How do Catholics understand the commandment not to bow down to images?

First let me say, I don’t post this to be antagonistic whatsoever. I’m genuinely interested in the answers. I realize that the Catholic Church doesn’t teach that it is ok to worship anyone other that God, and the latria/dulia distinction.

The commandment says: You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments

So how do Catholics understand the words bowing down? Is it ok to bow down (kneel) before a statue as long as you aren’t worshipping it as God? And how do you understand the prohibition of images?

Thank you in advance!

The key word is worship.

No one worships stone. Silly.

I like to look at a crucifix when I pray. I’m kneeling to God, not the wood and plastic.

If you go to the Vietnam memorial, people kiss it. They don’t think the wall is their loved one.

Some Hebrew interpretations of the OT don’t even use the word images. They interpret the commandments to say you will have no other gods and you will not use the name of the Lord in vain.

Galatians 3 shows Jesus was portrayed crucified before the Galatians as a reminder of Jesus as the new covenant.

The OT shows God commanding the making of a religious icon.

Ok to have them, but mind and heart are with God.

It’s important to understand that it was not an absolutely strict prohibition, even among the Jews. Soon after providing that commandment, God provides instructions for the Ark, which is to have two carved cherubim on it, and the Temple curtain, which itself was decorated with heavenly images. We’ve also found archaeological evidence that Jews in the early centuries AD had decorated synagogues.

Still, that doesn’t explain the entire Catholic position, does it? When the commandment was given, God was mysterious and unseen. But we live after the Incarnation. Jesus told us that those who saw him saw the Father. The Incarnation made the distant and unknowable suddenly personable and tangible.

Plus, the idols of the pagans were seen as God’s themselves. That’s not in anyway how western Catholics see statues or the Orthodox see icons. We also make a distinction between the adoration given to God alone and the veneration and honor given to the saints or places where something holy happens (the altar in a church). The term worship has also seen evolution in the last century or so (it’s meaning has become more restricted; you could worship kings in the past and that wasn’t understood as treating them as God).

When you study the Catholic Faith more you will come to understand that Catholics really do know the difference between Worship, (belonging only to God) and devotion, (love) given to Our Blessed Mother, Saints and even each other. When I look at a picture of my deceased Mother, it brings out my love for her, same thing when I look at Our Lady’s picture or statue and a Saint. I am reminded of what they did for us and the example their lives set before us. They are reminders of how much they loved Our Lord and lived their lives accordingly. Don’t ever be afraid to love Our Lord’s Mother. We can never love her as much as He did. She’s our Mother too. Catholics do not have a monopoly on Mary. It warms my heart when people speak kindly of My Mother. God Bless, Memaw

I also want to mention that Catholics do not pray in front of statues, paintings, etc. which are false images of God.

We are also not creating statues or painting to kneel in front of which are depictions of Heaven. Meaning we don’t kneel and pray in front of a statue of a dove. We are not kneeling in front of the Lamb in Revelation, we are not kneeling in front of the Seraphim, etc. We kneel in front of a picture of a older man who is supposed to depict the Father.

When we do pray in front of statues or pictures, they are of real people who have gone before us. We use the statue or image to help us think of them. Whether that be Jesus or one of the Saints.

I pray this is helpful.

The prohibition is against worshiping idols, which means to offer sacrifice to them as gods, for to God alone do we offer worship through sacrifice. It has nothing to do with images of saints and angels.

Catholics offer one sacrifice to God–the one sacrifice Christ offered the Father in eternity–his body and blood. We re-present that sacrifice to God in the Eucharist, which is why we have adoration of the consecrated host–because it is truly Christ. We don’t offer such worship to images of any kind.

I’m sorry, I’m not sure I understand what you are getting at here. Are you saying that there are certain images you can kneel before and not others? As in, you are only allowed to kneel and pray before an image of something/someone real and specific, not general like a dove or heaven because we haven’t seen it to know what it looks like? I’m probably not using the best terminology here…I hope you understand what I’m asking.

When I kneel before a statue of Mary, I am asking her to pray for me just as if I would ask a friend of mine to pray for me. Statues of Mary and of the other saints are generally beautiful works of art and take my mind and heart away from the mundane around me. I know that a statue of Mary is a work of art created by an artist who no doubt envisions the ideal beauty of the Mother of God. I never thought of it before but I realize I would not pray to a dove or lamb or some object because I am asking for prayers. Things don’t pray. Persons pray. Mary, Angels and Saints are family members from whom we ask prayers. I go to her just like the couple in Cana who went to Mary for help. She did not tell her Son to do anything, she just told the servants to do whatever He says.

