Sunday, March 28, 2010

O Cross of Christ, our only hope!

Dear Cross, blest hope o'er all beside,
That cheers the solemn passion-tide:
Give to the just increase of grace,
Give to each contrite sinner peace.

So runs the Church's hymn for the final days of the Lenten season, the Vexilla Regis.

Traditionally, this hymn was used throughout the season of Passion-tide, which extended through the final two weeks of Lent. Now it is used only during Holy Week, calling to mind the Passion and death of our Savior.

As the season of Lent comes to a close, we are invited to meditate more intensely on the centrality of the Cross in the mystery of salvation. This is expressed most dramatically when, on Good Friday, the faithful come before an image of the Cross and, genuflecting before it, venerate the image with a kiss--a most intimate sign of devotion and love.

St. Thomas Aquinas offers a most profound and insightful commentary on the devotion we ought to have for the Cross when, in the tertia pars of the Summa Theologica, he asks "Whether Christ's Cross should be worshiped with the Adoration of Latria?" (ST III, q.25, a.4) Here, the Universal Doctor invokes the above strophe of the Vexilla Regis and comments: "We show the worship of latria to that in which we place our hope of salvation. But we place our hope in Christ's Cross, for so the Church sings: O Crux, ave, spes unica...Therefore, Christ's Cross should be worshiped with the adoration of latria."

Indeed, we do worship the Cross and, on Good Friday, we show the same honor to the image of the Cross as we do to the most holy Eucharist--going so far as to genuflect and then to reverence the image with a holy kiss.

Of course, we admit that God alone is properly "worshiped" but other things receive reverence and even adoration in two ways: 1) Inasmuch as the thing is an image of God (for example, an icon of Christ) and 2) Inasmuch as the thing is united to God (for example, the humanity of Christ).

Now the true Cross is worshiped on both accounts:
1) The Cross is an image of Christ, who is properly called the Crucified. Moreover, the Cross represents Christ as our Salvation.
2) Though the Cross is not united to God in a personal union (as Christ's humanity is united to his divinity), the Cross is united to Christ both through a most intimate contact and in the plan of salvation.

If however we speak of an image of the Cross and not of a relic of the true Cross (as in the veneration of the image of the Cross on Good Friday), it is worshiped only in the first way: as an image of Christ and as an image of the true Cross upon which Christ shed his blood.

We must keep in mind, however, that this act of adoration for the Cross of Christ does not stop with the image, but continues on, passing through the image to the person--from the Cross, to Christ himself. Thus, in venerating the Cross, we venerate Christ; in kissing the Cross, we kiss Christ; in looking to the Cross, we unite ourselves with Christ.

Through these final days of Lent and especially on Good Friday, may we be ever more united to our Crucified Lord and his saving Cross!


Admiral Saladin said...

But, following this train of logic, could we not say that it would be proper to worship anything that God has created, inasmuch as the created always mirrors the Creator in some way, and thus our worship would pass along to Him? For instance, could I not worship a stone, by which God will be worshipped? or perhaps even more specifically, a stone on the hill of calvary, as this would be united to the plan of salvation, just as the cross was?

In fact, it would almost seem more proper to venerate a stone in some cases, such as a stone on the hill of calvary. It would seem that stone, inasmuch as it helped to hold up the true original cross "upon which hung the Savior of the world," had a closer connection to the plan of salvation than the crosses we venerate on Good Friday did, since they are merely images of the original cross and thus had no real physcial connection to that saving act, unlike the stone.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Admiral Saladin,

While it is true that all creation contains the "trace" of God, not all creation is the "image" of God--only rational creatures.

Hence, irrational creatures (i.e. stones, trees, beasts, etc.) deserve no honor in themselves (but only in respect to something else--their usefulness to men, for example).

Thus, veneration (i.e. reverence) is due only to men and angels (and, of course, God) in themselves.

