II. Is all worshipping of images forbidden or can this worship be defended?

We return an answer to this Question from the second part of this commandment, which positively forbids us to give divine worship or honor to images and pictures, including not only that which is given to creatures, but that also which is given to the true God. “Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.”

Obj. 1. But we do not worship the images, say these advocates of images among the Papists, but God, of whom they are signs, according to what the council of Nice teaches: “That which the image exhibits is God; the image itself, however, is not God. Look thou upon the image; but worship in thy mind what thou seest therein;” and according to the following sentiment, expressed by Thomas: “When thou passest an image of Christ, alway pay homage unto it; yet worship not the image, but that which it shadows forth” Ans. 1. We deny that images are signs of God; for the reason that God cannot be truly represented by them, inasmuch as he is immense; and even though he could be represented in this way, yet he ought not, because he has forbidden us to make images representing him, and because it is in the power of no creature to institute signs by which, he may be represented. This power belongs to God alone. 2. The cause which is here assigned is of no force; for not only is the worship of images the cause and form of idolatry, but even the worship of God himself, which is paid to images or creatures, is in contradiction to what he in his word requires. This is taught with sufficient clearness in the case of Aaron and Jeroboam, who had images of calves made. For although they said, in both instances, “These be thy Gods, Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt,” &c.; “Tomorrow is a feast of the Lord;” yet God abhorred and severely punished those who were engaged therein, as being guilty of horrible idolatry. (Ex. 32:4, 5. 1 Kings 12:28.) Hence, although those who worship images pretend to honor God in this way, yet it is not God, but the devil that is worshipped according to what Paul says of the Gentiles: “The things which the Gentiles sacrifice [to idols], they sacrifice to devils, and not to God;” notwithstanding they also pretend to honor the name of God by these things. (1 Cor. 10:20.)

Obj. 2. The honor of the sign is the honor of the thing signified. Images are signs of God. Therefore the honor which is paid to images is also paid to God. Ans. Here again the minor proposition must be denied, or else the major distinguished thus: The honor of the sign is the honor of the thing signified only in case the sign is a true sign, and has been instituted by him who has the power to do so; and in case that honor be given to the sign, which the proper author commanded to be given; for it is not the will of him that honors, but of him that is honored, that is the rule according to which we are to pay our respect. Wherefore, inasmuch as God has forbidden both that images should be made of him, and that he should be worshipped at images, which are made for him, or for creatures, it is manifest that he is not honored, but disgraced whenever it is attempted to worship him, against his will, at and under images.

But someone may perhaps say: The contempt which is cast upon the sign, even though it may not have been instituted at the command of God, falls back upon God himself. Therefore the honor also, that is paid to the sign, is given to God. Ans. We deny the consequence which is here deduced; because contrary results are attributed to things that are contrary only when the opposition of the things which are affirmed depends upon that according to which the subjects are opposed, but not when it depends upon something else, as here, where contempt of God follows that of the sign, be it divinely instituted or not, because an intention to depart from the commandment of God is sufficient to cast dishonor and contempt upon him. But the honor of God does not follow the honor of the sign, unless both the sign and the honor thereof be ordained of God, seeing that the intention to honor God is not of itself sufficient to constitute acceptable worship, unless the manner also be such as God himself has prescribed.

Obj. 3. But if it is lawful to honor the images and monuments of renowned and well deserving men, it is much more lawful to honor the images of blessed angels and saints. Ans. It is lawful to honor the monuments of great and distinguished men with such respect as that which constitutes a grateful and becoming remembrance of them and their deeds, which they have left behind them as their own monuments, in case it be directed to that use which they themselves would desire it; and on the other hand, it would be lawful to demolish them if necessity demanded such a thing, provided it were done without any wish or desire to cast any disrespect upon those whose monuments they are. But it is by no means lawful to attribute divine worship to them, such as that which the Papists pay to their idols, whether it be under the name of worship or service. Again, the monuments of great and good men should be such as do not lead to idolatry; for if this should be the case, we must not honor them, but utterly abolish them, after the example of Hezekiah, who broke in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made (2 Kings 18:4) when it was turned into idolatry, although it had been formerly preserved as a monument of the goodness of God, which he had showed to the children of Israel in the wilderness, when they were bitten of fiery serpents.