As veneration of images ( Ikonodulie ) is called both the pictorial representation of divine beings and forces as well as connected to God or the gods of created beings ( angels, saints or symbolic animals, totems ), as well as the associated worship of these paintings, sculptures or icons.

From the Ikonodulie ( worship of images ) are Ikonolatrie ( idolatry ) and idolatry ( idolatry ) to differentiate if directed against the worship of images polemic (see iconoclasm ) referred to this as often Ikonolatrie or even idolatry.


Etymologically, the term origin of icon and idol is to be distinguished; Greek εἰκὼν is the "Portrait ", the "image " or the " likeness" (equivalent to Latin imago ); εἴδωλον other hand, is the " silhouette ", the " mirage " or even in the New Testament the " replica " and " idol ", adopted as idolum in Latin.


A distinction is made between an immediate, realistic and symbolic understanding of pictures.

The view of the image- worshiping Christian churches moves between the second and the third variant.

Cultural History

Already prehistoric, a veneration of images, and in particular an object worship be observed. Cave paintings of the Paleolithic and pictorial creations of the Neolithic have a religious character. In ancient times, were idols, mostly small clay figures or wooden figures, the central focus of domestic divine worship. In the Bronze Age was the idolatry throughout the Mediterranean, widespread in the Middle East and also on the European mainland and took depending on the culture characteristic forms such as the well-known Cycladic idols or the board idols of Cyprus. Idols were found between the house floor plans, in grave plants, but also in sanctuaries. The shaping can be both representational ( votive figures of the cultures of the Balkans ) and abstract ( Slate idols, anthropomorphic wooden idols from tree trunks ) or symbolic and attributive nature ( Thor's hammer ), but has either a mythological background or is in the function of the idol in a ritual context fertility and other cults.

Zoroastrianism, the Baha'i and Islam reject the veneration of images from the same motives as from the Mosaic Judaism.


Hinduism has a very diverse world of images; pronounced are mythological interpretations and cosmological relations ( mandalas ). During the early Vedic ritual was going on in the open air and without pictures, this changed at about the time of Christ and it developed a rich world of images. Devout Hindus go to the temple to gain the sight of God by an icon or a statue, in the spiritual presence of the deity is believed, or they have a small house altar with a picture or an icon. The Look ( Darshan ) is derived so on to contemplation and meditation, the aim is to get over the level of the visual addition.

The visualization often plays an important role, since it facilitates the faithful access to the divine. In Tirumala Tirupati pilgrimage center as are ceremonies such as bathing, ointments and meals of Shri Venkatateshvara or its stone statue celebrates; the same happens in other large and small temples. Even with the daily, domestic pujas ( worship ) idols are often at the center.

The illustrations are anthropomorphic; to illustrate their strength they are often depicted mehrköpfig and multiple arms. The iconography is closely linked to the Indian mythology and gives believers references to the spiritual significance and the power of the Divine. About a particular shape give the Puranas information. So describes about the beginning of the second chapter of the " Devi Bhagavata ", one of the most important books on the Goddess, a verse, the goddess Mahalakshmi, which is a form of Durga:

In this figure with many arms but Hindus see no contradiction for ultimate formlessness. In the fourth chapter, after the victory over the buffalo demon Mahisasura, the celestial devas praise it as the embodiment of the Most High, the formless Brahman. This hymn from the 4th chapter of Devi Mahatmya is sung in India every year at the holidays of the goddess in the fall and played on the radio. An excerpt:

Very common but there are also the worship of the divine in character. Rarely, Hindus worship Shiva in anthropomorphic form. In the center of worship is usually the Linga (ie characters) or, often found on street altars, the trident, another important emblem of Shiva. The popular statue of the goddess Kali in Kalighat temple in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) consists of a black stone, which was discovered on " wonderful " way and in which the goddess wants to be worshiped according to the legend. Armed with the face, tongue and clothes of this stone now represents the Divine. Christians from all over the subcontinent come here to worship Kali in this form.

Also in ritual worship, Puja, is clearly recognizable: Not the image or emblem itself is the worship, but the ultimately formless Supreme therein. So calls to the priest about this as Shiva, Vishnu or Durga and asked to be present during the ceremony in effigy. In a short meditation, the priest represents the Divine pictorially as in the heart present before, either personal or in the symbol. In some pujas is a flowering, held in front of the heart, then the outward sign of its presence: The flower holds the priest under his nose and introduces himself as the divine from the heart passes through the breath on it, and then submit it the portrait on the altar. Another possibility is the " Pran - Dan ", the " give life " in a Shakti Puja, the worship in honor of the goddess: With a small tuft of grass and a few grains of uncooked rice in the fingers of the priest touches the heart area of the statue, or of the image. For this purpose it prescribed prayers which make the Murti "alive" and through which the goddess is then thought of as actually present (meaning very similar to the holy conversion during the Eucharist in the Catholic Church ).

The generation of the statues, the so-called " murtis ", is in the traditional crafts still not the same as the production of any other figure. Thus, there are certain rules for metal statues of alloys and the manufacture of the mold in which the Murti to be built, is a sacred act of prayer.

Is the worship also widely used in portrait, so there were many Hindu thinkers also a critical engagement with it. Approximately a very well known group in Shaivism, which was founded in the twelfth century " Lingayats ", the worship of the image reject strictly. Even during the time of British colonial rule originated in India movements, who wanted to help the ancient Vedic ideal of Bilderlosigkeit again to break through, such as the Brahmo Samaj. But they could not prevail except in a thin layer. The mystic Ramakrishna, the mid-nineteenth century was a priest in the Kali temple large Dakshineshwar, described the statues of gods as " dolls " that are no longer needed, if one is spiritually grow. Nevertheless, he accepted statues as an aid to the faithful.


