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Imago Dei: The Byzantine Apologia for Icons By Jaroslav Pelikan Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1990
John Wesley Cook Theology Today 1991 48: 222 DOI: 10.1177/004057369104800214 The online version of this article can be found at:

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Theology Today

Imago Dei: The Byzantine Apologia for Icons
By Jarosluv Pelikun Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1990. 182 pp. $39.95.

As the thirty-fifth in the A. W. Mellon lectures in the Fine Arts, Jaroslav Pelikan’s volume on the “Byzantine Apologia for Icons” significantly marks a time when the discipline of art history is opening methodologically to new horizons and the discipline of theologicalhistorical studies is preoccupied with “unwritten traditions.” The decision to invite Pelikan to give a series of lectures on Byzantine icons, if indeed the topic was suggested to him rather than selfgenerated, may well seem surprising; he has not been identified heretofore as a card-carrying Byzantinist. Nonetheless, he is one of the few who could have undertaken this complex enterprise in this way because his extraordinary breadth as an historian, not to mention his mastery of the Christian theological traditions, enables him to establish a proper context and a necessary rhetoric for the exploration of Byzantine icons. By “this way,” I refer to how he locates his discussion of iconology within the context of intellectual history and, without blinking an eye, leads his audience through a serious consideration of explicitly visual ideas. As recent discussions among scholars (Wolterstorff, Dupre, von Balthasar, and Burch Brown, for instance) have indicated, there is a great need for clarification concerning the possibilities for religious aesthetics or, more particularly, for something called Christian aesthetics. Without sorting through some rather murky aspects of that current discussion, Pelikan lays out the evidence for an historical Christian aesthetic that is based on objects of art taken from a living tradition. He does so, furthermore, with some of their contemporary interpretations in hand. More important, he reminds theological studies at large of the vast cosmological horizons of earlier theologians, whose breadth of imagination insisted on a conceptual framework in which the mysteries of the gospel could be contemplated, not in text but in image. By “necessary rhetoric,” in this instance, I refer to the unapologetic way in which Pelikan insists that theology must be taken seriously along with other cultural “evidence” at the historian’s disposal. Theological rhetoric has a valid place among the multiple modes of communication that historians must consider in order properly to select the relevant sources necessary to analyze and tell a story. This point seems especially germane to this volume because it provides evidence that icons are by nature theologically “loaded”-a fact often ignored by art historians, who often study and teach iconography as if it were merely another category of the Fine Arts.
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The reader will be disappointed and even impatient with this book if it is expected to be a volume of art history about paintings, with emphasis on stylistic analysis. In fact, the major work of art under discussion here is not a painting at all but a tapestry-a sixth century piece of weaving entitled Icon ofthe Virgin, presently in the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art. The full title of the volume clarifies its goal: Imago Dei: The Byzantine ApoZogia for Icons. Pelikan constructs the apologia from numerous documents related to the Second Council of Nicaea in 787 C.E. Drawing primarily from the writings of John of Damascus and Theodore the Studite, he reconstructs not only the theories of the Iconoclasts, but the theologies of the Iconodules, those who convincingly and successfully won the day for the production and continued use of icons in worship. Rather than organize his argument strictly along chronological grounds, for example, from the origins of the Iconoclastic controversy to a resolution late in the eighth century, Pelikan addresses the themes that shaped the apologia. He begins with “Religion and ‘Realpolitik’ Byzantine Style,” that is, with a consideration of the Caesaropapism that shaped the political context of Orthodox iconology. Contention about the place of images in the early church, prior to the Iconoclastic controversy, is documented in Chapter 2, “Graven Images.” Here Pelikan underscores the impossibility of appealing to the authority of a single, univocal tradition. Chapter 3, “Divinity Made Human,” lays out examples of the theological formulations in defense of icons, with special emphasis on the christological doctrine that shaped the thinking of the Iconodules.
To understand the apologia, therefore, it is essential to understand historically the conclusions to which the christological dogma had led, and to see in those conclusions the implications that were drawn from the doctrine of New Being for all of human thought, and in particular for a Christian aesthetics.

Observations concerning the sense of sight occupy Chapter 4, “The Senses Sanctified,” as Pelikan draws upon notions of vision that range from Plato and Aristotle to Christian Scripture and the early Church Fathers. A new appreciation of the goodness of matter, a Christian materialism, is defined in relation to the nature of the sacraments. Chapter 5 , “Humanity Made Divine,” is a consideration of Mary as the Mother of God; it explores the theological rationale for the doctrine of the Theotokos. As Pelikan summarizes the argument, Mary was understood to be completely (and only) human in origin, but by virtue of having been chosen by God, her human nature was transfigured as also would be “all who believed in her divine Son.” Her icons are a revelation of humanity made divine.

