Those who reject the veneration of icons usually proffer reasons claiming that the veneration of icons is contrary to biblical commands. I think a serious reading of the iconoclast controversy and resurrgence of iconoclasm among the Reformers who used much the same line of argumentation reveals a different reason for the rejection of the veneration of icons. Here are some useful selections that I think support that claim from Ambrosios Giakalis’ Images of the Divine: The Theology of Icons at the Seventh Ecumenical Council. I think it is possible to see a parallel line of thinking from the Iconoclast rejection of matter as being capable of being deified and their resulting eucharistic doctrine, to the Protestant rejection icons and of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. There are significant lines to draw between the conception of matter and form posed by the iconoclasts and the later conception of matter per Galileo in the Renaissance as intrinsically extensional. Other lines can be drawn from the iconoclast theology regarding symbolic though impersonal representation of God and Gnostic and contemporary Feminist cries for inclusive language. You can see some of these issues in the background of this Reformed/Lutheran argument. This entry is a good bit of reading, but I think you will find it profitable. Emphases are my own as are any typographical errors.
“…it appears from the iconoclasts’ acceptance of the ‘deification’ (theosis) of the bread of the Eucharist ‘as through a certain sanctification by grace’ that, unlike their opponents, they do not admit any real distinction between divine essence and divine energy. At the same time they regard matter as generally ‘ignoble’ (adoxon) ‘common and ‘worthless‘ (koinen kai atimon) and, moreover the hands of the painter as ‘profane’ (deilous) and, by extension, his work similarly so to such a degree that it is impossible either for the material or for the work of ar produced from it to be sanctified by ‘sacred prayer.’
Therein lies the following paradox: Although they accept the ‘deification’ of matter in the unique case of the sanctified bread of the Eucharist, they appear to reject any other possibility of the sanctification of reality…Clearly this hostility of the iconoclasts to matter springs directly from the possibilities for iconoic representation inherent in it, which they immediately associate with the pagan manufacture of idols…Thus the iconoclasts’ conception of reality, in spite of its external reliance of the Jewish aniconic tradition, does not differ very much, on their own admission, from the diametrically oppossed Greek tradition. With regard to their arguments concerning the eucharistic bread as alone having the exclusive power to represent Christ, we can clearly discern a totally Greek distinction between ‘matter’ and ‘shape’, or ‘form’, as Aristotle would have said:
“Just as that which Christ received from us is the matter alone of human substance perfect in every respect, which does not characterize an individually subsisting persons, lest and additional person be admitted into the Godhead, so also the image is offered of special matter, namely, the substance of the bread, which does not represent the shape of a man, lest idolatry be introduced.”
Idolatry, then, does not arise primarily from the use of matter in itself, but chiefly the human ‘shape.’ Such is their aversion to any representation of ‘shape’ that they accept the bread of the Eucharist as a representation of Christ precisely because it excludes any ‘shape’, being ‘shapeless’ or ‘formless.’
To be exact, they do not mean that through the eucharistic bread, at least, Christ himself is represented as a real presence, but that only the fact of his incarnation is represented. The sanctified bread is “the only true image of the economy of the incarnation of Christ” not of Christ himself.
By interpreting the bread as the unique form or type (typos) with the power to represent his incarnation, but without the power to represent the actual humanity of his person, the iconoclasts believe that they have found a satisfactory solution to the problem of idolatry, since in their view the problem consists precisely in the worship of ‘forms’, whereas the bread is ‘formless’ (amorphos)…The following questions, however still remain:
1. How do they conceive of created relaity in general, since ‘shapelessness’ and ‘formlessness’ do not prevail in the material world?
2. Why in their opinion ois matter ‘worthless’, ‘common’ and ‘ignoble’, and not ‘very good’ as it is described in the Bible?
“…There is apparent here an idealism which detests the sensible world of matter and regards the giving of form to the invisible and ‘unattainable’ as profanity. An understaking of this kind constitutes an invention, a ‘ contrivance’ which is utterly ‘senseless.’
For the iconoclasts it is inconceivable that one should transfer ‘intelligibles,’ or intelligible reality to the sensible world and thus make them accessible to the unitiated and profane. In Origen’s eschatology is found the conception that bodies will become ‘intellects’ once again, restored to the primeval state from which they fell to the sensible wortld and received specific shape and ‘form’. This is also true a fortiori of the body of Christ after the Resurrection.
This perhaps explains both (a) the unwillingness of the inconoclasts to reject icons entirely (since they accept the eucharistic bread as an image of the incarnation of the Logos, and the virtues of the saints ‘as certain animated images’ which can be painted inwardly in each believer), and also (b) their attack on lifeless and dumb matter and material colours, since they regarded representation by material and sensible means as a product of idolatrous Hellenism ‘which became the pioneer and inventor of this abominable workmanship. For not having the hope of resurrection, it contemplated a trifle worthy of it, in order to make that which is not present, present by illusion’.
The persistent reference to the resurrection as an argument against icons is strong evidence of clear influence of an Origenistic eschatology on the iconoclasts: ‘for it is not lawful for Christians who have acquired hope in the resurrection to adopt the customs of the gentile demon-worshippers and to insult the saints,- who are destined to shine in such glory, with ignoble and dead matter.’
