No Images? What about the Sistine Chapel?


Hello. I know the catholic stance for images(At least I think I do, I am catholic). I am currently discussing Mary with a protestant and that person brought up the whole " God said no Images" thing. I told that person that this was a commandment for the Jews, who had never seen God. I went on to tell this person that we already have an image of God, Jesus. But then I wondered about the Sistine Chapel, where it depicts(I’m assuming) God the father, Giving life to Adam. I want to know why this is acceptable.


God did not forbid images, of Him or anything else. In fact, God commanded all sorts of carved images in the Temple.

Iconoclasm is a heresy.

The only thing God forbade was the *worship of false gods *. In that day and age, such gods were represented in images that were worshiped.


It does not simply say in scripture not to make images:

“You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God. . .” Exodus 20:4-5

Exodus went on and told them to make images:

“You shall make two cherubim of gold; you shall make them of hammered work, at the two ends of the mercy seat. . . .from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the covenant, I will deliver to you all my commands for the Israelites.” Exodus 25:18-22

In this passage God is commanding Moses to make golden cherubim, a “heavenly being”. If we interpret the ten commandments as some do then this would be a direct violation of the second commandment, “You shall not make for yourself an idol [snip] in the form of anything that is in heaven above.” God not only orders these to be made he also orders their image to be woven into the fabric of the tabernacle (see Exodus 26:1 and Exodus 26:31.


“And the Lord said to Moses, “make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze . . .” Numbers 21:8-9.

God not only ordered the image of a creature from “the earth beneath” but he also gave the image a special power of protection.

Other scripture to review would be 1 Kings 6:23, 35; 7:25, 29, 36 where king Solomon adorns God’s temple with images of cherubim, palm trees, flowers, lions, and oxen.

Often Catholics are criticized for wearing sacred medals, such as a St. Christopher medal, or the scapular, that only God has the power to protect us or grant us special graces, implying that you must ask Him directly. Superficially it is correct, the power comes from God. However, consider Numbers 21:8-9 “whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.” God bestowed his power upon an object. He did not require that the Israelites praise Him or ask Him to heal their snake bite. They only had to look at the “serpent of bronze and live.”

Also look at: “So Elisha died and they buried him. Now bands of Moabites used to invade the land in the spring of the year. As a man was being buried a marauding band was seen and the man was thrown into the grave of Elisha; as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he came to life and stood on his feet.” 2 Kings 13:20-21. Nowhere in scripture does God bestow any power over Elisha’s bones yet, because he was Holy, they have a power that only should belong to God.

Turn to the New Testament “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that when the handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were brought to the sick, their diseases left them, and the evil spirits came out of them.” Acts 19:11-12. And, “so that they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on cots and mats, in order that Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he came by. A great number of people would also gather from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all cured.” Acts 5:15-16.

From Old and New Testament passages we see that miracles occur through God’s direct intervention but also through the use of images or icons such as the “serpent of bronze,” sacred relics as in the bones of Elisha or Paul’s handkerchief and apron, and even an inatament object such as Peter’s shadow. Many Catholics have outwardly forgotten or do not understand that it is God and ones own faith in Him and not the object that performs the miracle. This is where the misunderstanding with our Protestant brothers and sisters originates.

As Catholics we use many statues, images, and relics. These are called sacramentals. They are used to remind us of God or to remind us of the holiness of the Saint or person represented by the image. Since we are only human our sinful nature keeps us from thinking about God all the time. Sacramentals are therefore used as a tool to remind us to pray and to honor God. When we see a statue or image of a Saint it reminds us of what that person did for God and is therefore used as a guide for us to follow, to teach us.

After reviewing these Scripture passages it’s clear that the making of the images is not the sin. Even claiming that “miracles” have occurred through the use of these images is not sinful. Making the objects and then worshiping them as thought they were a god is the sin. After all in the very commandment itself God said "for I the Lord your God am a jealous God.


