I have recently outlined the iconoclastic controversies. Obviously, there is more that can be said and perhaps I shall return to this topic. Ok, I’ll almost certainly post on icons and iconography again later.
What I want to do here is explore the iconodule arguments. Why do Orthodox have icons? Why not accept the position of the iconodules, especially Constantine V’s position? Pooping in the baptismal font cannot be reason enough to reject his argument, right? Indeed! As we shall see, there were various arguments made and ultimately, what matters, is the Christological argument. For Orthodoxy, iconography is not just something optional. It is necessary. Orthodox Christology requires iconography.
The iconodules argued from tradition by saying that in light of the biblical witness, the iconoclasts failed to make a necessary distinction. Rather than reading arguments against idolatry as opposing any and all images, the iconoclasts should have read those arguments simply for what they were—arguments against pagan idols, nothing more, nothing less. In addition, the defenders of icons referenced arguments from the tradition that had said veneration given to the image of the emperor actually passed on to the prototype, the emperor himself. The iconodules also argued on behalf of unwritten tradition. Not everything was written down, as evidenced by St. Basil the Great’s treatise on the Holy Spirit, where he mentioned practices such as the signing of the cross, triple immersion at baptism and an eastern orientation during worship.
In response to Constantine’s supposed Christological dilemma, the defenders of icons responded with orthodox Christology. Two prominent defenders of correct Christology were St. John of Damascus, who began writing around 730, and St. Theodore the Studite, who wrote about a century later. Both men emphasized the importance of the incarnation. An icon of Christ does not depict a “nature,” as though a nature can be abstractly circumscribed in an image, but depicts the hypostasis (the Greek word that meant something similar to “person”) of the Son Incarnate. Accordingly, St. John of Damascus noted that prior to the incarnation, one could make iconoclastic arguments, but in light of the incarnation, anything iconoclastic is docetism. Doceticism was a heresy that taught that Jesus’ humanity was not true and complete. A docetist would claim Jesus “appeared” human, but did not possess a human body capable of the sort of suffering and death he experienced. So, when St. John of Damascus made his claim, he was stating that if one refused to depict Christ in art, one was refusing to depict the reality of the incarnation of the Son of God himself. The hypostasis of the Son is truly incarnate, which means, he must be depictable or his humanity is not actually humanity. Furthermore, St. John of Damascus believed that that a nature had no independent existence, but was visible only in persons. For this reason, St. Theodore the Studite observed that just as three hypostases do not divide the one divine ousia, so two natures do not divide the one hypostasis.
What Constantine had done, was to treat the incarnation as an incarnation of natures, not an incarnation of a person (hypostasis), the Son of God. The only way an iconoclast could avoid that problem would be to accept Nestorianism, as Constantine noted one could do with images. Orthodox Christology, of course, taught that the hypostasis of the Logos/Son of God took on human nature, which found its personal expression in the person of the Son. Yet, that very human nature is truly human nature. Therefore, one cannot be an iconoclast without denying the reality of the incarnation. If one believes in the full reality of the incarnation, one is, of necessity, a defender of icons.
 On the Orthodox Faith, PG 94.1304.
 On the Orthodox Faith, PG 94.1004A.
 Antirrheticus, PG 99.184.