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(īkŏn`ōklăzəm) [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 iconographyiconography
[Gr.,=image-drawing] or iconology
[Gr.,=image-study], in art history, the study and interpretation of figural representations, either individual or symbolic, religious or secular; more broadly, the art of representation by pictures or images, which may or
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; catacombscatacombs
, cemeteries of the early Christians and contemporary Jews, arranged in extensive subterranean vaults and galleries. Besides serving as places of burial, the catacombs were used as hiding places from persecution, as shrines to saints and martyrs, and for funeral
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). 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 PauliciansPaulicians
, Christian heretical sect. The sect developed in Armenia from obscure origins and is first mentioned in the middle of the 6th cent., where it is associated with Nestorianism.
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 in the empire. Leo IIILeo III
(Leo the Isaurian or Leo the Syrian), c.680–741, Byzantine emperor (717–41). He was probably born in N Syria (rather than in Isauria, as once thought). He held diplomatic and military posts before he deposed and succeeded Theodosius III.
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, Constantine VConstantine V
(Constantine Copronymus), 718–75, Byzantine emperor (741–75), son and successor of Leo III. An able general and administrator, he fought successfully against the Arabs, Slavs, and Bulgars, improved the water supply of Constantinople, forcibly resettled
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, Leo IVLeo IV
(Leo the Khazar), d. 780, Byzantine emperor (775–80), son and successor of Constantine V. He owed his nickname to his mother, a Khazar princess. Leo tempered the iconoclastic excesses of his father's reign.
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, and Leo VLeo V
(Leo the Armenian), d. 820, Byzantine emperor (813–20), successor of Michael I. A former general, Leo successfully defended (813) Constantinople against the Bulgars and concluded a 30-year truce with them.
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 were important iconoclastic emperors. Eastern Iconoclasm was opposed in the West by Popes Gregory IIGregory II, Saint,
d. 731, pope (715–31), a Roman; successor of Constantine. When Byzantine Emperor Leo III tried to impose iconoclasm in Italy by an imperial edict, Gregory answered that the emperor could not decide tenets of faith.
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, Gregory III, and Adrian IAdrian I,
d. 795, pope (772–95), a Roman; successor of Stephen IV. At Adrian's urging, Charlemagne crossed the Alps and defeated the Lombard king, Desiderius, who had annexed papal territory. That defeat marked the end of the Lombard kingdom.
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. Empress IreneIrene
, c.750–803, Byzantine empress (797–802). She served (780–90) as regent for her son, Constantine VI, and later was made (792) joint ruler. Devoted to the Orthodox Church, she bent most of her efforts to suppressing iconoclasm.
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 restored the images and St. Theodore of StudiumTheodore of Studium, Saint
, 759–826, Byzantine Greek monastic reformer, also called St. Theodore the Studite. As an abbot he was early exiled for opposing the marriage of Emperor Constantine VI to his mistress Theodota.
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, St. John of DamascusJohn of Damascus, Saint,
or Saint John Damascene
, c.675–c.749, Syrian theologian, Father of the Church and Doctor of the Church. He was brought up at the court of the caliph in Damascus, where his father was an official, and he was educated by a Sicilian monk.
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, St. NicephorusNicephorus, Saint
, 758?–829?, patriarch of Constantinople (806–15), Byzantine historian and theologian. St. Nicephorus attended the Second Council of Nicaea as lay representative of the emperor.
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, and St. Theophanes wrote histories of the controversy. Iconoclasm was rejected at Nicaea (see Nicaea, Second Council ofNicaea, Second Council of,
787, 7th ecumenical council, convened by Byzantine Empress Irene. Called to refute iconoclasm, the council declared that images ought to be venerated (but not worshiped) and ordered them restored in churches.
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) but ended only during the minority of Michael IIIMichael III
(Michael the Amorian or Phrygian), 836–67, Byzantine emperor (842–67), son and successor of Theophilus and grandson of Michael II. His minority saw the final overthrow of iconoclasm and a severe persecution of the Paulicians.
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. 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 architectureByzantine art and architecture,
works of art and structures works produced in the city of Byzantium after Constantine made it the capital of the Roman Empire (A.D. 330) and the work done under Byzantine influence, as in Venice, Ravenna, Norman Sicily, as well as in Syria,
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). 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 E. J. Martin, A History of the Iconoclastic Controversy (1930, repr. 1978); J. Pelikan, Imago Dei (1990).



a religious-political movement directed against the Christian worship of images.

