At what point does it become idolatry?

I know Catholics defend their icons by saying that they are not really graven images, that they merely represent something else. So at what point does it stop being alright and turn into blasphemy. How far does it have to go?

Just so you know, all those other pagan religions techniquely aren’t worshipping statues, they too believe they are worshipping a representation of another power.

When the person starts worshipping the statue itself. No Catholic here can tell you that they worship the statues and icons.

Just so you know, all those other pagan religions techniquely aren’t worshipping statues, they too believe they are worshipping a representation of another power.

The key difference is this. Icons and statues are use a mediative means to focus one’s mind on life of the saint. The saint is well known to be a saintly Christian man or woman. We do not worship the saints. We ask the saints to pray for us or with us.

So when people bend down in front of a statue, kiss its feet, and speak to it directly as though the statue can hear it, this is alright? Isn’t this prohibited in the ten commandments?

Isn’t this prohibited in the ten commandments?

Nope it doesn’t. Where does the Ten Commandment say you can’t kiss the feet?

During Easter, we kiss the cross that crucified the Lord. The cross isn’t worship. We kiss it because it symbolizes the very cross which Jesus was nailed to.

The Ten Commandments prohibit worship of idols by taking God out of the picture completely.

You take God out, you commit idolatry. That is what happen when the Jews worship the golden calf. Second, the strict interpretation doesn’t prohibit making graven images.

When God commanded Moses to build the Ark it had two cheribums on it. He also instructed Moses to built a serpent. It would seem that God contradicted himself.

I don’t think so.

Ah, ok, you made a good point there actually. Thanks. :slight_smile:

One more problem I must confess I have though, isn’t it true that icons were only introduced into the church centuries later. Can we say then that there is valid reason to say it supportable by the Bible or the Church Fathers?

Actually, some of that stuff makes me feel funny too. Like putting a statue of Our Lady “to bed”. Hmm…

That being said, people who take it really too far aren’t representative of Catholic teaching.

In the West, statues are more common. In the East, icons are widely used. Icons have always been used. The earliest icons are from the 2nd Century. Early Christian catacombs shows images of icons of patriarchs, apostles, and Jesus.

Are they really kissing the feet of or bending down for the sake of that lump of wood or plaster though? Or in a belief that either the statue or the person it represents is divine or a deity? Absolutely not, with the exception of representations of Christ who we believe IS God, of course.

They are showing respect and affection for the ACTUAL saint or Our Lord who may be represented by that statue. It’s just like you kissing a picture of your spouse or child when you’re separated from them - and talking to the picture as if the person were there with you. You’d be surprised how many people do things like this, especially with deceased loved ones.

It’s a harmless way of relating and expressing affection - nothing remotely idolatrous.

I’m not sure from this statement that you really want to know… :slight_smile:

My guess though is that you are referring to the OT prohbition on Graven Images because there was no reference point for God. Remember, if you are going to follow that logic, that you also could not speak the name of God either. Thus if you have that poster with all the names of God you are putting yourself in the same boat with the rest of us… just something to think about.

More to the point though no one prays to Statues or Icons and in general Icons are much more prelevant in the Eastern Church and the Orthodox Church than in our Western Rite.

There are links I could post, which I might but lets take a step back and ask why Christ came to Earth?

My guess is that we agree on the obvious answer, for our Salvation, right?

But what, minor, things were accomplished through that which might fulfill the needs or humanity?

One of those, IMHO, was tangibility. Why did the Hebrews build the Golden Calf? Do you think that they really believed it could save them after witnessing the might of God? No it was because they needed something they could better identify with. Why did the Hebrews want a King when they had God? the short answer of course if that they wanted to be like everyone else…

God knows our hearts as He know the hearts of all mankind. Before Christ His revelation was to a small subset of humanity. As it grew from Adam and Eve (persons) to a family, to a tribe, then to a nation God revealed more of Himself as we were ready.

When God’s Covenant with Humanity was expanded, through Christ, from a Nation to the entire World some things changed. Much of humanity were use to being able to “see” their gods… just like the Hebrews desired.

