Sacred Images and the Pre-Nicene Fathers

See also: Sacred Images and the New Testament

This is a list of quotations from the pre-Nicene Church Fathers which can be used to support the use of holy images or of images in general. The reason I wanted to use pre-Nicene Fathers is because I don't think anyone doubts that after Emperor Constantine exerted his influence, holy imagery started appearing everywhere, including in his military. But before him, some people say that the early Church taught that any use of images was idolatrous.

So I made this list to show some contributions to the support of image-use in the pre-Nicene period. Here is what I've come up with so far. Does anyone know of any other useful quotes from this period?

Sacred Images in the Early Church Fathers

~95 A.D. - The cemetery of St. Flavia Domitilla is adorned with an anchor, an early Christian symbol of hope.

131 A.D. - The Letter of Barnabas - “Moreover, though Moses commanded them: -- ‘You shall have neither graven nor molten image for your God,’ yet he makes one himself to show a type of Jesus. Moses therefore makes a graven serpent, and places it in honour and calls the people by a proclamation.” (Letter of Barnabas Chapter 12)

Before 150 A.D. - The Greek Chapel in the Catacombs of Priscilla has an altar decorated by a large picture of a priest offering the Eucharist with six people attending. The picture is called the Fractio Panis fesco.

180 A.D. - St. Irenaeus - “[The] virtue[s], [which] are laborious, glorious, and skilful, which also are approved universally as being good…[include] the arts...the art of painting and sculpture, brass and marble work, and the kindred arts.” (Against Heresies Book II Chapter 32 Paragraph 2)

198 A.D. - St. Clement of Alexandria - “And let our seals be either a dove, or a fish, or a ship scudding before the wind, or a musical lyre, which Polycrates used, or a ship's anchor, which Seleucus got engraved as a device; and if there be one fishing, he will remember the apostle, and the children drawn out of the water.” (The Instructor Book III Chapter 11)

~200 A.D. - The Catacomb of Priscilla and the Catacomb of Callixtus date from about this year. Both catacombs are adorned with paintings from Bible stories.

208 A.D. - Tertullian - "No man will love the picture of his wife without taking care of it, and honoring it and crowning it. The likeness partakes with the reality in the privileged honor." "[And] no honor is to be attributed to the image of anything which is itself unworthy of honor. As the natural state is, so will the likeness be.” (Against Marcion Book V Chapter 18, Book III Chapter 10)

And: “[W]hen [Exodus] forbid[s] the similitude to be made of all things which are in heaven, and in earth, and in the waters, [God] declared also the reasons, as being prohibitory of all material exhibition of a latent idolatry. For He adds: You shall not bow down to them, nor serve them. The form, however, of the brazen serpent which the Lord afterwards commanded Moses to make, afforded no pretext for idolatry, but was meant for the cure of those who were plagued with the fiery serpents. I say nothing of what was figured by this cure. Thus, too, the golden Cherubim and Seraphim were purely an ornament in the figured fashion of the ark; adapted to ornamentation for reasons totally remote from all condition of idolatry, on account of which the making a likeness is prohibited.” (Against Marcion Book II Chapter 22)

222 A.D. - Tertullian mentions that the Catholics in his day had images on their chalices - “Even the images themselves on your chalices may be adduced” “wherein the lost sheep is...searched for by its pastor and brought back on his shoulders.” “That pastor [the Shepherd of Hermas]...you have carved on your chalice[s].” (On Modesty Chapter 7, Chapter 10)

~238 A.D. - St. Gregory the Wonderworker - “[W]e should allow those...good artists [who are] skilled to the utmost in their art and liberally furnished in the matter of colors, to possess the liberty of painting...not simply [things] of a uniform complexion, but also of various descriptions and of richest beauty in the abundant mixture of flowers, without let or hindrance.” (Panegyric Addressed to Origen Argument 1)

~250 A.D. - Early Catholic churches, originally built in the 200s, have been discovered by archeologists complete with decorative images from the life of Christ and other parts of the Bible. Examples include the Dura Europos church and the Megiddo church.

~275 A.D. - The Good Shepherd Sarcophagus was built around this time. A sarcophagus is a stone coffin, and early Christian sarcophaguses were often decorated with Christian imagery. The Good Shepherd Sarcophagus has an image of Christ the Good Shepherd on it.

300 A.D. - St. Methodius of Olympus - “For instance, then, the images of our kings here, even though they be not formed of the more precious materials—gold or silver—are honored by all...even though [they] be of chalk or bronze. And one who speaks against either of them, is...condemned...for having been disrespectful towards the King and Lord Himself. The images of God's angels, which are fashioned of gold, the principalities and powers, we make to His honor and glory.” (Discourse on the Resurrection Part 2)

And: “[C]onsider that God had images of Himself made as of gold, that is of a purer spiritual substance, as the angels; and others of clay or brass, as ourselves. He united the soul which was made in the image of God to that which was earthy. As, then, we must here honor all the images of a king, on account of the form which is in them, so also it is incredible that we who are the images of God should be altogether destroyed as being without honor. Whence also the Word descended into our world, and was incarnate of our body, in order that, having fashioned it to a more divine image, He might raise it incorrupt, although it had been dissolved by time.” (Fragment from the Book on the Resurrection)

~318 A.D. - Eusebius - “Hence, even now the inhabitants [of Canaan] cherish the place where visions appeared to Abraham as divinely consecrated. The turpentine tree is still to be seen, and those who received Abraham's hospitality are painted in picture, one on each side, and the stranger of greatest dignity in the middle. He would be an image of our Lord and Saviour, whom even rude men reverence, Whose divine words they believe.” (Proof of the Gospel Book 5)