Critical Review: Part 2 – The Stoglav Council and Nicaea II
The Stoglav Council of Moscow (1551) was the first of the three Councils held by the Orthodox Church after the Great Schism (Fortescue, 1912), to parallel the Ecumenical Council of Trent (1545-1563/1848). As previously shown, in Stoglav (Council of Moscow, 1551) the Council members and Metropolitan-iconographer (St) Makarii decreed that icons must adhere to established models when depicting God. They specified (St) Andrei Rublev’s Holy Trinity icon as an example of excellence and quoted St John of Damascus as saying, “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), to manifest their intent.
Meanwhile, in Nicaea II (Second Council of Nicaea, 787/1969; The Seventh General Council, 787/2007) the Council members had decreed that latreia was reserved for God alone, whereas proskynesis could be paid to any sign representing its prototype. Depictions on holy icons were decreed as, “not like the original with respect to essence, but with respect to hypostasis.” Therefore, although the decrees of Stoglav (Council of Moscow, 1551) and Nicaea II (Second Council of Nicaea, 787/1969; The Seventh General Council, 787/2007) appear to be conflicting on the surface – a factor strongly exploited by some iconographers and theologians, in an attempt to elevate neo-Patristic views above all others – the decree of Stoglav is, in fact, in perfect conformity with Nicaea II, in terms of depicting God the Father iconographically.
Specifically, both Stoglav (Council of Moscow, 1551) and Nicaea II (Second Council of Nicaea, 787/1969; The Seventh General Council, 787/2007), as well as Trent (1545-1563/1848), banned all depictions of the divinity of God on sacred icons: that is, all Councils banned depicting God the Father in terms of His ousia (Gregory Palamas, 69, P.G. CL; P.G. CL; Lossky, 1944/1997). Stoglav (Council of Moscow, 1551) explicitly banned it by attempting to quote St John of Damascus, whereas Nicaea II (Second Council of Nicaea, 787/1969; The Seventh General Council, 787/2007) implicitly banned it by defining iconographic depictions as representations not of the Divine ousia. However, neither Stoglav nor Nicaea II, or Trent, banned depicting God the Father in terms of His energeia (Gregory Palamas, 69, P.G. CL; P.G. CL; Lossky, 1944/1997).
Similarly neither did St John of Damascus (c. 730, 726-730/1898), although he has often been interpreted as having done so by some clergy, iconographers and theologians; precisely due to the above quotation. First, St John never said the above-referenced words in his writings: he was literally misquoted in Stoglav. Second, a close contextual reading of his work, on images and holy icons, shows that St John simply did not consider the issue of depicting the Father in terms of His energeia, because he was focused primarily on (a) Christology rather than Patriology, and (b) the Divine nature rather than the Divine energies.
Summarily but specifically, when addressing the physical impossibility of depicting God the Father due to His formlessness, invisibility and inability to be circumscribed, St John (c. 730, 726-730/1898) emphasized the following quotations from Scripture: (1) “You have not seen His likeness” (Dt 4:15). (2) “Being, therefore, the offspring of God, we must not suppose the divinity to be like unto gold, or silver, or stone, the graving of art, the device of man” (Acts 17:29); (3) “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him” (Jn 1:18); and (4) “No one shall ever see My face and live, saith the Lord” (Ex 33:20).
From the above it is clear that St John of Damascus (c. 730, 726-730/1898) was referring to the divinity of God the Father (ousia), in terms of prohibition, and not His essence (energeia). For (a) he referred specifically to St Paul’s mention of the divinity for context, and (b) both the earlier Church Fathers and later saints had indeed defined the visions of Daniel (7:9-15), Ezekiel (1:26-28, 8:1-5), Isaiah (6:1-5) and Moses (Ex 24:9-11, Nb 12:6-8) as theophanic (Athanasius the Great, VEP 35; Augustine of Hippo, 400-412, 401-415; Cyril of Alexandria, PG 70; Gregory Palamas, EPE 9; Hippolytus of Rome, PG 10; John Chrysostom, PG 57, EPE 8; Nicodemus the Hagiorite, 1864; Symeon of Thessalonica, Interpretation of the Sacred Symbol, p. 412). These visions had already been symbolically depicted on scriptural icons, in the early universal Church (Bingham, 1995; Florensky, 1996; Ouspensky, 1992).
In fact, if said visions had been manifestations of the Father’s ousia rather than energia, neither Daniel nor Ezekiel, Isaiah or Moses would have lived to tell their tales for, “No one shall ever see My face and live, saith the Lord” (Ex 33:20), as St John himself quoted. Meanwhile, in quoting the evangelist John with regard to the phrase, “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him” (Jn 1:18), St John of Damascus (c. 730, 726-730/1898) omitted the more explicit phrase by the evangelist Matthew, “No one knows the Son except the Father, just as no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him” (Mt 11:27). Although, according to St John Chrysostom, the last phrase again refers to the Divine energeia, not ousia (Lossky, 2003).
