The Byzantine Iconoclastic Controversy Of The Byzantine Empire

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The Byzantine Iconoclastic Controversy began in 726 CE when Emperor Leo III issued a decree against the worship of icons.1 This action resulted in the removal and destruction of icons in churches and monasteries.2 There had been tensions rising between the church and the state over the use of icons for some time, but the culmination of these tensions along with the pressure of Muslim armies attacking the borders of Byzantium lead to the explosive Iconoclastic Controversy. The iconoclasts ardently believed that the creation of images depicting holy people was making God angry. The iconophiles believed that these images were sacred and used them as a means of worshiping God. This theological battle lead to the meeting of several ecumenical councils in order to resolve the controversy between the church and the state. This paper will examine the arguments for and against the use of icons from iconoclasts and iconophiles in the Byzantine Empire.

One of the first arguments presented by iconoclasts cites one of the Ten Commandments. “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image – any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters under the earth. You shall not adore them, nor serve them” (Exodus 20:3-5). However, only a few passages later, He details how to make an image of an angel to be placed on the Ark of the Covenant. “And make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the

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