FEW passages of the book which at least some part of the nations at present most advanced in civilisation accept as an expression of final truth, have been more distorted than those bearing on Idolatry.1 For the idolatry there denounced is neither sculpture, nor veneration of sculpture. It is simply the substitution of an “Eidolon,” phantasm, or imagination of Good, for that which is real and enduring; from the Highest Living Good, which gives life, to the lowest material good which ministers to it. The Creator, and the things created, which He is said to have “seen good” in creating,2 are in this their eternal goodness appointed always to be “worshipped,” —i.e., to have goodness and worth ascribed to them from the heart;3 and the sweep and range of idolatry extend to the rejection of any or all of these, “calling evil good, and good evil,4—putting bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.” * For in that rejection and substitution we betray the first of all Loyalties, to the fixed Law of life, and with resolute opposite loyalty serve our own imagination of good, which is the law, not of the House, but of the Grave (otherwise called the law of5 “mark missing,” which we translate “law of Sin” 6); these “two masters” , between whose services we have to choose, being otherwise distinguished as God and Mammon,7 which Mammon, though we narrowly take it as the power of money only, is in truth the great evil Spirit of false and fond desire, or “Covetousness, which is Idolatry.” So that Iconoclasm—image-breaking—is easy; but an Idol cannot be broken—it must be forsaken; and this is not so easy, either to do, or persuade to doing. For men may readily be convinced of the weakness of an image; but not of the emptiness of an imagination.

Notes by Editors of the Library Edition

1. Compare Stones of Venice, vol. ii. Appendix 10: “Proper Sense of the Word Idolatry” (10.450), and Aratra Pentelici, Lecture ii. (“Idolatry”).

2. Genesis i. 31.

3. In the note to the original essay: “. . . in their eternal goodness always called Helpful or Holy; and the sweep . . .” For “Helpful or Holy,” compare Modern Painters, vol. v. 7,206), and see above, p. 225n.

4. Isaiah v. 20.

5. [Here the note in the original essay reads: “the law of error, or ‘markmissing’”—for which translation of amartia, see 7.441.

6. [Romans vii. 23; Matthew vi. 24; Colossians iii.5.

5. On the subject of Mammon-worship, see Time and Tide, § 59 (below, p. 367).

Last modified 25 March 2019