The Second Council of Nicaea on icons

Introduction: The Second Council of Nicaea (787)—so called because the very first Church council was held there in 325—was the last ecumenical council attended by the Byzantine patriarch and representatives of the Roman pope and recognized by both the Orthodox and Roman-rite Churches. Nicaea II dealt principally with questions of icon destruction and veneration. Even though icons were again prohibited between 814 and the “triumph of Orthodoxy” in 843, the decrees of Nicaea II remained the standard declarations of Byzantine religious policy thereafter. Translated here is the council’s clearest rationale for icon veneration.

Translation: Some passages have been simplified and words added in brackets to aid comprehension.
Following the theological teaching of our holy fathers and the tradition of the Universal Church (which we know to be of the Holy Spirit who dwells in it), we decree with full accuracy and diligence that venerable and holy images—in painting, in mosaic, or in any other suitable material—are, just like the outline of the holy and life-giving Cross, to be placed in holy churches of God, on sacred vessels and vestments, on walls and panels, in houses and streets. [This includes] the icon of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ, of our spotless Lady the Holy Mother of God, of the venerable angels, [and] of all the saints and holy men; because the more they are seen portrayed in images, the more those who see them are inclined to remember and long for the person portrayed. One should honor and venerate these images—not actually worship them in accordance with our faith, since worship [latreia] is due only to God, but venerate them in the manner in which the outline of the holy and life-giving Cross, the holy Gospels, and other sacred objects are venerated—and one should honor them with incense and lights, just as people of old have been piously accustomed to do, because the honor paid to an image passes over to the one whom that image portrays, and he who venerates an image venerates the individual depicted in it.

« Back

Constantinople, Hagia Sophia, apse mosaic