Eph. 1:17-19a

“I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know Him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which He has called you, what are the riches of His glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power for us who believe” (Eph. 1:17-19a).

The Apostle speaks about the “eyes of the heart” which can be enlightened so as to know certain invisible things. The eyes of the head, so to speak, see visible things and make it possible to know visible things. Perhaps we can speak about an implicit epistemology of the Apostle Paul, according to which the “heart” is an organ of perception for invisible things. Just like the eyes of the head can be obstructed or blinded so as to make perception impossible or at least inaccurate, so also the eyes of the heart must be enlightened and healed in order for the truth to be known and recognized for what it is.

Of course, if the Ephesians are already Christians, then they already have some idea, some perception of the things about which Paul is writing. But the Apostle prays that God enlighten the eyes of their hearts so as to know these things in a more profound way, more deeply, with more immediacy, even if they are invisible.

In a previous post I noted that our knowledge of invisible things is oftentimes not as strong or as profound or moving as our knowledge of visible things. Hearing the words “I love you” does more for us than thinking back on evidences of love from the past. It would not be inaccurate to say that our access to invisible or imperceptible things is mediated by visible or perceptible things, and visible things can help us to become aware of and confident in invisible things.

Paul, of course, prays that God enlighten the hearts of the Ephesians to know these invisible things which God has promised us in the Gospel. But are there perhaps certain visible means by which God accomplishes this enlightenment? Historically, this has been one role or function of icons in the church: to bring to mind spiritual and religious truths, and to edify the spirits of those who gaze upon them. John of Damascus (Three Treatises on Divine Images I, 47) wrote the following:

I may not have many books, nor have much time to read, but, strangled with thoughts, as if with thorns, I come into the common surgery of the soul, the church; the luster of the painting draws me to vision and delights my sight like a meadow and imperceptibly introduces my soul to the glory of God. I have seen the perseverance of the martyr, the recompense of the crowns, and as if by fire I am eagerly kindled to zeal, and falling down I venerate God through the martyr and I receive salvation.

The Damascene describes how his soul is given peace and reordered to God, freed from the noise of so many thoughts and troubles, through the images of past martyrs’ faithfulness in the icons. His orientation to an invisible reality is strengthened by a visible representation thereof; to return to the quote from Luther in the previous post, John is given over to the hold of invisible realities through the influence of the visible icons upon him.

Here I have only raised a possibility. In Protestant circles, icons are not looked upon very favorably. The discussion is a long one.

Published by Steven

I study theology and philosophy without ceasing. I have a B.A. in Philosophy from Arizona State University (2013), and an M.Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary (2016). I am currently an adjunct professor of philosophy at Grand Canyon University and a Ph.D. student at Fuller Theological Seminary.

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