One day fifteen years ago, I happened to be channel surfing past the Eternal Word Television Network when I was greeted by a momentary flash of heavenly beauty across the screen. Quickly flipping back, I realized that it was a Mass being celebrated in an unusually majestic church with an extensively gilded and marbled interior. …
As I have noted elsewhere, we are seeing the beginnings of a quiet, subtle, but unmistakable shift back toward traditional, Classical architecture in new church construction and, as this article points out, in the renovations of churches originally built in the classical tradition, but “updated” (often with little concern for either tradition or aesthetics) in the craze for the “contemporary” and for supposed “relevance” which began in the 1960s and continues, in many circles, until this day.
The pendulum is only beginning to swing back: the article notes that, “Lest delusion set in, the ratio of new traditional churches to posh amphitheater spaces still being built is grossly disproportionate.” However the shift, while still small, is real, and appears to be growing:
Nevertheless, after the epic social and liturgical upheavals of the last century, it is a wonder that any sort of traditional resurgence is happening at all, and these projects seem to be only increasing in number and scale with each passing year. Just a decade ago, attempting to write this piece would have proven difficult; twenty years ago, impossible.
This should give cause for optimism to those faithful who yearn for the vitality that flows from firm Catholic identity [in the larger sense of “Mere Christianity” or the “Great Tradition,” not limited to Roman Catholicism] and its enduring visible expression. After all, as the saying attributed to Chesterton puts it, “Hope is the power of being cheerful in circumstances we know to be desperate.” Such wisdom is surely not lost on the many pastors, parishes, religious communities, architects and others helping to cultivate this budding sacred renaissance in the midst of a disintegrating culture that is too often hostile to faith.
Follow the link for more details on this encouraging trend, and a number of inspiring examples of new churches that have been or are being built along traditional, Classical lines. And for any readers who wonder why this matters, I repeat my invitation to see my separate post on the relationship been architecture, theology, and liturgy.
Here I will only point out that orthodox Christianity is an incarnational, sacramental faith, and it holds an incarnational, sacramental view of the cosmos, and our place in it. It does not accept the popular but heretical gnostic devaluation of that created order which God, its Creator, called “good” and “very good,” to which our Lord Jesus Christ joined himself with indissoluble bonds in His Incarnation, and which He redeemed in His Crucifixion and Resurrection.
God expresses Himself in and through the tangible, material world, not alone in the spiritual and ethereal aspects, nor yet solely in the theoretical and intellectual realm. Therefore architecture, liturgy, and other tangible expressions of the Faith matter: they are among the ways God reveals a Himself to His people. We cannot devalue Creation without devaluing the Creator of Creation, and our human impulse to create things of beauty, majesty, dignity, and reverence in honour of our Creator is a reflection of the fact that we are made in His image.
Traditional, Classical church architecture is one important expression of this truth.
“Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness, let all the Earth tremble before Him.” ~ Psalm 96:9