Saint John Damascene and the Iconoclasts

St. John the Evangelist succinctly described the essence of the Incarnation when he wrote: “The Word was made Flesh and dwelt amongst us.”

Fr. Leonard Feeney, M.I.C.M., speaking about the Incarnational nature of Christianity, stated:

I am going to tell you now, and will tell you many times again, how grateful I am to Saint John for making the Incarnational message of Christianity so completely unmistakable and never to be doubted again, by his brilliant phrase in the beautiful canticle which opens his Gospel. Instead of saying, ‘God became visible,’ Saint John says, ‘The word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us.’ Everyone knows what ‘was made flesh’ means.

…Visible gets a very strong, central and safeguarded value when you put it that way. Flesh is visible, and unmistakably so. God is there to be heard, as flesh speaks; to be seen as flesh walks. A woman could touch the hem of God’s garments.

The whole story of our Emmanuel’s entrance into the world is finished after that matchless challenge of Saint John. There can be no arbitrary discussions about what you mean by visible any more…. God has been flesh in this world, and if you are not finding Him from the messages, the words, the pictures, the records, the reports that ultimately stem from Flesh and Blood pointing to Himself, opening His Heart, and saying: ‘This is God! Bones and blood, and nail-pierced hands’ — you have not got Christianity. I do not care what else you are touching — you have not got Christianity.

…Christianity is an overt, seeable, tangible, liftable, dealable-with religion. You can point to it! There it goes! Here it lies!

It is so precious in visible form, in Incarnational form, that even when the great soul that kept it alive is gone — let us say when the soul of a saint has left his body — the body is still sacred to Christianity. Its bones are relics. Its clothing is a relic. The beard of Saint Francis, the robe of St. Dominic, the Little Flower’s hair and shoes, the mantle which she wore, the little bed she slept on, and the straw on which she coughed herself to eternity — all are relics.

…Let me go back and speak again about the word visible. Visible means: visible either in origin or termination. Either the lead or the finish is something tangible, seeable, or holdable.

Visibility must occur somewhere in the arrangement that touches you, if you are going to be a true Catholic according to Christ’s Incarnational requirements.

Father Feeney is best known for his defense of the dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus (no salvation outside the Church). It is likely that future generations will know him as an “Apostle of the Incarnation” because he defended the necessity of God’s Incarnational economy against those who deny that all men must, if they are to be saved, be united to Christ as members of his Mystical Body.

The subject of this article — Iconoclasm — was another attack on the Incarnation that occurred in a more direct and obvious way. Iconoclasm was a frontal assault on that seeable, touchable, and holdable attribute of the Church. Iconoclasm and the Iconoclasts would have eradicated that visible notion of the Church and made her the invisible entity, the “mere Christianity,” that she has become today in the minds of many. By seeking to suppress the very visible representations of Our Lord Jesus Christ, His Mother, and the Communion of Saints in Heaven, the Iconoclasts attempted to de-Incarnationalize Christianity and replace it with an immaterial and ethereal contemplation of God. To de-Incarnationalize Christianity is to remove the visible essence of the Church and her moral authority from the mind, to eradicate the priestly hierarchy, and to break down the distinction between the sacred and the profane. Once the Church and her visible essence have been removed from the mind, the other Authority — the State — soon fills the vacuum, and its “civil” religion replaces that of the True Faith. There are many examples of this in history, including the Protestant Revolt. Wherever Protestantism took hold (often accompanied by Iconoclasm), the end product was the consolidation of power — both civil and religious — in the hands of the State.

Just as Father Feeney was raised up by God to defend the Incarnation in our time, there was a great defender of the True Faith and Incarnational Christianity who was raised up by God at the time of the Iconoclast Heresy. He was known as the “Golden Stream,” the Chrysorrhoës (due to the eloquence by which he was able to defend the Faith and vanquish the poor thinking of the adversaries), and his name was St. John of Damascus or — to the West — St. John Damascene. This article will describe that early attack on the Incarnation and St. John’s heroic defense of Him.

Roots of Iconoclasm

Iconoclasm comes from the Greek Eikonoclasmos , which is literally “image breaking.” Eradication of the visible representations, in any form, be it statues or paintings of Christ, His Mother, or the Saints, was the end to which Iconoclasts strove. The rise of Iconoclasm can be traced to a variety of causes, all coming together at that particular time in history. As is the case with all heresy, we are dealing not only with a doctrinal error, but also with historical circumstances which form its particular character. To aid us in our understanding of Iconoclasm then, we will quickly glance at a few circumstances and attributes of the heresy, and then we will go on to describe the events which occurred at this pivotal era in the history of Christendom.

