I’ve been at school for about a month now, and I’m finally changing my mind about something, all based on learning a alternate definition of one little word: “Veneration”. It’s so exciting.
I’ve always assumed that veneration was synonymous with worship (perhaps a little weaker, but still ultimately the same idea). This is borne out in many of the uses of the word (other synonyms include: deify, idolize), however there is another.
My new learning was that to properly venerate a symbol is to worship the signified by honouring the signifier1 and that that is good.
This resolves (or at least defines) my wrestling with honouring and enjoying beautiful architecture and music and ritual and (as the cause for this change of mind) the history of the use of icons in the Eastern Orthodox church.
The same pitfalls remain: we can so easily transmute good veneration into worship or deification of the symbol be it art/ists or song/writers or architect/ure or ritual. As it’s about the direction of the heart rather than any external difference of action, it’s invisible to anyone but yourself whether your own worship is to or through, so we can’t judge the legitimacy of others’ worship.
This is the same for an Eastern Orthodox church building filled to the brim with icons and gold, or a youth megachurch filled with moshing and lasers and bass solos, or even the person standing on the side of a mountain, alone at sunrise.
Jesus said, in the context of being asked by a Samaritan to judge between the worship methods of the Jews and the Samaritans:
But a time is coming—and now is here—when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such people to be his worshipers.John 4:23 (NET)
The tool or place or style of worship is not what defines it as true worship or not (though much of the history of the Church would indicate otherwise), it’s absolutely about the direction of the heart. and using whatever tool or symbol or method you can to worship God.
If you’ll allow me to throw semiotics terms in there, I don’t get to use them often enough. ↩