However, St. Thomas explains that because men and angels deserve honor in themselves, they are not treated as icons.
You see, icons deserve no honor in themselves (i.e. as pieces of wood), but only insofar as they are images, pointing to God.
Hence whatever honor we give an icon passes through the icon unto God. But the honor we give men and angels remains with them, since they deserve reverence in themselves.

Thus, the comparison between icons and people does not hold (see ST III, q.25, a.6)

In regards to the stone of Calvary...insofar as the earth was drenched with the blood of Christ which flowed from his body, the dirt/stone deserves latria. However, this is not insofar as it is an "image" (for it is not an image), but insofar as the close union it has with Christ's blood.

The images of the true Cross, on the other hand, are venerated not because of their union with Christ's blood (as is the case with the true Cross itself), but insofar as they are images of the Christ who is particularly identified with the Cross.
Christ is not called "he who was born in the stable" or "he who walked along the sea of Galilee", but he is called "the Crucified" or "the pierced One"...thus he is identified with the Cross in a particular way. Hence, an image of the Cross plays a special role as being an image of Christ himself.

For this reason we worship the Cross and the images of the Cross; but do not worship images of the nails or images of the hill of Calvary.

I hope that clarifies the issue.
See Summa Theologica III, q.25, a.4-5.

una fides said...

How do you reconcile worshiping the cross with latria with the 7th General Council, the 2nd Council of Nicea, which clearly states that one is to NOT worship the cross or images of Christ with latria but instead venerates them with a lesser degree of honor? Here is what the Council decreed "with full precision and care": pay these images the tribute of salutation and respectful veneration. Certainly this is not the full adoration {latria} in accordance with our faith, which is properly paid only to the divine nature, but it resembles that given to the figure of the honoured and life-giving cross, and also to the holy books of the gospels and to other sacred cult objects."

I've been trying to figure out the answer for a while, so any input is greatly appreciated!

una fides said...

I also have a question regarding the logic involved stating that the honor we pay to a person rests with them and does not transcend to God. To me that is not consistent and does not make sense. If that were the case, then we would be venerating the saints for their own sake rather than for God's sake. Our veneration of the saints is intended to reach God since we are admiring his handy-work. I think the object of honor rests in intention of the person who is doing the honoring. Human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, and Jesus Christ himself was a human being, so to the extent they are an image of God, according to St. Thomas' logic, they could be worshiped with latria if the worship did not rest with them. To me it seems as a logical presumption to say that the honor provided to humans rests with them and that as I stated it depends on the intention. One could also say that I venerate the saints to honor them so that by honoring them I may thereby honor God in whose image he made them. Either way, I do not see how one can worship an image with the same degree of worship as the one of whom the image represents. If someone defaces a statue of someone they are not guilty for defacing the person himself. Also an image is a representation of that person to a lesser degree so the amount of veneration paid to the image should also be of a lesser degree. I suspect St. Thomas may have gotten caught up by thinking that the degree of reverence paid to the image reaches its maker, but that was not what was stated. What was stated was merely that the reverence paid to the image reaches its maker. It is not sound to conclude that by paying an image a lesser degree of honor then one would thereby also pay the person the same lesser degree of honor if he were before him, especially when dealing with the divinity of God Himself as compared to a piece of wood, which is itself nothing.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Further discussion is welcome.

@Una Fides, The honor we give the image passes on to the person imaged...thus, if we worship Christ with Latria, then we worship his image with Latria. Yet, there is still a difference between the way we worship Christ and the way we worship the Cross. We worship Christ for his own sake, while we worship the Cross insofar as it is an image for Christ.

Now we give reverence to persons for their own sake. They have an inherent value -- the images do not have an inherent reverential value (qua wood, metal, etc). Thus, because persons deserve reverence, they cannot be compared to images which (insofar as they are wood) deserve no reverence.
Do you see the move St. Thomas makes here?