Geographically:

Iconoclasm and the Iconoclasts operated within the boundaries of the Byzantine Roman Empire, with some minor exceptions. 1

The Holy Father in Rome opposed any manifestation of Iconoclasm in the Church in the West. Likewise, those Eastern Patriarchs who were not within the bounds of the Roman Empire, but situated in lands under the control of Islam, were against the Iconoclasts.

Iconodules (“Defenders of Images”) who lived within territories controlled by the Moslems were free to write against the Iconoclast heresy without fear of persecution. As we will see, our hero, St. John of Damascus, was one such Iconodule.

Politically:

The carrying out of the persecution came primarily from the secular head of state, the Roman Emperor, and the Praetorian Guard — his professional army.

During the 8th and 9th centuries, the Byzantine Empire was closely allied with the Jewish Kingdom of Khazaria. Not only was there a close military alliance (both kingdoms opposed the advancement of Islam into North Central Asia and the West), there existed as well a close political relationship between the Roman Emperor and the Kagans of Khazaria. In fact the relationship was so close that Khazaria could claim to have contributed at least two Emperors and two Empresses to the throne of Byzantium during this time. (For example, the first of the Iconoclast Emperors, Leo the Isaurian, arranged for the marriage of his son Constantine to the daughter of the Kagan of Khazaria. 2 Constantine’s son by his Khazarian wife would rule Byzantium as Leo IV, “the Khazar.”)

Part of the relationship between Khazaria and Byzantium included the contribution of Khazarian soldiers to the Emperor’s professional army — his Praetorian Guard. (Note: The professional soldier swore allegiance to the person of the Emperor and not the Empire at large.) It was the army that first put Leo on the throne.

The Roman Emperors never gave up their claims to Pontificus Maximus in regard to religious things even after having become Christian. Caesaro-Papism (head of state = head of church) was rooted in their makeup since the times of pagan Rome, when the Caesars were looked upon as gods. Eradicating visible manifestations of the Spiritual Authority would certainly fit well into the Emperor’s plans, as he wanted to consolidate power within his realm.

Theologically and Philosophically:

St. John’s arguments show that the Iconoclast position de-Incarnationalizes religion and turns it into a form of Manichaeism, 3 where flesh is evil and the corporate body of the Church is replaced by the individual’s immaterial contemplation of a God who is no longer “the Word made Flesh.”

Carried to its extreme, Iconoclasm becomes Docetism, 4 where God merely appears to use a body of flesh. Docetism is very much alive in many modern Christian heresies.

Enter the Iconoclasts

The Roman Emperor Leo III, “the Isaurian,” who reigned from 716 to 741, was the first of the Iconoclasts. As his surname denotes, he came from the district of Isauria, located in what is now south central Turkey. Isauria was once a part of the district of Galatia in the time of the Apostles. St. Paul evangelized this region of Asia Minor where he attempted to convert his fellow Jews to the Catholic Faith. From his Epistle to the Galatians we can see that he came amongst large numbers of Jews who lived in that area, many of whom never ceased to pervert and distort the teachings of the true Faith. In fact, at the time of Leo, many Jews still lived in this region as did members of the heretical sect called the Paulicians, 5 whose teachings mirrored those of Mani-chaeism. The Catholic historian Conybeare made the observation that the Iconoclast Emperors were practically Paulicians themselves.

The story is told of Leo III’s youth that, while still in his father’s cabin amid the mountains of Isauria, he once heard Jews blaspheme and curse an image of the Redeemer. One of them turned to him and jokingly remarked: “Were you emperor, would you not destroy all those impious images?” “I swear,” replied the boy, “that I should not spare a single one!” 6

In time, Leo’s father, a peasant tradesman, moved the family to Thrace (where many Paulicians were emigrating), raised sheep, and sent 500 of them, with his son Leo in the bargain, as a present to the Emperor Justinian II. Leo became guardsman of the palace, then commander of the Anatolian legions. After forcing the Roman Emperor Theodosius III to abdicate, Leo was made Emperor by the vote of his army, thus becoming the fourth emperor in three years to sit upon the Byzantine throne. His rule would last 25 years, and through him would begin what is known in history as the Isaurian dynasty.

