Critical Review: Part 2 – The Pan-Orthodox Council of Moscow and Nicaea II
The Pan-Orthodox (Great) Council of Moscow (1666-1667; Acts of the Council of Moscow of 1666-1667, 1893) was the third of the successive three Councils held by the Orthodox Church, after the Great Schism (Fortescue, 1912). As previously shown, in the Great Council (1666-1667; Acts of the Council of Moscow of 1666-1667, 1893) the members explicitly decreed 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 . . . To paint on icons the Lord Sabaoth 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 . . . 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.”
The Great Council (1666-1667; Acts of the Council of Moscow of 1666-1667, 1893) members referenced the following quotations from Scripture: (1) “No one knows the Father except the Son” (Mt 11:27). (2) “What likeness will you find for God or what form to resemble His?” (Is 40:18), and (3) “We ought not to believe that the Godhead is the same as gold, silver, or stone shaped by human art and thought” (Acts 17:29). As well as the words of St John of Damascus (c. 730), “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.”
The Great Council (1666-1667; Acts of the Council of Moscow of 1666-1667,1893) added that, “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 . . . 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.”
Meanwhile, in Nicaea II (Second Council of Nicaea, 787/1969; The Seventh General Council, 787/2007) the Council members had decreed that, “holy images . . . be set forth in all the holy Churches of God . . . on walls and on doors, in houses and by the highways . . . For, 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.” They confirmed latreia as reserved for God alone, while proskynesis could be paid to any sign, “For he who worships an image worships in it the person of him who is represented thereby.” Nicaea II also defined icons as, “not like the original with respect to essence, but with respect to hypostasis.”
Additionally, Nicaea II (Second Council of Nicaea, 787/1969; The Seventh General Council, 787/2007) condemned those who would refute the visions of Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah and Moses as theophanic. Declaring that, “Eternal be the memory of those who know and accept and believe the visions of the prophets as the Divinity Himself shaped and impressed them . . . Anathema to those who do not accept the visions of the prophets and who reject the iconographies which have been seen by them, even before the Incarnation of the Word.”
Thus in its decree, the Great Council of Moscow (1666-1667; Acts of the Council of Moscow of 1666-1667, 1893) in effect ruptured with both tradition and
- Nicaea II (Second Council of Nicaea, 787/1969; The Seventh General Council, 787/2007);
- Trent (1545-1563/1848);
- Stoglav (Council of Moscow, 1551); and
- The Council of Moscow of 1553-1554 (Anatolius, 1945; Bingham, 1995; Ouspensky, 1992), in relation to depicting God the Father on sacred icons. Despite referencing most of the same quotations used in both Stoglav and the second Council (i.e., 1553-1554).
Specifically, the Great Council of Moscow (1666-1667; Acts of the Council of Moscow of 1666-1667, 1893) returned to the issue of the divinity – the nature – of God the Father, and the related impossibility of circumscribing Him in His essence. However the said Council once again:
- Erroneously conflated the Divine ousia with the Divine energeia (Gregory Palamas, 69, P.G. CL; P.G. CL; Lossky, 1944/1997), as already thoroughly discussed in the section on Stoglav. It also violated Nicaea II in multiple ways by:
- Declaring that, “The Lord Sabaoth . . . must only be perceived through our mind.” Nicaea II had clarified once and for all that, “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” (Second Council of Nicaea, 787/1969; The Seventh General Council, 787/2007). A stance that has, in reality, been retained to this day in the universal (i.e., Roman Catholic) Church, ensuring a true hermeneutic of continuity. With recently both John Paul II (1999) and Benedict XVI (2000) respectively, addressing the issues of false rigidity in sacred art and the false sacramentalization of icons;
- Failing to regard icons as, “not like the original with respect to essence” (Second Council of Nicaea, 787/1969; The Seventh General Council, 787/2007). A fact also confirmed by Theodore the Studite (1981), in his work on holy icons.
