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Images of Christ in Church History

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by Jason Smathers on August 29, 2009

Previous to the time of Constantine, we find no trace of an image of Christ, properly speaking, except among the Gnostic Carpocratians, and in the case of the heathen emperor Alexander Severus, who adorned his domestic chapel, as a sort of syncretistic Pantheon, with representatives of all religions. The above-mentioned idea of the uncomely personal appearance of Jesus, the entire silence of the Gospels about it, and the Old Testament prohibition of images, restrained the church from making either pictures or statues of Christ, until in the Nicene age a great change took place, though not without energetic and long-continued opposition. Eusebius gives us, from his own observation, the oldest report of a statue of Christ, which was said to have been erected by the woman with the issue of blood, together with her own statue, in memory of her cure, before her dwelling at Caesarea Philippi (Paneas). But the same historian, in a letter to the empress Constantia (the sister of Constantine and widow of Licinius), strongly protested against images of Christ, who had laid aside his earthly servant form, and whose heavenly glory transcends the conception and artistic skill of man.

Copied from Philip Schaff’s History of the Christian Church, Volume 2, Chapter 6, § 80. Allegorical Representations of Christ.

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