Comparing Byzantine and Danish controversies was problematic

To the Editor:

Kanishk Tharoor’s opinion piece regarding the Danish cartoon controversy contained several points and analogies that seemed to be erroneous (“Extreme reactions worsen Danish cartoon dispute,” 2/8). Tharoor makes a curious comparison between the current cartoon controversy and the iconoclast controversy of eighth century Byzantium, but his confusion of terms and history makes the analogy weak. Tharoor states that, “Ornate mosaics and paintings were stripped of their pedestals and smashed; icon-loving iconoclasts crushed icon-hating iconodules; iconodules brushed themselves off and began crushing the once-triumphant iconoclasts.” This statement is rather confusing when one considers that an iconoclast is someone who is opposed to the veneration of sacred images, and an iconodule is someone who supports the veneration of sacred images.

Furthermore, at the end of the article, Tharoor concludes that “After numerous coups, ecumenical councils and a good deal of blood, the iconoclasts emerged victorious in Byzantium’s battle of the pictures.” In actuality, the iconclasts were the losers in the iconoclast controversy, when, in 787 at the Second Council of Nicea, called by the Byzantine empress Irene, icon veneration was endorsed, and ever since then both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians have accepted that decision. Tharoor’s erroneous conclusion that iconoclasm was victorious might lead one to conclude that we too should embrace the negative sort of iconoclasm popular in the eighth century, smashing all art, and white-washing over all that is beautiful and sacred.

Mark Cutolo DIV ’08

Feb. 9, 2006

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