I'm in no way trying to be disrespectful or anything like that and please do not take it as such.

I would like to know how Catholics reconcile the fact that the Bible states:

4. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any 
thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is 
in the water under the earth.
5. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord
thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the
children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
 -- Exodus 20:4-5

If you walk into any Catholic Church, one sees not only statues of Christ, but also of Mary and several saints. Catholics then go up to these statues, kneel, and start praying. They also carry around necklaces with these saints and put up shrines to these saints in their homes.

How is this not in direct violation with the commandments?

In similar post on this form, the person answering that question said that these things are not idols, but instead are sacramental, but to me, it still looks like idol worship under a different name.

  • 7
    You might want to rethink this question. You already read a post that says "these are not idols", and your only response is "it looks like idol worship to me". Many things 'look like' something, but actually aren't. You are aware that none of the things you describe are supposed to worshipped? Dec 11, 2017 at 19:28
  • 1
    @DJClayworth, Maybe we have different definitions of worship. When I see someone pray to the patron saint of health to help a sick child, it looks the same as the ancient Egyptians preying to Isis, the goddess of health and magic, to heal their sick child. Again, I'm not trying to be contentious, but from an non-Catholic point of view, it seems to be the same thing.
    – ToMakPo
    Dec 11, 2017 at 19:48
  • 1
    @MakPo Now you are asking about something different, namely 'praying to saints' (which isn't really praying to saints, but is covered elsewhere on this site). You were asking about having statues in churches. It's a good idea to focus on only one question at once. Dec 11, 2017 at 19:51
  • 1
    @DJClayworth. It's not something different. People are preying to the statues of saints the same way people in Egypt were praying to statues. The commandment says Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, which is what is happening and it also says Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them which is also happening. I am just wondering how Catholics respond to or reconcile this concept. Again, I feel like this is coming off as antagonizing or judgmental and that really is not what I am doing. I really am wondering this.
    – ToMakPo
    Dec 11, 2017 at 20:19
  • 4

3 Answers 3


I understand your concern, as a former Protestant, I'll do my best to be concice.

First of all, the official teaching of the Church concerning worship is as follows.


2112 The first commandment condemns polytheism. It requires man neither to believe in, nor to venerate, other divinities than the one true God. Scripture constantly recalls this rejection of "idols, [of] silver and gold, the work of men's hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see." These empty idols make their worshippers empty: "Those who make them are like them; so are all who trust in them."42 God, however, is the "living God"43 who gives life and intervenes in history.

2113 Idolatry not only refers to false pagan worship. It remains a constant temptation to faith. Idolatry consists in divinizing what is not God. Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and reveres a creature in place of God, whether this be gods or demons (for example, satanism), power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money, etc. Jesus says, "You cannot serve God and mammon."44 Many martyrs died for not adoring "the Beast"45 refusing even to simulate such worship. Idolatry rejects the unique Lordship of God; it is therefore incompatible with communion with God.46

2114 Human life finds its unity in the adoration of the one God. The commandment to worship the Lord alone integrates man and saves him from an endless disintegration. Idolatry is a perversion of man's innate religious sense. An idolater is someone who "transfers his indestructible notion of God to anything other than God."47

-Cathechism of the Catholic Church

However, as you said, Catholics still do pray to saints and use art(including statues) in their religious life. This is not worship because in Catholic theology it is understood that saints are glorified persons in Heaven always ready to help us in our Christian life.

Let me give you a comparaison. For example, a Protestant when in need of prayer he will ask his Christians friends to pray for him or even to personally help him out. Because he recognizes that adding their prayers to his does make a difference, and that asking them for help personally is completely warrented. The problem though arises because Protestants, among others, do not understand that the imperfect Christians on Earth are not seperated from communicating with the perfect Christians in Heaven.

Hebrews 12:18-24 King James Version (KJV)

[Old Covenant, hesitation] For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, And the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard intreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more: (For they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart: And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake:)

[New Covenant, boldness] But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, 24 And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.

Emphasis added : Saints in Heaven are spirits of just men made perfect. We Catholics understand this to be the consequence of being in Christ, of being part of his Mystical Body. That Body being what mediates when we ask the saints. As St. Paul the Apostle explains...

Colossians 1:24 King James Version (KJV)

Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church:

Thus far we have seen that it is logical for us to ask(the same as to pray) the saints in Heaven for intercession.

Now what exactly warrents us to use stautes, and to bow down to them, to be devouted to some of them? It is right to warn people against the sin of idolatry when they are committing it. But calling Catholics idolaters because they have images of Christ and the saints is based on misunderstanding or ignorance of what the Bible says about the purpose and uses (both good and bad) of statues.

