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and Theodosius, the emperors, wrote to the pretorian prefect in this sort: 'Whereas we are very careful that the religion of Almighty God should be kept in all things; we permit no man to cast, grave, or paint the image of our Saviour Christ, either in colours, stone, or other matter: but wheresoever it be found, we command it to be taken away, punishing them most grievously that shall attempt anything contrary to our decrees and empire."
Leo III., a man commended in histories for his excellent virtues and godliness, (who as is judged of some men was the author of the book de re militari, that is of the feats of war, being translated out of Greek by Sir John Cheke, and dedicated to king Henry the Eighth your highness' father3,) by public authority commanded abolishing of images, and in Constantinople caused all the images to be gathered together on a heap, and burned them to ashes.
Constantine, his son, assembled a council of the bishops of the Eastern Church, in which council it was decreed as follows: "It is not lawful for them that believe in God through Jesus Christ, to have any images, either of the Creator or of any creatures, set up in the temples to be worshipped; but rather that all images, by the law of God, and for the avoiding of offence, ought to be taken out of churches." Which decree was executed in all places where any images were, either in Greece or in Asia. But in all these times the bishops of Rome, rather maintaining the authority of Gregory, than, like Christian bishops, weighing the peril of the Church, always in the assemblies allowed images.
Not long after the bishop of Rome, practising with Tharasius, patriarch of Constantinople, obtained of Irene, the empress, her son Constantine being then young, that a
superni numinis religionem tueri; signum salvatoris Christi nemini concedimus coloribus, lapide, aliâve materiâ fingere, insculpere, aut pingere, sed quocunque reperitur loco, tolli jubemus, gravissima pœna eos mulctando, qui contrarium decretis nostris et imperio quicquam tentaverint. Pet. Crin. de Hon. Discip. lib. ix. c. 9.
[The work "de apparatu bellico, or Tactica," of which the treatise de re militari is the first chapter, was not the work of Leo III., otherwise called Iconoclastes, but of Leo VI. who was surnamed Pacificus, Philosophus, and Sapiens. Cave, Hist. Literaria. ED.]
council should be called at Nice, in which the Pope's legates were presidents, which appeared well by their fruits; for in that council it was decreed, that images should not only be permitted in churches, but also worshipped; which council was confuted by a book written by Charlemagne, the emperor, calling it a foolish and arrogant council'.
Soon after this council arose a sharp contention between Irene, the empress, and her son, Constantine VI., the emperor, who destroyed images. And in the end, as she had before wickedly burned the bones of her father-in-law, Constantine V., so afterwards unnaturally she put out the eyes of her son, Constantine VI.
To be short, there never was anything that made more division, or brought more mischief into the Church, than the controversy of images; by reason whereof, not only the Eastern Church was divided from the Western, and never since perfectly reconciled, but also the empire was cut asunder and divided, and the gate opened to the Saracens and Turks to enter and overcome a great part of Christendom. The fault whereof most justly is to be ascribed to the patrons of images, who could not be contented with the example of the primitive Church, being most simple and sincere, and most agreeable to the Scripture-(for as Tertullian saith, "What is the first, that is true, and that which is later is counterfeit")—but with all extremity they maintained the use of images in churches, whereof no profit nor advantage ever grew to the Church of God. For it is evident that infinite millions of souls have been cast into eternal damnation by the occasion of images used in place of religion; and no history can record that ever any one soul was won unto Christ by having of images. But lest it might appear that the Western Church had always generally retained and commended images, it is to be noted that in a council holden in Spain, called the Eliberian Council, the
[See the nine canons of that council (the 2nd Nicene,) Crabbs. Con. Gen. tom. ii. p. 465-6, Ed. Colon. 1551. ED.]
[2 Id esse verum quodcunque primum; id esse adulterum quodcunque posterius. Tertullian. cont. Praxeam, Sect. 2. Op. p. 405. ED.]
[3 Held at Elvira, near Granada, about A.D. 3C5. Labbé, Conc. Gen. tom. i. col. 995. ED.]
use of images in churches was clearly prohibited in this form of words: "We decree that pictures ought not to be in churches, lest that be painted upon the walls which is worshipped or adored"."
But, notwithstanding this, experience hath declared, that neither assembling in councils, neither writings, preachings, decrees, making of laws, prescribing of punishments, hath holpen against images, to which idolatry has been committed, nor against idolatry whilst images stood. For these blind books and dumb schoolmasters (which they call layman's books) have more prevailed by their carved and painted preaching of idolatry, than all other written books and preachings in teaching the truth, and the horror of that vice.
Having thus declared unto your Highness a few causes out of many which move our consciences in this matter, we beseech your Highness most humbly not to strain us any further, but consider that God's word threateneth a terrible judgment unto us, if we, being pastors and ministers in his Church, should assent unto the thing which in our learning and conscience we are persuaded tendeth to the confirmation of error, superstition, and idolatry, and finally, to the ruin of the souls committed to our charge, for which we must give an account to the Prince of pastors at the last day. Heb. xiii. We pray your Majesty also not to be offended with this our plainness and liberty, which all good and Christian princes have ever taken in good part at the hands of godly bishops.
1 Peter v.
St Ambrose, writing to Theodosius the emperor, useth these words', that is to say: "Neither is it the part of an Epist. lib. v. emperor to deny free liberty of speaking, nor yet the duty of a priest not to speak what he thinks." And again": "In
+ Placuit in Ecclesiis picturas esse non debere, ne quod colitur aut adoratur in parietibus depingatur. [Can. 36. Crabbs, Con. Gen. Col. vol. i. p. 284. ED.]
* Sed neque imperiale est libertatem dicendi negare, neque sacerdotale quid sentiat non dicere. [S. Ambros. Op. Ed. Par. Ben. 1690, Ep. XXIX. col. 946. ED.]
In causâ vero Dei quem audies, si sacerdotem non audies, cujus majore peccatur periculo? Quis tibi verum audebit dicere, si sacerdos non audeat? [S. Ambros. Op. Ed. Ben. Par. 1690, Ep. XXIX. col. 947. ED.]
God's cause whom wilt thou hear, if thou wilt not hear the priest, to whose great peril the fault should be committed? Who dare say the truth unto thee if the priest dare not?" These and such like speeches of St Ambrose Theodosius and Valentinianus, the emperors, always took in good part; and we doubt not but your Grace will do the like, not only of whose clemency, but also beneficence, we have largely tasted.
We beseech your Majesty also, in these and such like controversies of religion, to refer the discussion and deciding of them to a synod of your bishops and other godly learned men, according to the example of Constantinus Maximus, and other Christian emperors, that the reasons of both parties being examined by them, the judgment may be given uprightly in all doubtful matters.
And to return to this present matter, we most humbly beseech your Majesty to consider, that besides weighty causes in policy which we leave to the wisdom of your honourable councillors, the establishment of images by your authority shall not only utterly discredit our ministers as builders up of the things which we have destroyed, but also blemish the fame of your most godly father, and also of such notable fathers as have given their life for the testimony of God's truth, who by public law removed all images.
The almighty and everlasting God plentifully endue your Majesty with his Spirit and heavenly wisdom, and long preserve your most gracious reign and prosperous government over us, to the advancement of His glory, to the overthrow of superstition, and to the benefit and comfort of all your Highness's loving subjects.