- Refuting the visions of Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah and Moses as theophanic. Visions that had already been declared as such not only by Nicaea II (ibid.), but also by multiple Church Fathers and saints (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).
Moreover, the Great Council (1666-1667; Acts of the Council of Moscow of 1666-1667, 1893) notably contradicted its decree in its very own documents, again conflating ousia with energeia in the process, by first declaring that God the Father could never be depicted; then stating that He could be depicted – and this with a white beard – based on the Revelation to the Apostle John. An indirect, but explicit, admission by the Great Council itself of both the validity and liceity of depicting God the Father iconographically, if ever one existed; in terms of His energeia and hypostasis. Since the term “Father” refers precisely to the hypostasis of the Almighty and not His divinity.
Given all of the above, it is clear that the Pan-Orthodox (Great) Council of Moscow (1666-1667; Acts of the Council of Moscow of 1666-1667, 1893) was an invalid council, at least in terms of depicting God the Father on sacred icons. For, first, no decrees issued subsequent to Nicaea II (Second Council of Nicaea, 787/1969; The Seventh General Council, 787/2007) are valid, when they violate the decrees of the latter, regardless of the vocal, insistent protestations of some clergy, iconographers and theologians. Because Nicaea II is binding on both the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, since it was the last Ecumenical Council of the undivided, universal Church. In fact, Moss (2002) stated that decrees, “cannot be accepted as expressing the Tradition of the Church if they contradict the Seventh Ecumenical Council as well as the constant practice of the Church since Roman times” (p. 4).
Second, given that Trent (1545-1563/1848), Stoglav (Council of Moscow, 1551), and the Council of Moscow held in 1553-1554 (Anatolius, 1945; Bingham, 1995; Ouspensky, 1992) are indeed in conformity with Nicaea II as previously shown, in both essence and fact the Great Council of Moscow (1666-1667; Acts of the Council of Moscow of 1666-1667, 1893) also violated these Councils. Not to mention the declarations of the Church Fathers and saints themselves.
Third, the Great Council (1666-1667; Acts of the Council of Moscow of 1666-1667, 1893) itself never declared icons and paintings of God the Father to be specifically a heresy. Fourth, sacred paintings of the Father abound in the cathedrals of the Kremlin (Ouspensky, 1992), which is considered to be the very heart of Russian Orthodoxy. Last but not least, fifth, the Great Council of Moscow (1666-1667; Acts of the Council of Moscow of 1666-1667, 1893) has long been considered by many to be a robber council, including the Orthodox clergy and laity alike. Since the underlying, but primary, aim of its convocation was to strip the Russian Orthodox Church of her patrimony.
- Acts of the Council of Moscow of 1666-1667. (1893). Moscow: Author.
- Anatolius, Archpriest. (1945). On the painting of icons. Moscow: Author.
- 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.
- Benedict XVI. (2000). The spirit of the liturgy. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press.
- Bingham, S. (1995). The image of God the Father in Orthodox theology and iconography and other studies. CA: Oakwood.
- Council of Moscow. (1551). Moscow: Russkaia Pravoslavnaia Tserkov. Retrieved October 4, 2011 from University of Michigan Microfilms.
- Cyril of Alexandria. PG 70, 1461.
- 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. 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 Paul II. (1999). Letter to artists. Retrieved November 22, 2011 from: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_let_23041999_artists_en.html
- Lossky, V. (1944/1997). The mystical theology of the Eastern Church. NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.
- Moss, V. (2002). The icon of the Holy Trinity. Retrieved on November 22, 2011 from: http://www.romanitas.ru/eng/THEICONOFTHEHOLYTRINITY.htm
- 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.
- 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 Great Council of Moscow. (1666-1667). The Tome of the Great Council of Moscow (L. Puhalo, trans.). Canadian Orthodox Missionary Journal.
- 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.
- Theodore the Studite. (1981). On the holy icons (C. P. Roth, trans.). NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.