*One must understand that art aides us in triggering our human sensibility, like when you for instance keep pictures of people you like as for example your mother or even when you keep something symbolical concerning them. You would even be warrented to kiss the image of your mother or pay special attention to a royalty without being guilty of idolatry. Because to be in the sin of idolatry you need to make that person or thing your ultimate standard, your highest master... This distinction is indeed observed in the Bible. To appeal to the 10 commandments about not making graven images is likewise a misunderstanding of the text as I will demonstrate(go to Catholic Answers for further details).

David gave Solomon the plan "for the altar of incense made of refined gold, and its weight; also his plan for the golden chariot of the cherubim that spread their wings and covered the ark of the covenant of the Lord. All this he made clear by the writing of the hand of the Lord concerning it all, all the work to be done according to the plan" (1 Chr. 28:18–19). David’s plan for the temple, which the biblical author tells us was "by the writing of the hand of the Lord concerning it all," included statues of angels. Similarly Ezekiel 41:17–18 describes graven (carved) images in the idealized temple he was shown in a vision, for he writes, "On the walls round about in the inner room and [on] the nave were carved likenesses of cherubim."

If bowing to another human is idolatry, then why did Isaac allow Jacob to say: “May nations serve you and peoples BOW DOWN to you?” (Genesis 27:29) If bowing is idolatry, then why did King David allow Bathsheba to “bow low and kneel before the king?” (‘What is it you want?’ the king asked. - No rebuke from David, 1 Kings 1:16) If bowing is idolatry, then why did David bow down to Saul and “prostrate himself with his face to the ground?” (1 Samuel 24:8) If bowing is idolatry, then why did Abigal “bow down before David with her face to the ground? Why did she “fall at the feet” of David? (1 Samuel 25:23)

I conclude by quoting St. Luke, when Jesus prayed and was transfigured. Because in that moment there was a supernatural intercession of saints.

Luke 9:28-31 King James Version (KJV)

And it came to pass about an eight days[8 is the number of new beginnings] after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain[hint] to pray. And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering. And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias: Who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem.

  • Those humans/angels who are in Heaven can't hear our prayers (biblically) and plead it front of the Holy Trinity, as John 14:6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” 1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus. John. 4:24 God is spirit, and the people who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Sep 19, 2021 at 12:28
  • 1 John 2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate before the Father— Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. Sep 19, 2021 at 12:31
  • Further, does the Mosaic law allow it, so how can Christians do it regardless its considered as a sacramental; praying to anyone else apart from the Holy Trinity is considered a sin (biblically), we can't be conformed to worldly/human standards/ways (Romans 12:1-2) because we are living testimony for those who have yet to come in saving knowledge of the Gospel (Titus 3:3-7, 1 John 5:5-8, 2 Thessalonians 1:10) Sep 19, 2021 at 12:31
  • @AshishEben "praying to anyone else apart from the Holy Trinity is considered a sin (biblically)" sounds like a distinct question (if not already answered here). "does the Mosaic law allow it" Mosaic Law as Mosaic Law is not binding on Christians. The moral law is insofar as its natural law or revealed precepts.
    – eques
    Sep 20, 2021 at 13:53

Whenever I defend the Catholic faith I use the specific teachings and decrees from Church councils (especially the first 8 as they came before the Orthodox split) as much as possible as they form the basis for what is in the Catholic Catechism.

In the 8th ecumenical council (Constantinople 869-70) the decrees regarding images, statues, etc. were proclaimed. Taken from that council you will find the following decree (Canon 3):

"We decree that the sacred image of our lord Jesus Christ, the redeemer and saviour of all people, should be venerated with honour equal to that given to the book of the holy gospels. For, just as through the written words which are contained in the book, we all shall obtain salvation, so through the influence that colours in painting exercise on the imagination, all, both wise and simple, obtain benefit from what is before them; for as speech teaches and portrays through syllables, so too does painting by means of colours. It is only right then, in accordance with true reason and very ancient tradition, that icons should be honoured and venerated in a derivative way because of the honour which is given to their archetypes, and it should be equal to that given to the sacred book of the holy gospels and the representation of the precious cross.

And the consequence of not accepting this belief ...

If anyone then does not venerate the icon of Christ, the saviour, let him not see his face when he comes in his father’s glory to be glorified and to glorify his saints’, but let him be cut off from his communion and splendour; similarly the image of Mary, his immaculate mother and mother of God, we also paint the icons of the holy angels just as divine scripture depicts them in words; we also honour and venerate those of the highly renowned apostles, prophets, martyrs and holy men as well as those of all the saints. Let those who are not so disposed be anathema from the Father, the Son and the holy Spirit."

So by reading the above if a Catholic doesn't honor and venerate images, paintings, icons, etc. of Jesus, Mary, and the saints then you actually are not aligned with Church teaching. Now whether you agree with that is a different question, but 100% of what I believe as a Catholic is because the Church says so. Jesus built, protected, and gave authority to His Church, the Catholic Church, and to disbelieve the Church is to disbelieve Jesus.

Hope this helps.

