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Iconoclasm – Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt Argues against Images (1522)

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Altars were invented so that one might invoke God’s name on them, and on them make sacrifices and venerate him alone. For this reason Noah built his altar (Gen. 8[:20]). Likewise Abraham (Gen. 12[:8]). Likewise Moses (Exodus 17[:15]). Thus God indicated the reasons for altars (Exodus 20[:24ff.]): that his name should be praised and whatever sacrifices one wants to make be offered to him. We offer such veneration to idols when we place them on altars and light candles before them, and when we call upon them in the name of the saints they represent. Everything that we perform on altars we should do for God (Deut. 27[:5?]). Therefore it is never possible to have them on the altars and at the same time wish to deny that we venerate them.

Now because altars were established exclusively for invoking the name of God, it is far more diabolic to put images of the saints on altars than to nail them to walls. This we will discuss in the next section.

Pope Gregory has not forgotten his papist nature and offers to a likeness the veneration which God has given to his Word, and says that pictures are the books of the laity. Is it not truly a papist teaching and prompting of the Devil to say that Christ’s sheep may use forbidden and deceitful books and examples?*

Christ says: My sheep listen to my voice [John 10:27]. He does not say: They see my image or images of the saints.

God says: My sheep are the sheep of my pasture [John 10:16]. That is to say, the pasture of my teachings, not the pasture of my images.

Moses says: You shall teach your children the Word of God from their youth. But Gregory says: The laity shall use images for books. Tell me, dear Gregory, or have someone else tell me, what good things could the laity indeed learn from images? Certainly you must say that one learns from them nothing but the life and the suffering of the flesh and that they do not lead further than to the flesh. More they cannot do. For example, from the image of the crucified Christ you learn only about the suffering of Christ in the flesh, how his head hung down, and the like. Now Christ says that his own flesh is of no use but that the spirit is of use and gives life [John 6:64]. Thus Peter too says that Christ had words of eternal life and spirit [John 6:69]. Since, then, images are deaf and dumb, can neither see nor hear, neither learn nor teach, and point to nothing other than pure and simple flesh which is of no use, it follows conclusively that they are of no use. But the Word of God is spiritual and alone is useful to the faithful.

Therefore it is not true that images are the books of the laity. For they may learn nothing of salvation from them, and take absolutely nothing from them which serves salvation or is necessary to a Christian life. I do not want to go on at length and [thereby] give images the veneration which Gregory offers his idols. I note, however, why the popes have put such books [i.e. images] before the laity. They observed that when they pastured their lambs in books [i.e. Scripture] their rubbish market did not flourish. And one would want to know what is godly and ungodly, right and wrong. Paul says that we should persevere in the teaching of Christ [1 Tim. 4:16], and Christ proclaims that he taught his disciples the Word of his Father (John 17[:6]). They never thought of an image.

* The theory of the Biblia pauperum was outlined in the writings of John of Damascus, but went back to Gregory I [images are the Bible of the poor].

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