodore’s important patristic text is a step -by-step refutation of the arguments against the Holy Icons, covering every theological angle.

He writes in the form of a debate, raising each specific argument of the heretics and answering them clearly and with respect to the Orthodox view. To help us understand the veneration of icons and come to terms with the depiction of Christ (something which many non-Orthodox consider idolatry, even to this day), St Theodore explores broader theological concepts, such as Holy Tradition, Scripture, the Holy Eucharist, and Christology. For example, St Theodore tackles the problem of the commandments of God explicitly forbidding the veneration of images (Exodus 20:4-5).

He explains that this law was given to the Israelites because they had ‘fled the abyss of polytheism’, and because God had not yet been revealed in the flesh. He uses the example of Moses setting a bronze serpent on a pole, so that ‘if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.’ If God was formerly symbolised by a bronze serpent ‘how could it not be pleasing to Him and appropriate to set up the image of the bodily form which has been His since He became man?’

St Theodore’s writings perfectly capture our Orthodox teachings, and it is easy to see why he is one of the greatest figures of the Iconoclast controversies. ‘On the Holy Icons’ is clear and accessible, and is a valuable read among patristic writings.

Source: Lychnos June / July 2016