Apologetics Tale

Patrick Madrid tells the story of being invited to publicly debate a very anti-Catholic Protestant on the subject of images in worship.

Patrick won the flip and was first up to bat. He began by saying, “My opponent will try to tell you that the Catholic use of images in worship is at worst, idolatry, and at least, meaningless.” He then pulled a large, beautiful crucifix from beneath the podium. “This is a crucifix. Through this image we Catholics follow the example of St Paul and preach Christ crucified. Furthermore, we believe that some images, through long focus of prayer and veneration, soak up some of that holiness, and we revere them more than others. We love these reminders of Our Lord’s death and we venerate these physical things, not for themselves, but because they are vehicles of God’s love and grace in our lives.”

He then put the image on the floor and said, “However, if this image really is an idol, or at least just a worthless carving, I would like to invite my opponent to come forward and act on what he believes. If it is a terrible graven image–if it is an idol, then I invite him to spit on this image and trample it under his feet. If it is an idol, then this is the right thing to do. If it is no more than a meaningless image, then it won’t matter if he does spit on it and trample it under his feet. Sir, will you be the first? Then I will invite everyone in the audience to do the same.”

No one came forward.

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  • Had he done the same thing with a statue of Mary with a ring of flowers on her head he might have gotten a very different response.

  • M

    Ha ha! SCORE!!! Way to go, Mr. Madrid!I think some Christians don’t fully realize what they’re saying or say they believe. If X, then Y. What? You don’t agree with/to Y? Well, how sure are you now about X?I’ve gotten caught like that before, and boy, is it an eye opener!

  • Stepping on a crucifix was a standard test in Japan starting around 1600 to find out who was a Catholic. We use the example of the Twenty-six Martyrs of Japan in 6th grade Sunday School.

  • Oh, that’s good. Marcus Aurelius has a point, though I’m not quite sure the response might not have been a sheepish refusal.

  • JP

    Yes, real good. I’ll surely remember that if it ever comes up in a discussion!

  • Most of these protestants don’t know why they hate us so much. They just follow along with the party line. Maybe we the climate is changing and more of them will cross the Tiber! We can keep praying for that! God bless! Padre Steve, SDB

  • I agree with padre steve–most Protestants don’t even know why they HATE us so much. If they looked closely at the Catholic Church–they would have no alternative but to join the Church that Jesus Himself founded–not their Protestant leader that twists the message of the Gospels–that we received from the Apostles to their own interpretation.

  • I bet a lot of protestants would smash a statue of Mary if invited to do so. Jesus… not so much. But the Mary thing is why they think Catholics are idolators. As a Catholic I myself think some catholics cross the line into mariolatry.

  • Yes, but Pat was not discussing Marian theology, but the essential issue of images. Those who have problems with images as such, should have just as much difficulty with a crucifix as an image of the Blessed Mother.

  • Ah yes. Good point indeed. The crucifix bearing a corpus was indeed the best choice then.

  • What exactly is “mariolatry”?”Excess” devotion to Mary? There cannot be excess in that regard. Only if your gleaning the surface of someone’s thorough devotion.Why all this self-flagellation regarding relics and holy images? It is in fact very difficult to fall into idolatry when one venerates them, including Mary, precisely because of the objective connection with Jesus.We do not need to explain to ourselves everytime we venerate a holy image or statue or relic, that it is “only a channel…” There is a built-in assurance that, granted our heart is in the right, we won’t fall into idolatry even when the show of veneration becomes “extreme” or “excessive”.I remember watching the movie, “Luther”. There’s a part where Luther condemns those people who eat up his “reforming” teachings and tear down all the statues and such, and Luther says to them angrily, something along these lines, “Who are you to destroy a crucifix, an object of devotion, which may be someone’s way to…” What a joke.

  • I’m not going to get into mariolatry as it is off the point of Fr. L’s post. But yes, I think there are a small minority of catholics who’ve gone off the deep end and worship an idolatrous conception of Mary. They make the rest of us look bad. I’m well aware that the vast majority of us appropriately venerate Mary and all the saints.With regard to Luther, you should check out Simpson’s new book ‘Burning to Read’. After that objective review of all the thinkers of the age I can’t respect Tyndale or Luther very much, even if they get to be right about vernacular scripture being a good thing. And they were certainly as responsible, if not more responsible, for a lot of violence than the church was.

  • Loved this post, Father. I too will remember how will Madrid made his point.

