St John of Damascus: Do You Venerate the Purple Robe of Christ's Body?

Feast of St Lucian the Martyr of Antioch

John_Damascene_Square_5.jpegI KNOW what the One who cannot lie said: “the Lord your God is one Lord” (Deut. 6.4), and “you shall venerate the Lord your God and Him alone shall you worship” (Deut. 6.13), and “there shall be for you no other gods” (Deut. 5.7), and “you shall not make any carved likeness, of anything in heaven above or on the earth below” (Deut. 5.8), and “all who venerate carved images shall be put to shame” (Ps. 96.7), and “gods, who did not make heaven and earth, shall be destroyed” (Jer. 10.11), and these words in a similar manner: “God, who of old spoke to the fathers through the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us in His Only-begotten Son, through whom He made the ages” (Heb. 1.1-2). I know the One who said: “This is eternal life, that they might know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom you sent” (Jn. 17.3). I believe in one God, the one beginning of all things, Himself without beginning, uncreated, imperishable and immortal, eternal and everlasting, incomprehensible, bodiless, invisible, uncircumscribed, without form, one being beyond being, divinity beyond divinity, in three persons, Father and Son and Holy Spirit, and I worship this one alone, and to this one alone I offer the veneration of my worship. I venerate one God, one divinity, but also I worship a trinity of persons, God the Father and God the Son incarnate and God the Holy Spirit, one God. I do not venerate the creation instead of the Creator, but I venerate the Creator, created for my sake, who came down to His creation without being lowered or weakened, that He might glorify my nature and bring about communion with the divine nature. I venerate together with the King and God the purple robe of His body, not as a garment, nor as a fourth person (God forbid!), but as called to be and to have become unchangeably equal to God, and the source of anointing. For the nature of the flesh did not become divinity, but as the Word became flesh immutably, remaining what it was, so also the flesh became the Word without losing what it was, being rather made equal to the Word hypostatically. Therefore I am emboldened to depict the invisible God, not as invisible, but as He became visible for our sake, by participation in flesh and blood. I do not depict the invisible divinity, but I depict God made visible in the flesh. For if it is impossible to depict the soul, how much more God, who gives the soul its immateriality?

[. . .] How could the invisible be depicted? How could the unimaginable be portrayed? How could one without measure or size or limit be drawn? How could the formless be made? How could the bodiless be depicted in color? What therefore is this that is revealed in riddles? For it is clear that when you see the bodiless become human for your sake, then you may accomplish the figure of a human form; when the invisible becomes visible in the flesh, then you may depict the likeness of something seen; when one who, by transcending His own nature, is bodiless, formless, incommensurable, without magnitude or size, that is, one who is in the form of God, taking the form of a slave, by this reduction to quantity and magnitude puts on the characteristics of a body, then depict Him on a board and set up to view the One who has accepted to be seen. Depict His ineffable descent, His birth from the Virgin, His being baptized in the Jordan, His transfiguration on Tabor, what He endured to secure our freedom from passion, the miracles, symbols of His divine nature, performed by the divine activity through the activity of the flesh, the saving cross, the tomb, the resurrection, the ascent into heaven. Depict all these in words and in colors. Do not be afraid, do not fear; I know the different forms of veneration. Abraham venerated the sons of Emmor, godless men suffering from ignorance of God, when he acquired a cave as a double inheritance for a tomb. Jacob venerated Esau his brother and Pharaoh the Egyptian, bowing in veneration over the head of his staff. They venerated, they did not worship Joshua the son of Nave and Daniel venerated the angel of God, but they did not worship (Jos. 5.14; Dan. 8.17). The veneration of worship is one thing, veneration offered in honor to those who excel on account of something worthy is another.

—St John of Damascus, Three Treatises on the Divine Images

Showing 1 reaction

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.