Today’s Catechism sections discuss idolatry and the veneration of images. Supporting material comes from Tertullian’s “On Idolatry”.

IV. "You Shall Not Make For Yourself a Graven Image . . ."

2129 The divine injunction included the prohibition of every representation of God by the hand of man. Deuteronomy explains: "Since you saw no form on the day that the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a graven image for yourselves, in the form of any figure...."66 It is the absolutely transcendent God who revealed himself to Israel. "He is the all," but at the same time "he is greater than all his works."67 He is "the author of beauty."68

2130 Nevertheless, already in the Old Testament, God ordained or permitted the making of images that pointed symbolically toward salvation by the incarnate Word: so it was with the bronze serpent, the ark of the covenant, and the cherubim.69

2131 Basing itself on the mystery of the incarnate Word, the seventh ecumenical council at Nicaea (787) justified against the iconoclasts the veneration of icons - of Christ, but also of the Mother of God, the angels, and all the saints. By becoming incarnate, the Son of God introduced a new "economy" of images.

2132 The Christian veneration of images is not contrary to the first commandment which proscribes idols. Indeed, "the honor rendered to an image passes to its prototype," and "whoever venerates an image venerates the person portrayed in it."70 The honor paid to sacred images is a "respectful veneration," not the adoration due to God alone:

Religious worship is not directed to images in themselves, considered as mere things, but under their distinctive aspect as images leading us on to God incarnate. The movement toward the image does not terminate in it as image, but tends toward that whose image it is.71

IN BRIEF

2141 The veneration of sacred images is based on the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word of God. It is not contrary to the first commandment.

The following comes from Tertullian’s “On Idolatry.

Chapter 2. Idolatry in Its More Limited Sense. Its Copiousness

But let the universal names of crimes withdraw to the specialities of their own works; let idolatry remain in that which it is itself. Sufficient to itself is a name so inimical to God, a substance of crime so copious, which reaches forth so many branches, diffuses so many veins, that from this name, for the greatest part, is drawn the material of all the modes in which the expansiveness of idolatry has to be foreguarded against by us, since in manifold wise it subverts the servants of God; and this not only when unperceived, but also when cloaked over. Most men simply regard idolatry as to be interpreted in these senses alone, viz.: if one burn incense, or immolate a victim, or give a sacrificial banquet, or be bound to some sacred functions or priesthoods; just as if one were to regard adultery as to be accounted in kisses, and in embraces, and in actual fleshly contact; or murder as to be reckoned only in the shedding forth of blood, and in the actual taking away of life. But how far wider an extent the Lord assigns to those crimes we are sure: when He defines adultery to consist even in concupiscence, Matthew 5:28if one shall have cast an eye lustfully on, and stirred his soul with immodest commotion; when He judges murder Matthew 5:22 to consist even in a word of curseor of reproach, and in every impulse of anger, and in the neglect of charity toward a brother just as John teaches, 1 John 3:15 that he who hates his brother is a murderer. Else, both the devil's ingenuity in malice, and God the Lord's in the Discipline by which He fortifies us against the devil's depths, Revelation 2:24 would have but limited scope, if we were judged only in such faults as even the heathen nations have decreed punishable. How will our righteousness abound above that of the Scribes and Pharisees, as the Lord has prescribed, Matthew 5:20 unless we shall have seen through the abundance of that adversary quality, that is, of unrighteousness? But if the head of unrighteousness is idolatry, the first point is, that we be fore-fortified against the abundance of idolatry, while we recognise it not only in its palpable manifestations.

Footnotes

66 Deut 4:15-16.
67 ⇒ Sir 43:27-28.
68 ⇒ Wis 13:3.
69 Cf. ⇒ Num 21:4-9; ⇒ Wis 16:5-14; ⇒ Jn 3:14-15; ⇒ Ex 25:10-22; ⇒ 1 Kings 6:23-28; ⇒ 7:23-26.
70 St. Basil, De Spiritu Sancto 18, 45: PG 32, 149C; Council of Nicaea II: DS 601; cf. Council of Trent: DS 1821-1825; Vatican Council II: SC 126; LG 67.
71 St. Thomas Aquinas, STh II-II, 81, 3 ad 3.