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Imago Dei:
The Byzantine Apologia for Icons
Jaroslav Pelikan
With a new foreword by Judith Herrin

Paperback | 2011 | $46.95 | £39.95 | ISBN: 9780691141251
224 pp. | 7 1/2 x 10 | 50 halftones.
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Preface[PDF] pdf-icon

In 726 the Byzantine emperor, Leo III, issued an edict that all religious images in the empire were to be destroyed, a directive that was later endorsed by a synod of the Church in 753 under his son, Constantine V. If the policy of Iconoclasm had succeeded, the entire history of Christian art--and of the Christian church, at least in the East--would have been altered.

Iconoclasm was defeated--by Byzantine politics, by popular revolts, by monastic piety, and, most fundamentally of all, by theology, just as it had been theology that the opponents of images had used to justify their actions. Analyzing an intriguing chapter in the history of ideas, the renowned scholar Jaroslav Pelikan shows how a faith that began by attacking the worship of images ended first in permitting and then in commanding it.

Pelikan charts the theological defense of icons during the Iconoclastic controversies of the eighth and ninth centuries, whose high point came in A.D. 787, when the Second Council of Nicaea restored the cult of images in the church. He demonstrates how the dogmas of the Trinity and the Incarnation eventually provided the basic rationale for images: because the invisible God had become human and therefore personally visible in Jesus Christ, it became permissible to make images of that Image. And because not only the human nature of Christ, but that of his Mother had been transformed by the Incarnation, she, too, could be "iconized," together with all the other saints and angels.

The iconographic "text" of the book is provided by one of the very few surviving icons from the period before Iconoclasm, the Egyptian tapestry Icon of the Virgin now in the Cleveland Museum of Art. Other icons serve to illustrate the theological argument, just as the theological argument serves to explain the icons.

In a new foreword, Judith Herrin discusses the enduring importance of the book, provides a brief biography of Pelikan, and discusses how later scholars have built on his work.


"[Pelikan's] extraordinary breadth as a historian, not to mention his mastery of the Christian theological traditions, enables him to establish a proper context and a necessary rhetoric for the exploration of Byzantine icons."--John Wesley Cook, Theology Today

"[T]his book is genuine cause for celebration. I look forward to recommending it heartily to students and colleagues alike."--Alexander Golitzin, Patristics

"The book is beautifully produced and lavishly illustrated. Instructive and pleasing, Imago Dei repays both close reading and close viewing."--Cross Currents

"[L]ucid, crisp, inclusive, comprehensive, and articulate."--Daniel J. Sahas, History of Christianity

"Pelikan clearly delineates the path the theological defense of icons took during the iconoclastic controversies of the eighth and ninth centuries ... Commendably Pelikan addresses the role played by the other senses in the defense of icons. The fact that touch, taste, audition and smell were acceptable made it easier to argue for the place of the visual."--Theological Studies

Table of Contents:

Foreword vii
Preface xix
Illustrations xxi
Abbreviations xxiii
Introduction: The Idea in the Image

Chapter 1: The Context
Religion and "Realpolitik" Byzantine Style 7

Chapter 2: Graven Images
The Ambiguity of the Iconographic Tradition 41

Chapter 3: Divinity Made Human
Aesthetic Implications of the Incarnation 67

Chapter 4: The Senses Sanctified
The Rehabilitation of the Visual 99

Chapter 5: Humanity Made Divine
Mary the Mother of God 121

Chapter 6: The Great Chain of Images
A Cosmology of Icons 153

Bibliography 183
Index 194

Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Judith Herrin:


Subject Areas:

A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts/National Gallery of Art, Washington

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File created: 7/11/2017

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