Hello everyone! From this week’s title, you can probably tell that I went to Greece last week. I am incredibly grateful to say I had the opportunity to visit Greece for ten days (even though two of these days were taken up by a ferry ride, haha). Specifically, I visited Corfu, Athens, and Santorini.
Out of all of the places I went to, I found the most theological depth in the monuments in Athens. I visited the Acropolis which houses monuments like the Parthenon, the Temple of Athena Nike, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, the Erechtheion, etc.
Historically one of the most significant monuments in Athens, the Parthenon was first dedicated to the goddess Athena (goddess of “wisdom, handicraft, and warfare” – Wikipedia, Athena) who was also the patroness of Athens. According to Wikipedia (See “Parthenon”), “Construction started in 447 BC… [and] was completed in 438 BC.” Interestingly, even though the Parthenon was “architecturally a temple and is usually called so, some scholars” look at how the cult image of Athena was, arguably, never stored in the Parthenon (Wikipedia, See “Parthenon”). This “cult-image” was actually a big part of worship for the ancient Greeks. For instance, we see in the Odyssey how Odysseus and Diomedes go to great lengths to steal one of these cult images from Troy. After all, the image was thought to be so great that it protected the entire city! Thus, contrary to how it is often viewed, the Parthenon could be said to be more of a place to store sacred religious objects. In other words, the Parthenon was more of a treasury.
However, the Parthenon has served many different purposes as people from different religions fought for the right to use this great monument for their own worship. Already, in the sixth century A.D., the Christian church took over the Parthenon and turned it into a church that was intended to honor the Lord’s Blessed Mother (Wikipedia, “Parthenon”). However, after the Ottoman conquest (the 1460s), the church turned into a mosque. Finally, the temple underwent a final change during the siege by Venetians when an “Ottoman ammunition dump inside… was ignited” and much of the structure and contents was destroyed (Wikipedia, “Parthenon”).
Reflecting on the religious significance of the Parthenon, I find it interesting how Christians started using images in their worship (just like the Greeks!). While the Christians didn’t worship the images (they were an aid to worship God) like the Greeks did, the prominence of images in religious practice across time is significant. If one looks at the Biblical worldview, the prominence of images makes sense. For instance, in Exodus 33:8-10, God appears in the form of a pillar of cloud. Interestingly, “when all the people saw the pillar of cloud…[they] would rise up and worship” (Revised Standard Version). Just like in the use of images in Catholic worship, the Israelites made use of a created thing (the cloud) in order to direct their hearts to worship.*
Aside from important Biblical considerations, the use of images can be found directly as a result of how the human being was made. In St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, the Pope explains how the body is like a sacrament (something which helps us grow closer to God, like the Eucharist). In other words, because the human body was made to reflect God and serve Him, it is fitting that the whole of the human body would come together in worship. That is why, at Mass, there are images (for the eyes), incense (for the nose), music (for the ears), etc. Overall, it is incredible how religions from the past have always, in one way or another, known the importance of images.
Unfortunately, that is all the room I have to write about for this week. I hope you all will tune in to my next post, next #TheologicalTuesday! Thanks for your time!
* Note: If one is interested, the following Biblical passages serve as more examples of how images are used in worship: Ex. 3:2-6; | The burning bush & the name of God are used interchangeably in: 3:4, 6, 11, 13-16, 18; 4:5, 7-8 | 2 Chronicles 7:1-4; Joshua 7:6–8; 1 Chronicles 16:4; 1 Kings 8:44; Psalm 5:7; Psalm 138:2; 1 Kings 6:29.