“They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear, nor is there breath in their mouths. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.”
-Psalm 135, 16-18
The Sancti Quatuor Coronati or Four Crowned Ones were 3rd-century Christian sculptors who earned crowns of martyrdom for refusing to fashion an idolatrous image. Porphyrius recorded the actions of these men shortly after their deaths: "Although they raised no objection to the fashioning of profane images depicting Victoria(Nike), Cupid, and the Chariot of the Sun, these sculptors refused to make a statue of Æsculapius for a heathen temple. For this, they were put into leaden caskets and drowned in the River Save."
Porphyrius, a Roman bureaucrat, was perplexed. He could not see any distinction between the goddess Victoria and the god Æsculapius. Christians understand that the difference lies in the context and intent of each work. Depictions of Nike, Cupid, and Apollo are frequently used in classical and Christian iconography to represent abstract ideas like victory, love, and wisdom. These images are distinct from idols because they are not objects of worship; instead, they point towards ideas and truths greater than themselves.
Delighting in its inherent nuance and beauty, early Christian artists maintained and expanded the symbolic language of the antique world preserving many beautiful traditions. But they also affirmed that, without God’s grace, their images would be deaf, blind, and dumb; and they preferred death to the perpetuation of dead idolatry.