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“I have no sympathy with the iconoclasts” Martin Luther on Iconoclasm

November 18th, 2005
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Giotto_crucifixIconoclasm comes from the Greek language and means, literally, "image smashers." At the time of the Reformation Zwingli, Calvin and their followers thought the way to rid the church of the worship of images was to destroy them. Here is what Martin Luther had to say about iconoclasm.

"Images, bells, eucharistic vestments, church ornaments, altar
lights, and the like I regard as things indifferent. Anyone who wishes
may omit them. Images or pictures taken from the Scriptures and from
good histories, however, I consider very useful yet indifferent and
optional. I have no sympathy with the iconoclasts"  [Luther’s Works,
American Edition, Fortress, vol. 37, p. 371].

And…

I have myself seen and heard the iconoclasts read out of my German
Bible. I know that they have it and read out of it, as one can easily
determine from the words they use. Now there are a great many pictures
in those books, both of God, the angels, men and animals, especially in
the Revelation of John and in Moses and Joshua. So now we would kindly
beg them to permit us to do what they themselves do. Pictures contained
in these books we would paint on walls for the sake of remembrance and
better understanding, since they do no more harm on walls than in
books. It is to be sure better to paint pictures on walls of how God
created the world, how Noah built the ark, and whatever other good
stories there may be, than to paint shameless worldly things. Yes,
would to God that I could persuade the rich and the mighty that they
would permit the whole Bible to be painted on houses, on the inside and
outside, so that all can see it. That would be a Christian work.

Of this I am certain, that God desires to have his works heard and
read, especially the passion of our Lord. But it is impossible for me
to hear and bear it in mind without forming mental images of it in my
heart. For whether I will or not, when I hear of Christ, an image of a
man hanging on a cross takes form in my heart, just as the reflection
of my face naturally appears in the water when I [Vol. 40, Page 100]
look into it. If it is not a sin but good to have the image of Christ
in my heart, why should it be a sin to have it in my eyes? This is
especially true since the heart is more important than the eyes, and
should be less stained by sin because it is the true abode and dwelling
place of God.

Luther, M. (1999, c1958). Vol. 40: Luther’s works, vol. 40 : Church
and Ministry II (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.).
Luther’s Works. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

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