You said "If someone defaces a statue of someone they are not guilty for defacing the person himself." St. Thomas would harm the person directly is an offence against them 'in their proper nature', but to harm the person through defacing an image is an offence against them 'in their image/representative'. Both are offences against the person, but in different respects.

una fides said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
una fides said...


I understand what Aquinas taught on this matter, but I do not agree with his conclusion because it contradicts the ruling from the Second Council of Nicea and also for other rational reasons that I began explaining in my previous posts. Before we continue, can you please explain how one holds to a position that clearly contradicts the Church's Tradition as explained by the second Council of Nicea? Obviously a General Council has much greater weight than even the teaching of the greatest doctor of the Church, who himself declared before his death that if anything he taught be contrary to Church teaching that he would reject it. (i.e. the Immaculate Conception)

A few more quotes from the seventh Ecumenical Council that condemn the adoration of images and the cross explicitly:

"Moreover we salute the image of the honourable and life-giving Cross, and the holy relics of the Saints; and we receive the holy and venerable images: and we salute them, and we embrace them, according to the ancient traditions of the holy Catholic Church of God ... These honourable and venerable images, as has been said, we honour and salute and reverently venerate: to wit, the image of the incarnation of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, and that of our spotless Lady the all-holy Mother of God."

"Again, when offering salutations to the life-giving Cross, we together sing: We reverence (προσκυνῶμεν), your cross, O Lord, and we also reverence (προσκυνῶμεν) the spear which opened the life-giving side of your goodness. This is clearly but a salutation, and is so called."

"Thus we confess, thus we teach, just as the holy and ecumenical six Synods have decreed and ratified. We believe in one God the Father Almighty, ... and non-circumscribed Trinity; he, wholly and alone, is to be worshipped and revered with adoration; one Godhead..."

"I consent and become of one mind, receiving and saluting with honour the holy and venerable images. But the worship of adoration I reserve alone to the supersubstantial and life-giving Trinity. And those who are not so minded, and do not so teach I cast out of the holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, and I smite them with anathema, and I deliver them over to the lot of those who deny the incarnation and the bodily economy of Christ our true God."

"...for to God alone do we render latria."

I already posted another quote from this Council earlier as well, and there are more of the same sort within the Council documents. Again my question is how can one still legitimately and knowingly hold to a teaching condemned by the Church's highest expression of her authority?

una fides said...

Another argument can be made from the word Latria itself. Latria worship is distinguished from other types because it is a worship of supreme service toward the one who is to be served. We cannot serve images. Therefore, we do not render images the worship of latria. Instead we honor, reverence, and venerate them. This veneration need not be the same degree of worship as given to God since the images themselves are not God, but are instead imperfect images.

The statement of Aquinas that he attributes to St. Basil is actually included in the Second Council of Nicea:
"For the honour which is paid to the image passes on to that which the image represents, and he who reveres the image reveres in it the subject represented."

Only God himself deserves latria, our full degree of servitude in worship. His mere image does not deserve latria. We are made in the image and likeness of God, and that image within us is also not deserving of latria.

It is not wrong to render a honor to God through honoring an imperfect, man-made image of God, but we should not render to an image that degree of worship that is reserved only to the blessed Trinity.

I wish to continue this discussion. Feel free to email me directly if you prefer at una.fides1 @ (no spaces)

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Una fides,
I can only give a very short explanation here...
1) St. Thomas wrote after the decelerations of Nicaea II, do you think he would be a Doctor of the Church if his teaching were irreconcilable with the clear teaching of an Ecumenical Council which came before him and was well known to all?
Obviously, there must be some way to reconcile St. Thomas' doctrine with the doctrine of Nicea II.

2) How to reconcile them? Nicea II refers to the reason according to which worship is given -- God alone is worshiped for his own sake. All other worship and veneration is given insofar as the thing relates to God.
St. Thomas, on the other hand, refers to the quality of the worship itself; irrespective of the cause according to which it is given. Thus, St. Thomas states that we worship God alone for his own sake, but we worship icons of Christ (and Christ's humanity) insofar as they are related to God.
This, I believe, reconciles the dilemma -- we must read each argument contextually, what the Council is saying and what St. Thomas says are not really contradictory (even if they appear to be on first glance).

