Do Roman Catholics really venerate Icons and Holy Scripture equally?
The short answer is no!
The book of the gospels is not the same thing as the Gospels!
Although Catholics may venerate icons; they are not on the same level of veneration as with Sacred Scriptures.
Icons tend to be more attached to Catholic Popular Piety, whereas Scriptures Form part of the deposit of the Catholic Faith. The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation is clear on the total equality of Scripture with Sacred Tradition when it says that "both Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence" because together they "form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church." The deposit of faith does not include icons or other sacred images or religious works of art.
The "sacred deposit" of the faith (depositum fidei) refers to the teachings of the Catholic Church that are believed to be handed down since the time of the Apostles – namely scripture and sacred tradition. St. Paul uses the Greek word paratheke ("deposit") in 1 Timothy 6:20: "O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you"; and again in 2 Timothy 1:14 "Guard this rich trust with the help of the holy Spirit that dwells within us".
According to Dei Verbum, "Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church [...] both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end." - Deposit of Faith
The Fourth Council of Constantinople clearly requires the honour given to icons to be equal to that given the book of the holy gospels. This is not the same thing as the Gospels.
Book of the Gospels is a codex or bound volume containing one or more of the four Gospels of the Christian New Testament – normally all four – centering on the life of Jesus of Nazareth and the roots of the Christian faith. The term is also used for a liturgical book, also called the Evangeliary, from which are read the portions of the Gospels used in the Mass and other services, arranged according to the order of the liturgical calendar.
Liturgical use in churches of a distinct Gospel book remains normal, often compulsory, in Eastern Christianity, and very common in Roman Catholicism and some parts of Anglicanism and Lutheranism. Other Protestant churches normally just use a complete Bible.
Thus the Gospels are not the same thing as a ”book of the gospels”. The first is the divine word. The second is paper and ink bound physical book. A book of the gospels and an image of Christ reside in the same physical arena, therefore neither should be revered more than the other, lest we put God's Word on a pedestal higher than the Word himself.
The honor paid to sacred images is a "respectful veneration”. Religious veneration is not directed to images in themselves, considered as mere things, but under their distinctive aspect as images leading us on to God incarnate.
Catholic piety usually takes on forms of devotion that are outside the liturgy and are popular on a private or sometimes a national (local) level.
The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy devotes separate chapters to consideration of practices associated with the liturgical year, veneration of the Mother of God, veneration of the other saints and the beatified, praying for the dead, sacred images and shrines and pilgrimages.
Under the heading "The language of popular piety", it speaks of gestures, texts and formulae, song and music, sacred music, sacred places and sacred times.
The veneration of sacred images, whether paintings, statues, icons, bas reliefs or other representations is an important aspect of popular piety.
- The Second Council of Nicea, "following the divinely inspired teaching of our Holy Fathers and the tradition of the Catholic Church", vigorously defended the veneration of the images of the Saints: "we order with ever rigour and exactitude that, similar to the depictions of the precious and vivifying Cross of our redemption, the sacred images to be used for veneration, are to be depicted in mosaic or any other suitable material, and exposed in the holy churches of God, on their furnishings, vestments, on their walls, as well as in the homes of the faithful and in the streets, be they images of Our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, or of Our Immaculate Lady, the holy Mother of God, or of the Angels, the Saints and the just"(331).
The Fathers of Nicea see the basis for the use of sacred images in the mystery of the Incarnation of Christ, "the image of the invisible God" (Col 1, 15): "the Incarnation of the Son of God initiated a new "economy" of images"(332).
- The veneration of sacred images, whether paintings, statues, bas reliefs or other representations, apart from being a liturgical phenomenon, is an important aspect of popular piety: the faithful pray before sacred images, both in churches and in their homes. They decorate them with flowers, lights, and jewels; they pay respect to them in various ways, carrying them in procession, hanging ex votos near them in thanksgiving; they place them in shrines in the fields and along the roads.
Veneration of sacred images requires theological guidance if it is to avoid certain abuses. It is therefore necessary that the faithful be constantly remained of the doctrine of the Church on the veneration of sacred images, as exemplified in the ecumenical Councils(333), and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church(334).
- According to the teaching of the Church, sacred images are:
iconographical transcriptions of the Gospel message, in which image and revealed word are mutually clarified; ecclesiastical tradition requires that images conform "to the letter of the Gospel message"(335);
sacred signs which, in common with all liturgical signs, ultimately refer to Christ; images of the Saints "signify Christ who is glorified in them"(336);
memorials of our brethren who are Saints, and who "continue to participate in the salvation of the world, and to whom we are united, above all in sacramental celebrations"(337);
an assistance in prayer: contemplation of the sacred images facilitates supplication and prompts us to give glory to God for the marvels done by his grace working in the Saints; - a stimulus to their imitation because "the more the eye rests on these sacred images, the more the recollection of those whom they depict grows vivid in the contemplative beholder"(338); the faithful tend to imprint on their hearts what they contemplate with the eye: "a true image of the new man", transformed in Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and in fidelity to his proper vocation;
and a form of catechesis, because "through the history of the mysteries of our redemption, expressed in pictures and other media, the faithful are instructed and confirmed in the faith, since they are afforded the means of meditating constantly on the articles of faith"(339).
It is necessary for the faithful to understand the relative nature of the cult of images. The image is not venerated in itself. Rather, that which it represents is venerated. Thus, sacred images "are given due honour and veneration, not because there are believed to contain some divinity or power justifying such cult, nor because something has to be requested of an image, nor because trust is reposed in them, as the pagans used to do with idols, but because the honour given to sacred images is given to the prototypes whom the represent"(340).