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Theology Today
It is in this chapter devoted to Mary that Pelikan examines the role icons play in Byzantine notions of salvation and transfiguration of human reality:
. . . The defense of portraying the divine human Christ led to a defense of portraying the human Mary who, through him . . . had been made divine. And since the concept of deification was in fact the fundamental constituent of the Byzantine definition of sainthood as well, it was an obvious extrapolation from these Mariological discussions to affirm that the saints, too, were to be iconized.

The logic described here extends to Orthodox Christians in the present day:
It would . . . be a disastrous foreshortening of perspective on [Christ’s] image if the portrayal of that life did not include portrayals of all those in whom it had continued, and was still continuing, to make sacred history.

With a soteriology emerging from his chapter on the Theotokos, Pelikan concludes in Chapter 6, “The Great Chain of Image: A Cosmology of Icons,” with a discussion of “six links” between the material and the divine. The apology assumes a hierarchy that connects heaven to earth, including a theology of angels that offers a compelling defense of holy depictions of incorporeal ‘beings.’ Angels are among the hierarchy of created things, as are human beings. The locus of these truths lies not in theological treatises but in the divine liturgy, the true “home” of icons. It is in this cosmological context, finally, that one comes to understand not only the theological meaning of icons, but what Pelikan calls “the distinctive genius of Eastern Christendom.” Throughout this volume, there is a constant referral to the aforementioned sixth-century textile, Icon of the Virgin, here printed in color on the book jacket and frontispiece and repeated in numerous black and white details throughout. One wonders if the emphasis on this one work is truly necessary to the argument. Pelikan depends strongly on the historical, iconographic, and artistic information regarding this tapestry as provided by a single article, Dorothy G. Shepherd’s “An Icon of the Virgin: A Sixth-Century Tapestry Panel from Egypt,” in the Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum ofArt, March 1969. While this journal is by no means inaccessible, it would have served the reader to find Shepherd’s essay reprinted in an appendix. The experience, insight, arid vast knowledge of Pelikan lead him on occasion to condense to a fault-a fault at least when it comes to the uninitiated but curious student for whom this book will open new theological vistas. The author can pack more into a paragraph than any modern scholar I know, but while all of what he writes is relevant to his argument, the reduction of material can be so compact as almost to be unintelligible. There are some paragraphs that need to be opened up, stretched out, and allowed to breathe in order for the reader to
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Theology Today
appreciate not only what Pelikan knows and understands, but how his tightly compact analysis develops the volume’s thesis. After finishing the book, and having grasped an apologia of icons from Pelikan’s keen reporting and interpretation, one is also aware of having been carried along by a passion for theology, a sustained and engaging rhetoric of cosmos and persons. This is the work of a scholar who invites us to look over his shoulder as he opens up an ancient but still vital world, a scholar who knows that theology is not only to be read, but to be seen.

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Ethics in the Sanctuary: Examining the Practices of Organized Religion
By Margaret P. Battin New Haven, Yale University Press, 1990.291 pp. $23.50. “Ecclesioethics” is the name the author gives to her enterprise. It attempts to examine some “central moral issues” to which the practice of organized religion sometimes gives rise and to reflect on “methodological issues” that are presented by such an examination. The moral issues are those of confidentiuliy, which arises in connection with the confession of sin; informed consent, which is involved in faith healing, the avoidance of medical treatment, and snake handling; andpatemalism, which arises in connection with what she terms “convert seeking.” From the outset, Battin makes clear that her ethical analysis accepts certain boundaries: “no truth value, whether true or false, may be assigned or presupposed for any. . . background metaphysical assumptions and religious claims.” Within these limits, Battin uses the “pincers” of professional ethics and ordinary ethics to tease out moral problems that need examination. But in connection with these moral problems, she discovers limits to analysis that present methodological issues. With regard to confidentiality, the methodological problem is “the status of doctrinal . . . assertions in moral argumentation.” She discovers a way of differentiating among such assertions so that one can engage in ethical analysis without deciding on the truth value of certain basic assertions. Her analysis leads to three levels: “0-level doctrines,” which “originally mandate or prohibit certain types of actions”; “first-order doctrines,” which are “institutional mechanism[~] eliciting and regulating such actions”; and “second-order for
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