3) We do not give icons even mere reverence in themselves -- for it is wrong for man to reverence irrational objects. Thus, all reverence given to Icons is given only insofar as they are images of God or the Saints. And, the reverence passes from the image to the Archetype -- hence, we give Icons of Christ Latria which passes on to God.

4) Human beings (though images of God) do not receive Latria but only reverence -- for we are not pure images, we are persons; and so the reverence given us remains with us.

5) The Church's Liturgy affirms this point in many places -- "O Cross of Christ, our only Hope!"

6) If you take the argument very strictly, then we cannot even give Latria to Christ in his humanity -- we could only give Latria to the Divine Essence itself. However, it is clear that we worship Christ (not simply the eternal Word, but Jesus Christ himself).
You even say that latria is a "degree of worship that is reserved only to the blessed Trinity." This would rule out worshiping Christ qua Christ -- you would allow only for worship of the Eternal Word qua 2nd person of the Trinity. But the Church states: "We adore you O Christ and we bless you..." -- this is in reference to Christ, specifically as God-man, for he has redeemed the world through the wood of the Cross.
St. Thomas wisely sees that we worship the divinity of Christ for itself, we worship the humanity of Christ insofar as it is united to the divinity, we worship the wood of the Cross insofar as it was united in a particular way to the humanity of Christ, we worship an Icon of Christ as an image of the Person who is both God and Man.

I hope that this is clear...I cannot say it any other way.

Be sure of this -- If St. Thomas was truly irreconcilable with Nicea II, he would not have been declared a Doctor of the Church! The doctrine on icons had already been proclaimed before St. Thomas' day, if the Church deemed that Thomas had committed a heresy and denied the Council, she would have never accepted him as a theologian and Doctor.
So, we must reconcile these teachings -- not only by the argument from authority, but also from the very 'logic' behind the teaching (the honor payed to the image passes from the image to the archetype -- God deserves Latria and so does an image of God/Christ/the Cross).

Peace to you in Christ.

una fides said...


Believe it or not, I actually consider myself a Thomist, and until I encountered this particular teaching of Aquinas, I agreed with him on most everything else he taught (besides his understanding of the Immaculate Conception).

I've been thinking over your comments and trying to reconcile them, but I still find several things wanting.
(My responses by corresponding number below.)

1. Declaring someone a doctor of the Church does not vest his writings with infallibility. St. Thomas was also wrong on the Immaculate Conception, yet that does not make him a heretic nor does it make him a heretic that he misunderstood or overlooked Nicea II. I also disagree that this Council was so "well known" at the time. Access to documents was not at all like it is today. The content of documents was not even easily able to be written down but had to be memorized when traveling from place to place to read them. St. Thomas, certainly a genius in his day, had to memorize so much material and could have been mistaken on his understanding of this one particular point, and I believe that an honest reading of the actual texts of the Council verify this conclusion.

2. Despite your claim that Nicea II only refers to the reason why worship is given and does not refer to the quality of that worship, this quote from the Council clearly demonstrates a comparison of qualities of worship:
" pay these images the tribute of salutation and respectful veneration. Certainly this [veneration] is not the full adoration {latria} in accordance with our faith, which is properly paid only to the divine nature, but it resembles that given to the figure of the honoured and life-giving cross, and also to the holy books of the gospels and to other sacred cult objects."

Notice that the text says that we "pay" latria to the divine nature, not "owe." The text is not stating that a debt of latria is owed to God alone and not to other. If one tries to interpret the quote that way, then he would also need to conclude that one correspondingly owes a lesser degree of veneration directly to the cross, gospels, and other cult objects, as if they have some inherent value of themselves deserving of such lesser reverence. But if we have already proposed that objects cannot receive worship, then this text would then only be rightly interpreted as saying that we only adore God with latria and other cult objects including the cross with a lesser degree of veneration.