In the year 723, in order to prove to his subjects that he was not a Jew, Leo issued a decree giving all Byzantine Jews the choice between Christianity or banishment. By and large, the Jews received baptism. 7

Three years later, Leo published another decree announcing that in gratitude for the favors heaped upon him by God since his accession, he wished to destroy the idolatry which had crept into the Church; that the pictures of Christ, of the Blessed Virgin, and the Saints were idols (based upon his understanding of Exodus 20:4-5) to which honor was given that was only due to a jealous God. He accordingly ordered their removal from the churches, oratories and private dwellings. St. Germanus, the Patriarch of Constantinople, refused to sign his name to the edict, and in reply to the Emperor he said: “Christians do not worship images, but only honor them as memorials of the saints and of their virtues. Painting is but an epitome of history for Christians, not an idolatry. You must distinguish between direct and relative veneration .” (Emphasis ours. This sentence briefly puts forth a major argument used by Catholics against the Iconoclasts. It is found in St. John’s writings and in the texts of the Council of Nicea II.) Leo refused to understand so clear and simple an explanation. He again ordered St. Germanus to receive his decree with the alternative of banishment or even death in case of refusal. When Germanus again refused, the Emperor physically struck the Patriarch and, in time, with the senate’s approval, sent him into exile as a traitor. A willing and compliant priest named Anastasius took the Patriarch’s place.

As Father J.E. Darras relates, “From that hour an unparalled fanaticism wreaked its fury upon every sacred symbol. Leo’s troops broke into the churches and private dwellings, destroyed every pious work of art, and murdered all who dared to oppose them. Leo found it profitable to confiscate a number of gold and silver statues, costly vessels used in the service of the altar, jewels which enriched the images of Mary, so dear to the faithful hearts of the empire, and destroyed a large brass crucifix with which the piety of Constantine the Great had adorned one of the porticos of the imperial palace. Since it had always been held in special reverence by the inhabitants of Constantinople, some women of the lower class rushed upon the officer who had executed the impious order and murdered him. This but gave the signal for a savage slaughter, and these women were put to death with a number of other Catholics. The martyrs were covered with a coat of pitch, and burned upon a pile of sacred images. Their calcined bodies were then thrown to dogs.”

The celebrated Byzantine library was contained in a basilica situated between the imperial palace and the church of St. Sophia. This basilica, called the Octagon, from the eight splendid porticos which gave entrance to it, was the residence of the professors of theology. The Emperor directed these scholars to subscribe to his decree, which they refused to do. Unable to convince them, Leo became determined to destroy them, and so with a sociopathic cruelty, he consigned the books, the basilica, and the professors to the flames.

A Golden Stream Flows out of the East

There is a river that rises out of the southeastern slopes of Mount Hermon in the Anti-Lebanon Mountains that flows to the southernmost lake of Damascus. It is highly extolled by the local inhabitants for its purity and clearness. It was called, in Greek, Chrysorrhoës , or “golden stream.” Damascus owes everything to the river Barada, as it is called today. Its value to the Damascenes is inestimable, as it fertilizes the fields that provide much of the food for the city.

In the year of Our Lord 676, St. John Damascene was born into an illustrious Christian family in Damascus. St. John’s father was the grand vizier (high executive officer) at the court of the Umayyad caliphs of Damascus, Syria at this time being under the control of the Moslems. The family enjoyed the esteem of the caliphs to an eminent degree.

Wanting to give his son the best education possible, St. John’s father had been seeking for some time the right teacher for the job. Divine Providence helped him find a poor Sicilian monk named Cosmas, who had spent his life in the study of philosophy and the sciences. Under Cosmas’ tutelage, St. John made quick and steady progress in the study of grammar, dialectics, algebra, geometry, music, astronomy, and especially theology. The Catholic historian, M. Charles Lenormand, eulogizes St. John’s intellectual impact on his people: “Who opens the list of those master-minds that inspired the genius of Arabia? It is a very good Catholic, a Father of the Church, St. John Damascene, who initiates the Arab mind into the reasonings of Greek philosophy, not at the court of the Abbasids, but a century earlier in that of the Umayyad dynasty; not in Baghdad, but at Damascus. The illustrious Father, St. John, who enjoyed the highest consideration at the court, yet had left it for the religious cell, and was certainly the most renowned character of his day in the East, introduced the Arabs into the sphere of Aristotle’s philosophy.” (Though excelled by his pupil, the monk Cosmas was also a great man. Raised to the episcopal see of Majuma, he won the martyr’s palm in 743.)