Yeah… It’s called Iconoclasm
Read the graven image part of the first commandment here:
Exodus 20:1-5

“1 And the Lord spoke all these words: 2 I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3 Thou shalt not have strange gods before me. 4 Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, nor of those things that are in the waters under the earth. 5 Thou shalt not adore them, nor serve them: I am the Lord thy God, mighty, jealous, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me:”

It is clear that the prohibition is not iconoclastic as some preach, but based upon the intent of the one making and using the image. Since NO CATHOLIC EVER kneels down before any image to worship it we are not idolaters at all. We are not stupid enough to confuse a mass of rock, plaster, metal, or any other created thing with the almighty and ever living God of the Universe.

If the making of images is wrong as the Moslems and these misgiuded iconoclasts say then how do they account for God COMMANDING the making of images to adorn the top of the Ark of the Covenant and the brass serpent that Moses lifted up to save the Israelites that had sinned and which in fact is mentioned in the NT as a type of the lifting up of Christ for our sins? The temple of Solomon is described as having been adorned with all manner of images yet God was pleased to be present there and did not condemn them for it.

A graven image according to the context of the 1st commandment is anything that a person would construct in order to give it the worship that is due only to God. Now, that said, it could also include anything that we choose to make more important than God in our lives, such as money, career, or power. The Catechism of the Catholic Church gets into it more here: so you can peruse that at your convenience.

Islam forbids the display of ANY images (It’s called Iconoclasm, this forbidding) and the iconoclastic heresies that have arisen in Christianity were the result of Islamic influence in about the 800’s. you can find that history here at New Advent:

This allegation, of course, is patently untrue, yet some people refuse to accept that, maintaining the Moslem position, despite all the evidence that I and other Catholics have shown them.

Statues, pictures and cards of the saints are no more idolatry than having pictures of your family in your wallet.

In fact, the 7th Ecumenical Council declared that since Christ was a real human person with a real human body, it is perfectly fine to portray him. Pictures of humans are perfectly fine, and it still applies to when God became man.

Consider this; that the Ark of the Covenant had the statues of 2 Cherubim on it’s top…and they were there by God’s own command. Read the OT accounts of how the Temple of Solomon was decorated. We are Christians…derived from OT Judaism…not Islamic Fundamentalist Talliban.
Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum


Iconoclasm huh? Wow, I had heard this term before but never bothered to figure out what it was. I had no Idea about the teaching from the church regarding Images. Just shows how much I’ve yet to learn. Thanks to all who have helped. I trully apprecieate it. :smiley:




Additionaly, consider the ultimate fate of the bronze serpent.
2 Kings 18:4-5 RSV :bible1:
4: [Good king Hezekiah] removed the high places, and broke the pillars, and cut down the Ashe’rah. **And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had burned incense to it; it was called Nehush’tan. **5: He trusted in the LORD the God of Israel; so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him.
It was destroyed because the people worshiped it, not because it was an image.

On another note, iconoclasm left Islam with an artistic problem: how to decorate without using images? The solution was the abstract patterns that you see in mosques and oriental rugs.


Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor the likeness of any thing that is in Heaven above, or in the earth beneath, nor of those things that are in the waters under the earth. 5 Thou shalt not adore them, nor serve them

I am still wondering about the most accurate translation of this passage because when it first meets the eye it seems as if it first states do not make any graven thing (idols), and then goes on to further state seperately to not make any likeness of anything on earth or Heaven above or in the sea below. Now, I am a Catholic painter so obviously this part of Exodus means a great deal to me. If the making of likenesses of anything on earth or Heaven or the sea is a sin then I have committed transgression upon transgression due to this. What can you guys tell me about this? :o


You have commited no sin. All of the replies in this forum have helped me to understand that we do not sin by making images. I encourage you to read the replies to this post… This is not the only verse that speaks of images in the bible.


Personally, I don’t need much more then common sense here. Put yourself in the old testament. If you had no idea what God was like since he hadn’t revealed himself, making a picture of him would be pretty presumptuous at best, wouldn’t it? I imagine that was the case with the Jews. However, now we do have a revelation of him: God as human in Christ. Illustrating that is not presumptuous at all, it is an acknowledgement and reminder of what He is and has done for us.



