Do Catholics practice idolatry?


On a couple threads discussing Mary, a non-Catholic quoted the following passage of Scripture:

You shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or worship them. (Exodus 20:4-5, NAB).

Apparently this person (and other non-Catholics as well) is implying that statues of Mary and the saints, we are violating the First Commandment (or the Second, depending on whether you use the Protestant or Catholic form). However, the Bible records that God tells Moses a short time later:

Make two cherubim of beaten gold for the two ends of the propitiatory, fastening them so that one cherub springs direct from each end. The cherubim shall have their wings spread out above, covering the propitiatory with them; they shall be turned toward each other, but with their faces looking toward the propitiatory. This propitiatory you shall then place on top of the ark. (Exodus 25:18-21, NAB)

Later, when God sent poisonous snakes to punish the Israelites for being rebellious, and the people repented:

and the LORD said to Moses, “Make a saraph and mount it on a pole, and if anyone who has been bitten looks at it, he will recover.” Moses accordingly made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole, and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent, he recovered. (Numbers 21:8-9, NAB).

In later years, when Solomon built the temple, we see that in addition to the cherubim, outside the temple there was a bronze “sea” supported by twelve bronze oxen (2 Chronicles 3:10-13, 4:2-5).

Now, when God ordered Moses to make the cherubim for the ark, and later the bronze serpent, was he contradicting his commandment against graven images in Exodus 20:4-5, or was he distinguishing between objects used in religious worship as opposed to worshipping the objects themselves as God?

Some will quote 2 Kings 18:4 where Hezekiah destroyed the bronze serpent when the Israelites they were offering incense to it. This was, of course, justified since the object had outlived its usefulness (the Israelites were no longer in the desert where they were endangered by snakes) and it was being misused. However, it does not change the fact that its manufacture was ordained by God, and that it had healing qualities (it also foreshadowed Christ- John 3:14).

So, do Catholics “worship” statues? No. No Catholic who is properly taught believes that we give worship to objects. We venerate them for what they represent, the same way we salute the flag to honor what it represents.


The prohibition is on idols – e.g., graven images to be worshipped. There is no ban on graven images in general of which I am aware.

Certainly, the other verses you provided seem to support this. Besides, when has it ever been standard Catholic practice to “bow down” in worship before a statue of Mary, Joseph, or even Jesus?



Some Protestants seem to think the commandments forbid ALL images. Various Bibles translate Exodus 20:4 differently:

The KJV has “graven images,” has does the RSV-CE.
NAB, NIV and NRSV have "idols."
The Jersualem Bible has carved "images."
The Douay-Rheims has “strange gods.” (Some Adventist literature I read once made a big deal out of this, since it “proved” the Catholic Church corrupted the Bible, etc.).

Of course, when Protestants see “May crownings” or processions with a statue of the Virgin Mary, they probably see it as worship (although Orthodox do the same things with ikons),
I heard a Protestant pastor named John Hagee state “we are not saved by crawling in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary.” Of course, the Catholic Church doesn’t teach that we are, nor would any well-informed Catholic believe such a thing.


Islam also prohibits such imagry in art, and architecture but specifically if it relates to their religion.

Which always seemed strange in that they post pictures and posters of their religious leaders on every street corner. Drawing a picture of Muhammed brings death.

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