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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The Iconoclastic epoch (717-867)

Religious controversies and the first period of Iconoclasm 


Icon of the Christ and New Testament Reader

The history of the Iconoclastic movement falls into two periods. The first lasted from 726 to 780 and ended officially with the Seventh Ecumenical Council; the second lasted from 813 to 843 and ended in the so-called restoration of orthodoxy. The study of the iconoclastic epoch affords great difficulties because of the present condition of sources. All the works of the iconoclasts, the imperial decrees, the acts of the iconoclastic councils of the year 753-54 and 815, the theological treatises of the iconbreakers, etc., were destroyed by the triumphant image-worshipers. Some survivals of iconoclastic literature are known to us only by fragments introduced into the works of the image-worshipers for the purpose of refuting them. Thus, the decree of the iconoclastic council of 753-54 has been preserved in the acts of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, though perhaps not in its complete original form. The decree of the council of 815 has been discovered in one of the treatises of Patriarch Nicephorus, while numerous fragments of iconoclastic literature are found in the polemic and theological treatises of the antagonists of the movement. Particularly interesting in this respect are the three famous Treatises Against Those Who Depreciate the Holy Images of the renowned theologian and hymn-writer, John Damascene (of Damascus), a contemporary of the first two iconoclastic emperors. In order to disseminate their ideas, the iconoclasts sometimes resorted to the writing of spurious works. The surviving sources on iconoclasm, then, are biased by hostility to the movement; hence in later times scholars have differed greatly in their estimate of the iconoclastic period.

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