Seeing the qualities that St. John exhibited, the caliph of Damascus made him vizier upon the death of John’s father. But St. John had other plans in mind. He preferred the life of solitude, so he obtained the caliph’s permission to live in retirement. He then entered the monastic life.

In 726, when the Iconoclast Leo began to issue his infamous decrees against images, St. John immediately entered the fight. He wrote his first treatise on the defense of images, which won great popularity in the East, and spread rapidly throughout the empire. St. John’s first work began: “Conscious of my own unworthiness, I ought perhaps to have kept an unbroken silence; but at the sight of the Church tossed by a violent storm, the words break of their own accord from my lips, for I fear God more than any earthly emperor.” St. John then goes on to discuss the question with depth, clearness, and learning. He proves the lawfulness of venerating images, by Sacred Scripture, Catholic tradition, and sound logical arguments. He wrote: “A picture is to the ignorant what a book would be to the learned. The picture does the same office through the sight as the word through the hearing. Holy images are a memorial of the Divine works. Besides, the decision in such matters falls not within the province of princes, but of councils. It was not to kings that Jesus Christ gave power to bind and to loose; it was to the apostles and their successors, the bishops and doctors of the Church. Let these rash innovators recall the words of the apostle St. Paul: Should an angel come down from heaven to preach to you another gospel than that which you have received… We will not finish the text, but leave them time for repentance. But if — what God forbid — they obstinately cling to their error, we may then add the rest: Let him be anathema!” Needless to say, this work created a deep impression in the Catholic world. And it enraged Emperor Leo.

To revenge himself on St. John, Leo committed an infamous fraud. He caused a skillful forger to counterfeit the handwriting of St. John, and then addressed a spurious letter from St. John to the Emperor, inviting him to march upon Damascus, which he promised to place in his power. Leo then sent the false document to the caliph of Damascus as a pledge of his friendship and a proof of his desire to preserve peace between them. The caliph, taken in by the fraud, and too much angered to listen to St. John, ordered his right hand to be cut off.

After the bloody punishment, St John threw himself upon his knees before an image of the Blessed Virgin, begging Her to intercede with her Divine Son for the restoration of his mutilated hand, that he might still defend the cause of holy images. His prayer was granted; his severed hand was restored to his arm!

Struck by the miraculous cure, the caliph loaded the saint with favors.

In the meantime, Pope St. Gregory II was rallying about him all the powers of the West to meet the onslaught of Iconoclasm. The people of Rome, upon learning of the lengths to which the Iconoclasts had desecrated the holy places and the destruction that was caused to holy pictures, began a program of destruction of their own. It was not holy pictures that they began to trample under foot, but images and statues of the Emperor! At the same time Pope Gregory was clearly laying down the Catholic teaching on the subject in his letters to Leo. The Emperor, maddened by such resistance on the part of the Church, organized a conspiracy against the Pontiff’s life. His plans went awry. The conspirators were discovered and put to death. One of Leo’s underlings, Paul, exarch of Ravenna assembled an army and prepared to take Rome in order to force the election of a new Pope. Against this threat the Roman people took up arms. People in the surrounding countries hastened to join the Romans in order to defend the city and the person of the Sovereign Pontiff. Paul was forced to retreat before such an imposing array of arms.

Leo’s senseless rage caused two results of vast importance in the history of the Church. It brought to the fore the importance of the temporal independence of the Popes, and it helped to establish the foundations of the Western power of the Franks and their protector role to the Primal See.

As he became increasingly powerless against the Church of Rome, in 733 the Emperor redoubled his cruelty towards the Catholics in his empire. He issued an imperial edict withdrawing all the provinces between Sicily and Thrace — comprising Greece, Illyria, and Macedonia — from the Roman Church’s immediate jurisdiction, and declared them henceforth subject to the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The tax of Sicily and Calabria was increased by 33 percent, and even the children were taxed from the day of their birth.

In 741, Leo died and left the empire to his son Constantine Copronymus. 8 The second of the Iconoclast emperors, Constantine would make the persecutions enacted by his father seem tame in comparison.

