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

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And God grieves deeply and painfully that we seek out images with any degree of confidence. And he says that they make the house of God impure and defile it (Jeremiah 32[:34]).

Thus we have credible and solid proof of our first two articles, namely the testimony of the Holy Spirit.

The proof for the third article flows naturally from the passages of Scripture which have been cited and is grounded on bedrock. Nevertheless, I want to adduce particular testimony for the third article from Scripture.

God says that you shall do it [i.e. remove images from churches]. You shall overturn and overthrow their altars. You shall smash their images. Their groves you shall hack down and their graven images you shall burn (Deut. 7[:5]). We have no divine altars, but rather heathen or human ones, as is pointed out in Exodus 20[:4]. Therefore Christians should remove them in accord with the content of Scripture, irrespective of the fact that they are external things. If you want to venerate God in outward ways or seek him in ceremonies, then you should follow his ceremonies and laws. The secular authorities should remove images and subject them to the judgement to which Scripture has subjected them.

I should also have hoped that the living God, having inspired in us a healthy desire for the removal of images, might have seen the task to its conclusion. But it has not yet happened perhaps because God lets his wrath down upon us drop by drop with the idea of pouring out his entire wrath if we remain blind and stand in awe before things which can do nothing for us.

I know that the authorities will be punished because Scripture does not lie.

Had, however, our rulers accepted divine counsel and fulfilled its command and driven the knavish and seductive blocks of wood from the church under pain of appropriate punishment, we would have to praise them as the Holy Spirit praised Hezekiah, who ripped down images, hacked down groves, and broke up the image which God had given,* as is described in 2 Kings 18[:3ff.]. May God will that our lords be like the pious secular kings and lords of the Jews whom the Holy Spirit praises. In sacred Scripture they have always had the power to take action in churches and abolish what offends and hinders the faithful. By divine right they may force and compel priests to expel deceitful and damaging things. Anyone can see this in 2 Kings 23[:4ff.], where it is written that King Josiah ordered the high priest and the other priests to throw out all the vessels, pillars, and the like which were made for Baal; and he burnt them outside the city of Jerusalem. From this everyone should observe how in accord with divine justice priests should be subordinate to kings. For this reason our magistrates should not wait for the priests of Baal to begin to remove their vessels, wooden blocks, and impediments, because they will never begin. The highest secular authority should command it and bring it about. But if they allow images it will be said of them as it was said of Manasseh in a similar case (2 Kings 21[:11ff.]). And if they would say: Our ancestors have established them and we want to follow in their path; Scripture answers: Ammon did wrong, as had his father Manasseh, and followed in the path that his father had taken (2 Kings 21[:20ff.]). As the mother was, so is the daughter. Your mother is a Hittite and your father an Amorite (Ezekiel 16[:45]). God cannot endure that we help ourselves through subterfuge, by saying, As our elders have gone, so will we go.**

Certain image-kissers say: The Old Law forbids images; the New does not. And we follow the New, not the Old Law.

* The brazen serpent.
** Karlstadt advocates an orderly removal of images regulated by the secular authorities, which, in fact, was being done in Wittenberg under the ordinances issued by the city council [ . . . ].

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