A brief history of Icons’ Controversy

22 March 2013

Iconoclasm is the deliberate destruction of religious icons and other symbols or monuments, usually with religious or political motives. It is a frequent component of major political or religious changes. The crisis came into prominence during the reign of Emperor Leo III (717-741), called the Isaurian. When Leo III died in 741 his son Constantine V (741-775), who was named by his father co-emperor at the age of two in 720, sat on the throne of the Roman Emperors. Constantine continued tha iconoclast policy of his father.


Thus, in February 754 the Council of Hiereia the depiction of all Saints and of Christ in icons was rejected and forbidden. The Emperor undertook the implementation of its resolutions. It was now an internal war. The two camps fought each other fanatically. Hated and cursed by his religious opponents, feared by his enemies, Constantine V passed away and on the throne of the Roman Emperors sat his son Leo IV (775-780). The new Emperor was a mild young man who, while espousing the iconoclastic ideas of his strong father, hated the excesses to which his predecessor’s policies had led the State. He was married to a remarkable woman: Irene, the Athenian, an Iconophile. When Leo IV died in September 780, his son Constantine VI, aged 10, crowned co-emperor by his late father, became Emperor under the regency of his mother Irene.

The young Emperor’s mother had a goal: restore the veneration of icons. However, Irene was conscious of the fact that the task was a difficult one. In the Fall of 787 she held quietly at Nicea an Ecclesiastic Council. It is known in Church History as the Seventh Ecumenical Council. The Council reaffirmed the official dogmas of the Church and in October 787 condemned as heresy the Iconoclastic positions. The icons were back.The iconoclast crisis began for second time in 813, when Leon V became emperor. Only, when Theodora, the widow of the emperor Michael, took the throne as guardian of her minor child the crisis ended. Theodora was the iconophiles, convened in session 843, which upheld the decisions of the seven Ecumenical triumphant and reconstructed images.

The ultimate triumph of Orthodoxy against iconoclasm celebrates every Sunday of Orthodoxy. Many important theologists wrote about the importance and theology of icons. They said that the basic principle is that we can respect and portray the images, because Christ was incarnate and sanctified the body and the whole creation.