Copronymus held a special hatred for the religious in his empire, partly due to his Paulician leanings and partly due to the fearless eloquence of the holy monk St. John of Damascus, whose reputation was becoming as wide as the boundaries of the East. St. John’s genius grew with the indignation everywhere aroused through the Catholic world by the cruelty of the Iconoclasts. His works followed each other with wonderful rapidity. In the immense tome called the Source of Science , addressed to his early teacher, Cosmas, then bishop of Majuma, St. John treats of the whole of human intellectual achievement and crowns it all with the divine science of theology. He met the various heretical systems with the truths of the Faith, and proved, by powerful reasoning and a captivating eloquence, the absurdity of Iconoclasm. Besides Source of Science , the Golden Stream’s writings also include three separate treatises in defense of holy images.

To popularize devotion to the Blessed Virgin and the Saints, he wrote hymns full of sublime beauty. For instance, in singing the praises of the Mother of God, St. John wrote: “Mother of life, kill in me the passions of the body, which are the death of the spirit. Protect my soul when it leaves this earthly tabernacle to soar above, to a better world. The storm of passion plays wildly round me now, the billows of iniquity hurry me to the gulf of despair. Star of the sea, still the foaming surge. The roaring lion seeks to devour me. Leave me not to his fury, O Immaculate Virgin; thou who didst give to the world the divine Child Whose hand hath broken the lion’s teeth.” Though St. John may not have intended to insert such polemics in his sublime praises of the Theotokos, we wonder if the lion reference (leo , in Latin) is a coincidence.

In 754, Constantine Copronymus convoked the famous Iconoclast council 9 with 138 Eastern bishops, fawning slaves, wherein the veneration of images was condemned, and those who honored them were anathematized. The documents of the pseudo-council contained several colorful expressions of hatred for St. John of Damascus. He was nicknamed “Manzer” (bastard), and they called him a “traitorous worshipper of images,” the “cursed favourer of Saracens,” a “wronger of Jesus Christ,” a “teacher of impiety,” and a interpreter of the Scriptures”!

Upon the close of this pseudo-synod, the work of devastation — the plundering of churches and monasteries, and the shedding of Catholic blood — was resumed with the same savage fury as in the days of Leo. The Iconoclast heresy did as much to swell the martyr ranks of the Church as the paganism of Nero and Diocletian. Throughout the liturgical year, the Roman Martyrology bears testimony to the carnage, naming a host of martyrs who died “for the defense of holy images.” Holy priests, virgins consecrated to the service of the altar, persons of every rank and condition, covered with blood and loaded with chains, were savagely dragged through the streets of Constantinople, and then plunged into dark dungeons to die of hunger and misery. Some of the most celebrated martyrs of this time included St. Stephen, abbot of the monastery of St. Auxentius, St. Andrew the Calybite, and St. Peter the Stylite.

The Iconoclasts Vanquished

It would be only after the death of Constantine Copronymus’ son Leo IV, “the Khazar,” that the Byzantine Empire would again establish good relations with the Catholic Church. An Ecumenical Council, the 7th in the history of the Church, would be convened in Nicaea in 787. Nicaea II condemned the erroneous teachings that were promulgated by the Iconoclast pseudo-synod of 754, and it confirmed Catholic tradition as regards the veneration of images. The Council also characterized the Iconoclasts as “godless Jews and enemies of truth,” and it also made repeated references to the iconoclastic acts as being initiated by Jews. 10

As a footnote, the Council reversed Leo the Isaurian’s decree forcing baptism upon the Jews in the Empire. The Council decreed that those Jews who were forced to christianize would no longer be considered Catholics, unless they had truly converted.

St. John Damascene would not live to see the Council vindicate him and his heroic defense of the Incarnation (he died in 756), but he would go down in history as one of the greatest teachers of the Church. He is referred to as the “Thomas Aquinas of the East” because he introduced Aristotle’s logic to the study of theology among the Greeks. In fact, pre-dating St. Thomas Aquinas, he is looked upon as the father and founder of scholastic theology. He is also the last of the Greek Fathers of the Church, and with him the Patristic age came to an end. He was declared a Doctor of the Universal Church by another Leo — Pope Leo XIII — in 1890.

