The iconoclasm dispute occurred in the Byzantine Empire in the 8th century following the anti-imagery and anti-icon sentiments by members of different religious groupings and certain imperial authorities. This conflict led to civil war that lasted more than 100 years. Iconoclasm is described as the public removal and destruction of religious images. During the medieval times, images of iconic religious figures were carved on wooden materials and erected inside worship places for prayer purposes (Brown 238). Although theologians had been expressing dissatisfaction on the use of visual representations in Christendom, it was not until the reign of Emperor Leo III that these images and icons were publicly removed from churches.
Iconoclasm was propelled by the emperor’s deepest desire to integrate the three biggest religions, Islam, Judaism and Christianity. The Jews and Muslims did not support the use of visual entities during worship since such acts defied scriptural instructions. Using images in churches is the same as idol worshipping (as mentioned in the Old Testament through the Ten Commandments). Getting rid of such images and icons in the church would strengthen these three religions (van Asselt et al. 45). Iconoclasm was also linked with deep-seated political interests. Historians insist that image and icon abolition was a strategy in suppressing wealth growth and expansion of monasteries. Religious leaders continuously possess greater power; hence, they are becoming a direct threat to ruling empires.
The dispute begun to subside in AD 787 when theologians like St. John of Damascus dismembered the widespread notion of idol worshippers as justifications for iconoclasm. These individuals explained that using the images of Jesus in church represented God’s incarnate version (Jesus Christ) and not his invisibility or spirituality (van Asselt et al. 134). It did not defy God’s superiority. The Seventh Ecumenical Council of bishops convened in Nicaea during this period and banned iconoclasm.