In the light of the foregoing, the faithful should be careful not to fall into the error of raising sacred images to the level of paragons. The fact that some sacred images are the object of such devotion that they have become embodiments of the religious culture of nations or cities or particular groups, should be explained in the light of the grace which is at the basis of the veneration accorded them, and of the historical and social circumstances of the history surrounding them. It is good that a people should recall such events, to strengthen its faith, glorify God, conserve its cultural identity, and pray incessantly with confidence to the Lord who, according to his own words (cf. Mt. 7, 7; Lk 11, 9; Mk 11, 24), is always prepared to hear them; thereby causing an increase of charity and hope, and the growth of the spiritual life of the Christian faithful.
By their very nature, sacred images belong to the realm of sacred signs and to the realm of art. These "are often works of art infused with innate religious feeling, and seem almost to reflect that beauty that comes from God and that leads to God"(341). The primary function of sacred images is not, however, to evince aesthetic pleasure but to dispose towards Mystery. Sometimes, the artistic aspects of an image can assume a disproportionate importance, seeing the image as an "artistic" theme, rather conveying a spiritual message.
The production of sacred images in the West is not governed by strict canons that have been in place for centuries, as is the case in the Eastern Church. This does not imply that the Latin Church has overlooked or neglected its oversight of sacred images: the exposition of images contrary to the faith, or indecorous images, or images likely to lead the faithful into error, or images deriving from a disincarnate abstraction or dehumanizing images, have been prohibited on numerous occasions. Some images are examples of anthropocentric humanism rather than reflections of a genuine spirituality. The tendency to remove sacred images from sacred places is to be strongly condemned, since this is detrimental for the piety of the Christian faithful.
Popular piety encourages sacred images which reflect the characteristics of particular cultures; realistic representations in which the saints are clearly identifiable, or which evidently depict specific junctures in human life: birth, suffering, marriage, work, death. Efforts should be made, however, to ensure that popular religious art does not degenerate into mere oleography: in the Liturgy, there is a correlation between iconography and art, and the Christian art of specific cultural epochs.
- The Church blesses sacred images because of their cultic significance. This is especially true of the images of the Saints which are destined for public veneration(342), when she prays that, guided by a particular Saint, "we may progress in following the footsteps of Christ, so that the perfect man may be formed in us to the full measure of Christ"(343). The Church has published norms for the exposition of sacred images in churches and other sacred places which are to be diligently observed(344). No statue or image is to be exposed on the table of an altar. Neither are the relics of the Saints to be exposed on the table of an altar(345). It is for the local ordinary to ensure that inappropriate images or those leading to error or superstition, are not exposed for the veneration of the faithful. - Directory of Popular Piety and the Liturgy Principles and Guidelines
Not all Catholics engage in this particular form of popular piety and remain free to do so. I would venture to say most traditional Catholics would have some form of sacred art in their homes to aid in their particular person devotions.
As for anathemas, Canon 3 of the Fourth Council of Constantinople states those who are not so disposed be anathema from the Father, the Son and the holy Spirit.
First of all a Catholic definition of the term.
Solemn condemnation, of biblical origin, used by the Church to declare that some position or teaching contradicts Catholic faith and doctrine.
"If anyone," Paul wrote to the Galatians, "preach to you a gospel besides what you have received, let him be anathema: (Galatians 1:9). Reflecting the Church's concern to preserve the integrity of faith, the Fathers anathematized heretics in a variety of terms. Polycarp called Marcion the firstborn of the devil. Ignatius saw in heretics poisonous plants, or animals in human form. Justin (c. 100-65) and Tertullian (160-220) called their teachings an inspiration of the Evil One. Theophilus compared them to barren and rocky islands on which ships were wrecked, and Origen said they were pirates placing lights on cliffs to lure and destroy vessels in search of refuge. These primitive views were later tempered in language, but the implicit attitudes remained and were crystallized in solemn conciliar decrees. The familiar anathema sit (let him be anathema, or excommunicated) appears to have been first applied to heretics at the Council of Elvira (Spain) in 300-6, and became the standard formula in all the general councils of the Church, as against Arius (256-336) at I Nicea in 787. (Etym. Greek anathema, thing devoted to evil, curse; an accursed thing or person; from anatithenai, to set up, dedicate.)
However, much confusion is understood by what Catholics mean when the Church employs this term. Only Catholic can be anathematized, since it is a term to be employed when excommunicating someone. Non-Catholic can not be excommunicated from the Church, since they are not part of the Church’s faithful.
Anathema remains a major excommunication which is to be promulgated with great solemnity. A formula for this ceremony was drawn up by Pope Zachary (741-52) in the chapter Debent duodecim sacerdotes, Cause xi, quest. iii. - Anathema
Even the Apostle Paul used such terminology in his letters:
If anyone does not love the Lord, let him be accursed. Maranatha. - 1 Corinthian 16:22
For I could wish that I myself were accursed (anathema), separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh. - Rom 9:3
But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed (anathema). 9 As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed (anathema). - Gal. 1:8-9
Also, for what it’s worth, the canons of the councils of the Catholic Church apply only to members of the Catholic Church: after one has formally separated from the Catholic Church and rejected its authority, then its disciplinary pronouncements have no more bearing on him. The declaration of anyone as “anathema” at the Council of Trent does not technically apply to Protestants today, only to Catholics who were espousing those doctrines. You can’t very well be excommunicated from something you were never formally a part of.