Traditional Anglo-Papist

13 June 2006

Icons and the western tradition

The picture above comes via All Too Common blog and is of the St. Michael's Conference.

I have nothing against the S. Michael's Conference - in fact, I think it is a great idea. But the picture makes me wonder about the use of icons within the western liturgical tradition. I know it common is some places but I wonder why? Are icons part of the western tradition?


  • I always found it puzzling too. Sometimes the liberal Anglo-Unitarian faction likes them, for some odd reason. They are sometimes found in Anglo-Catholic parishes in the USA as a nod to the Eastern tradition of the church, and, to be perfectly honest, because they are a bit of a "trendy" thing among Anglicans at the moment. I've never personally had much interest or personal attachment to them.

    By Blogger Adam, at Tuesday, June 13, 2006 11:25:00 AM  

  • Glad you brought this up, Father.

    In themselves icons like the rest of the Orthodox tradition are wonderful. Rightly understood they are halfway between Western pictures and statues and having the Sacrament in the room with you: a uniquely Orthodox 'mode of presence'. (Which is why it makes sense in the Byzantine Rite to have hanging oil lamps in front of them, just like the Sacrament in the West.)

    But as Adam correctly says, taking them out of that context and appropriating them is trendy, popular among 'Anglo-Unitarians' as well as well-meaning Anglo- and Roman Catholics: it is a sign of liturgical and theological breakdown.

    Therefore I oppose mixing rites in church like that: it's forbidden by Rome (which is meant to protect the Oriental rites from encroachment by the Roman) and a pastime of vagantes (wacko 'independent Catholics') as well.

    Understandable exceptions are devotions with long histories in the Roman Rite: the Hodigitria (Directress)-style Greek icon of Mary known in the West as Our Lady of Perpetual Help (a wonder-working icon stolen from a church in Crete!) and the Polish devotion to Our Lady of Czestochowa.

    By Blogger The young fogey, at Tuesday, June 13, 2006 9:12:00 PM  

  • As the young fogey points out, some Eastern-style ikons are part of the Western tradition, namely Our Lady of Perpetual Help (under the care of the Redemptorists, I believe, which is why one will often see this ikon in Redemptorist parishes) and Our Lady of Czestochowa (the "Black Madonna" -- it was damaged in a fire -- kept in the Pauline Fathers' monastery of Jasna Gora in Poland). Of course, if one uses a broader definition of "ikon" then there are lots of ikons that are part of the Western tradition (for example, the Sacred Heart).

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tuesday, June 13, 2006 11:40:00 PM  

  • Yes, Our Lady of Perpetual Help is under the care of the Redemptorists.

    But is changing the definition of icon fair to the Orthodox tradition? I don't think so.

    By Blogger The young fogey, at Wednesday, June 14, 2006 12:22:00 AM  

  • If an eccumenical council defended the use of sacred images, then they're part of the universal Church and not bound by rite. That's how I see it.

    I'm Polish and Lithuanian. We have 'em, like YF said. And we venerate them. Slavic Roman-Riters have a popular piety not too far from Slavic Eastern-Riters. We're border countries, after all.

    While I don't enjoy people monkeying w/ the Roman Rite, icons shouldn't raise an eyebrow. There's always been cross-polinization within the church: prayers, feast days, and liturgical practices etc.

    And these days, so many Latin Churches are emptier of images than a rural Zion Baptist Church. Look at how empty that church in the photo looks. It's looks nothing like the little Catholic temple gems here in northeast PA. We got statues and icons out the wazoo. And icons and art painted on the walls and ceilings.

    By Anonymous tony c, at Wednesday, June 14, 2006 1:37:00 AM  

  • But is changing the definition of icon fair to the Orthodox tradition? I don't think so.

    I'm not changing the definition; I'm using the word in the same sense as Fr. Fortescue uses it when he writes (in The Orthodox Eastern Church) that Eastern Christians don't like Western ikons.

    I don't quite see how this is unfair to the Orthodox tradition. On the other hand, FWIW, I don't generally refer to my image of the Sacred Heart as an ikon.

    By Anonymous dcs, at Wednesday, June 14, 2006 1:40:00 AM  

  • Right, Tony, you've got Our Lady of Vilna/Ostrabrama.

    But fellow Slavs in border countries didn't like each other historically: look at the plot of Boris Godunov!

    Pan-Slavism is a 19th-century idea.

    (Info for other readers: Lithuanians aren't Slavs but are next to Poland and share a lot of history and culture with Poles, including fervent Catholicism. They used to be a united kingdom.)

    And the liberals who play with icons are hypocrites because they diss traditional Western Catholic figural art.

    By Blogger The young fogey, at Wednesday, June 14, 2006 2:00:00 AM  

  • Icons are an important part of orthodox Anglican usage, at least here in NJ. If the revisionists want to use them as well, it can't hurt; it may even help. It becomes a problem when they adapt icons of non saints, pagan elements etc.In any event icons and statues can be helpful but they should be used sparingly.I think the picture above has it about right. JWM

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thursday, June 15, 2006 9:57:00 AM  

  • I think the picture above has it about right.

    But English churches in the Middle Ages didn't look like that - old churches do now because of the hammers and whitewash of the 'Reformation'. They were riots of colour with murals a lot like an Orthodox church.

    By Blogger The young fogey, at Monday, June 19, 2006 9:07:00 AM  

  • Aren't most pictures in the Western tradition a development of the Esatern icon traditon. Admittedly, not as developed, but an image for veneration.

    By Blogger Monty, at Saturday, June 24, 2006 4:53:00 PM  

  • As for the church in the picture, that is actually our chapel at Camp Crucis, the diocesan retreat center of the diocese of Fort Worth. I know that we have a reputation nationally for being an "Anglo-Catholic" diocese, but actually there are a fair number of old fashioned low church parishes here (including St. Andrew's downtown, our largest single parish, where the junior clergy are actually asked to subscribe to the 39 Articles!). So our diocesan wide facility has to pass muster with "conservatives" on both the Catholic and the evangelical sides of the fense. Hence the "reformed whitewashed" look. There are plenty of furnishings that can be added to make us Catholic-leaning Anglicans feel more at home, as well as an altar where east facing Mass may be comfotably said.

    By Blogger texanglican, at Sunday, June 25, 2006 12:55:00 PM  

  • Sorry, "fence" that is. You can find more pics of St. John's Chapel at Camp Crucis at

    I actually rather like the little place.

    By Blogger texanglican, at Sunday, June 25, 2006 1:10:00 PM  

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