In Byzantium, Iconoclasm dates from the eighth to the first half of the ninth century. It reflected at various stages the interests of different social groups; the forerunners of Iconoclasm were the heretical movements at the turn of the seventh century (particularly pronounced in Armenia and Phrygia), whose protest against the ruling church was accompanied by a rejection of the veneration of images. Within the Byzantine ruling class the struggles over the worship of images were in effect a struggle for power. In 730, Emperor Leo III prohibited the veneration of images and simultaneously confiscated the church’s property, thereby giving important material resources to the government and the original supporters of Iconoclasm, the provincial nobility. The nobility of the capital declared themselves against Iconoclasm and were supported by the papacy, which hoped to use the polemics over the worship of images to free southern Italy from Byzantium’s political and ecclesiastical leadership. The most resolute opponents of Iconoclasm were the monks, who had close ties with the nobility of the capital. In 754 at a church council in Hiereia (a suburb of Constantinople) the basic principles of Iconoclasm were formulated, and the veneration of images was declared a heresy. To the Iconoclasts the worship of images was idolatry. At the end of the eighth century Iconoclasm declined (this was furthered by the consolidation of the capital nobility and the loss of the populace’s support for official Iconoclasm), and in 787 the Council of Nicaea reinstated the veneration of icons.

The second stage in the movement began during the reign of Leo V (813–20) and was a more democratic movement; the populace actively opposed the church’s domination, the monks, and the nobility of the capital. However, the provincial nobility withdrew from the movement since at this time their demands had for the most part been met. The danger of a growing antifeu-dal popular movement led the provincial and capital nobility to join forces. The movement was finally defeated, and in 843 veneration of images was reinstated.

Iconoclasm also appeared in western Europe in the 16th century during the Reformation (Karlstadt’s speeches in Germany, the Iconoclast Rebellion of 1566 in the Netherlands).


Siuziumov, M. Ia. “Problemy ikonoborchestva v Vizantii.” Uch. zap.Sverdlovskogo pedagogicheskogo in-ta, 1948, vol. 4.
Lipshits, E. E. Ocherki istorii vizantiiskogo obshchestva i kul’tury VIII-pervoi poloviny IX v. Moscow-Leningrad, 1961.
Ladner, C. “The Concept of the Image in the Greek Fathers and the Byzantine Iconoclastic Controversy.” Dumbarton Oaks Papers, 1953, no. 7.
References in periodicals archive ?
As the role of images grew, so did the resistance against them, and the opposition to Christian art continued to make itself heard until the eve of the Iconoclastic Controversy when the theological discourse concerning icons became ever more subtle, culminating in the iconophile and iconoclastic theologies of the eighth and ninth centuries.
The Graeco-Roman and Oriental Background of the Iconoclastic Controversy.
The exhibition charts the rise of early Christian art, beginning with pagan styles and subjects adapted to Christian use while this was still an underground affair, and documenting the shift to publicly visible art under Constantine, the iconoclastic controversy and the Triumph of Orthodoxy.
s work is a thorough and very readable review of the Christological foundations of Eastern iconography as developed prior to and in the iconoclastic controversy of the eighth and early-ninth centuries.
But art of this kind, whether from the eastern or western churches, is distinctively Christian art in the sense defined initially by John of Damascus around 700 and in 843 with the end of the iconoclastic controversy.
After summarizing the history of the iconoclastic controversy and the Second Council of Nicea, he discusses the veneration of images in tradition, the didactic function of the icon, the goodness and the deification of matter, the icon and Christology, and the icon in worship.