St. Newman vs. Inconsistent Protestant Iconoclasts

St. Newman vs. Inconsistent Protestant Iconoclasts March 21, 2020

The following was taken from St. John Henry Cardinal Newman’s book, Lectures on the Present Position of Catholics in England (1851; Lecture V [1. (2.)], pp. 180-181 in the 1918 edition: London: Longmans, Green and Co.).


(2.) Take again a very different subject. A Protestant blames Catholics for showing honour to images; yet he does it himself. And first, he sees no difficulty in a mode of treating them, quite as repugnant to his own ideas of what is rational, as the practice he abominates; and that is, the offering insult and mockery to them. Where is the good sense of showing dishonour, if it be stupid and brutish to show honour? Approbation and criticism, praise and blame go together. I do not mean, of course, that you dishonour what you honour; but that the two ideas of honour and dishonour so go together, that where you can apply—(rightly or wrongly, but still)—where it is possible to apply the one, it is possible to apply the other. Tell me, then, what is meant by burning Bishops, or Cardinals, or Popes in effigy? has it no meaning? is it not plainly intended for an insult? Would any one who was burned in effigy feel it no insult? Well, then, how is it not absurd to feel pain at being dishonoured in effigy, yet absurd to feel pleasure at being honoured in effigy? How is it childish to honour an image, if it is not childish to dishonour it? This only can a Protestant say in defence of the act which he allows and practises, that he is used to it, whereas to the other he is not used. Honour is a new idea, it comes strange to him; and, wonderful to say, he does not see that he has admitted it in principle already, in admitting dishonour, and after preaching against the Catholic who crowns an image of the Madonna, he complacently goes his way, and sets light to a straw effigy of Guy Fawkes.

But this is not all; Protestants actually set up images to represent their heroes, and they show them honour without any misgiving. The very flower and cream of Protestantism used to glory in the statue of King William on College Green, Dublin; and, though I cannot make any reference in print, I recollect well what a shriek they raised some years ago, when the figure was unhorsed. Some profane person one night applied gunpowder, and blew the king right out of his saddle; and he was found by those who took interest in him, like Dagon, on the ground. You might have thought the poor senseless block had life, to see the way people took on about it, and how they spoke of his face, and his arms, and his legs; yet those same Protestants, I say, would at the same time be horrified, had I used “he” and “him” of a crucifix, and would call me one of the monsters described in the Apocalypse, did I but honour my living Lord as they their dead king.


Related Reading

Early Protestant Antipathy Towards Art (+ Iconoclasm) [1991]

Veneration of Images, Iconoclasm, and Idolatry (An Exposition) [11-15-02]

Martin Luther on Crucifixes, Images and Statues of Saints, and the Sign of the Cross [4-15-08]

Bible on Physical Objects as Aids in Worship [4-7-09]

Calvin, Zwingli, and Bullinger vs. Statues of Christ, Crucifixes, & Crosses [9-19-09]

Crucifixes: Abominable Idols or Devotional Aids? [11-10-09]

Biblical Evidence for Worship of God Via an Image [6-24-11]

The Bronze Serpent: Example of Proper Use of Images [Feb. 2012]

How Protestant Nativity Scenes Proclaim Catholic Doctrine [12-15-13; expanded for publication at National Catholic Register: 12-17-17]

Biblical Idolatry: Authentic & Counterfeit Conceptions [2015]

Newsflash!: Catholicism Utterly Opposes Idolatry, Too [1-18-17]

“Armstrong vs. Geisler” #9: Images & Relics [3-2-17]

Statues in Relation to Bowing, Prayer, & Worship in Scripture [12-26-17]

Crucifixes & Worship Images: “New” (?) Biblical Arguments [1-18-20]


Photo image:  St. Cardinal Newman in the 1860s.


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