The Theology of Icons

Living under Islamic rule, Saint John of Damascus was one of the greatest theologians of Christian icons.

He wrote:

Concerning the charge of idolatry: Icons are not idols but symbols, therefore when an Orthodox honors an icon, he is not guilty of idolatry. He is not worship- ing the symbol, but merely honoring it. Such honor is not directed toward wood, or paint or stone, but towards the person depicted. Therefore relative honor is shown to material objects, but worship is due to God alone.

Concerning the doctrinal significance of icons are necessary and essential because they protect the full and proper doctrine of the Incarnation. While God cannot be represented in his eternal nature, he can be depicted because he ‘became human and took flesh.’ Of him who took a material body, material images can be made. In so taking a material body, God proved that matter can be redeemed. He deified matter, making it spirit-bearing, and so if flesh can be a medium for the Holy Spirit, so can wood or paint, although in a different fashion. I do not worship matter, but the Creator of matter, who for my sake became material and deigned to dwell in matter, who through matter effected my salvation.