  • Thanks for the book recommendaton. It’ll go on my list for future reads. So much to read, so little time…

  • Hello to all of you, and may the peace of Jesus Christ reign in your hearts.I am a Protestant Christian (although I hate the term Protestant). Recently, this test in a slightly different form was brought forward to me. I have Roman Catholic In-Laws whom I love dearly. As many of our conversations go, we discussed the Church in many different ways.At some point, the issue of graven images was brought up. We discussed the Second commandment, and what the Israelites did when they made a golden calf/bull as an image for Jehovah God. We continued the conversation in a rather decent way.Then at some point my mother in law wanted to do a test on my wife and me. Down came the old wooden crucifix… “If this is just a graven image or idol… spit on it.” She said. I looked at her face and my father in laws. They were smiling with expectancy. I thought to myself, the only thing that would hold me back is their veneration of the object. I silently prayed… “Lord, I stand with you and Love you. You are Holy. You know my heart.” I spit. I did not spit on the Beautiful sacrifice of Christ I spat on a man made object. I did so only after they said they would not be offended. Now, it seems they ARE offended.I felt that the entire thing was an odd set up of sorts. I wondered why someone would ask someone, especially a follower of Christ to cause them any for of pain. However, if I did not spit, I was saying there was something special about the object. If I spit, I affirmed what I believe in my heart… that it was indeed just an ordinary object.I apologize if I upset any of you. My wife sent me this link, and I thought it a fitting place to share. Objects do not create a personal problem for me. If someone wants to have them, that is there choice… but for me, I see grave error in it. I hope that makes sense.Again, may the Lord bless you for His glory sake.-george-

  • But it is a special object, that’s the point.It is a special object by virtue of it being a representation of Jesus Christ.God bless,Paul.

  • I didn’t think Madrid’s test was a good one, for fear of just the sort of thing George Weis relates. You don’t want to incite someone to sin, for any reason. Madrid would have done better to ask *rhetorically* if the audience would spit on a crucifix, rather than to dare someone to actually do it.I wouldn’t spit on an American flag; much less on a representation of Jesus. Spitting on an image of Him is a disrespectful act, just as taking His name in vain is a disrespectful act.I don’t understand how Protestants can object to images when the Lord Himself commanded the making of images for religious purposes (the bronze snake and the angels on the Ark.)

  • George Weiss,Ouch! I don’t know if you’ve ever read N.T. Wright, but he makes a very good point regarding doctrine and symbols. People are willing to tolerate people dissenting on doctrine, but when you mess with their symbols… watch out! And so I’m sure your dear relatives really meant that they would be ok… because they were just fine when discussing it verbally, but when it comes to symbols something much more powerful is going on. I would agree with you, and rachel gray, that this isn’t a good idea. Since we really *do* believe these objects are sacred, it isn’t the best idea to invite their profanation! (Or, of course, sin between believers in Christ.)But I would still suggest to you that you take into account that the Scriptures give latitude for usage of images. Let me give you another example. Transport yourself back to the Old Testament times.On the ark of the covenant are “two cheribum of beaten gold” adorning the propitiatory (Ex 25:18). Would you have spit on the cherubim?Or let’s go to King Solomon’s Temple instead. The great “sea” rested on “twelve oxen” (1 Kings 7:25; see also 2 Chron 4:4). Would you have spit on the twelve oxen?Or again, in King Solomon’s Temple, there are “two cherubim, each ten cubits high, made of olive wood” and “each wing… measured five cubits…” and they were placed “in the inmost part of the temple” and “overlaid with gold” (1 Kings 6:24-28). Not only that, but there were also, “carved figures of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers,” not to mention that the door, had “carved cherubim” etc. (1 Kings 6:29-35). Would you spit on any of these carven or beaten images?And lastly, Moses “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” (Num 21:9). Would you have spit on the bronze serpent?Are any of these things *just* graven images? Or are they also holy items which God commanded for use in worship? Note that it is typical that “with this sacred anointing oil you shall anoint the meeting tent and the ark of the commandments… when you have consecrated them, they shall be most sacred” (Ex 30:22-33). These items themselves are consecrated… they are set apart and holy to God, not to be profaned. I must say, even more so for the crucifix. For the mounted seraph was an image or type of the Son of Man lifted up on the Cross. As Jesus says, “just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (Jn 3:14-15). Looking on the serpent brought healing to the Israelites. Looking on the crucifix with the eyes of faith brings eternal life. If what the priests of the Old Testament blessed was holy and sacred to the Lord, how much more so that which Christian priests bless. How can we profane such a thing? Is it really just an ordinary object? I urge you to reconsider your position on images. -Rob

  • I agree that this is better kept as a rhetorical device, rather than a literal challenge.

  • If we’re all charged to defend the faith on some level than it does become tricky whether or not inviting someone to spit on an image of christ is acceptable. Interestingly, that is one of the accusations leveled at the Templars by their inquisitors. Some say the Templars did in fact include spitting on a crucifix as one of their rituals as a training against possible imprisonment and torture by the muslims who might force them to do such things.It is a useful rhetorical discussion both for Catholics to contemplate that an icon is in fact, still just an object even if it helps us to meditate or focus on something of great importance, and for Protestants to get a glimpse of why icons have been important to Christians for the last 2000 years. It ought to open up bridges and understanding.

