A Short Guide to Iconoclasm in Early History
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The opposition to religious images known as Iconoclasm began during the reign of Leo III — , but may not have become official policy until his son Constantine V banned the making of icons in The prohibition was lifted from to , but reinstated thereafter.

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Mosaics in churches of the time reveal that figurative religious images were replaced with plain crosses or geometric and foliate designs. After Iconoclasm ended in , writers opposed to the ban reported that huge numbers of icons had been destroyed, but their claims were likely exaggerated to discredit Iconoclast emperors.

As images of Christ, Mary, and saints appeared increasingly in churches in the sixth and seventh centuries, officials questioned their legitimacy, fearing that the veneration of icons was tantamount to idolatry. The rise of Islam and the loss of Byzantine territories to Arab armies at the time would have added to concerns that God was on the side of those who forbade holy images. Supporters of icons argued that denying images of Christ wrongly denied his incarnation and presence on Earth, a view that ultimately prevailed. Banner photo by Velissarios Voutsas of a mosaic in the Church of the Acheiropoietos, Thessaloniki, 5 th century.

He conceived the idea of making it as great as all the empire over which he still actually ruled. Isauria, Leo's birthplace, was taken from Antioch by an imperial edict and added to the Byzantine patriarchate , increasing it by the Metropolis, Seleucia , and about twenty other sees. Leo further pretended to withdraw Illyricum from the Roman patriarchate and to add it to that of Constantinople, and confiscated all the property of the Roman See on which he could lay his hands, in Sicily and Southern Italy. This naturally increased the enmity between Eastern and Western Christendom.

Peter's in which all persons who broke, defiled, or took images of Christ , of His Mother, the Apostles or other saints were declared excommunicate. Another legate , Constantine, was sent with a copy of the decree and of its application to the emperor, but was again arrested and imprisoned in Sicily.

Leo then sent a fleet to Italy to punish the pope ; but it was wrecked and dispersed by a storm. Meanwhile every kind of calamity afflicted the empire; earthquakes, pestilence, and famine devastated the provinces while the Moslems continued their victorious career and conquered further territory. Leo III died in June, , in the midst of these troubles, without having changed policy.

His work was carried on by his son Constantine V Copronymus, , who became an even greater persecutor of image-worshippers than had been his father. As soon as Leo III was dead, Artabasdus who had married Leo's daughter seized the opportunity and took advantage of the unpopularity of the Iconoclast Government to raise a rebellion.

Declaring himself the protector of the holy icons he took possession of the capital, had himself crowned emperor by the pliant patriarch Anastasius and immediately restored the images. Anastasius, who had been intruded in the place of Germanus as the Iconoclast candidate, now veered round in the usual Byzantine way, helped the restoration of the images and excommunicated Constantine V as a heretic and denier of Christ.

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But Constantine marched on the city, took it, blinded Artabasdus and began a furious revenge on all rebels and image-worshippers His treatment of Anastasius is a typical example of the way these later emperors behaved towards the patriarchs through whom they tried to govern the Church. Anastasius was flogged in public, blinded, driven shamefully through the streets, made to return to his Iconoclasm and finally reinstated as patriarch. The wretched man lived on till The pictures restored by Artabasdus were again removed.

In Constantine, taking up his father's original idea summoned a great synod at Constantinople that was to count as the Seventh General Council. About bishops attended; as the See of Constantinople was vacant by the death of Anastasius, Theodosius of Ephesus and Pastilias of Perge presided.

Rome , Alexandria, Antioch , and Jerusalem refused to send legates , since it was clear that the bishops were summoned merely to carry out the emperor's commands. The event showed that the patriarchs had judged rightly. The bishops at the synod servilely agreed to all Constantine's demands. The only lawful representation of Christ is the Holy Eucharist. Images of saints are equally to be abhorred; it is blasphemous to represent by dead wood or stone those who live with God.

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Certain texts of the Fathers are also quoted in support of Iconoclasm. Image-worshippers are idolaters , adorers of wood and stone; the Emperors Leo and Constantine are lights of the Orthodox faith , our saviours from idolatry. The bishops finally elected a successor to the vacant see of Constantinople, Constantine, bishop of Sylaeum Constantine II, , who was of course a creature of the Government, prepared to carry on its campaign. The decrees were published in the Forum on 27 August, After this the destruction of pictures went on with renewed zeal.

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Iconoclasm is the social belief in the importance of the destruction of icons and other images or monuments, most frequently for religious or political reasons. Byzantine Iconoclasm refers to two periods in the history of the Byzantine Empire when the use of religious images or icons was opposed by religious and.

All the bishops of the empire were required to sign the Acts of the synod and to swear to do away with icons in their dioceses. The Paulicians were now treated well, while image-worshippers and monks were fiercely persecuted.