Holy Minds Think Alike

As we started with an Apostle of the Incarnation describing for us the essence of Incarnational Christianity, let us end with St. John of Damascus, the great defender of the Incarnation, describing in similar terms, the essence of the Incarnation:

“Of old, God the incorporeal and uncircumscribed was never depicted. Now, however, when God is seen clothed in flesh, and conversing with men (Bar. 3:38), I make an image of the God whom I see. I do not worship matter, I worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake, and deigned to inhabit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. I will not cease from honoring that matter which works my salvation. I venerate it, though not as God. How could God be born out of lifeless things? And if God’s body is God by union, it is immutable. The nature of God remains the same as before, the flesh created in time is quickened by a logical and reasoning soul. I honor all matter besides, and venerate it. Through it, filled, as it were, with a divine power and grace, my salvation has come to me. Was not the thrice happy and thrice blessed wood of the Cross matter? Was not the sacred and holy mountain of Calvary matter? What of the life-giving rock, the Holy Sepulchre, the source of our resurrection: was it not matter? Is not the most holy book of the Gospels matter? Is not the blessed table matter which gives us the Bread of Life? Are not the gold and silver matter, out of which crosses and altar-plate and chalices are made? And before all these things, is not the Body and Blood of Our Lord matter? Either do away with the veneration and worship due to all these things, or submit to the tradition of the Church in the worship of images, honoring God and His friends, and following in this the grace of the Holy Spirit. Do not despise matter, for it is not despicable.”

Dear Golden Stream, pray for us


1 One exception had to do with the Caliph Yazid, who ruled in Palestine from 720-724. A monk named John testified, at the 7th Ecumenical Council, that a Palestinian Jew named Tessarakontapechys (“Forty-Cubits-High”) had promised the Caliph that he would reign for thirty years if he would destroy ‘every representational painting, whether on tablets or in wall mosaics or on sacred vessels and altar coverings, and all such objects as are found in all Christian churches…and so also all representations of any kind whatever that adorn and embellish the market places of cities…’ The Caliph yielded to the advice of the Jew, and a minor iconoclastic event occurred in his territory. Ironically, the Caliph died the very next year.

2 The rulers of the Khazar kingdom made Judaism the formal religion of the state in the eighth century. For more on this and the history of Khazaria, see Arthur Koestler’s The Thirteenth Tribe and Kevin Brook’s website .

3 Manichaeism is a complex heresy whose major tenet was that a good god created spirits and an equally powerful evil god created matter. Combated effectively by St. Augustine (d. 430), the Manichaean sect died, but the error lived on. See the article “St. Dominic de Guzman ” in Housetops No. 47.

4 Docetism is derived from the Greek dokesis, means “appearance” or “semblance.” The Docetae were not heretics, properly speaking, as this error came from outside the Church. Docetism was always an accompaniment of Gnosticism and Manichaeism. Gnosticism finds its roots in the Jewish Kabbala. This is evidenced in the writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch, a direct disciple of St. John the Evangelist, when he wrote of the Docetics in his time (c. 105) being closely connected with the practice of Judaism. There were other early Church Fathers who also made this Judaic-Docetic connection, among them St. Polycarp (†166), another disciple of St. John.

5 Fr. Adrian Fortescue wrote in his article on the Paulicians that they rejected the Old Testament; there was no Incarnation, Christ was an angel sent into the world by God (the Paulicians believed as the Docetae: He only “seemed” to have taken on our humanity; His real mother was the heavenly Jerusalem. His work consisted only in His teaching; to believe in Him saves men from judgment. The true baptism and Eucharist consist in hearing His word, as in John 4:10.) Many Paulicians, nevertheless, let their children be baptized by the Catholic clergy. They honored not the Cross, but only the book of the Gospel. They were Iconoclasts, rejecting all pictures. Their Bible was a fragmentary New Testament. They rejected St. Peter’s epistles because he had denied Christ. They referred always to the “Gospel and Apostle”, apparently only St. Luke and St. Paul; though they quoted other Gospels in controversy. The whole ecclesiastical hierarchy is bad, as also are all sacraments and ritual. As they were very anti-ascetical, they held a special aversion to monks.

6 General History of the Catholic Church from the Commencement of the Christian Era to the Twentieth Century, M. L’Abbe J.E. Darras, © 1898, p. 310.

