Questions about Images and StatuesImages, Questions 1343-1355 from Radio Replies Volume I Copyright © 1938 (by Rev. Dr. Leslie Rumble, M.S.C. and Rev. Charles Mortimer Carty).
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Why are Catholic Churches decorated with images and statues in direct violation of the second commandment?
The second commandment is, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” Protestants, of course, call that the third commandment. But they are wrong in doing so, having taken that part of the first commandment which refers to images as the second of God’s commandments. But do those words forbid the making of images? They do not. God was forbidding idolatry, not the making of images. He said, “Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image of anything in the heaven above, or in the earth beneath. Thou shalt not bow down to them nor worship them.” God deliberately adds those last words, yet you ignore them. He forbids men to make images in order to adore them. But He does not forbid the making of images. You will find the commandments given in Exodus, XX. But in that same Book, XXV., 18, you will find God ordering the Jews to make images of Angels! Would you accuse God of not knowing the sense of His own law? He says, “Thou shalt make also two cherubims of beaten gold, on the two sides of the oracle.” In other words, the Jews were to make images of things in the heaven above. And if your interpretation be true, why do you violate God’s law by making images of things in the earth beneath? Why images of kings and politicians in our parks? Why photographs of friends and relatives? On your theory you could not even take a snapshot of a gum tree. You would be making an image of a thing in the earth beneath. You strain at a gnat and swallow a camel! This is the fruit of your private interpretation of Scripture. No. God does not forbid the making of images; He forbids the making of images in order to adore them.
I have seen more idols in Catholic Churches than sincere Christians.
You have never seen an idol in a Catholic Church. An image is an idol only when it is the object of divine worship. You have seen images in Catholic Churches, but every Catholic knows that divine worship cannot be offered to such images. Would you call the Statue of Liberty, in New York harbor, an idol? As for your not seeing sincere Christians in a Catholic Church, you cannot expect to test the sincerity of a Christian by the color of his tie or the shape of his shoes.
God forbade us to worship plaster statues as Catholics do; yet you send missionaries to convert heathens who do the same thing.
God absolutely forbids us to worship wooden and stone statues, and Catholics are not so foolish as to commit so serious a sin. But Catholics do honor representations of those who are in heaven, just as we all honor our dead soldiers by tributes of respect to the Cenotaph. If I lift my hat to the flag of my country as I pass the memorial to our dead soldiers, am I honoring the cloth or the stone, or what it stands for? If it be lawful in that case, it is certainly lawful to honor the memorials of the dead heroes of Christianity, the Saints. Our missionaries go to heathen tribes to save them from the idolatrous worship of man-made gods.
I have seen Catholics on their knees adoring and praying to statues in their Churches.
You have not. You have seen Catholics kneeling at prayer, and perhaps kneeling before an image of Christ, or of Our Lady. But if you concluded that they were praying to the statues that was not the fault of the Catholics. It was your own fault in so far as you judged them according to your own preconceived ideas. Without bothering to ask for information, you guessed, and guessed wrongly. Before an image of Mary, Catholics may go on their knees and pray to God through the intercession of that Mother of Christ whom the statue represents. But you have no right to accuse them of praying to the statue. Were you to kneel down by your bedside at night for a last prayer, could you be regarded as adoring or praying to your mattress?
But I have seen a Catholic kiss the feet of a statue of Christ.
If I kiss the photograph of my mother, am I honoring a piece of cardboard? Or is it a tribute of love and respect offered to my mother? A Catholic reverences images and statues only in so far as they remind him of God, of Christ, or of Our Lady and the Saints. Where a pagan adores and worships a thing of wood in itself, I kiss the cross not because it is a piece of wood, but because it stands for Christ and for His sufferings on my behalf. And I am sure that Our Lord looks down from heaven and says, “Bless the child; he at least appreciates my love for him.” Your mistake is that you try to judge interior dispositions from exterior conduct—a dangerous policy always.
Catholics raise their hats when passing a Church; why not when passing statues in a Catholic shop window?
The Catholic who raises his hat when passing a Catholic Church does so as an act of reverence for the Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. But Christ is not thus present in shops selling Catholic articles of devotion. But of course you missed the point, and took it for granted that Catholic men lift their hats because statues are present in the Church. Then you concluded that they ought to do so when they see statues in a shop window.
If the use of statues is all right, why did the Catholic Church cut out the second commandment?
You are asking an impossible question. You might as well ask me, “Why has Australia declared war on Afghanistan?” No man could answer that question, because there is no answer to it. He could only reply, “Tell me first, are you under the impression that Australia has declared war on Afghanistan?” And if you replied in the affirmative, he would proceed to correct your notions. Had you but asked me, “Did the Catholic Church cut out the second commandment?” a reply could have been given at once. She certainly did not do so.
The Protestant Bible gives the second commandment as referring to images. But the Catholic Catechism gives it as referring to taking the name of God in vain, omitting the references to images.
Even the Protestant Bible does not give the second commandment as referring to images, though Protestants are usually taught that those words in the first commandment which refer to images constitute a second commandment.
The Roman Church omits the second commandment, and then breaks up the tenth into two, in order to avoid having only nine.
The reverse is the case. Protestants make the first commandment into two, and then, to escape having eleven, turn the ninth and tenth into one! The first commandment, as given in the Bible, is as follows: “I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt not have strange gods before me. Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor the likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, nor of those things that are in the waters under the earth. Thou shalt not adore them, nor serve them. I am the Lord thy God, etc.” Exodus, XX., 1-6.
You are deceiving us. That is not what Catholics are taught. I have a Catholic Catechism which gives the first commandment as, “I am the Lord thy God; thou shalt not have strange gods before me.” You cut out the reference to images.
In the first place, if we wished to deceive our people, we would be very foolish to give them the full wording of the commandment in the Douay Version of the Bible, where they could detect the deliberate distortion! In the second place, in the Catechism we give the full substantial sense of the words I have quoted, but in a brief and summarized form which can be easily memorized.
And you deny that you have changed the commandment?
I do. You notice words only, paying little or no attention to the legal substance of those words. To simplify the wording whilst retaining the full sense is certainly not to change the commandment. If you say, “He is under an obligation not to give expression to his thoughts at the present moment,” I do not change the substance of what you say if I repeat to some small child, “He must not speak now.” The first commandment contains within its involved Hebrew amplification two essential points: that we must acknowledge the true God, and that we must avoid false gods. Those two essential points are put briefly and simply in the Catechism for children who are more at home with short and easy sentences.
The commandments do not require such alteration.
The commandments do not. But the hopeless tangle most Protestants get into where this first commandment is concerned shows clearly that it needs to be stated precisely, without any substantial alteration. It is not a question of words, but it is a question of law, and Catholic children at least know and can clearly state the law.
You are violating the text of Scripture. The reference to images is a separate verse.
The numbering of the verses affords no argument. There was no numerical distinction of verses in the original Scriptures. Nor did God reveal such distinctions. All who are acquainted with the subject know that Scripture was divided into verses by men some centuries after Christ for greater convenience. The method of dividing the commandments, however, is not of very great importance. The complaints of Protestants against the Catholic division are rather like that of some modern daughter who would want to spell her name SMYTH, and who complains that her mother spells it SMITH. But the mother knows best how it should be written, and the mother Church knows best how the commandments should be numbered.
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