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Counter-Reformation, Protestantism, Catholicism, religious art


The Protestant Reformation called into question many traditions and practices of the Church, including the traditional relation of art to religion. Many Protestant theologians, for instance Calvin and especially Zwingli, condemned religious statues and art as idolatrous or superstitious, partly on the basis of Old Testament prohibitions. Luther and Lutherans approved of religious paintings but rejected the cult of the saints that had figured so largely in medieval and Renaissance religious art. In the Lutheran tradition religious art was more closely tied to the Bible, another manifestation fo the sola scriptura principle. In Catholic circles as well there arose lively discussions which culminated in a hurried declaration during the closing days of the Council of Trent. The Council defended the use of religious art from the charge of idolatry—images are not to be revered for themselves but only because of the holy subjects that they represent. Images are useful because they imprint in the faithful the teaching of the faith and the miracles our God has worked through his saints. Hence religious images raise hearts to God and put vividly before the faithful models of holy living. Finally the Council warned against abuses of religious art: the faithful must be taught to avoid idolatrous or superstitious use of art; art must not give rise to either doctrinal error or indecent thoughts, hence it is to be supervised by the bishops whoo are to see to it that no indecent or unusual images nor new miracles are included in religious art. Implicit in the Council's statement was greater ecclesiastical control over religious art.