Buddhism refused at first any form of images and image worship. For Buddha, there were only symbolic representations. Throughout its history, especially Tibetan Buddhism developed a rich world of images; However, the representations should be used in accordance with the teachings of the Buddha a less idolatry, but rather of meditation and are intended as aids for this purpose.


The opposite iconolatry reluctant to loath - Originally was also Jewish Christianity - not least because of his Jewish roots. The early attested use of representational symbols eg cross, shepherd, lamb, fish, boat, palm, Phoenix, pigeon, peacock - on the walls of homes, on tombs, sarcophagi and equipment seems to contradict the second commandment.

Only among the Gnostics of the 2nd and 3rd century, we also meet not obvious to symbolic portraits of Christ. As with many other customs ( hymns, etc.) came from here from the jewelery of the worship of images in the Orthodox Catholic Church. In the 4th century, is the first time an incipient thematization of the rightly understood image of divine things in the Christian tradition. Still, some synods and church fathers spoke against the figures of Christ and God the Father as a quite inadmissible. However, the theme of the worship of images at this time was scarcely a major bone of contention, neither for nor against, there are many statements.

Even then, however, there was, for example, in Edessa a supposedly authentic image of Christ, and soon came more similar images added as well as representations of Mary and other saints. For example, churches were decorated with representations of those saints to whom the church was dedicated. Augustine complains of image worship, while Cyril of Alexandria ( and in the wake of the Copts and other ancient Near Eastern Churches ) promoted the veneration of images.

Pope Gregory I founded around 600, the worship of images as follows: The images are the books of the poor, from which they can not read, knowledge of sacred history draw. Long ago the Ikonodulie had prevailed in the East and in the Mediterranean. Among the Franks, however, especially in Charlemagne and the dependent of his bishops who remained rejection -determining. Bishop Serenus acted iconoclastic, because he saw the danger that the saints images träten only the place of the idols.

In the course of the 6th century, it was dominant and ecclesiastically approved custom to prostrate statues in front of the images, and ( in the west), to honor them by kneeling, kissing, lighting of candles and incense, clothing with precious robes and garnish with Geschmeiden.

People began to make pilgrimages to particularly well-known paintings, praising them, and to bestow; the opposition against Judaism and Islam could lead to something specifically found in this image-worship Christian. But it was also to the Eastern Roman Emperor, which such a rugged barrier between the religions in the political interest was undesirable, a motive to intervene.

The traditional image -friendly sources by, especially to the Emperor Leo III. ( 717-741 ), Constantine V ( 741-775 ), Leo IV ( 775-780 ), Leo V ( 813-820 ) and Theophilus ( 829-842 ) have been sharp iconoclasts. They should have put the extermination of the images to the target service. In more recent research, many aspects of Byzantine iconoclasm, however, be evaluated more differentiated. When Leo III. is it because of the source material already questionable whether he ever took action against the veneration of images. When Constantine V, however, many operations were apparently distorted. Although Constantine V rejected the worship of images, but was still quite moderate. Many political opponents Constantine V. were probably explains after the fact to martyrs of the pictures friends while was a polemic against the Emperor. Open resistance to the iconoclastic policy seems at first to be hardly come up. The living outside the Reich John of Damascus and the Empresses Irene and Theodora, however, they suggested a that the bishops at the Councils of Nicaea ( 787) and Constantinople Opel ( 842 ) took the decision that the images of Christ, the Virgin Mary, angels and saints are to worship, worship only the Trinity was owed. The sitter should be always identified by inscriptions.

The purpose of this set on the seventh ecumenical council dogma is that the Christian veneration of icons is no worship of substantive portrait, but refers to what is depicted on the icon - so on the archetype of the sitter. By the faithful venerate the icon shown on the panels saints (and not the panels themselves), honor ultimately one God, without whom there would have been no phenomenon of holiness. So the ceremony a representation of an honored of God Saints in essence just the worship of the providential action of God in the world, but no idolatry.

This is the veneration of icons is one of the dogmas of the Orthodox Churches. The Latin Church joined this position despite the opposition, which the Frankish Church made ​​the Great by Karl on. Finally, especially in the Catholic West, under certain circumstances, the representation of God the Father, regarded as legitimate; no longer be found in the Eastern Churches such images almost exclusively under westkirchlichem influence about the 17th to 19th centuries, since the 20th century practically.

In Christian iconography, almost no artist has waived representations of God. A special role in this context, a Reformed, Baptist, Mennonite and some other Protestant churches. They justify their stance with the second commandment 2.Mose ( Exodus ) 20:4-6: "You shall not make for yourself any graven image, or any likeness of what is in heaven above, nor of what is on the earth beneath, nor of what is in the water under the earth "( Luther84 translation ).

In contrast, know the Roman Catholic Church and Martin Luther this bid is not because they are at the repetition of the Decalogue, where the " images commandment " appears as a thought in the first commandment, orient. Contribute towards the decision of Martin Luther, in his small catechism omit this part of the Ten Commandments all, was Karlstadt Iconoclasm ( 1522), who in his social devastation was terrifying for him.

As the strongest theological argument is brought to bear since John of Damascus, that God Himself in the visible and tangible incarnation of Christ, the Old Testament figure ban - have abolished or at least radically relativized - which is indeed explicitly justified in the Old Testament with the invisibility of God.