This unit examines the theology expressed in the devotional use of icons and their liturgical use in the Eastern Christian tradition. Emphasis will be given to the sacramental nature of the icon as expressive of the mystery of the Incarnation of Christ and of the holiness of creation redeemed and transfigured in Christ. The unit explores the origin and meaning of the icon and its development in early Christian art. It considers the Iconoclast Controversy and the key arguments by John Damascene in his incarnational theological defence of icons. The icon as an expression of the theology and faith of the Christian East is examined in the context of the theological interpretation of icons of Christ, particular feasts, Mary the Mother of God and other specific saints. Several of the great works of iconography and Western religious art will be compared. The unit considers the role of icons in the liturgy and personal prayer.

Unit code: DS9105C

Unit status: Archived (Major revision)

Points: 24.0

Unit level: Postgraduate Elective

Unit discipline: Spirituality

Proposing College: Catholic Theological College

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Learning outcomes


Articulate an advanced knowledge of the origin, symbolism and meaning of the icon and its development in early Christian art


Explain and elaborate on the significance of the Byzantine iconoclast controversy and the arguments by John Damascene in his theological defence of icons


Examine and critically discuss the theological content of specific iconographic themes


Analyse the similarities, differences and complementarity of iconography and religious artistic expressions in the Christian West


Appraise the significance and role of icons in both liturgical and private prayer


Demonstrate the capacity to research a specific topic in a critically rigorous, sustained and self-directed manner.

Unit sequence

CT8010C, CT9201C are recommended


Lectures and individual and group learning activities

Indicative Bibliography

  • Baggley, J. Doors of Perception. Icons and Their Spiritual Significance. Crestwood, NY: SVS Press, 1988.
  • ———. Festival Icons for the Christian Year. Mowbray: SVS Press, 2000.
  • Cross, Lawrence. God's Holy Fire: A Theology of the Icon. Melbourne: Freedom Publishing, 2014.
  • Evdokimov, P. The Art of the Icon: A Theology of Beauty. Translated by Fr Steven Bigham. Redondo Beach, CA: Oakwood Publications, 1990.
  • Hart, A. Techniques of Icon and Wall Painting. Balwyn, Victoria: Freedom Publishing, 2011.
  • ———. Beauty. Spirit. Matter. Icons in the Modern World. Balwyn, Victoria: Freedom Publishing, 2014.
  • Mathews, Thomas. The Art of Byzantium: Between Antiquity and the Renaissance. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1998.
  • Nes, Solrunn. The Mystical Language of Icons. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009.
  • Ouspensky, L. Theology of the Icon. Translated by A. Gythiel with E. Meyendorff. 2 vols. 1978. Reprint. Crestwood, NY: SVS Press, 1992.
  • Ouspensky, L., and V. Lossky. The Meaning of Icons. Crestwood, NY: SVS Press, 1982.
  • Sahas, Daniel. Icons and Logos: Sources in Eighth-Century Iconoclasm. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1986. eBook =
  • Visel, Jeana. Icons in the Western Church: Towards a More Sacramental Encounter. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2016. eBook =


Type Description Word count Weight (%)
Document Study

1,500 words

1500 20.0
Document Study

2,000 words

2000 30.0

3,500 words

3500 50.0

Unit approved for the University of Divinity by Prof Albert Haddad on 16 Aug, 2022

Unit record last updated: 2023-08-22 16:00:18 +1000