I’ve listened to Catholic talk radio for over four years now, strictly for the purpose of further educating myself on Roman Catholic doctrinal errors and staying abreast of news and trends, and one concern that comes up repeatedly from callers is in regards to Catholicism’s extensive use of statuary and images.
Recently, I was listening to the 7/13/18 podcast of the Catholic talk radio show, “Called to Communion,” featuring moderator, Tom Price, and host, David Anders (photo left). At the 13:05 mark, Jacob from Fort Worth, Texas called in to say he was troubled because a friend of his had left the church due to the Scriptural prohibition against idols in Exodus 20.
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” – Exodus 20:4-6.
Anders replied to Jacob that his friend should have continued reading in Exodus because in chapter 37 it states that under God’s command, Bezalel crafted the angelic cherubim figurines covering the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant (photo middle). Anders then states that, “Obviously, whatever God means in Exodus 20 does not preclude the manufacture of religious artwork for use in sacred worship, because the same God that (sic) articulates Exodus chapter 20 and says don’t make any graven images turns around and inspires the Hebrews to make religious artwork for use in their own worship.” Anders goes on to claim that what’s being forbidden in Exodus 20 is “the manufacture of pagan idols in the service of other gods.”
I’ve heard this same exact argument, citing the cherubim figurines to justify Rome’s idolatrous statuary, used by multiple Catholic apologists in the past, but let’s examine the claim objectively. The only person who saw the graven cherubim was the high priest within the Holy of Holies and then only once per year on the Day of Atonement. The high priest did not worship the cherubim. The ark was covered from view as it was carried along with the other articles of the tabernacle from site to site and, of course, its location was later fixed within the Jerusalem temple. The Israelites were never to see the ark and cherubim and incurred God’s wrath when they did (see the comments section of this article). The Israelites were prone to idolatry as we know from the Old Testament, which is why they were not allowed to view the cherubim of the ark. Anders is being disingenuous by citing the cherubim as an example of graven image worship sanctioned by God.
It’s clear from Exodus 20:4-6 that God forbids the worship of any graven image, yet Catholicism employs many statues and images in its churches. People kneel down in front of statues of Jesus, Mary, and the saints and pray to them (photo right). That is worship. Catholics object to these accusations, saying that they aren’t actually praying to the carved statue, but to the person the statue represents. It’s a deceitful argument. Neither did all pagan idolaters believe their graven statues were the actual essence of their false deity, a type of fetishism, but rather they believed their graven statues/representations served as a conduit to the divine (see here for the section on “Did idolaters really worship idols?”). Not to mention, praying to any entity other than God is also idolatry. Nowhere in the entire Bible does a believer pray to anyone other than God.
After the adoption of Christianity by Constantine, pagan expressions of worship entered into the increasingly institutionalized church, including the worship of statues and images.
While Bible Christians are unanimously opposed to statue and icon worship, there is disagreement about the use of depictions of Jesus. Some say we should have nothing to do with such things as films that portray Jesus or with children’s books and Bibles that use illustrations depicting Jesus. Others say those things can be valuable teaching tools and are clearly not intended to be objects of worship as Exodus 20 forbids.
Do Catholics worship idols / practice idolatry?