Part 2 of the “Why Protestants Believe” series
By Jeffrey van Zuiden
Since the Protestant Reformation, there has been a very popular propaganda tactic — “Catholics worship statues! Look at them … they even bow down to them!” Truth be told, for an outside observer, it can really appear that way. Think about it – everywhere you look, we have beautiful frescoes, alters, crucifixes, statues, etc. Then of course, there is the genuflection, or as many Protestants would put it, “bowing down to false idols.”
So why do Protestants believe this?
- Catholics lead them to believe this. As with many things, we can’t shove all the blame off on our separated brothers and sisters. On this topic, in particular, we the laity, are very much to blame. Decades of bad catechesis has produced several generations of Catholics who don’t know why we genuflect. We simply do it. You’ve all seen it or have probably been guilty of it ourselves. We make our quick, obligatory kneel at the pew, in and out, without much thought, or without understanding of what we are doing. The starkest example I can give you is this; when I was just starting to attend Mass, on fire with the revelation of Christ’s Church, I was talking to parishioner one day about this very topic. When I said that “Most Protestants believe we bow down to statues,” her response was, “Well, don’t we?”
- Many Protestant denominations teach this. As a Protestant in a Calvinist Reformed tradition, we were filled with the notion that Catholics kept graven images, worshiped Mary, and worst of all: worshiped false idols. Of course, the imagery doesn’t help. When I was a Protestant, from the outside looking in, filled with the above teaching, it doesn’t look very good. Add in the fact that I’ve only got about a 1 in 4 chance of finding a Catholic who can explain this action to me, and the odds are heavily stacked against any understanding.
So why do we genuflect? Why do we have statues and icons?
We Catholics have history on our side. The earliest known Christian imagery dates to the early 2nd Century, in the Christian catacombs. Here we find frescoes of Christ, the Apostles, and, of course, Mary. In fact, in those same catacombs, we find statues of the above mentioned figures. The oldest known house Church, from during the Roman persecution, was unearthed on the Syrian border. It was filled with beautiful frescoes, the largest of which is of the Holy Mother.
As to why we do genuflect, I’ll let the Catechism explain it for me; “… we express our faith in the real presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine by, among other ways, genuflecting or bowing deeply as a sign of adoration of the Lord.” (CCC 1378) Simply put, we do not bow down to statues or images. We do, however, acknowledge the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ by bowing or kneeling as one should before his or her king.
As far as the statues and imagery, I’ll hand that off to the Catechism as well; “… This spiritual beauty of God is reflected in the most holy Virgin Mother of God, the angels, and saints. Genuine sacred art draws man to adoration, to prayer, and to the love of God …” (CCC 2502). We, as humans, are visual creatures. The images and statues are merely reminders of God or how to live in Christ. Mary and the Saints? That’s easy. Have any pictures of a loved one in your house or wallet? We keep those to remind us of those whom we love or admire.
As a Catholic, you can do two things to help fix this.
- Profess your faith properly. To start, next time you genuflect, pause for a moment and think about what you are doing. Are you giving the proper respect to the King of kings? Make sure your family, friends and children understand why they do this as well. Help fix the problem.
- Defend your faith. Really, this is one of the easy ones. It is simple to explain, and you do not need to cite scripture since logic is really all you need. We have an absolutely beautiful tradition of honoring or Lord through art, and there is no need to be ashamed for bowing before Jesus, especially in remembrance of his holy ones.
May God Bless You.
Part One — Why Protestants Believe Catholics are not Christians
Part Two — Why Protestants Believe Catholics Worship Statues