Furthermore, in his work, St John of Damascus (c. 730, 726-730/1898) directly referred to the nature of God when speaking about the Father, while concurrently and repeatedly addressing the issue of latreia – the absolute worship reserved for God alone, which was specifically decreed in Nicaea II (Second Council of Nicaea, 787/1969; The Seventh General Council, 787/2007): the last Ecumenical Council of the universal, undivided Church. Thus in his work on sacred images and holy icons, St John (c. 730, 726-730/1898) was, in fact, speaking about the issue of depicting the Father in terms of His divinity, that is ousia; and not in terms of His energies, that is energeia.
Meanwhile, in Stoglav (Council of Moscow, 1551) adopting Rublev’s Trinity as an exemplar for future iconographic work, the Council members provided what can be considered as a vicariously revealed (Florensky, 1996) icon, in which God the Father is depicted. For contrary to widespread belief among laity and professionals alike, Rublev did not simply replicate the Trinity icon already in existence, together with its standard Trinitarian interpretation (Bunge, 2007). Under the instruction of St Nikon of Radonezh, Rublev specifically proceeded to break with tradition and depicted the three, non-interchangeable, divine hypostases and their uniqueness as Persons in said icon, in honor of St Nikon’s spiritual father St Sergii.
In fact the martyr monk-iconographer Florensky himself regarded St Sergii, the patron saint of Russia, as the real author of Rublev’s Trinity (Bunge, 2007; Florensky, 1996). He also declared that because the latter existed, “therefore, God exists” (p. 68), concretizing Nicaea II (Second Council of Nicaea, 787/1969; The Seventh General Council, 787/2007) insofar as, “in proportion as these are continually seen in images and pictures, so are the minds of the beholders aroused to the remembrance of and affection for their prototypes” – the worship of proskynesis, not latreia. According to Pachomii the Serb, St Sergii had several theophanic visions throughout his lifetime (Bunge, 2007), having lived in full communion with the Holy Trinity (hence the Divine Light; Lossky, 1944/1997) in the same way that mankind will be dwelling with Them, during the era of the 8th day: the eschatological era of peace (Rv 20:1-3), that is the common era of theosis (Lossky, 1994/1997, 2003; Russell, 2006; Williams, 1999).
- Athanasius the Great. VEP 35, 121.
- Augustine of Hippo. (401-415). De genesi ad litteram, 12.
- Augustine of Hippo. (400-412). De trinitate, 2 & 3.
- Bingham, S. (1995). The image of God the Father in Orthodox theology and iconography and other studies. CA: Oakwood.
- Bunge, G. (2007). The Rublev Trinity. NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.
- Council of Moscow. (1551). Moscow: Russkaia Pravoslavnaia Tserkov. Retrieved October 4, 2011 from University of Michigan Microfilms.
- Cyril of Alexandria. PG 70, 1461.
- Florensky, P. (1996). Iconostasis (D. Sheehan & O. Andrejev, trans.). Essex: Oakwood.
- Fortescue, A. (1912). The Eastern Schism. In The Catholic Encyclopedia (2nd ed.). NY: Appleton. Retrieved September 30, 2011 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13535a.htm
- Gregory Palamas. Capita physica, theologica, moralis et practica, 69, P.G. CL, 1169 C.
- Gregory Palamas. Homilies, 14. EPE 9, 390.
- Gregory Palamas. P.G. CL, 932 D.
- Hippolytus of Rome. PG 10, 37.
- John Chrysostom. PG 57, 133 & EPE 8, 640-642.
- John of Damascus. (c. 730). Concerning images. In De fide orthodoxa, Bk IV, ch. 16.
- John of Damascus. (726-730/1898). On holy images (M. H. Allies, trans.). London: Baker.
- Lossky, V. (1944/1997). The mystical theology of the Eastern Church. NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.
- Lossky, V. (2003). The vision of God. NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.
- Nicodemus the Hagiorite. (1864). The rudder. Zakynthos, Greece.
- Ouspensky, L. (1992). Theology of the icon, Vols. I & II (rev. trans.). NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.
- Russell, N. (2006). The doctrine of deification in the Greek Patristic tradition. NY: Oxford University Press.
- Second Council of Nicaea. (787/1969). In The Seven Ecumenical Councils of the undivided Church: Their canons and dogmatic decrees.Nicene and post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd series, Vol. XIV. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
- Symeon of Thessalonica. (1429). Interpretation of the sacred symbol.
- The Council of Trent: The canons and decrees of the sacred and oecumenical Council of Trent. (1545-1563/1848; J. Waterworth, ed. & trans.). London: Dolman.
- The Seventh General Council: The second of Nicaea, held A. D. 787, in which the worship of images was established. (787/2007; J. Mendham, trans.). Whitefish, MT: Kessinger.
- Williams, A. N. (1999). The ground of union: Deification in Aquinas and Palamas. NY: Oxford University Press.