Because of the influence of Islam on Protestantism that we wrote of aforetime, it should not be surprising to learn that Protestants imitated the Muslims in the hatred they showed towards holy images, relics, and so forth. Below is part of an article that recounts the Reformation’s iconoclasm. The reader is encouraged to visit the site itself for þe (the) whole essay and for the artwork that we left out that tells the sad story of Protestant-Muslim fellow-working in fordoing (destroying) sacred art and objects.
In a recent Times Literary Supplement, David Motadel reviewed James Noyes’s 2013 book The Politics of Iconoclasm: Religion, Violence and the Culture of Image-Breaking in Christianity and Islam. The review, and the associated scholarship, raises important questions about how we conceive of the Reformation, how we teach it, and, significantly, how we will commemorate the 500th anniversary of the event in 2017.
Motadel writes that,
“The prototype of all modern forms of iconoclasm [Noyes] found in Calvin’s Geneva and Ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s Mecca. Sixteenth-century Geneva witnessed one of the most devastating waves of religious image-breaking in history. Incited by a group of charismatic theologians – among them John Calvin himself – mobs raged against objects associated with miracles, magic and the supernatural, destroying some of the city’s most precious pieces of Christian art. Invoking the Second Commandment, they denounced these works as idols, and as remnants of a rural, feudal and superstitious world, a world corrupted by Satan.”
Nor was Geneva unusual. In Basel in 1529, widespread iconoclastic riots destroyed virtually all the material tokens of traditional Catholic worship and devotion in the cathedral and the city’s leading churches. Even these German and Swiss manifestations were dwarfed by the devastating Storm of Images (Beeldenstorm) that swept over the Netherlands in 1566.
This movement was directed against any and all Catholic material symbols — against stained glass windows, statues of the Virgin and saints, holy medals and tokens.
Such stories of image-breaking (iconoclasm) are familiar enough to anyone who knows about the Reformation, and there are plenty of scholarly studies.
Recent works, though, highlight two features of the movement that often get underplayed:
1. Iconoclasm was central to the Reformation experience, not marginal, and not just a regrettable extravagance.
Historians of the Reformation tend to be bookish people interested in books, so they focus on aspects of literacy and translation, with the spread of the vernacular Bible as the centerpiece of the story. The idea of the Reformation as a “media revolution” is common enough.
Yes, we do read of outbreaks of destructive violence and iconoclasm, but these are usually presented as marginal excesses, or understandable instances of popular fury against church abuses. Once we get those unfortunate riots out of the way, we can get back to the main story of tracing the process of Bible translation.
That’s very misleading. For anyone living at the time, including educated elites, the iconoclasm was not just an incidental breakdown of law and order, it was the core of the whole movement, the necessary other side of the coin to the growth of literacy. . . .
Source: Philip Jenkins, ‘The Breaking of Images’, Patheos, http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/72449.htm, posted 23 July 2014, accessed 10 Nov. 2015