Monument, Idols, and Tolerance | Fr. James V. Schall, SJ | CWR
What we have now is rapidly changing because we do not really look at or understand the philosophies of the real iconoclasts of our time
“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again” (Jn 2:19).
One of the accusations made against Christ was that he threatened to destroy the Temple of Jerusalem. When King David planned to build the original Temple, Yahweh’s initial reaction was: “Who told you that I wanted a house of cedar?” (1 Chron 17; 2 Sam 7). But the final Temple was destroyed by the Romans under Vespasian in 70 A.D., mainly to get rid of the troublesome Jews. The Triumphal Arc of Titus in the Roman Forum shows a Jewish Temple menorah. Temples are erected, worshipped in, and often destroyed. They stand for something, both in their construction and in their destruction. They can themselves be houses of God built in cedar or stone. They can even analogously become what they symbolize. “The Temple is the Temple of His Body” (Jn 2:21). But temples can also be places dedicated to many different kinds of gods and ideologies, not always so edifying.
An idol is some figure or humanly made artifact that is to be worshiped as a god, usually under threat of punishment or death for refusing to do so. It figuratively embodies what it stands for. It is also possible to conceive of such natural objects as the sun, the moon, a mountain, or a river as an idol requiring mandatory worship and sacrifice.
A monument is rather a humanly made statue or object designed to honor some person, country, athlete, purpose, virtue, or even a racehorse. It is specifically not divine or a god. A tombstone is a small (usually stone) memorial of the life or a person or persons. Such too are statues in Catholic churches. These artifacts may be sublime, ordinary, or even ugly. They are intended, however, to capture something of their maker’s purpose, in the name of a religion or polity. They are usually viewed that way by those who behold them.
But someone from outside such a culture, country, or religion may confuse veneration or honoring with worship. Christians accused of “worshipping Mary” is a case in point. The distinction between “to worship” and “to venerate” is thus significant theologically as an indication of what is going on. But if someone insists that veneration must be worship, he will accuse the devotion to Mary as “worship” instead of the “veneration” it is.
The Old Testament frequently witnesses to the destruction of idols of other nations.