There are a lot of Protestants, particularly Evangelicals within the Calvinist tradition, who hold (a) that symbolic depictions of Christ, like the Crucifix, are idolatrous and wrong, and (b) that the Eucharist is a religious symbol. As far as I can tell, these two views just can’t be reconciled; at least, not without declaring Christ an idolater. To see what I mean, let’s compare these two views side-by-side.
|Cristo Negro de Esquipulas
(Black Christ of Esquipulas), Esquipulas, Guatemala
Dr. Joe Mizzi, an ex-Catholic, runs a site called JustForCatholics.org, seeking to draw Catholics away from the Church. Another ex-Catholic wrote him to see whether it was wrong to throw Crucifixes into the trash:
Since I used to be Catholic, I have a couple of crucifixes that I no longer have up hanging on the walls. What do I do with them? I know it is not really Jesus there on the crucifix but it seems, I don’t know, disrespectful to throw it in the trash? But I think I shouldn’t hang onto those things anymore?
Just for having to ask, Mizzi suggested that “you are still not yet completely freed from you[r] previous thought patterns.” A committed ex-Catholic would know that the Crucifix must be destroyed:
Keep in mind what God requires of us. He commands us not to make any grave images or to bow before then or serve them. Consequently, you would do well to remove all idols from your house.I know that the crucifix is made to represent the Lord. But God Himself would not approve of such a practice. [….] When you begin thinking like this, you would do like God’s servant, Moses, and destroy the graven images because you respect and love the Lord enough to obey his Word.
According to Mizzi, Christians ought to destroy Crucifixes because any depiction of God (including scenes of Christ on the Cross) are idolatrous.
This radical iconoclasm has its roots in Calvinism. John Calvin conceded that religious images played an important catechetical role in the Church for the unread, but still held that any attempt to depict God was idolatrous and false:
Rafael Pi Belda, Christ Crucified (2009)
I am not ignorant, indeed, of the assertion, which is now more than threadbare, “that images are the books of the unlearned.” So said Gregory: but the Holy Spirit goes a very different decision; and had Gregory got his lesson in this matter in the Spirit’s school, he never would have spoken as he did. For when Jeremiah declares that “the stock is a doctrine of vanities,” (Jer. 10:8), and Habakkuk, “that the molten image” is “a teacher of lies,” the general doctrine to be inferred certainly is, that every thing respecting God which is learned from images is futile and false.
If it is objected that the censure of the prophets is directed against those who perverted images to purposes of impious superstition, I admit it to be so; but I add (what must be obvious to all), that the prophets utterly condemn what the Papists hold to be an undoubted axiom — viz. that images are substitutes for books. For they contrast images with the true God, as if the two were of an opposite nature, and never could be made to agree. In the passages which I lately quoted, the conclusion drawn is, that seeing there is one true God whom the Jews worshipped, visible shapes made for the purpose of representing him are false and wicked fictions; and all, therefore, who have recourse to them for knowledge are miserably deceived. In short, were it not true that all such knowledge is fallacious and spurious, the prophets would not condemn it in such general terms. This at least I maintain, that when we teach that all human attempts to give a visible shape to God are vanity and lies, we do nothing more than state verbatim what the prophets taught.
Calvin views this as the Biblical view, because it is the view held prior to the Incarnation. The Catholic response is twofold: (1) the prohibition against religious imagery was never absolute, even in the Old Covenant (Numbers 21:8-9, Exodus 25:18, 1 Kings 6:29, 1 Samuel 6:5, etc.); and (2) God reveals Himself fully in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-3), Who is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:5).
But Protestants in this camp tend to ignore or reject these arguments, so you end up with things like Mizzi claiming that Christians need to dump their Crucifixes in the trash.
|John Snyder, The Lord’s Table (2013)|
This iconoclasm becomes ironic when contrasted with the position of many of these same Protestants on the Eucharist. Here’s Dr. Mizzi explaining his views on the Eucharist:
Personally, it was through the study of the Bible that I became convinced that the bread and wine are sacred symbols of the body that was broken of the cross and the blood that was shed on Calvary for the remission of my sins, for there is no change in substance (bread remains bread, wine remains wine). It is explicitly stated that the supper is “a remembrance” and that there are now no more offering for sin, so the Eucharist could not be a sacrifice for sin.
Did you catch that? The bread and wine of the Eucharist, according to Mizzi, are “sacred symbols” depicting the Body and Blood of Christ… but aren’t really His Body and Blood. In other words, his view of the Eucharist is almost exactly the same as the Catholic view of the Crucifix that he denounced as idolatrous and unbiblical.
Recall the question that Dr. Mizzi was asked about the Crucifix. The reader said, “I know it is not really Jesus there on the crucifix but it seems, I don’t know, disrespectful to throw it in the trash?” The reader knew that the Crucifix was just a symbol, albeit a sacred one. But such symbolism, Mizzi explained, is evil and idolatrous. But then he turns around and endorses a view of the Eucharist that is the very sort of “sacred symbolism” that he denounced as idolatrous.
It seems to me that these two views are simply contradictory: either symbolic depictions of Christ on the Cross are evil (in which case, the Protestant view of the Eucharist is not just wrong, but evil), or symbolic depictions of Christ on the Cross aren’t evil (in which case, the suggestion that we need to trash our Crucifixes is disrespectful and wrong).
Of course, a third option is possible: that these Protestants are wrong on both of these positions. Sacred symbolism is great, which is why we love religious art and imagery, yet the Eucharist is more than just a sacred symbol. As Catholics, we’d endorse this third option. Our view takes faith, admittedly. The Eucharist looks like it’s just bread and wine, just as Christ looked like He was the ordinary Son of Mary and Joseph. But it’s also consistent and coherent. The pieces of Catholic theology fall into place like a puzzle, while the various distinctively-Protestant views tend to fall into contradiction, as we’ve seen here.