  • While I don't agree with it, I thank you for giving your well thought out answer to the question.
    – ToMakPo
    Dec 21, 2017 at 21:20

From the good 'ol Catechim of Trent (or Catechism for Parish Priests; issued 1566) (under the First Commandment):

The Above Words Do Not Forbid All Images

Let no one think that this Commandment entirely forbids the arts of painting, engraving or sculpture. The Scriptures inform us that God Himself commanded to be made images of Cherubim, and also the brazen serpent. The interpretation, therefore, at which we must arrive, is that images are prohibited only inasmuch as they are used as deities to receive adoration, and so to injure the true worship of God.

They Forbid Idols And Representations Of The Deity

As far as this Commandment is concerned, it is clear that there are two chief ways in which God's majesty can be seriously outraged. The first way is by worshipping idols and images as God, or believing that they possessany divinity or virtue entitling them to our worship, by praying to, or reposing confidence in them, as the Gentiles did, who placed their hopes in idols, and whose idolatry the Scriptures frequently condemn. The other way is by attempting to form a representation of the Deity, as if He were visible to mortal eyes, or could be reproduced by colours or figures. Who, says Damascene, can represent God, invisible, as He is, incorporeal, uncircumscribed by limits, and incapable of being reproduced under any shape. This subject is treated more at large in the second Council of Nicaea. Rightly, then, did the Apostles say (of the Gentiles): They changed the glory of the incorruptible God into a likeness of birds, and of four-footed beasts, and of creeping things; for they worshipped all these things as God, seeing that they made the images of these things to represent Him. Hence the Israelites, when they exclaimed before the image of the calf: These are thy gods, Israel, that have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, are denounced as idolaters, because they changed their glory into the likeness of a calf that eateth grass.

When, therefore, the Lord had forbidden the worship of strange gods, He also forbade the making of an image of the Deity from brass or other materials, in order thus utterly to do away with idolatry. It is this that Isaias declares when he asks: To whom then have you likened God, or what image will you make for hill? That this is the meaning of the prohibition contained in the Commandment is proved, not only from the writings of the holy Fathers, who, as may be seen in the seventh General Council, give to it this interpretation: but is also clearly declared in these words of Deuteronomy, by which Moses sought to withdraw the people from the worship of idols: You saw not, he says, any similitude in the day that the Lord spoke to you in Horeb, from the midst of the fire. These words this wisest of legislators spoke, lest through error of any sort, they should make an image of the Deity, and transfer to any thing created, the honour due to God.

They Do Not Forbid Representations Of The Divine Persons And Angels

To represent the Persons of the Holy Trinity by certain forms under which they appeared in the Old and New Testaments no one should deem contrary to religion or the law of God. For who can be so ignorant as to believe that such forms are representations of the Deity? -- forms, as the pastor should teach, which only express some attribute or action ascribed to God. Thus when from the description of Daniel God is painted as the Ancient of days, seated on a throne, with the books opened before him, the eternity of God is represented and also the infinite wisdom, by which He sees and judges all the thoughts and actions of men. 'Angels, also, are represented under human form and with wings to give us to understand that they are actuated by benevolent feelings towards mankind, and are always prepared to execute the Lord's commands; for they are all ministering spirits, sent to minister for them who shall receive the inheritance of salvation. What attributes of the Holy Ghost are represented under the forms of a dove, and of tongues of fire, in the Gospel and in the Acts of the Apostles, is a matter too well known to require lengthy explanation.

They Do Not Forbid Images Of Christ And The Saints

But to make and honour the images of Christ our Lord, of His holy and virginal Mother, and of the Saints, all of whom were clothed with human nature and appeared in human form, is not only not forbidden by this Commandment, but has always been deemed a holy practice and a most sure indication of gratitude. This position is confirmed by the monuments of the Apostolicage, the General Councils of the Church, and the writings of so many among the Fathers, eminent alike for sanctity and learning, all of whom are of one accord upon the subject.

Usefulness Of Sacred Images

But the pastor should not content himself with showing that it is lawful to have images in churches, and to pay them honour and respect, since this respect is referred to their prototypes. He should also show that the uninterrupted observance of this practice down to the present day has been attended with great advantage to the faithful, as may be seen in the work of Damascene on images, and in the seventh General Council, the second of Nicaea.

But as the enemy of mankind, by his wiles and deceits, seeks to pervert even the most holy institutions, should the faithful happen at all to offend in this particular, the pastor, in accordance with the decree of the Council of Trent's should use every exertion in his power to correct such an abuse, and, if necessary, explain the decree itself to the people.

He will also inform the unlettered and those who may be ignorant of the use of images, that they are intended to instruct in the history of the Old and New Testaments, and to revive from time to time their memory; that thus, moved by the contemplation of heavenly things, we may be the more ardently inflamed to adore and love God Himself. He should, also, point out that the images of the Saints are placed in churches, not only to behonoured, but also that they may admonish us by their examples to imitate their lives and virtues.


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