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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).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



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.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Chapter Three uses Reformation iconoclasm and the writings of female mystics to explore 'Christ's riven and riving presence' (his broken and breaking presence) as the one who was 'crucified, died, and was buried'.
Most importantly, these symbolic shifts, name changes and projects of iconoclasm have deliberately targeted the principal ideas - and the historical processes or people representing them - underpinning the vision of India as a secular state.
In arguing for a cultural as well as regional iconoclasm, then, Sissons declares his allegiances to structuralist history.
To my knowledge, this sequence of events, and the very existence of the "Sasanian iconoclasm" formulated by Boyce, have seldom been questioned, let alone systematically examined and critically analyzed.
11), escrito por Siri Sande, titulado Iconoclasm in History and Present-day Use of Images.
The second division of the book comprises three chapters, each of which serves as a case study on iconoclasm in different cultural environments.
Brubaker is correct that the Byzantines, while often referring to "iconoclasts" (eikonoklastai, "icon-smashers"), used a word for the iconoclastic movement (eikonomachia, "fighting against icons") that is more likely "iconomachy" than "iconoclasm" (3-4).
Figure and Likeness: On the Limits of Representation in Byzantine Iconoclasm. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992, 13-37.
It is almost as if the author wrote his study of the brain, decided to sell his idea, and then quickly wrote the book to make iconoclasm sound like a fun thing that you too can do.
Silence is one of the practices bordering on iconoclasm. It is tolerated--to some degree--by repressive regimes.
Images, Iconoclasm, and the Carolingians is a magisterial reexamination of a period in which long-lived ideas about the power and limitations of Christian images were first articulated in the medieval West.