The matter that they keep repeating is lifeless, dead and ignoble reflects their conviction that matter has no place in the resurrection, and will not be glorified in the life to come at the end of the ages. Most probably this is their deepest reason for calling images ‘false and spurious’ (pseudonymoous kai kakonymous). Since neither Christ nor the saints are to have material bodies in the life to come, it follows that the material likenesses of the iconophiles are false and spuriously called icons of Christ or the saints…
The bodies of Christ and the saints are described by the iconoclastss as ‘not present’ (me paronta). this may very well have the eschatological meaning that the time of the parousia has not yet arrived, when all bodies will appear immaterial and ‘intellectual’- they will no longer have ‘bodies’. In this sense one may well look forward to the resurrection of the dead without implying the necessity a resurrection of their bodies….
The important thing for them [the iconoclasts] is that every attempt to ‘raise up’ the material bodies of the saints as icons is blasphemous since such bodies will not exist in the final resurrection. Besides, sanctity is regarded as a ‘dignity’ (axioma) and it is clear that this dignity does not refer to an actual participation in the deifying energy of God, but simply to an attainment of a contemplative prelapsarian state of perfection. Yet saints are considered to be ‘honourable before God in soul and in body’. Whether these already honoured bodies are to be understood as material or immaterial is a question never answered by them.
One understand in consequence why the iconoclasts place Christianity between Judaism and Hellenism, with the result that they can borrow elements from both in an eclectic way without, howeever, aligning themselves with either. They know, then, that they are not as hostile to images as in traditional Judaism, since they accept certain images of a spiritual, symbolic and intellectual nature, nor are they as idealistic as the Greeks, since they accept the resurrection, spiritualization and restoration of the material world, rather than a perpetual cycle as the Greeks did. We are in fact dealing here with a distinctive combination of eschatological elements which are strongly Origenistic, the iconoclast like Origen understanding ‘real’ and existing in a proper sense that which is spiritualized or returns to a certain primeval ‘intellectuality’, and as non-existent and evil-almost ‘non-being’- in a proper sense that which still remains sensible and material with certain important contradictions, as we have seen. The sanctification of the material world is essentially incompatible with such conceptions, for in a sense that which is sanctified cease to be material any longer. Sanctification and dematerialisation are parallel processes and it is almost impossible for the iconoclasts to distingish between them.” pp. 68-74
“The iconoclasts seem to rely on the early Alexandrian terminology, which, as in the West, rather than distinguish between nature and hypostases tended to identify them. The Iconophiles, by constrast, took as their starting point the difference between nature and hypostasis so as to arrive at a clear distinction between prototype and image…” pp. 83-84.
“Two important observations may be made on the iconoclasts’ understanding of the sanctified bread and wine of the Eucharist as a faithful icon of Christ: first as we have already noted, it strengthens their radical difference from the iconophiles on the meaing of the icon, and secondly-a natural consequence of this difference- it underlines their readiness to accept as an icon an impersonal reality. More specifically, the fundamental criterion of the iconoclast theology and christology is found precisely in this: first in the distance they place between icon and person, secondly in their adamant refusal to accept any kind of hypostatic pictoral representation, and thirdly in their final inability to reconcile ‘pictorial representation’ (eikonizesthai) with ‘hypostatization’ or real existence (hyphestanai). This explains their whole position. They do not object to the icon as such. They do not reject every icon of Christ in itself without exception, but only that which manifests his hypostasis or person. Since the bread and wine of the Eucharist do not manifest anything of this kind, being far removed from every accepted personal pictorial representation, they become acceptable as an icon of Christ precisely because they are impersonal…From a purely christological point of view the impersonal icon of the Eucharistic species is equally satisfactory: it includes both natures of Christ on account of the sanctification of the gifts. The iconoclasts thus succeed in attaining an absolutely ‘pragmatic representation’ of Christ which in reality consitutes a nullification of every iconic possibility because it does not actually represent anything pictorial and thus fulfils tghe conditions which make it acceptable: the bread and wine are impersonal and at the same time the body and blood of Christ.” pp. 98-99
“The conferment of honour, however, upon ‘very good’ creatures does not necessarily signify the veneration of all creatures in general, but only of those which participate in the purifying, illuminating or deifying energies of the Holy Trinity. That is to say, in the last analysis the veneration of creatures presupposes distinctions between the uncreated natural energies of the Holy Trinity which act upon them by grace. The inability to make such distinctions leads to the rejection of veneration. This is the position not only of the iconoclasts, who were unable to differentiate between icon and archetype-bearewr of the divine energies and identified these with regard to substance, but also of the Frankish theologians of the Carolingian period who met at Frankfurt (794) and reject the Seventh Ecumenical Council.
