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

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Dear brothers, may God protect you from this heretical statement and prevent you from ever saying it. We do not follow the Old Law, and we do not accept it because it belongs to people who are not Christians and violates and trivializes the teachings of Christ. For Christ based his teachings on Moses and the prophets. And he says that he did not come to destroy the Law but to fulfil it (Matthew 5[:17]). And he also instructed his disciples how he had to live and suffer so that the Scriptures would be fulfilled. Christ also did not violate in even the slightest way the Law of Moses. He also added nothing nor took anything away from the Law of Moses. In short, Christ destroyed nothing which pleased God in the Old Law. Christ upheld the letter and spirit of the Old Law. Whoever can join together these two maxims, to wit, We preserve the Law through faith, and Through faith or grace we establish the Law, understands Moses, the prophets, Christ and Paul. As for the claim that the Old Law is not binding, it is too much for me to deal with here, especially since I know the enemies of the Law would not understand me. Therefore I want to reply as follows to the opponent mentioned above: My dear friend, you say that the Old Law forbids images. For that reason you will give them a place in the houses of God and pay little attention to that commandment. Why do you not also say that we are not obligated to honour father and mother because that is forbidden in the Old Law? Moreover, murder, adultery, theft, and similar crimes are forbidden in the same tablets in which images are forbidden. And the commandment forbidding images stands at the head of the list as the principal and greatest one. The commandments forbidding adultery and theft, etc. come after as the lesser and least.

Why do you not also say: We want to permit adultery, theft, murder, and so on in churches because those crimes are forbidden in the Old Law?

Christ shows the Law to him who asks: What should I do that I may have eternal life? Why should I not, in this case, also direct you to the Law of Moses? You say that Isaiah and Jeremiah are evangelical prophets and they forbid images. Why does it annoy you that they forbid images? I say to you that God has forbidden images to no lesser degree and no less expressly than murder, theft, plundering, adultery, and the like.

Finally, you must acknowledge that Paul is a great preacher of the evangelical and New Law. He penetrated the depths of the Mosaic Law and brought it to light. He announced the Christian promise, offering consolation beyond measure. You must also say as follows: if Paul forbids images, I must flee from them. Now listen. Paul says: They have exchanged the splendour of the immortal God not only for the likeness of mortal man but also for images of birds, beasts, and creeping things (Romans 1[:23]). Do you hear how evil and damaging Paul thinks images are? He says that those who praise images steal the splendour of God and offer likenesses of creatures. Therefore they diminish God and scorn him. Therefore, Moses again and again says that God cannot tolerate our images and likenesses. Thus Paul and Moses agree. I have also demonstrated from the Epistles of Paul, cited above, that no one comes to God when he venerates images.

Source of the original German text: Andreas Karlstadt, Von Abtuhung der Bilder und das keyn Bedtler vnther den Christen seyn sollen 1522 und die Wittenberger Beutelordnung, edited by Hans Lietzmann. Bonn, 1911, pp. 4-22.

Source of English translation: A Reformation Debate: Karlstadt, Emser, and Eck on Sacred Images. Three Treatises in Translation, translated by Bryan D. Mangrum and Giueseppe Scavizzi. 2nd ed. rev. Toronto, 1998, pp. 21-42.

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