The Icon of the Divine Heart of God the Father – 7

Brief History of God the Father in Iconography and Iconology: The Three Councils of Moscow, Part 1

After the Great Schism (Fortescue, 1912) and Lutheran Reformation (Kirsch, 1911), three Councils of the Orthodox Church were successively held in Moscow (the “third Rome;” New York Public Library [NYPL], 2003-2004), concurrently to the Council of Trent of the Roman Catholic Church (1545-1563/1848). These Orthodox Councils were the Council of the Hundred Chapters (Stoglav; Council of Moscow, 1551), the Council of Moscow in 1553-1554 (Anatolius, 1945; Bingham, 1995; Bodianskii, 1858; Ouspensky, 1992); and the Great Council of Moscow (Pan-Orthodox, 1666-1667; Acts of the Council of Moscow of 1666-1667, 1893).

The Stoglav Council (Russian ‘Council of Trent;’ Florovsky, 1979) was convened by Tsar Ivan IV (the Terrible) and the Russian Metropolitan-iconographer (St) Makarii to regulate church-state relationships, strengthen the hierarchy, and eliminate heretical movements (Council of Moscow, 1551). The Council of Moscow held in 1553-1554 was convened by Makarii as temporary head of state during the Tsar’s absence, to address issues of heresy and symbolic icons of God the Father among others (Anatolius, 1945; Bodianskii, 1858). The Pan-Orthodox Council of Moscow (Robber Council) was convened by Tsar Alexis, after the Russian Orthodox Church had been leaderless for years and the clergy were considered inadequately trained (Acts of the Council of Moscow of 1666-1667, 1893; The Great Council of Moscow, 1666-1667; Palmieri, 1918; Ware, 1993).

Specifically during the Stoglav Council (Council of Moscow, 1551), in question 3 of Chapter 5, “On the holy and venerable icons,” the members decreed that icons must retain fidelity to established models when depicting God. In question 1 of Chapter 41, “On the icons of the Trinity,” the Council members elaborated that the Holy Trinity icon of (St) Andrei Rublev exemplified such a model, together with icons of the Greeks and other renowned painters. In Chapter 43, “Answer of the assembly on the icon painters and on the venerable icon,” the Council members granted sole authority to the hierarchy, to determine how the bodily representations of God and Jesus Christ could be depicted on venerable icons; based reportedly on the words of St John of Damascus (726-730/1898) about holy images, “Do not represent the divinity . . . because the Godhead is simple and indivisible, inaccessible to the eye” (in Bingham, 1995, p. 133; Ouspensky, 1992, Vol. 2, p. 294).

Meanwhile in the Council of Moscow of 1553-1554 (Anatolius, 1945; Bingham, 1995; Ouspensky, 1992), the members explicitly approved venerable icons of God the Father, depicted either independently or as part of the Holy Trinity. The Metropolitan Makarii declared such icons in accord with tradition, with God the Father being commonly depicted as the Lord Sabaoth in several Athonite churches (Bodianskii, 1858). Makarii clarified that, “the painters do not represent the Godhead invisible according to His essence, but they portray and represent according to the prophetic visions and the ancient Greek models” (p. 14). Furthermore, the Council members condemned Viskovatii, the Tsar’s Secretary of State, for raising the issue of such icons in the first instance and labeling them ‘Latin heretical concepts’ (Bodianskii, 1858; Florovsky, 1979). Makarii also rebuked Viskovatii saying, “You speak and reason falsely on the holy icons. Such reasoning is the heresy of the Galatians who prohibit the painting in the flesh of the invisible, bodiless powers on earth” (Bodianskii, 1858, pp. 1-2).   


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