The Icon as the Proof of God’s Existence

God “adorns himself in magnificence and clothes himself with beauty.” Man stands amazed and contemplates the glory whose light causes a hymn of praise to burst forth from the heart of every creature. The Testamentum Domini gives us the following prayer: “Let them be filled with the Holy Spirit…so they can sing a doxology and give you praise and glory forever.” An icon is the same kind of doxology but in a different form. It radiates joy and sings the glory of God in its own way. True beauty does not need proof. The icon does not prove anything; it simply lets true beauty shine forth. In itself, the icon is shining proof of God’s existence, according to a “kalokagathic” argument.

Paul Evdokimov in The Art of the Icon

“Kalokagathic” – what a wonderful word! It’s is a Greek coinage, combining the word for beautiful(kalos) and the word for good (agathos). To see an icon is so very far removed from viewing an art object. First off, an icon is never an object. Faces in an icon are never in profile, but look at us face to face. To rightly see an icon is to see it in relationship, that is, to see it personally. And the person whom we see is not the wood and paint, but the one whom the image on the wood and paint represents. It is this encounter that makes it possible to speak of an iconographic proof of the existence of God. I know there is a God because I have seen His image.

In the most perfect sense of this understanding, Christ is the proof of the Father’s existence, because He is the “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). Thus Christ is the visible of the invisible. “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father,” (John 14:9).

It is also true that man is created in the image and likeness of God – though only in Christ, the perfect man (and perfect God), is the image and likeness truly realized. But Christ Himself extends the image – gathering into Himself, “the least of these my brethren” (Matthew 25:40). Thus every human being offers the opportunity of an encounter with God – if we have the eyes to see. Every human being is proof, poor though it may be, of the existence of God.

Pavel Florensky in his wonderful book Iconostasis, says that “Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity exists, therefore God exists.” The first time I read the statement I was brought up short. It took time to see what he meant and to see that it was true. A couple of years later one of my daughters was visiting Moscow. She sent a postcard say, “I have seen Rublev’s Trinity. It’s true.” What a marvelous witness!


4 responses to “The Icon as the Proof of God’s Existence”

  1. stamati Avatar

    Interesting…. Are you saying then that when we look at an icon, and see the representation of Christ, and it mingles with our faith, the beauty it produces is proof enough? Or similarly, when I was in a coffee shop the other week, I had a beautiful conversation with a friend on the sovereignty of God. He said, “Because He exists, and,” pointing to the trees outside the window,”that exists, we are foolish creatures,” and his words stirred my heart to praise the Lord with all of my heart. The Scripture says that creation will sing praises to God, so is it simply in the beauty of the trees and the streams that we have evidence enough of a loving Creator, and evidence of our brokenness, and we need only to turn to Him and His “great salvation” in Christ?

    I suppose I’m saying if the above is what you speak of, then I don’t think it is limited to icons, but to anything which God uses to speak His grace and mercy into our lives. But I see as an even greater proof the walk of faith in the believer, in the pains and joys and sacrifices which we must make to be followers of Christ. In the pursuit of selfless service of and with Jesus, and moreso God’s pursuit of us, is the ultimate proof of His existence.

    Also, I want to ask the question: is the crux the tool (ie icon) or the defense of the tool, or is it the One who wields it? If I find an icon displeasing aesthetically, am I denouncing God, or does it simply not appeal to my artistic eye? Just as in American culture, with Christian music; does my dislike of a certain song mean I dislike Jesus? I think not, but I want to know what are your views on this?

  2. fatherstephen Avatar

    The icon plays a dogmatic as much as an aesthetic role in the Orthodox faith. Though it reveals God, or the saint, or heaven, etc., it does this regardless of my subjectivity. The final basis of the icon is dogma of the Church rather than individual reactions.

  3. stamati Avatar

    What is the relationship between the icon and Scripture, and where and how did the dogma come about?

  4. Andrew Avatar

    It certainly is, Father Stephen — many years!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to blog via email

Support the work

Your generous support for Glory to God for All Things will help maintain and expand the work of Fr. Stephen. This ministry continues to grow and your help is important. Thank you for your prayers and encouragement!

Latest Comments

  1. Matthew, You asked how I would feel. I just glanced at my previous comments. I’m not sure I have presented…

Read my books

Everywhere Present by Stephen Freeman

Listen to my podcast