Notice also that the text says that the degree of reverence that is not latria "resembles that" paid to the cross, gospels, and and cult objects. The words "resembles that" clearly depict a comparison of degrees of worship. If the cross were to be worshiped with latria, the text would not have said that latria is given to God alone but a lesser degree to the cross, which it also puts on the same plain as the books of the gospel and other cult objects rather than as a special image to be worshiped with the same degree as God. If it were according to apostolic Tradition that the cross should be worshiped with latria, then it would not have been contrasted as a lesser degree. One cannot both be worshipping the cross with latria but at the same time be worshipping it with a lesser degree than latria.

una fides said...

3. Icons do not depict a perfect image of God. Hence, if one thinks he sees an image of God in the sand, or in a cloud, or in a piece of cake, should he then worship those objects with latria as well? The reverencing of an image is entirely dependent upon one’s inward disposition, to the extent that it conjures up the thought of an exemplar. Therefore, it is only worship of God insofar as one recognizes a particular concept of God within his own mind. Consequently, because the worship is based on an internal direction of the will, then people can also be venerated as images of God for God's sake through the intention of the one giving the reverence. The veneration we give to the saints ultimately transcends to their exemplar, their creator who made them to reflect his image in order to glorify himself. If one concludes that reverence given to a saint rests with that saint and does not transcend to God, then worship of the saints for their own sake alone apart from God would be robbing God of his due glory.

4. Icons are not "pure images" of God either. Humans are certainly more like God than a piece of wood with a painting on it. Just as man makes an icon to depict the image of God, so God made man to depict His image and likeness. The saints should be reverenced for God's sake, not merely for their own sakes, and that reverence transcends the saints to their Exemplar.
We also do not worship with latria the man playing the role of Christ in the movie the Passion, though the image is certainly a much more perfect one than a two dimensional painted image on an icon. Depending on one's intention, he could praise the actor for good screen play, but he could also just reverence the image of Christ being depicted in the play, just as one could praise the painter of an icon or reverence the icon for the sake of Christ.

5. The liturgy employs a form of figurative language when it states that the cross of Christ is "our only hope." Obviously, the cross itself as an object did not save us. Jesus did. The cross was a physical instrument on which Christ was nailed in order to gain our salvation. God incarnate accomplished this feat, and when we refer to the cross in such a way we are referring to the sacrifice of God on that cross. We ourselves are also secondary means of salvation for other people when God uses us as an instrument to bring his salvation to them. Priests especially do so. One could also say, "Oh water of baptism our only hope!" For without this water (or at least the desire thereof) we are outside the Church where there is no salvation. Could we not also say, “Oh Church of Christ our only hope!”? The point is that just because something can be called our only hope does not make it deserving of worship that is paid to God alone. Nicea II also says that the cross of Christ is to be reverenced just as the spear is to be reverenced, and says that this reverencing is merely a salutation as to distinguish it from any actual adoration.
"Again, when offering salutations to the life-giving Cross, we together sing: We reverence (προσκυνῶμεν), your cross, O Lord, and we also reverence (προσκυνῶμεν) the spear which opened the life-giving side of your goodness. This is clearly but a salutation, and is so called."

una fides said...

6. Jesus Christ was a human person, true God and true man. Because his humanity and divinity are united through the hypostatic union and Christ is one person, not two, it is fitting to worship God the Son, the distinct second person of the Trinity, the God-man, with latria. When you say you worship his humanity, do you mean you worship his entire humanity down to every physical human cell? Would one worship a piece of Christ's hair or toe nail or dead skin cells with latria? To the extent that the humanity is actually God in the flesh, it is to be worshiped with latria. God's actual human flesh and a mere picture of God's flesh, however, are two entirely different things.

