Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain
John of Damascus, 8th century
If you lived in the Holy Land when the poet of our Hymn of the Week, John of Damascus, lived, something about Christian art might have puzzled you. Actually, it wasn’t the art that was puzzling. It was how the art was viewed. You see, the caliph of Damascus, Abdul Malek, was a Muslim, and they don’t generally take kindly to images of anything, which is why they ended up developing calligraphy and geometric patterning to very high arts. And yet the caliph held John in high esteem, selecting him to be his chief counselor. Abdul didn’t mind that John was a Christian, and he didn’t mind that the Christians had portrayed Jesus in their art.
The man who did mind it — and maybe he was reacting to other Muslims and not to the generous Abdul — was, of all people, the Christian emperor in Constantinople, Leo III, who also came from Syria, where Damascus is located. Leo ordered the smashing of all statues, which is what iconoclasm means: you’re an iconoclast if you go around destroying icon…
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