Irreverent Iconoclasm


During a re-watch of an episode of “Rev.” – a fictional British show following the life of an Anglican priest at his church – I noticed a remark that quite literally made me jump out of my seat. In an anti-Catholic diatribe, the main character complained about our “vain, tasteless, demanding God who loves gold.”

There has been a shift towards iconoclasm in our shamelessly secular culture. I suppose that the movement never went away, even after the Second Council of Nicaea ruled against it, but many seem to have morphed into outright modern-day Savonarolas.

No one expects otherwise from Protestants, who are predominantly and famously unconcerned with liturgy and architecture. But this has seeped into the Church.

After progressives twisted the actual meaning of the Second Vatican Council to suit their iconoclastic and libertine agenda, the movement had a popular resurgence in dioceses across the world: frescoes were whitewashed, tabernacles were moved, “excess” statues were destroyed, and so on.

For example, many great, holy sisters reside at the monastery in my town, but I must admit my disappointment over the liturgically-dispassionate attitude of some of the residents. The first time I attended Mass there, I was shocked to discover an awkward layout of the pews, the disuse of the primary sanctioned altar, and that the grand painting usually goes unnoticed. I asked myself, “What is going on here?”

I’m sure that someone could provide legitimate, practical reasons for all of that, but what bothers me is the frequency of this style.

Beauty has always been a valuable tool in the defense of the Faith. In illiterate environments, art and detailed vestments can offer much-needed dollops of theological detail. On top of that, artistic renderings are often our only connections to ancient saints.

“Beauty is the battlefield where God and Satan contend for the hearts of men,” Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote.

Don’t forget that Judas, the first man to betray our Lord, had an iconoclast bent, too. He was furious that a woman, St. Mary of Bethany, would insist on “wasting” expensive oil to honor God. He remarked that it should have been sold and the proceeds should have been given to the poor. (John 12:1-6)

Many make similar comments today, despite that most of the Church’s art cannot realistically be sold at a fair price, that even if it could be, it is far more beneficial to the poor in its current unsold state [link 1, link 2], and that the Church does not have much money at Her disposal.

Keeping all of this in mind, perhaps the real reason for the crusade against beauty is not some humility-driven goal, but a desire to weaken the Church’s standing in the world.


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About Matthew Olson

Matthew Olson is a college student in the Diocese of Little Rock. He was raised in multiple Protestant denominations before eventually converting to Catholicism on 7 April 2012. His primary interests are theology, Church history, and ecumenism. He is privately discerning the possibility of God calling him to the priesthood. He has a blog, Answering Protestants. He also has a Twitter account, @crucifixwearer.