Friday, August 3, 2007

Beautiful Iconicity of Language (Beauty pt3)

Fr. Stephen Freeman wrote (in his thesis at Duke University) about the iconicity of language, meaning that language, especially Holy Scripture, functions in a manner similar to the Holy Icons. He wrote: The Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council stated that "icons do with color what Scripture does with words."


Fr. Freeman turned that statement around and asked if Scripture does with words what icons do with color.

I quote, paraphrase and add to Fr. Freeman's post at Pontifications
Icons makes present what they represents. Scripture may indeed best be understood in an iconic fashion. An icon of Christ is not Christ Himself, but a representation of which He is the prototype. But, St. Theodore the Studite noted, it is a representation of the hypostasis

(the substance or underlying reality), the person of Christ, rather than a representation of His nature. This is a significant dogmatic statement, because it provides a way for speaking of Christ’s presence in a manner that is not a sacrament, in the sense of the Eucharist.
  • The Holy Fathers taught that the Eucharist is not an icon, but the very Body and Blood of Christ.
  • Thus there is not a normal analogy between an icon and the Eucharist. Neither is Holy Scripture to be likened to the Eucharist, for it is like the icons.

    An icon is holy because of the presence of the “person,” not because the wood and paint have undergone any change.

Christ is “hypostatically present,” but not “naturally present.” He does not become incarnate as wood and paint. This notion of “hypostatic representation” opened a whole new way of understanding the Scriptures and of speaking of their role in revelation.

Icons have many strange features (at least those painted in accordance with the canons).

  • The characters a drawn in a manner that differs from photographic reality.

  • Time is somewhat relative - several events separated by time may be pictured together in the same icon if there is a connection between them and they enlighten one another.

    So, too, the Gospels have a way of presenting the saving actions and teachings of Christ that are iconc.
  • They frequently ignore time sequence placing events in differing relationships to the whole in order to reveal yet more of the Truth of Christ. St. John’s gospel is perhaps the most obvious in this respect. Following the Prologue there is a sequence of water stories, followed by a sequence of bread stories. Little wonder that the Church traditionally used St. John for its post-baptismal catechesis. His pericopes are far more like pictures than narratives.

It is possible to see how the Scriptures resist rational forces that seek to wrest them into one thing or another.

  • One rationalist seeks to harmonize all the Scriptures in a mechanical manner that yields a narrow conception of inerrancy.

  • Another rationalist seizes on the iconic character of Scripture and assumes that these oddities represent historical flaws.

Like an icon, the Scriptures present the Truth of God to us - and do so in a way that we can indeed begin to see the truth. There is a propositional character to be found in Scripture - after all, an icon of a human being still looks like a human being even if it is painted in a style that is other than photographic. But the propositions of Scripture function in a manner similar to the Holy Icons. We are not led to reason God, but to know God.


The propositions of Scripture, particularly the most confusing ones, lead the reader to see what cannot be seen in this world until we have the eyes to see it. St. John’s gospel has a transcendent beauty in its words - a beauty never lost regardless of the language into which it is translated. The beauty is more than the sum total of the words or even the beauty of lofty concepts. It is a beauty that is nothing other than the personal (personal as in hypostatic: The underlying reality) representation of Christ.

“These things are written so that in reading them you might believe.”

There exists the Gospel of St. John; therefore, God exists. God is indeed saving the world through beauty just as Dostoevsky said.

Here are links to some of Fr Freeman's newer posts with similar threads of thought. http://fatherstephen.wordpress.com/tag/icons/ http://fatherstephen.wordpress.com/2007/02/13/
I just found that he has his own blog called: Glory to God for All Things

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