Featured image is a painting by my wife, Emilia Beckett, which is hanging in my office.
The names Bezalel and Oholiab probably don’t ring a bell. This is rather ironic considering they are the artists responsible for designing and making the most famous objects in the entire Old Testament that the Lord delineated in chapters 25-29: the Ark of the Covenant, the mercy seat, the altar of incense, the holy garments of Aaron and his sons, and literally everything else that comprises the Tabernacle. When God chose Bezalel to do this artistic work, He said, “‘I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs'” (vv. 3-4).
Therefore, I dare say that every Christian artist and icon maker are not only filled with great intelligence but even more filled with God’s Holy Spirit. For how else can they create such beautiful images that teach who God is and evoke in us inspiration to continue living as Christ’s disciples? Some quotes on the use of icons from ancient Christians are worth sharing. Pope Gregory the Great (ca. AD 540-604) said, “they are a means of leading the illiterate to a knowledge of the truths of faith.” And in a letter to a hermit, he wrote, “I know that you do not seek the image of our Savior that you may worship it as God, but by bringing to mind the Son of God you may keep warm in the love of Him whose image you desire to have before you. We bow before it not as before divinity but we worship Him of whom we are reminded by the picture that shows His birth or His throne” (Davis, 192-293).
Patriarch Germanus of Constantinople (ca. AD 634-732) is also noteworthy: “In eternal memory of the life in the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, of His passion, of His saving death and the redemption of the world, which result from them, we have received the tradition of representing Him in His human form, that is, His visible theophany, understanding that in this way, we exalt the humiliation of God’s Word… For since we consist of flesh and blood, we are impelled to confirm by sight what we are wholly convinced of in the soul” (Davis, 297).
Christian art, therefore, is the incarnation of the inward faith. In other words, it is the outward manifestation of inward faith that is wrought by the Holy Spirit. The gift of the Holy Spirit is why I write, why my wife paints—why every artist feels compelled to manifest what the Lord and Giver of life has fashioned in their hearts and minds. It is our truest and most genuine honour, praise, and thanksgiving to God for what He has done and is doing.
Davis, Leo Donald. The First Seven Ecumenical Councils (325-787): Their History and Theology. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1990.