Saturday, June 2, 2012

Saintly Saturday: St. Nicephorus the Confessor

Today is the feast of St. Nicephorus the Confessor. Born about A.D. 758, his father Theodore was embroiled in the first wave of iconoclasm that hit the Byzantine Empire. Under the iconoclast emperor Constantine V Copronymus, Theodore was imperial secretary. When it was revealed that he was an iconodule, the emperor tortured and then banished him.

Nicephorus followed in his father’s footsteps and became imperial secretary when the iconodule Irene and her son Constantine VI came to the throne. With the help of the Patriarch St. Tarasius, the Seventh Ecumenical Council was convened to defend the use of icons. Nicephorus was secretary.

He later decided to take on the monastic tonsure. He also founded several monasteries. After the death of Tarasius, he was elected Patriarch of Constantinople in A.D. 806. When Leo the Armenian came to power, he set off the second wave of iconoclasm. St. Nicephorus was attacked, deposed and exiled. He died in one of the monasteries he founded in A.D. 828.

As I have noted before, the title Confessor is given to those saints who are tortured, imprisoned and/or exiled for the faith but not martyred. One might be surprised that people would be willing to go to such lengths to defend icons. For Orthodox Christians, it is a matter of Christology and the ability to defend the incarnation of Christ.

To illustrate this, I am going to touch upon something that might appear to be politically incorrect, but it does a very good job of making my point. Recently, there has been some scholarship into the historicity of the Prophet Muhammad. Evidently there are enough uncertainties in this history that it is possible for Robert Spencer to ask the incendiary question Did Muhammad Exist?

Islam is militantly iconoclastic — it is unlawful to depict Muhammad in any way. Indeed, Muslims tend to react violently when their prophet is.

In the face of historic criticism, however, this iconoclastic stance becomes a liability. If the critical study of the origins of Islam raise serious doubts over the historic reality of the prophet, than this militant iconoclasm only reinforces those doubts. Indeed, one is forced to ask: Is the reason Muhammad can’t be depicted because he was never a real person?

These same questions could be leveled at Christianity if we didn’t insist that there must be icons. We insist on those icons because we insist that Christ entered into history as a real human being.


The Confessor Prestige Class

For those of you who have read this blog for a while, there are some things from the later editions of D&D that I do like. One of them happens to be the idea of the Prestige Class and I have fiddled with the idea in order to make them old school. The Confessor is an example of a prestige class that arises out of game play.

In order to qualify as a Confessor, one must have been tortured, imprisoned, exiled or otherwise violently persecuted because of one's faith. Upon reaching 4th level (or higher), the player of any class may elect to become a Confessor.

Disadvantage: Due to the hardship of defending one's faith, the character has developed a serious physical handicap. This can be decided with the Referee according to the history of the character. Examples: Loss of the use of a hand/arm (no shields or T-H weapons); loss of an eye (no missile weapons); loss of voice (no spell casting with verbal components); bum leg (half movement rate).

Advantage: The Confessor has developed a tremendous amount of willpower in order to ignore pain. In addition to the normal abilities that the Confessor gains in their base class, they get a DR of 2 verses one type of damage. As the Confessor gains more levels, an additional DR of 2 is added which may be cumulative towards a type already chosen or it may be applied to a different type of damage.


Roger G-S said...

I'm using a sect of Iconoclasts in my game. The players immediately identified them as "Protestants" and dubbed their leader, a leatherworker, "Martin Leather." The party also foiled a plot by the iconoclasts to destroy, with acid, the great iron statue of St. Eracle in my version of the Tomb of the Iron God.

Anthony said...

The original idea of the prestige class in 3.0, that it represented an order or secret society one might join, appealed to me, but I didn't like the way it developed in practice. I'll have to read your earlier article to see how you implement it for B/X-style games.

Anthony said...

Make that "re-read." I'd forgotten I'd read and commented on that one. *blush*

FrDave said...

No is the danger of putting out words out here in this ether space. They have a tendency to hang around long enough to embarrass us all eventually.

Grizaptimus said...

Article is insightful as always, however I have to ask. How does having icons strengthen a claim to historical accuracy. I mean are there not images of mythical persons? I don't mean this to imply that any icon is of a mythical person, I am just confused as to how having/not having icons strengthens/weakens a historical argument.

FrDave said...


Iconoclasm invites doubt. If we cannot have an icon of Christ, the easiest answer as to why is that He never became a human being or He never existed at all. By insisting that we must have icons, we necessarily insist upon the historical reality of Christ. Judaism (from whence Christianity came) insists that God cannot be depicted…indeed, God tells Moses that if he beheld God’s face he would die. For Christianity to make such a radical departure from Judaism and insist that God in the person of Christ must be depicted in icons speaks volumes about the historical reality of Christ — something radical in history had to happen for a bunch of Jews and their followers to make such a change.