The heresy of iconoclasm was put to bed at the Second Council of Nicaea in 787 A.D.


Keep in mind what was happening when the 10 commandments were being given: Aaron and his followers were busy making an idol. They worshiped it, and declared “THIS IS THE GOD WHICH LED US OUT OF EGYPT” - God gave us the command, then gave us a clear example of a violation of it.


Words themselves are in a sense pictures, they are not the object or event they describe. The Sistine Chapel depicts the Creation story using pictures instead of words for thos who cannot read.


This lengthy passage is from the “APOLOGIA OF ST JOHN DAMASCENE AGAINST THOSE WHO DECRY HOLY IMAGES” the Son is also a living image of the eternal Father

"Now adversaries say: God’s commands to Moses the law-giver were, “Thou shalt adore shalt worship him the Lord thy God, and thou alone, and thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath.”

They err truly, not knowing the Scriptures, for the letter kills whilst the spirit quickens–not finding in the letter the hidden meaning. I could say to these people, with justice, He who taught you this would teach you the following. Listen to the law-giver’s interpretation in Deuteronomy: “And the Lord spoke to you from the midst of the fire. You heard the voice of His words, but you saw not any form at all.” (Deut. 4.12) And shortly afterwards: “Keep your souls carefully. You saw not any similitude in the day that the Lord God spoke to you in Horeb from the midst of the fire, lest perhaps being deceived you might make you a graven similitude, or image of male and female, the similitude of any beasts that are upon the earth, or of birds that fly under heaven.” (Deut. 4.15-17) And again, “Lest, perhaps, lifting up thy eyes to heaven, thou see the sun and the moon, and all the stars of heaven, and being deceived by error thou adore and serve them.” (Deut. 4.19)
You see the one thing to be aimed at is not to adore a created thing more than the Creator, nor to give the worship of latreia except to Him alone. By worship, consequently, He always understands the worship of latreia. For, again, He says: “Thou shalt not have strange gods other than Me. Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor any similitude. Thou shalt not adore them, and thou shalt not serve them, for I am the Lord thy God.” (Deut. 5.7-9) And again, “Overthrow their altars, and break down their statues;…For thou shalt not adore a strange god.” (Deut. 12.3) And a little further on: “Thou shalt not make to thyself gods of metal.” (Ex. 34.17)
You see that He forbids image-making on account of idolatry, and that it is impossible to make an image of the immeasurable, uncircumscribed, invisible God. …These injunctions were given to the Jews on account of their proneness to idolatry. Now we, on the contrary, are no longer in leading strings. Speaking theologically, it is given to us to avoid superstitious error, to be with God in the knowledge of the truth, to worship God alone, to enjoy the fulness of His knowledge. We have passed the stage of infancy, and reached the perfection of manhood. …The Scripture says, “You have not seen the likeness of Him.” (Ex. 33.20) What wisdom in the law-giver. How depict the invisible? How picture the inconceivable? How give expression to the limitless, the immeasurable, the invisible? How give a form to immensity? How paint immortality? How localise mystery?
It is clear that when you contemplate God, who is a pure spirit, becoming man for your sake, you will be able to clothe Him with the human form. When the Invisible One becomes visible to flesh, you may then draw a likeness of His form. When He who is a pure spirit, without form or limit, immeasurable in the boundlessness of His own nature, existing as God, takes upon Himself the form of a servant in substance and in stature, and a body of flesh, then you may draw His likeness, and show it to anyone willing to contemplate it. Depict His ineffable condescension, His virginal birth, His baptism in the Jordan, His transfiguration on Thabor, His all-powerful sufferings, His death and miracles, the proofs of His Godhead, the deeds which He worked in the flesh through divine power, His saving Cross, His Sepulchre, and resurrection, and ascent into heaven. Give to it all the endurance of engraving and colour. Have no fear or anxiety; worship is not all of the same kind. … The worship of latreia is one thing, and the worship which is given to merit another. … An image is a likeness of the original with a certain difference, for it is not an exact reproduction of the original. Thus, the Son is the living, substantial, unchangeable Image of the invisible God (Col. 1.15), bearing in Himself the whole Father, being in all things equal to Him, differing only in being begotten by the Father, who is the Begetter; the Son is begotten. …

We see images in creation which remind us faintly of God, as when, for instance, we speak of the holy and adorable Trinity, imaged by the sun, or light, or burning rays, or by a running fountain, or a full river, or by the mind, speech, or the spirit within us, or by a rose tree, or a sprouting flower, or a sweet fragrance.