The way the Orthodox distinguish between different uncreated energies may be summarised as follows: the result of the energy which creates and maintains constitutes the natures of substances of beings. Consequently, beings are creatures and creatures are not venerated. Beings which are creeatures, however, participate in the purifying, the illuminating and above all the deifying divine energies, and are venerated precisely because of the abiding indwelling of uncreated energy which is supplied to them by grace. The uncreated energy which deifies is supplied by grace from the Triadic God solely to the angels and the saints; the energy which purifies, illuminates and sanctifies is supplied to the icons, and holy Cross, the sacred vessels, holy water, holy oils, etc., and is communicated from these and the Church’s sacraments to those who are worthy, not to all in the same way and in the same degree, but in proportion to their spiritual state. Thus, for example, tyhe body and blood of Christ in the divine Eucharist communicated under the sanctified forms of bread and wine operate i the purifying way in those of the faithful who are being cleansed, in an illuminating way in those who are being enlightened, and in a deifying way in those who are being deified. But in those who do not find themselves in anty of the above categories it operates for their judgment or condemantion on account of their unworthiness.” p. 125
“The iconoclasts, for example, instead of making conceptual (kat’epinoian) distinctions often made either sharp divisions or else conflating identifications. The iconophiles, on the other hand, made real distinctions between prototype and imitative icon and between adoration and veneration which the iconoclasts found difficult to accept.
Fundamental to the iconoclast position was a real distinction between the two natures of Christ, human and indivine in contrast with the merely conceptual (kat’epinoian) distinction made by their opponents and the Eastern Fathers in general. As a result the iconic representation of Christ implied either a divission between the two natures, which is Nestorian, or a confusion of natures, which is Monophysite. (Both these points were stressed in opposition to the icnophiles and not independently of the depiction of Christ.)
Further distinctions and separations were made between material and spiritual beings, beyween creatures and the uncreated God and between the iconic representations of Christ and his Incarnation. The separation between creatures and the uncreated God was absolute due to the implicit rejection of the Holy trinity’s uncreated energies, a rejection which lies at the very core of the iconoclast theology.
The argument concerning the absolute separation between the iconic representation (‘circumscription’) of Christ and his incarnation was absurd, but was maintained against the iconophiles on the strength of a spiritualizing theory which saw the Logos as ‘uncircumscribable’ even after the Incarnation, obviously with Origenistic-or even docetic criteria…The identifications made by the iconoclasts were numerous. First, all true images are taken to be ‘natural’ or consubstantial with their archetypes. From this derives the utter impossibility of distinguishing between ‘natural’ and ‘imitative’ icons. By further consequence, image and archetype or prototype are identified. Consequently, Christ and an icon of Christ must be identified in their essence, that is to say, icon and person represented (prototype) must always be consubstantial. Every icon not identical with the prototype in essence is an idol.
Because the above definition of consubstantiality between prototype and image is never fulfilled in the case of the imitative icon, every non-natural icon must of necessity be an idol. The venerationof such an icon is therefore the veneration of an idol. Every honour rendered to material icons of Christ and his saints signifies veneration of the pictorial representations themselves and not of the prototype.
Since only natural icons exist and ‘icon’ in general is identified with ‘archetype’, every attempt at iconic representation of Christ treats his two natures as identical. There is [for the iconoclasts] only one ‘natural’ icon of Christ: the sanctified Bread of the divine Eucharist (which is evidentaly acceptable because it avoids the human form, and not simply because it renders his two natures.) Here it is clearly apparent that the problem for the iconoclasts lies not in the iconic representation of matter itself but of the form…
The hesitation, however, of the iconoclasts to accept the existence of uncreated energies leads them to confuse the sanctification of the bread with ‘deification’. In this way they appear as forerunners of the scholastic teaching on transubstantiation through their wording: ‘deification of the essence of the Bread by grace.’ So they obviously suggest that such a deification unavoidably entails the ‘dematerialization’ or spiritualization of the Bread.
For the iconoclasts reality was not to be found in the visible world. The real is identified with the spiritual. Only those beings which exist eternally and immutably are true existents. The hypostasis of the divine Logos, however, is identified with ‘the visible character’ of his human nature. This thesis was produced by the need to refute iconophile arguments and was expressed primarily through the axiom that Christ remains ‘uncircumscribable’ even after his Incarnation. Consequently it is not acceptable that Christ-at least after his crucifixion-should any longer have at his disposal a ‘visible character’. The same must hold true for the saints (and for human beings in general) after their death and obviously it is not expected that such a visible character will be acquired again. It is debatable whether the iconoclasts believed in the resurrection of the flesh either of Christ or of men generally, although their council at Hiereia (754) proclaimed its belief in the resurrection of the dead.
The Iconoclasts are unable to discern the presence of the uncreated energies of the Holy Trinity in creation apart from the unclear case of the sanctification of the bread of the Eucharist, which is deified ‘by grace as through a certain sanctification’. The use of ‘as’ (hos) shows the difficulty experienced by the iconoclasts in accpeting the real presence of uncreated grace in creation. This doubt, however concerning the possibility of communication of uncreated energies to creatures poses from the begining the question of how the iconoclasts conceived of the divine economy of the Incarnation, and lends a strongly christological character to the whole iconoclast controversy. Ultimately the unity of the theandric person of Jesus Christ is not seriously taken into account by the iconoclasts. The incarnate Logos appears rather as a Christ who seems to be an almost impersonal sum of two natures.” pp. 131-133