In this time of year it is easy to find nativity scenes with baby dolls filling in for Christ and pictures depicting the newborn Lamb of God. If you’ve grown up in a place that makes a big deal about Christmas, I’m sure such sights are not startling to you.
But have you ever asked if such images, like nativity scene baby dolls and manger-with-child paintings, are appropriate, right, and godly?
Here is what some guys of old, who thought a good deal about this question, said in answer. None of them think it good, right, and godly to have images of Jesus.
The Church historian Eusebius who lived in the fourth century declared himself in the strongest manner against images of Christ in a letter to Empress Constantia who asked him for such an image. Amongst other things Eusebius wrote: “Who can therefore counterfeit by dead and insensible colors, by vain shadowing painter’s art, the bright and shining glistering of such His glory? Whereas His holy disciples were not able to behold the same in the mountain; who therefore, falling on their faces, acknowledged they were not able to behold such a sight.”
Eusebius has taken away from a lady an image of Christ. Lest it should be seen as if Christians, like idolaters, carried their God about in images… “believers ought rather to fix their mental eye, above all, upon the divinity of Christ, and, for this purpose to purify their hearts; since only the pure in heart shall see God.”
In Harduin, Collect. council. tom. iv. pg. 406.
Clement of Alexandria 150AD
“We are plainly forbidden to exercise that deceitful art. For the Prophet saith, Thou shalt not make the likeness of any thing, either in heaven or in the earth beneath.”
Clement of Alexandria, Protreptic. ad Gentes.
“Moses commandeth men to make no image that should represent God by art”
Paedagog. lib. iii. cap. 2
“For in truth an image is a dead matter, formed by the hand of an artificer. But we have no sensible image made of any sensible matter, but such an image as is to be conceived with the understanding.”
Id. in Protreptic.
Origen writing against Celsius the philosopher: “Who having his right wits will not laugh at him who, after such great philosophical discourses of God or gods, doth look on images, and either presents his prayer to them, or by the sight thereof offers it to him who is conceived thereby, unto whom he imagineth that he ought to ascend from that which is seen, and is but a sign or symbol of him?”
Origen, Contra Cels. lib. vii. P. 373
“[Christians]… did not esteem these to be divine images, who used not to describe any figure of God, who was invisible and without all bodily shape;”
Origen, Contra Cels. lib. vii. P. 373
Minucius Felix 150AD
When the Gentiles demanded of the ancient Christians “Why they had no known images?” Minucius Felix answered: “What image shall I make to God, when man himself, if thou rightly judge, is God’s image?”
Minuc. Felix in Octavio.
“Wherefore there is no doubt, that there is no religion wheresoever there is an image. For seeing religion consists of divine things, nothing divine is to be found but in heavenly things, images therefore are void of religion; because nothing that is heavenly can be in that which is made of earth.”
Lactant. Divin. Institut. lib. ii cap. 18
“the Church knoweth no vain ideas and divers figures of images, but knoweth the true substance of the Trinity.”
Ambros. in de. Fuga Seculi, cap. 5.
“We worship one image, which is the image of the invisible omnipotent God.”
Dei. Hieronym. lib. iv. in Ezec. cap. xvi.
“Have this in mind, beloved sons, not to bring images into the church nor even an ordinary house; always carry about the remembrance of God in your hearts: for it is not lawful for a Christian man to be carried in suspense by his eyes and the wandering of his mind;”
Epiphanius rending the veil that hung in the church Anablatha: “I find there a veil hanging at the door of the church, dyed and painted, and had an image as it were of Christ or some saint; for I do not well remember whose image it was. When, therefore, I saw this, that contrary to the authority of the Scriptures the image of a man was hung up in the church of Christ, I cut it, and gave council to the keepers of the place that they should rather wrap and bury some poor dead man in it.”
Epiphan. Epist. ad Johan. Hierosol. Tom. 1 Oper. Hieronym. Epist. LX.
On who was responsible for the introduction of images: “Gnostic heretics for the principal, who had images, some painted in colours, others framed of gold and silver and other matter, which they said were the representations of Christ.”
Epiphan. in. Panar. Haeres. XXVII