  • Folks I never wanted to cause problems. It was for me a tough thing to decide upon. I do understand where you get support for images, but honestly, I don’t recall Christ or the Apostles in scripture giving an edict like that which was given in the O.T. for the tabernacle.I recommend reading J.I. Packer’s Knowing God. Yeah, I know He is Anglican 😀 But I found that his position best sums up what has always resonated with my heart in the matter. If you want to understand a Protestants thoughts… read the chapter that deals with this.Robert, never read N.T. Wright… I suppose I will put that on my to read list. Any book in particular?Fr. Dwight, Interesting story of how you reached the place where you are now. Funny that you went to Bob Jones… wow, that is like the most strict and conservative Bible Schools in the Protestant world 😀 I love J.R. and C.S.I pray that each of you has a very blessed weekend. May God bless you for His name and Kingdom’s sake.-g-

  • George,”Folks I never wanted to cause problems.”I understand. I agree with you that the whole challenge was a bad idea, for multiple reasons. “I do understand where you get support for images, but honestly, I don’t recall Christ or the Apostles in scripture giving an edict like that which was given in the O.T. for the tabernacle.”That’s a good point. Of course, it’s an Old Testament passage which furnishes the biggest objection against using images (as you said, you were discussing Exodus and the gold calf, and the 2nd commandment), so it’s appropriate that Catholics use the Old Testament to turn around the objection. I’m not familiar with NT objections against images, so I guess I assumed that if there were no good objections that at least we could place it within the realm of Christian freedom. But in any case… perhaps I should stop dragging us into this. The best introduction to N.T. Wright is probably “The Challenge of Jesus.” He’s an Anglican bishop who does NT biblical criticism, but he doesn’t think that means you have to be very skeptical and conclude that we know nothing about Jesus. I think he’s off on one or two points (the big one is that he thinks Jesus had faith He was God… but other than that), but he presents an interesting view. I think it’s important to have people like him who defend the faith in the face of modern methods which others use to detract from Christianity. I’m currently trying to read his big series on the New Testament, starting with the New Testament and the People of God. As for Packer: I’d be interested, but I can’t say I have the money to buy a book right now, and my local library isn’t exactly the best. If I get a chance and I see it, I’ll look for it. If you want to tell me about it (and that’s practical), I could always give you my email address and you could tell me. God bless,-Rob

  • Jesus was apparently totally okay with the image of Caesar on a coin. And that was some hopped up little Roman jerk who actually claimed to _be_ a god, being held in the hand of the Maker of All!So if you’re planning to render something to God, it must be okay to put an image of God or God’s close personal friends and family on it. If you’re not planning to treat something as God’s, you probably shouldn’t.

  • I meant to say, “And that was an image of some hopped up little Roman jerk….”

  • Of course, the ultimate proof that God is okay with images is the fact that God allowed people to memorize His Word (mental image), speak and repeat it (audial image), write it down (visual representation in images of a sound), and translate it (images of images of images!). This was pointed out back in the day by St. John of Damascus, who lived under a Muslim ruler and was wanted by an icon-smashing Byzantine emperor. Truly, he had no worldly incentive to support images and all the reason in the world not to. You should read him.

  • Robert, If you want to e-mail me, I could make a copy of the chapter dealing with this and send it to you. I know books can be very expensive… but well worth it I think you would agree!Thank you for pointing me to a book choice with N.T. I will look into him!Maureen, I believe the coin thing is a stretch but I see how your thought pattern comes together.-g-

  • I *did* use this argument rhetorically.In fact, I believe my actual words were very close to, “If any of you believe what my opponent has been claiming here in this debate, that showing respect to sacred images (icons) is wrong, then you should have no difficulty showing disrespect to this sacred image.” I told the audience I doubted that any of them would be willing to show disrespect to the crucifix, whether by spitting at it or stomping on it. I definitely did not invite anyone to do so.It seems to me that this original post (which I appreciate being posted) was rather more of a retelling in different words what I mentioned briefly in one of my recent EWTN radio broadcasts, hence the possibility that some would get the wrong impression regarding what I said (and why) in that debate.If anyone is interested in the exact language I employed in the debate, it’s called “The Great Debate,” and is available in video, CD, and MP3 formats at my website,patrickmadrid.com.Thanks for the opportunity to clarify.

  • Thanks for the clarification Pat

  • I’m very glad to read that, Mr. Madrid, and thanks for the work you do! 🙂

  • George – You prayed . . . silently to Christ, in a very personal way yet by your public act you made a statement. Very interesting that you had to pray first to make your point and not let Christ be offended at the choice you made to spit on the object. Don’t you think it interesting you had to pray first??God be with youJennifer

  • If I ever spit on Christ or an image of him, I sure wouldn’t admit it in public. Makes it seem like your iconoclasm is more important to you than your love of Christ.The iconoclast heresy was defeated over a millennium ago.The Baptist, Pentecostal, CoC, and independent fundamentalist churches around here all have a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at the front door. So much for iconoclasm.