As we enter the world of holy icons, we must remember how they exist to draw us into the contemplation of divine beauty. They are doors into eternity, into the heavenly kingdom, and not simply beautiful pieces of art. The veneration of holy icons safeguards and proclaims our faith in the Incarnation and in the intrinsic goodness of all material creation. The icons belong to worship and exist exclusively in the atmosphere of prayer and liturgy. The icons also serve as a point of unity between the Eastern and Western Churches and belong to our common patrimony. Icons have been venerated and continue to be venerated in all the Rites of the Catholic Church.
We will be looking at the history of the veneration of icons – from the first Christian catacombs into the decrees of the 7th Ecumenical Council and three Iconoclastic Periods in which icons were discarded, defaced, and destroyed by those who did not properly understand and venerate them. Next, we will look at examples of more contemporary icons in the Roman Catholic tradition and how we are to properly venerate, care for, and promote the veneration of holy icons.
If St. Jerome’s statement “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ” is true, then it is equally true for us to affirm that “ignorance of the Holy Icons is ignorance of Christ” because, as we will discuss, the icons are to be venerated with the same relative veneration as is shown the Cross and the Book of the Gospels. Icons do with color what Scripture does with words.