Brief History of God the Father in Iconography and Iconology: The Three Councils of Moscow, Part 2
During the Pan-Orthodox Council (Acts of the Council of Moscow of 1666-1667, 1893; The Great Council of Moscow, 1666-1667), in Chapter 43, “On the iconographer and the Lord Sabaoth,” the members forbade depicting God the Father in venerable icons, whether independently or as part of the Holy Trinity, based on the fact that He had never become incarnate. Specifically the Council members stated, “Let all vanity of pretended wisdom cease, which has allowed everyone habitually to paint the Lord Sabaoth in various representations according to his own fantasy, without an authentic reference . . . We decree that from now on the image of the Lord Sabaoth will no longer be painted according to senseless and unsuitable imaginings, for no one has ever seen the Lord Sabaoth (that is, God the Father) in the flesh.”
The members (Acts of the Council of Moscow of 1666-1667, 1893; The Great Council of Moscow, 1666-1667) added that, “To paint on icons the Lord Sabaoth (that is, the Father) with a white beard holding the only-begotten Son in His lap with a dove between them is absurd and improper, for no one has ever seen the Father in His divinity.” They continued, “This is why the Lord Sabaoth, who is the Godhead, and the engendering before all ages of the only-begotten Son of the Father must only be perceived through our mind. By no means is it proper to paint such images: it is impossible.”
To support their decree, the Council members (Acts of the Council of Moscow of 1666-1667, 1893; The Great Council of Moscow, 1666-1667) quoted Christ’s words that, “No one knows the Father except the Son” (Mt 11:27); Isaiah’s (40:18) words, “What likeness will you find for God or what form to resemble his?,” and the apostle Paul’s (Acts 17:29) words, “we ought not to believe that the Godhead is the same as gold, silver, or stone shaped by human art and thought.” The members also cited St John of Damascus’s (c. 730) words, “Who can make an imitation of God the invisible, the incorporeal, the indescribable, and unimaginable? To make an image of the Divinity is the height of folly and impiety” (In Acts of the Council of Moscow of 1666-1667, 1893).
The Council members (The Great Council of Moscow, 1666-1667; Acts of the Council of Moscow of 1666-1667, 1893) then continued, “they paint the Lord Sabaoth breathing from His mouth, and that breath reaches the womb of the Most Holy Mother of God. But who has seen this, or which passage from Holy Scripture bears witness to it? Where is this taken from? Such a practice and others like it are clearly adopted and borrowed from people whose understanding is vain, or rather whose mind is deranged or absent. This is why we decree that henceforth such mistaken painting cease, for it comes from unsound knowledge. It is only in the Apocalypse of St John that the Father can be painted with white hair, for lack of any other possibility, because of the visions contained in it.”
- Acts of the Council of Moscow of 1666-1667. (1893). Moscow: Author.
- John of Damascus. (c. 730). Concerning images. In De fide orthodoxa, Bk IV, ch. 16.
- The Great Council of Moscow. (1666-1667). The Tome of the Great Council of Moscow (L. Puhalo, trans.). Canadian Orthodox Missionary Journal.