Through the Revelation of Jesus Christ to Humanity, God not only revealed more aspects of His nature but also gave us a physical / tangible picture with which we could identify. Christ’s presence on Earth helped the early followers of “the way” by giving them something to idenitfy with. I’m sure it also helped conversions early on and gave us, even today gives us a representation of what He looked like while on this earth. God knows what we need, even when we do not. He led Three Pagan Magi to Christ because they were truly looking and needed Christ, just like He gave us an Image of Himself because He knew we would need it.


I’m going to turn your question around and ask you, at what point is it not idolatry? Unless you think any and all religious use of objects and images is idolatry, there must be uses that you don’t think are idolatry. So what are those, and why are they not idolatry?

Your answer will be an excellent starting point for further discussion.

From Catechism paragraph #2132, taken from Aquinas:
Religious worship is not directed to images in themselves, considered as mere things, but under their distinctive aspect as images leading us on to God incarnate. The movement toward the image does not terminate in it as image, but tends toward that whose image it is.
If the image helps a person genuinely worship God, then it is not idolatry. When the worship is directed at the image itself, then it’s idolatry. :thumbsup:

Ok, I will be the first to admit I am very ignorant. If I knew the answers I wouldn’t be bothering all of you lol.

I don’t know when it is or isn’t idolatry. I really don’t. I was raised Catholic but have been approached by Protestant arguments that seem to me to be equally convincing.

I would say that when a physical object like a statue becomes the central point of worship that yes it has become idolatry. I’m just not sure when it’s definately not.

Pictures, statues, icons are reminders, like photographs of a loved one. When God spoke to Abraham promising to make him the father of a great nation, he told him to count the stars in the heavens and the grains of sand on the seashore. He gave him a visual picture to encourage him in his faith. When he began to doubt, all he had to do was go outside at night and look at the stars and remember what God had promised. All our senses are God given, and rightly used they can help us in worship. There’s a saying “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Pictures, statues and icons are aids to prayer and worship.

OK, fair enough. One more question, then. Why do you think God prohibits idolatry? What is God actually trying to stop us from doing, and why? What’s the big deal about idolatry?

BTW, I should also mention that the prohibition against idolatry also includes the prohibition against any image of any thing. Do those Protestant arguments deal with that part of the prohibition as well? Do they deal with the images on the money in our pockets, or the photographs in our albums, or the pink flamingos on our lawns (:cool: )?

No, of course they don’t. That should tell you a lot.

While I am sure it was unintentional, you made both a factual error and an error of omission in this statement.

Some idolaters do indeed worship the image itself. They believe their “deity” somehow occupies it.

Other idolaters believe the image itself is some type of special (magical) conduit for communicating with the “deity” they are worshiping, thus the image posses special powers.

This is very different than the Catholic use of images, be they icons, paintings statues or whatever. With catholics, we do not believe, for example, that the cross we venerate on Good Friday possesses some type of magical or mystical power in and of itself. We are always aware that it is a symbol that can help us to better focus our minds and lift our hearts to God.

God gave us eyes for a reason.

When they violate the commandment:

Ex 20:4-5

4 "You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 5 you shall not bow down to them or serve them;

Christian images are not made for ourselves, but for God. They are a means by which we can be reminded and to meditate upon salvation, which comes from God alone. Christains do not “bow down to them or serve them”. We bow to the Lord, and serve the Lord.

Ok, I concede that my mention about pagan idolatry was off. I’ll omit that from further arguments.

But you say Catholics don’t view the cross as having special powers. I know many who seem to believe this, who wear crosses as though they were good luck charms. I know this isn’t the official position of the Church, but it still bothers me.

When I visited Gettysburg, I knelt and prayed by some of the battlefields there. I found myself moved by the loss of life, and the sadness of the places. Was I worshipping the battlefield or the memorials? Certainly not.

People who touch or talk during prayer are not speaking to the image. Yes, this would be prohibited by the commandment.

It bothers me too. I wear a medal and a scapular. I do not think they are good luck charms nor do I consider them jewelry. Instead they are a constant reminder of the saints and our Lord.

No, but it is true that there was a dispute over icons in the early church. The Eastern Churches decided against statues, and use only paintings (icons).

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit