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Holy Spirit Interactive Youth: Bible Geek: Do Catholics Worship Idols?

Do Catholics Worship Idols?

As a non-Catholic, i cannot figure out some of the practices that your church has that outright disobey the Bible. As a Biblically literate Catholic (and there aren't many out there that I've found), how do you defend the Catholic Church's worshipping of statues and false idols which clearly goes against the Scriptures (Ex. 20:4, Leviticus)? What do you have to say?

This is one of the most common misconceptions about the Catholic faith. Many well-intentioned, God-loving Christians of various denominations have heard this mistruth from trusted but ignorant teachers over the years, or have read it in books that claim to “expose” what they believe to be the Catholic faith. Unfortunately, as with most misconceptions, these conclusions are drawn with little or no true understanding of the faith or of the practice, or the purpose in question.

Before I answer this question, I’d like to quote a wonderful man of God, the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen, who said, “There are not one hundred people in this world who hate Catholicism, but there are millions who hate what they mistakenly believe Catholicism to be.”

So, is worshipping a statue wrong? Yes. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that it is wrong, in line with the Sacred Scriptures as it states in Exodus 20:4-5, “You shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or worship them”.

That being said…

There are several places in the Bible where God commissions statues and images for religious usage:

Exodus 25:10-22
1 Kings 6:23; 7:13-51
Numbers 21:6-9
Judges 17:1-6

Is God sending Two Different Messages?

Not necessarily…keep reading.

God ordered His children to construct these statues and images, but He did not intend for His children to worship them. God was using the images to help them to recall situations, to see places as holy and set apart, and to help them to open their minds and hearts and turn them back to God.

You see, an image is not an idol. There is a difference.

“An image is simply a spiritual ‘visual aid’ that is used by the faithful to increase their spirit of prayerfulness and devotion to God. An idol, on the other hand, is an image that is worshipped by the unfaithful in place of the one true God (i.e., the ‘golden calf’ described in Ex. 32:7-8).”

In the Old Testament, images of God were forbidden because folks had not yet seen God in human form. In the New Testament, God HAS taken on human form…an image that we can see.

“He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God…” – Colossians 1:15

“For in Jesus dwells the whole fullness of the Deity, bodily…” – Colossians 2:9

“What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life – for the life was made visible…” – 1 John 1:1-2

When we profess that Jesus Christ is Lord, we must remember that we are professing the Incarnation…that is, that God became flesh…flesh in human form, Who we could see, smell, hear, touch and (through the Eucharist) taste!

When we look upon a statue as we meditate in prayer to God, our senses are illuminated. We are not worshipping the wood, plaster, plastic or paint. The image, though, appeals to our sense of sight, aiding in our visualization and helping us to focus on the pure, consistent and holy life lived by that saint…like the Blessed Virgin Mary, for instance.

Here’s a few more things to keep in mind:

Stained glass windows with images can work in the same way…but most people don’t seem to have a problem with those, because “they’re just pretty”.

Images were very important in the early times of our Church’s history, especially when most of the faithful were illiterate, and could not read the word of God on their own. The images helped them recall instances and situations in the Word that they had heard about, but could not read on their own.

We put framed pictures of loved ones on mantles and walls of our homes, but that doesn’t mean that we worship them.

If I hold my Bible during worship, and hold it close to my heart…am I worshipping the God who inspired and wrote it, or am I worshipping the leather, glue and paper?

The weatherman uses a visual aid of maps when forecasting the weather, but couldn’t he just tell us the facts and read the temperatures?

Is a Children’s picture Bible that includes animations and drawings throughout it, the worshipping of images? Those are images, too, just not 3-D.

Catholics may pray in front of a statue, but never to a statue…that would be idolatry.

Finally, consider these last two thoughts regarding what the early Christians did:

“Previously God, who has neither a body nor a face, absolutely could not be represented by an image. But now that he has made himself visible in the flesh and has lived with men, I can make an image of what I have seen of God…and contemplate the glory of the Lord, his face unveiled.” – St. John Damascene (749 AD)

“The early Church used statues and images as aids to devotion and as expressions of faith. One need only to visit the catacombs in Rome to see statues and frescoes representing no only Christ but also scenes from Scripture. When the Church emerged from the catacombs, it continued to decorate its houses of worship with statues, mosaics, frescoes, and oil paintings, all designed to increase a spirit of prayerfulness.” -Albert Nevins, M.M.

(Based, in part, on Unabridged Christianity, by Fr. Mario Romero)

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