Inquiring Minds: Why do Catholics have so many statues?

An Inquiring Mind sent this question: Why do Catholics have so many statues? Isn’t that idolatry? Didn’t Jesus say not to worship statues?

Fr. Ivan responds:
Idolatry means treating something that is not God as if it were God, “worshiping the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom. 1:25). Ancient religions were idolatrous because the made images of gods that no one had seen and treated them as if the divinitiy resided in the images themselves. But it is also idolatry to live for money, as Jesus Himself denounced (Mt. 6:24), or to live for food, or even to live for oneself.

The Jews were expressly prohibited from making images of Yahweh because any image whatsoever would be false: no one had ever seen God, because whoever saw God would die. In fact, this is the reason that is given in Deut. 4:15-18 against idolatry. And this was the feature that distinguished them from all the other peoples who made images of a multitude of gods that were no more than a human invention. Israel, in contrast, only served the one true God, who is above all that is visible.

But Jesus never said that we should not venerate images. That is not in the Gospel, but rather only in the Old Testament. And it is because, since the moment of the Incarnation, “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory” (Jn. 1:14). Jesus Christ “is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15), and since God assumed a human Face, we can have representations of Him. We know that God is not in the statue, and that is why we do not adore the statue but rather the One represented by the statue.

The images are simple representations that don’t have value in themselves but only for what they represent. Don’t we tend to have photos of family members who are far away or already dead and look at them with love to remind ourselves of them? It’s the same thing with the images—they remind us of the saints and of the Lord, but we don’t confuse the image with the reality.