“The Teddy-bear exists in order that the child may endow it with imaginary life and personality and enter into a quasi-social relationship with it. That is what ‘playing with it’ means. The better this activity succeeds the less the actual appearance of the object will matter. Too close or prolonged attention to its changeless and expressionless face impedes the play. A crucifix exists in order to direct the worshipper’s thought and affections to the Passion. It had better not have any excellencies, subtleties, or originalities which will fix attention upon itself. Hence devout people may, for this purpose, prefer the crudest and emptiest icon. The emptier, the more permeable; and they want, as it were, to pass through the material image and go beyond.”

C. S. Lewis, “How the Few and the Many Use Pictures and Music” in An Experiment in Criticism (Cambridge 1961), 17—18.

7 thoughts on “Crucifix

  1. You realize that Lewis is treading a bit toward Catholicism here, right? Teddy Bear Fallacy aside, the question becomes what governs worship. Remember Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10:1), remember the Valley of Hinnom (Jer 7:31); when it comes to worship we are told to add nothing that God has not commanded.

  2. This quote from Lewis is intended as a warning to folks who focus their attention upon a crucifix and think it has mystic powers. This is the danger of the crucifix images. I am not advocating their use, but warning of their misuse. Lewis’ point is an important one and comes in a valuable essay on image. Hope this helps clarify its purpose, a purpose that can be invisible with no introductory comment.

  3. But I would add a warning to those who even believe a crucifix is a help to focus on the Passion. It is no coincidence that the culture Christ was to be born into had been conditioned and bound against graven images.
    I am not saying all images are wrong, but any image used in worship cannot help but lead one astray. Any image of God, no matter how crude, cannot help but deceive the senses, and through them, the heart.

  4. The incarnation demands that we “image” Jesus Christ. We do it all the time. As we read the gospel accounts, our minds construct an image of the God-Man. We imagine him writing with his finger in the dust, eating meals with his disciples, sleeping in a boat: we cannot but concoct an image, by necessity of his condescension into humanity.

    Now, to assert that we are forbidden to portray outwardly what God has mandated that we portray mentally, is absurd. Moreover, these mental images of Jesus Christ which we form every day in our meditation upon Scripture–by necessity–is of the very essence of worship. Worship and images of the God-Man are unavoidably married in the life of the godly man. Just try to worship Jesus Christ without a mental image of Him. It is not only impossible, it is disobedient.

    But we ARE forbidden to create a mental image of God our Father. Here is the great distinction: no images of the Trinity proper, but images by necessity of Mediator in his economic role as our Brother and Suffering Savior.

    So, yes, my mental images of Christ on the Tree, shall cause me to worship. And if I see an external image of the suffering savior that is true to the gospel accounts, then I shall worship again. How could I not? Why would I not?

    When it comes to worship, let us not forbid anything that has been, by necessity, commanded: contemplating the material life of our Lord Jesus Christ.


  5. TB,
    I’ve been meaning to come back here for ages now and reply and I’ve kept getting caught up on other things.

    I don’t see in Scripture where a distinction is made between God the Father and God the Son regarding imaging. To suggest that the incarnation demands that we “image” Christ and then allows us to make a mental image into a physical one is both ridiculous and pure assertion. When God passed before Moses and allowed him to see his back side, there was no demand placed upon us to “image” that moment, and there was certainly no freedom to then make a physical image.

    I understand that this is a contentious issue, but I believe we are dealing with the limits that God has placed upon worship. Christ is God. No images. End of story.

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