Oldest “Portraits” of Four Apostles Found

Orthodox Icon Shop


The oldest claimed portraits of the Apostles Peter, Paul, Andrew, and John were just publicly announced:

Oldest portraits of Christ’s apostles found
Reuters – June 23, 2010

Archaeologists and art restorers using new laser technology have discovered what they believe are the oldest paintings of the faces of Jesus Christ’s apostles.

The images in a branch of the catacombs of St Tecla near St Paul’s Basilica, just outside the walls of ancient Rome, were painted at the end of the 4th century or the start of the 5th century.

Archaeologists believe these images may have been among those that most influenced later artists’ depictions of the faces of Christ’s most important early followers.

“These are the first images that we know of the faces of these four apostles,” said Professor Fabrizio Bisconti, the head of archaeology for Rome’s numerous catacombs, which are owned and maintained by the Vatican…

The full-face icons include visages of St Peter, St Andrew, and St John, who were among Jesus’ original 12 apostles, and St Paul, who became an apostle after Christ’s death.

The paintings have the same characteristics as later images, such as St Paul’s rugged, wrinkled and elongated forehead, balding head and pointy beard, indicating they may have been the ones which set the standard.  http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/06/23/2934293.htm?section=justin

Now, as the above shows, there simply were not early (first or second century) portraits of of these apostles.  Hence, whoever made their portraits did not see those apostles while they were alive nor spoke to anyone who could have seen what they actually looked like.

Despite this fact, notice the following from Eastern Orthodox scholar Leonid Ouspensky:

The Orthodox church has never accepted the paintings of icons according to the imagination of the artist or from a living model, which would signify a conscious and total break from the prototype.  The name which the icon bears would then no longer correspond to the person represented, and this would be a flagrant lie which the church could not tolerate…The ancient iconographers knew the faces of the saints as well as they knew those of their close relatives.  They painted them from memory or by using a sketch of portrait…all kinds of accounts, and particularly sketches…were preserved on icons. (Ouspensky L.  Theology of the Icons.  Translated by Anthony Gythiel and Elizabth Meyendorf, 1992. As cited in Clendenin, p. 48)

But theological scholar Daniel Clendenin commented that at least part of the above was false:

This general rule has frequently been broken or abused in the past few centuries. (Clendenin D.B. ed. Eastern Orthodox Theology, 2nd ed. Baker Academic, 2003, p. 48)

The Orthodox never did have original sketches/portraits of Jesus, the original apostles, early martyrs, etc.  Hence, based upon Orthodox logic, since the iconographers did not actually know what the early saints really looked like, then all the icons of them are a lie.  And the truth is that they are lies since the earliest “portraits” of the Apostles seem to date from no earlier than the third or fourth centuries.

For what it is worth, I have personally visited several of the sites (catacombs in Rome, caves in Cappadocia, etc. that allegedly have the earliest “Christian” art and most of these images date from possibly the third, but mainly the fourth or later centuries (and the few I have seen in the catacombs that may have been from the second century are quite limited and do not look like the icons that I have seen in modern Orthodox churches–they mainly are supposed to be angels).

Furthermore, Orthodox priest and scholar Laurent Cleenewerck has admitted:

…one will not find in the early Church any clear exposition of the current Eastern Orthodox theology of icons.  (Cleenewerck L. His Broken Body: Understanding and Healing the Schism Between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches (An Orthodox Perspective). Euclid University Consortium Press, Washington (DC), 2007, p. 43)

Roman Catholic scholar A. Fortescue wrote:

Long before the outbreak in the eighth century there were isolated cases of persons who feared the ever-growing cult of images and saw in it danger of a return to the old idolatry. We need hardly quote in this connection the invectives of the Apostolic Fathers against idols (Athenagoras “Legatio Pro Christ.”, xv-xvii; Theophilus, “Ad Autolycum” II; Minucius Felix, “Octavius”, xxvii; Arnobius, “Disp. adv. Gentes”; Tertullian, “De Idololatria”, I; Cyprian, “De idolorum vanitate”), in which they denounce not only the worship but even the manufacture and possession of such images. These texts all regard idols, that is, images made to be adored. (Fortescue A. Transcribed by Tomas Hancil. Veneration of Images. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VII. Copyright © 1910 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, June 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York)

The fact that even Catholic scholars refer to it as “the ever-growing cult of images” should tell everyone that the Greco-Roman chruches obviously CHANGED on this particular point of doctrine and this was not an original practice of the apostles or their true successors.

Notice the following from the historian P. Carus:

There were Christians at the end of the third century who were in possession of pictures of Christ, but the Church fathers looked with scorn upon this practice. Eusebius plainly says to the Empress Helena that “such images are forbidden by the Jewish law and should not be found in churches.” He continues: “Some poor woman brought me two painted figures like philosophers, and ventured to say that they represented Paul and the Saviour—I do not know on what ground. But to save her and others from offence. I took them from her and kept them by me, not thinking it right, in any case, that she should exhibit them further, that we may not seem idolaters to carry our God about with us. (Carus P. The Open court, Volume 22. The Open Court Pub. Co., 1908. Original from Harvard University, Digitized Mar 14, 2008, pp. 663-664)

So even having certain pictures appear in perhaps the third century was worrisome to church leaders such as Eusebius as late as the fourth century.

Despite this, the local  Saint Barbara Orthodox Church (Santa Barbara, California) sponsors a “Greek festival” each summer here where selling icons are part of the activities.  The fact that Greco-Roman church leaders upon into the fourth (and sometimes later) century were normally opposed to them has not stopped this practice as it is still flourishing, even though the earliest images of the most important apostles (at least in the Greco-Roman historical sense) were not made until the fourth century should give all who associate with icons a reason to consider that their development and acceptance was a major change for the churches that accepted them.

Icons and portraits of the apostles were not part of the original Christian church.

For additional information, please check out the following:

What Did the Early Church Teach About Idols and Icons? Did Catholic and Orthodox “saints” endorse or condemn idols and icons for Christians?
Nail from Knights Templar claimed to date from time of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion Is it true?  Does it matter?  If not, what does?
The History of Early Christianity Are you aware that what most people believe is not what truly happened to the true Christian church? Do you know where the early church was based? Do you know what were the doctrines of the early church? Is your faith really based upon the truth or compromise?

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