That quote that you disagreed with, that latria is reserved for the blessed Trinity, did not originate with me. I took that directly from Nicea II, so if you disagree with it, then you disagree with a General Council.
"I consent and become of one mind, receiving and saluting with honour the holy and venerable images. But the worship of adoration I reserve alone to the supersubstantial and life-giving Trinity."

Notice how the conjunction "but" is used to contrast the honor paid to images with the actual adoration of God directly with latria. If images of God and the cross should be adored with latria and this teaching was received from apostolic tradition, then one would expect that at least somewhere in the extensive explanation provided in Nicea II that there would be some statement clarifying the many comparisons made in this document, but no such explanation is given nor would any such explanation be compatible or possible in light of the Council's clear distinctions made in the text.

In closing, just because one isolated teaching of St. Thomas differs from some of the theological explanations in Nicea II does not mean he was a heretic nor does it mean that he knowingly denied any teaching of the Council. And this one small needle in the entire haystack of his teachings would not bar him from being named a doctor of the Church. Certain saints receive this title "on account of the great advantage the whole Church has derived from their doctrine." However, the decision to name someone a doctor of the Church "is not in any way an ex cathedra decision, nor does it even amount to a declaration that no error is to be found in the teaching of the Doctor. It is, indeed, well known that the very greatest of them are not wholly immune from error."

In order to be guilty of heresy, one has to willfully and knowingly deny a teaching of the Church that must be held with divine and Catholic faith. St. Thomas could never be accused of such a thing, as he openly declared before his death that if he wrote anything erroneous he submits it to the authority of the Church. Moreover, this one isolated teaching is simply incorrect, but not necessarily heretical or idolatrous. He simply made an improper logical jump in concluding that the degree of worship to the image is the degree that should be paid to the exemplar and in that he missed the correct understanding of the teaching from this Council. The end of his intention was the adoration of the Trinity with a sort of “relative latria,” which clears him from teaching outright heresy, but he was simply mistaken on how this worship passes on to the Trinity, as Nicea II confirms. God alone is to be directly worshiped with latria, and all images of God whether they are found in man or a sculpted image on stone or wood are to be venerated for God’s sake. In such a way the reverence paid to the image passes on to its exemplar, but because latria is confined to a direct form of worship of servitude alone, it can only be paid directly to God.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Una Fides,
Thank you for your very thoughtful and extensive comments; unfortunately, I will not be able to respond with the same degree of intensity.

I would make a couple of points...
1) You have to stop making comparisons between icons and human continually do this. There is no comparison, as explained in previous comments.
2) There is no comparison between St. Thomas' view on the Immaculate Conception and his view on the adoration of the Cross...the one was not yet defined, the other was clearly defined and widely known. If St. Thomas directly contradicted Nicea II, he would be a heretic.
3) Yes, it is true that the Church could say "Oh water of baptism our only hope!", etc. (as you point out in #5). But, in fact, she does not say that. Rather, she gives a special place to the Cross. She worships the Cross.
This is proven very clearly in the ancient rites...the Cross and the image of Christ receive the same number of thurible swings as the exposed Eucharist. The Cross receives a genuflection equal to the Tabernacle.
Let the witness of the Tradition (expressed in the Litrugry) stand!
4) Finally, if you follow your reasoning to the logical conclusion, it would mean that we cannot worship Christ except insofar as he is God. But, in fact, we worship Christ as the Word made flesh. We worship his sacred humanity. We worship his Flesh and Blood. Thus, it is clear that Latria is not reserved solely to the divine essence.

However, it is true that we give latria to God for his own sake, while we give latria to creatures (whether Christ's humanity or the Cross) for the sake of God.

If what I have said does not answer the question, then I am afraid that I am unable to explain St. Thomas...and for that, I am truly sorry.
I am sure that if we had the opportunity to revive the old scholastic "quaestio disputata" (speaking and debating in person before an audience), we could come to some agreement. But, alas, that is not possible...

Peace to you, and happy studies in union with the Common Doctor!