Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: iconoclasm from Merriam-Webster's Collegiate(R) Dictionary

(1797) : the doctrine, practice, or attitude of an iconoclast

Summary Article: iconoclasm
From The Columbia Encyclopedia

(īkŏn'ōklăzӘm) [Gr.,=image breaking], opposition to the religious use of images. Veneration of pictures and statues symbolizing sacred figures, Christian doctrine, and biblical events was an early feature of Christian worship (see iconography; catacombs). The humanity of Christ was increasingly emphasized, and images and crucifixes became common. Opponents of their use claimed they led to idolatry. Canon 36 of the Synod of Elvira (c.305) was one of the earliest to prohibit images in churches, “lest that which is worshiped and venerated be depicted on the walls.” With the approval of the use of images by the Trullan Synod (692) of the Third Council of Constantinople, the debate was joined again. It was most pronounced in Asia Minor, especially around Constantinople, in the 8th and 9th cent. The movement was paralleled by the iconoclasm of Islam, Judaism, and Manichaeism and was certainly strengthened by the numerous Paulicians in the empire. Leo III, Constantine V, Leo IV, and Leo V were important iconoclastic emperors. Eastern Iconoclasm was opposed in the West by Popes Gregory II, Gregory III, and Adrian I. Empress Irene restored the images and St. Theodore of Studium, St. John of Damascus, St. Nicephorus, and St. Theophanes wrote histories of the controversy. Iconoclasm was rejected at Nicaea (see Nicaea, Second Council of) but ended only during the minority of Michael III. The iconoclastic controversy stimulated Byzantine artists to strive for spiritual revelation in religious art rather than for naturalistic representation. The churches of the Orthodox Eastern Church are generally decorated only with flat pictures, bas-reliefs, and mosaics (see Byzantine art and architecture). Iconoclasm was also a feature of the Protestant Reformation. The Puritans were especially hostile to the use of religious images, and some Protestants still consider their use idolatrous.

  • See Martin, E. J. , A History of the Iconoclastic Controversy (1930, repr. 1978);.
  • Pelikan, J. , Imago Dei (1990).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2018

Related Articles

Full text Article Iconoclasm
Late Antiquity: A Guide to the Postclassical World

Iconoclasm, in the strict sense of the word, was already a well-known phenomenon in antiquity; it often took the form of the destruction of...

Full text Article iconoclasm
The Encyclopaedia of the Renaissance

The breaking or destruction of images set up for religious veneration, especially practised by Protestants during the century of the...

Full text Article iconoclasm
The Bloomsbury Guide to Art

In general terms, an opposition to images of any sort which leads to destructiveness. Specifically, this refers to a European Christian sect...

See more from Credo