7 As history has shown, whenever this phenomenon has occurred, many of these Jews, while ostensibly practicing Catholicism, secretly continued to follow the rites of Judaism to which they remained deeply attached. Unfortunately, this “Marranist phenomenon” did not stop here. Many of these false Christians went on to enter the ranks of the clergy and religious, becoming priests, nuns, and even bishops!

8 As one author put it, Constantine was branded with arguably the worst moniker in history. “Copronymus” comes from Kopros , the Greek word for dung.

9 Catholic historian, M. Poujoulat, wrote: “Cold rigid Protestantism devoid of greatness of life, is enthusiastic in its admiration of the Iconoclast council of 754. With Leo the Isaurian and Copronymus, it raises the cry of idolatry! superstition! on seeing our churches decorated with the masterpieces of great artists.”

10 Mansi, Giovanni Domenico; Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio . Florentiae, Expensis Antonii Zatta, 1859-1898, Volume 13, 24E-32A, and 41A.

  • Garret Kade Dupre

    Is Fr. Feeney’s belief that the Jews are an accursed race still tenable despite Vatican II’s assertion it is false? I understand this is an awkward question but I don’t trust anyone I know to answer it honestly for me.

  • All who are in original sin are under a curse. All who persist in unbelief operate under a curse. Father Feeney’s language on this point was something that came from Fathers and Doctors of the Church. The Psalms speak of curses, e.g., Psalms 118:21: “…they are cursed who decline from thy commandments.”

    But it must be made very clear that, just as Baptism remits original sin and belief effaces unbelief, one who is now under a curse can receive and accept blessings. This goes for Jews and Gentiles alike. Father Feeney was known for having converted something like thirteen Jews, and would often tell Jewish people, “The Queen of Heaven is a Little Jewish Girl.”

    This question, in other words, is absolutely not about blood, race, ethnicity, etc. It concerns such things as faith, grace, and human cooperation in salvation.

    Genuine anti-semites do not begin to concern themselves with these questions.

    But in the present climate of extreme political correctness, agreement with certain utterances of the saints on this question is mistaken for anti-semitism. For instance, Wikipedia articles on several Catholic Saints have major sections on those saints supposed anti-semitism.

    All that said, I believe that Father Feeney’s position on the point is tenable.

  • Garret Kade Dupre

    I remembered the original sin thing since I posted, so I realize all unbaptized of every race are technically cursed. I understand Father Feeney had a love for the Jewish people, and I don’t want to appear as if I’m painting myself or anyone else (much less Father Feeney) as a Jew-hater.

    I would like to revise my question, though, since I’m not sure I phrased it clearly enough, and you say it’s not about blood. What I meant to ask was, is it okay to believe the Jews pass on a curse by natural generation, similar to that of original sin, except this one originates with the Jewish population guilty of Christ’s crucifixion in 33 A.D. (the one that cried, “His blood be upon us and upon our children!”)?

    I thought this was Father Feeney’s position, and it was not only the curse of original sin but this additional one that he considered to be removed through baptism. That’s what I understood from reading The Point at fatherfeeney.org, and it seems to have been a widely held belief in the Catholic world until WWII, and perhaps even universally held until three centuries ago or so. This last point is important in my opinion, since it would make it a matter of dogma.

    Am I incorrect on any or all of these points? Thanks for your time, and your helpful responses.

  • We can distinguish between the sin and the punishment. The sin is unbelief, and, in a broader sense, various actions that follow from this unbelief. Then there is the punishment, which includes the destruction of Jerusalem and their being forced to wander. Some of the saints compared this curse to that of Cain, who had to wander around shunned after his crime. Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, OCD (Edith Stein) spoke in such terms of her people.

  • Garret Kade Dupre

    Interesting. So did the punishment end in 1948 A.D. with the founding of Israel?

  • Well, one part of the punishment, anyway. It would not appear that they have had much by way of peace and stability since that time, as they have been in a near perpetual state of war.

    There is also a self-inflicted holocaust in Israel — some of which may well be funded by U.S. taxpayers.

    Cf.:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abortion_in_Israel

    http://www.timesofisrael.com/israels-abortion-law-now-among-worlds-most-liberal/

    http://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2015/03/american_taxpayers_underwriting_abortions_in_israel.html

    http://www.buzzfeed.com/katenocera/anti-abortion-republicans-are-largely-quiet-as-israel-adopts#.snLn78vDj

  • Garret Kade Dupré

    Wow, that’s horrible. I had never even heard of abortion in Israel before.