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Iconodulism (also Iconoduly or Iconodulia) designates the religious veneration of icons. The term comes from Neoclassical Greek εἰκονόδουλος (eikonodoulos), meaning "one who serves images", it is also referred to as Iconophilism (also Iconophily or Iconophilia) designating a positive attitude towards the religious use of icons. In the history of Christianity, Iconodulism (or Iconophilism) was manifested as a moderate position, between two extremes: Iconoclasm (radical opposition to the use of icons) and Iconolatry (idolatric adoration of icons).[1]


Late 14th-early 15th century icon illustrating the "Triumph of Orthodoxy" under the Byzantine empress Theodora over Iconoclasm in 843. (National Icon Collection 18, British Museum).

Veneration of icons was common practice in Early Christianity.[2] In contrary to the moderate veneration, various forms of adoration of icons (iconolatry) were also starting to appear, mainly in popular worship. Since adoration was reserved for God only, such attitude towards icons as objects was seen as a form of idolatry. In reaction to that, the idolatric misuse of icons was criticized and by the beginning of the 8th century some radical forms of criticism (iconoclasm) were also starting to emerge, advocating not only against adoration of icons, but also against any form of veneration and use of icons in religious life.[1]

The iconoclastic controversy emerged in the Byzantine Empire and lasted during the 8th and the 9th centuries; the most famous iconodules (proponents of the veneration of icons) during that time were saints John of Damascus and Theodore the Studite. The controversy was instigated by Byzantine Emperor Leo III in 726,[3] when he ordered the removal of the image of Christ above the Chalke Gate of the imperial palace in Constantinople.[4] A wider prohibition of icons followed in 730. St. John of Damascus argued successfully that to prohibit the use of icons was tantamount to denying the incarnation, the presence of the Word of God in the material world. Icons reminded the church of the physicality of God as manifested in Jesus Christ.

Veneration of icons was restored by the Second Council of Nicaea (Seventh Ecumenical Council) in 787; the Council decided that icons should not be destroyed, as was advocated and practiced by the iconoclasts, nor worshiped or adored, as was practiced by icoolatrists, but rather venerated and respected as symbolic representations of God, angels or saints.[5] Such position was approved by Pope Adrian I, but due to some bad translations of conciliar acts from Greek into Latin, a controversy arose in Frankish kingdom, resulting in the creation of Libri Carolini;[6] the last outburst of iconoclasm in the Byzantine Empire was overcome at the Council of Constantinople in 843, which reaffirmed the veneration of icons in an event celebrated as the Feast of Orthodoxy.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Ostrogorsky 1956.
  2. ^ Meyendorff 1989, p. 80, 334.
  3. ^ Ostrogorsky 1956, p. 143.
  4. ^ Lowden, John. (1997) Early Christian and Byzantine Art. London: Phaidon Press, p. 155. ISBN 0714831689
  5. ^ Ostrogorsky 1956, p. 158.
  6. ^ Ostrogorsky 1956, p. 163-165.
  7. ^ Ostrogorsky 1956, p. 189.