Where did the CC get the “command” to create the countless images that people kneel in front of when praying? That is the question! It was when they created images that were not commanded when they got in trouble.

These can bring a stumbling block to the weak who begin to get comfort from these images/statues - as if they can offer protection by being hung from a rear view mirror, stuck to their dash board, hung on the refrigerator, put on a wall…etc. And although they may never bow to such things, they may be doing so in their hearts.


Is this somehow different from Bible Christians who hold the Scriptures to their hearts while in prayer? Have you ever rested your forehead on the Good Book while contemplating the words you have just read?
Do you toss your Holy Bible in a basket with the magazines and newspapers, or is it carefully returned to a safe and respectful spot when you are done with it?
My children leave many books on the floor next to the potty after they’ve done their business, but would I allow that treatment of the Bible? More importantly, would you?
If you answer yes to any of these questions, then you need to reconsider that which you are condemning Catholics for.


Wait a minute guys. I think the CCC is specific on images of God the Father.
That is the only one you can NOT do.

I will have to find the citation.


Well, here it is but it must be just the way I percieve it anyway.:

Holy images

1159 The sacred image, the liturgical icon, principally represents Christ. **It cannot represent the invisible and incomprehensible God, but the incarnation of the Son of God has ushered in a new “economy” of images: **

Previously God, who has neither a body nor a face, absolutely could not be represented by an image. But now that he has made himself visible in the flesh and has lived with men, I can make an image of what I have seen of God . . . and contemplate the glory of the Lord, his face unveiled.27
1160 Christian iconography expresses in images the same Gospel message that Scripture communicates by words. Image and word illuminate each other:

We declare that we preserve intact all the written and unwritten traditions of the Church which have been entrusted to us. One of these traditions consists in the production of representational artwork, which accords with the history of the preaching of the Gospel. For it confirms that the incarnation of the Word of God was real and not imaginary, and to our benefit as well, for realities that illustrate each other undoubtedly reflect each other’s meaning.28
1161 All the signs in the liturgical celebrations are related to Christ: as are sacred images of the holy Mother of God and of the saints as well. They truly signify Christ, who is glorified in them. They make manifest the "cloud of witnesses"29 who continue to participate in the salvation of the world and to whom we are united, above all in sacramental celebrations. Through their icons, it is man “in the image of God,” finally transfigured "into his likeness,"30 who is revealed to our faith. So too are the angels, who also are recapitulated in Christ:

Following the divinely inspired teaching of our holy Fathers and the tradition of the Catholic Church (for we know that this tradition comes from the Holy Spirit who dwells in her) we rightly define with full certainty and correctness that, like the figure of the precious and life-giving cross, venerable and holy images of our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ, our inviolate Lady, the holy Mother of God, and the venerated angels, all the saints and the just, whether painted or made of mosaic or another suitable material, are to be exhibited in the holy churches of God, on sacred vessels and vestments, walls and panels, in houses and on streets.31
1162 "The beauty of the images moves me to contemplation, as a meadow delights the eyes and subtly infuses the soul with the glory of God."32 Similarly, the contemplation of sacred icons, united with meditation on the Word of God and the singing of liturgical hymns, enters into the harmony of the signs of celebration so that the mystery celebrated is imprinted in the heart’s memory and is then expressed in the new life of the faithful.

The way this reads, it does not sound like depictions of God the Father are suddenly okay now. Feel free to disagree with me anyone.



There are many icons of the Trinity that depict all three persons. If that were not OK the church would have condemned them.


I have not seen those Icons. That is interesting.

Do you have any links to them?

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