Christolqgy Salvation and the Role of the Image

Eusebius s letter to Constantia was found (as noted above) in the iconoclastic floriUgium dated to 754. Its appearance there required its refutation during the sixth session of the Seventh Ecu Ellen ical Council (787), when the definition (hows) of the prior iconoclastic council was refuted point by point. When they came to Eusebeuss letter, they introduced it as a product of "a defender of Arius," ail ^opponent of the holy Council of Nicaea,'1 someone "having given himself up to a base mind," and Lia double-minded man, unstable in all his ways, who must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord** (James 1:8).-6 Thus the iconophiles dismissed Lusebius's letter not on the grounds that it was [nau then tic, or even on the grounds that his Christology was incorrect, but 011 the grounds that he, himself was a known Arian.

Rut Eusebius's objections to images of Jesus as recounted in his let-ler (authentic or not) arguably have more in common with the Christology of Athanasius than of Arius, and certainly more in common with Cyril than Nestorius. His assertion—that the mortal nature was "swallowed up" by the divine {citing 2 Cor 5:4), and that the mingling of flesh with the glory of divinity7 made it so changed as to be no longer ordinary, but wondrous, unimaginable, and as such beyond representation—has the ring of Alexandrian arguments, in which the purpose of the incarnation was to take the human body, transform it, and thus extend that possibility of transformation to all human beings (and bodies). Death and corruption are thereby banished by human appropriation of his body and by the "grace of the resurrection." '" We recall AI lianas iu s's vivid comparison of the transformation of human life to the work of an art restorer;

For as> When the likeness painted on a panel has been effaced hv stains from without, thi one whose likeness it is must needs tome once more to ennbte the portrait to he renewed oil the same wood since, for the ajke of the picture-even the mere wood on which it is painted is not thrown away bur the our line is renewed upon it; in the same way also the most holy Son of the I allies being the image of the Father, came to our region to renew humanity once Made in his likeness, and restore the one lost, through the remission of sins .. .and created anew in GoiF? im^ge.1*

And the incarnation was necessary-, according to Athanasius, because humans had ceased to recognize the divine image in creation through their own perversity and carelessness. Thus, the Image itself had to make an appearance in order to renew the human "image after the image" ft ui, he adds, the incarnation did not circumscribe the divine nature within a body but, while in the body, quickened it (and all creation thereby}; the Image did not Suiter anv change or dulling of glory but rather sanctified and glorified the body itself, since he was the maker and Lord of his as well as of all other bodies55 Returning to his central theme, Athanasius insists that salvation for the human means becoming a more perfect image. The restoration of Adam is, in cffect, the work of a divine artist on a human canvas, an image perhaps suggested in some Of the sarcophagus images of Adam and Eve with Christ.

The parallel of salvation to the work of the artist occurs in other late lourth-century writings, which contain no condemnation or even criticism of the work of the artist, only an assertion that the making of art might be an obiect lesson. For instance, John Chrysostom, in his instructions to candidates for baptism, compares the artist painting an image to the ways these new Christians ought to be preparing their souls. The outlines may be erased and redrawn, but, once the cotars are applied, the image has been set:

Let the same thing happen now which occurs in the case of painters. They set forth their wooden tablets-, draw white lines around them, and trace in outline the royal images before they daub on the true colors. They Lire perfectly free to erase die sketch and to substitute another Instead, correcting mistakes and changing what tin ned out badly. But after they go ahead and daub on the pigments. iheY can no longer erase a^ain and substitute, since they iniure tlte beauty of the image by doing so, and it becomes a matter for reproach. You do the same thing. Consider that your .soul is an image, tie tore daubing on the true color of the Spirits erase the bad habits which have become implanted in you... .The bath takes away the sins, but you must correct the habit, so that after the pigments have been daubed on nnd the royal ima^e shines forth, you may never thereafter bJot it out or cause wounds or scars on the beaut)' which God hiis given you.rf

The comparison that both Athanasius and lohn Chrysostom draw between the salvation of souls and the work of an artist suggests that they (unlike Eusebius) see a value in the making and appreciation of images. If anything, Athanasiuss argument insists that all of creation reveals the nature of its divine creator, although the incarnation makes it present in a unique and dramatic way, Eut the artist, of course, cannot reproduce this divine glory, which infinitely transcends its own image in its full glory and is fun dame lit all v distinct from it, and the artist must be content with representing it in some kind of symbolic fashion that can speak to the heart and mind as well as to the eyeH Or, the artist might choose to represent a breakthrough such as the transfiguration, in order to show that such vision is fully possible in certain circumstances. So, the art hnoi meant to be itself the truth but only a means of revealing a rnith that cannoî be contained by il» .my more ihan the body of Jesus could circumscribe the divine nature. And yet, I hese tests suggest that portraits were eiiH deemed 1o ;>e iduls .iiiv longer.

The coincidence oí the appearance of portrait images of Christ and the saints .il Mil' l':il¡ oí Mil' fourth and through lIll' early fifth centuries with the controversy over the nit unes of Christ is significant. These images began lo appear just at the same time thai the debile uver the union and distinction oí divine and human natures in (he incarnate I. ogt i s rea I h l merged with its full intensity, Th e i {■ me of ] w > f, ror k1 * .i n i -pic, which was ■ iP^^L- the Council tii Cihaloedon in 451 and contributed much to the creed promulgated there, asserts that the distinctiveness of both natures and substances is preserved in the incarnation, "whereby the Invisible made himself visible"4' Certainly then, the radical cultural and theological developments that affected the church from the mid-fourth to the mid-fifth century had a profound influence on the subjeet and style of Christian art. The shift from a dominan« oí symbolic and narrative art to the emergence of and emphasis on the portrait or iconic images must be explained by theological well as cultural and political (orees that shaped the nature and future of Christianity as an established religion of the Empire. The fear of pagan idolatry and religion was no longer so pronounced in a world that was rapidly becoming dominantly Christian, while the language of two natures uniquely and permanently joined into one Person (with t>ne esternal form) supplied the rhealogtcal justifitalion, even the need, lor such fashioning of the portrait of Christ, But what form 01 model» finally* could be chosen? As Augustine said, the "face of the Lord is pic tared with infinite variety by countless imaginations, though whatever it was like he certainly only had one.",: And so, although the bearded image came to the fore and remained a standard for subsequent cen tunes, the variations continued fand still do, even in modern times), while nonetheless, and in an almost mysterious wayh yielding still recognizable images or'i hrist

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