Thank you, that clarifies it for me!

Look up Bezalel and Oholiab. God commanded them to make sculptures for the Ark of the Covenant. God also commanded Moses to make a sculpture of a Bronze Serpent, which people had to look at to be healed. So the sculpture wasn’t just a nice work of art in a museum, it actually did something. (ahem sacramentals ahem) Did God command Bezalel and Oholiab to sin? Did God command Moses and the Israelites to sin? No. Compare these two stories to the Golden Calf, which God punished Israel for. All 3 stories involved people making sculptures, but only 1 was sinful while the other 2 were not. The difference is that these sculptures weren’t worshiped, while the Golden Calf was.

This article may help you to understand Catholics and statues:
From that, here is a key quotation:

However, when Catholics kneel before a crucifix or a statue, the posture is a sign of reverence to God, not the image.

The article also examines images in the Old Testament, some of which were acceptable to God, and others which were not. What’s the difference? Is is whether one worships the one true God, or something else.

This Easter, I was thinking about the practice of some Catholics of venerating the cross on Good Friday (or other times between Palm Sunday and maybe Holy Saturday). I also read your thread about the Good Friday service. It’s not my thing, but I understand that others might come to a greater appreciation of Jesus’ sacrifice by contemplating or placing their hand on a big, old wooden cross. They might bow or genuflect before it, or even kiss it. Don’t think for an instant that they are worshiping or serving a wooden cross. They are thinking of, bowing before, praying to, and worshiping only Jesus.

Thank you, that helps a lot!

Thank for the link. I’ll look at that! I think some in this thread may have misunderstood the intention behind my question. I’m not questioning whether Catholics worship statues. As my other thread stated, I quite liked the Good Friday service, which was my first experience with veneration. It felt right and proper to me. My question was more one of how the commandment is understood in light of the practice of kneeling before statues in the Catholic faith. I was in no way trying to be passive aggressive or something along those lines. I am only looking for greater understanding of the scriptures. I’m finding that generally speaking, the Catholics approach Scripture much differently than Protestants do. I find I am continually enlightened when I read Catholic theology, even though I have been a Christian since my childhood.

Simply having an image doesn’t mean you worship it. Many people have a picture of their mother or parents on their desk or on the wall, but this doesn’t mean they worship them. Thinking of a person when you see their image and revering them is quite different from worshipping them, of course. Catholics would be horrified at the idea of seeing a person as God.

I would think too that the prohibition of images concerns image that are worshipped. Or is it wrong to have a photo of family members?

This is true, but then again, even the pagans do not actually worship the stone statue, they worship what it represents, the same thing we christians are doing.

As you acknowledged in another thread Catholics use similar terms differently e.g. devotion. You will also notice that gestures, postures, and other actions may have different meanings too. Catholics of different cultures will also do a few things somewhat differently; some are very demonstrative and others more restrained.

This link was posted in the Ask an Apologist forum. I think it answers the question very well.

I understand what you mean.

Most fundamentalists accuse Catholics of idolatry due to statues. I assumed the original poster likely heard such things within her denomination.

With that in mind, I thought it couldn’t hurt to clarify on that :slight_smile:

This question is an ancient one and was settled at the Second Council of Nicaea.

What the Wiki article fails to mention is that the sacred image that our Lord gave us, the Image of Edessa, was an important factor in helping that Council to reach its decision.
Since Jesus himself gave His Church His Holy Image, images and statues are thereby permitted.

The entire commandment is against making images or statues that would be worshiped as false gods. If taken to mean any statue, Moses would have sinned by building the bronze angels:

Exo 25:18 And thou shalt make two cherubims of gold, of beaten work shalt thou make them, in the two ends of the mercy seat.
Exo 25:19 And make one cherub on the one end, and the other cherub on the other end: even of the mercy seat shall ye make the cherubims on the two ends thereof.
Exo 25:20 And the cherubims shall stretch forth their wings on high, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and their faces shall look one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubims be.
Exo 25:21 And thou shalt put the mercy seat above upon the ark; and in the ark thou shalt put the testimony that I shall give thee.
Exo 25:22 And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubims which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel.

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