Location: Texas, United States

Evangelical Anglo-Catholic Deacon in the Episcopal Church (Dallas). I also received a ThM from Dallas Theological Seminary in Historical Theology and Pastoral Ministries and am completing a post-graduate certificate in Anglican Studies from Nashotah House Seminary.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Treatises on Saints and Divine Images – Theory of signs and symbols

What's in a word? As I am typing these sentences how is meaning being transmitted? When I type the word "dog", how do you know to what I am referring?

Language is technically community created. I am able to type "dog". The reason "dog" to English speakers bring the concept it does is because the three symbols 'd', 'o' and 'g' put together in that order are agreed upon to do so. Someone who speaks another language, even if they use the same alphabet, will only know what "dog" means by being taught the connection.

In this way all language is symbolic, each letter represents a sound, and each group of letters represents a word, which in tern represents a concept or object, or something else. One easy way to prove this is that languages change over time. What one symbol means in one generation may take on a new meaning in another like "cool" going from range of temperature to also meaning "interesting".

All communication falls under this paradigm of symbol--->idea, which leads to three ideas:

1)More then one symbol or symbol set my communicate the same idea

2)More then one different ideas may be communicated by the same symbol (even ones that are unrelated)

3)These symbols are defined by those who use them, I am not free to make up my own language, and call it "communication" unless others learn my language.

How does that tie in with veneration and icons?

"Worship", "venerate", "honor" and "prayer" are all English code words intended to communicate different things. So in some contexts (Protestant) "prayer" communicates a specific worship act, but just because another group (Catholic) uses the word doesn't mean they are communicating the same idea. Which is why it is irrelevant to argue over "prayer to the saints" because both sides are using different definitions for the word itself. A better question would be is "communication to the saints valid" because both sides are then speaking the same language.

Another example, which is the one I want to put emphasis on at the moment is worship/veneration/honor. Communication entails more then verbal and written forms. It also includes actions. For instance "sign language" is a language completely done via physical actions. Such things as bowing down and burning candles are in a sense symbols. They may communicate something different in different cultures and contexts. So when it comes to veneration of the saints, the mere act of burning a candle to them, it not in and of itself an act of worship, nor is prostration. Prostration was the main form of worship in the OT, although it was used towards human kings as well and seemed to take on a less then worship concept. But the symbol of candles and prostrations can communicate two different things via the same symbols.

It is then legitimate to say that burning a candle before God and burning one before a person can mean two different things. In the first worship and the second honor.

Therefore the judgment for rightness or wrongness cannot be based on perception via actions, nor inherently by the vocabulary chosen to describe the concepts being done.