GRAVEN IMAGES: WHY DO CATHOLICS MAKE STATUES?

Exodus 20:4 states "Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth." Well that is pretty clear, isn't it? Yet Catholics persist in violating this commandment with their statues. Thus is the claim of many fundamentalist Christians and a few others. But let's look at this a little closer.

The Hebrews had just spent 400 years in Egypt. Their faith was becoming corrupted by the gods of Egypt. We know this because when Moses was on Mount Sinai, the Israelites including Moses' own brother Aaron fashioned a golden calf to worship. God instructs Moses on His laws for living in accordance with the will of God with the Ten Commandments. Let's take a look at the entire passage: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them,..."

Clearly God is saying we are not to worship anything but Him! Is Porky Pig a violation of the injunction against "nor any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth." Is a picture on the front page of the newspaper a violation? How about photographs of my family on vacation? How about pictures of my family on mantel? The answer is no because we are not intending to bow down and worship any of these images or the creatures depicted in them.

Interestingly enough, two books later in the Bible, God orders Moses to violate His command when the Israelites are beset by saraph serpents. "So Moses prayed for the people, and the LORD said to Moses, 'Make a saraph and mount it on a pole, and if anyone who has been bitten looks at it, he will recover.' Moses accordingly made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole, and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent, he recovered." Some Fundamentals try to explain this away by saying "This bronze serpent represents Jesus and so it is okay." It is true that the bronze serpent is a prototype of Jesus; but I guarantee none of the Israelites including Moses knew that. To them God's power flowed through the serpent.

Another example is in Exodus 37 where "Two cherubim of beaten gold were made for the two ends of the propitiatory, one cherub fastened at one end, the other at the other end, springing directly from the propitiatory at its two ends." [Exodus 37:7-8]

So if the commandment proscribes making idols and bowing down to them, it is clear that Catholic statues are clearly in a different class. Catholics do not worship statues. [CCC 2135] Indeed such worship is considered sinful because worship is reserved to God alone. To Catholics, the statues are akin to family pictures. They call to mind our relatives in Christ whom we love and who love us.

When it comes right down to it, it doesn't matter how often you read the Scripture if you lack sure guidance on its interpretation. The result of private interpretation is the fracturing of the Church which has been the hallmark of Protestantism since the days of Martin Luther. The Catholic Church has always taught from the beginning that the Scriptures are not to be subject to individual interpretation. "Know this first of all, that there is no prophecy of scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation" [
2 Peter 1:20] The job of interpreting Scripture is that of the Holy Spirit action through the Catholic Church particularly through the bishops. The bishops miter has two tails in the back that remind us of the two sources of Divine Revelation, Scripture and Apostolic Tradition, and of the bishops' role in the Magisterium, the teaching authority of the Catholic Church.