Oh boy, do we love medieval villages which look like they’ve been taken out of a fairy tale! … Castle Combe, a civil parish [in the Cotswolds], and a tiny village with a population of about 350, is considered as one the most photographed places in England, and we totally understand why.
Just gonna leave this out here…
“Be careful, be very careful. What has happened here will come to you.” — An elderly priest in Iraq, to Father Benedict Kiely. Last year, more than 90,000 people chose to drop out of the Church of Sweden – almost twice as many as the year before.
Second of two timely – and distressing – posts from the Gatestone Institute.
“I fear we are approaching a situation resembling the tragic fate of Christianity in Northern Africa in Islam’s early days”, a Lutheran bishop, Jobst Schoene, warned a few years ago.
In ancient times, Algeria and Tunisia, entirely Christian, gave us great thinkers such as Tertullian and Augustine. Two centuries later, Christianity had disappeared, replaced by Arab-Islamic civilization.
Is Europe now meeting the same fate?
It doesn’t have to happen. But it most certainly could – and likely will, if current trends and practices continue. Do you want to see this turned into a mosque? With a muezzin giving the call to Moslem prayer from the dome cupola? Because that’s what could be coming:
Or imagine what Moslems, with their hatred of religious imagery, would do to this church interior:
We need to be vigilant – more than vigilant – to defend our Christian and Western civilization, its heritage, its traditions and values, and yes, its physical artifacts from any and all that would seek to destroy them. Because no one else is going to do it for us!
Indeed it does.
Nor is it limited to the Roman observance, although traditionalists in the Roman Catholic Church (and more generally, the liturgical, sacramental Churches, including Eastern Orthodoxy and – when it is being true to itself – the Anglican tradition) are often acutely aware of its importance:
“The only really effective apologia for Christianity comes down to two arguments, namely, the saints the Church has produced, and the art which has grown in her womb. Better witness is borne to the Lord by the splendor of holiness and art which have arisen in the community of believers than by the clever excuses which apologetics has come up with to justify the dark sides which, sadly, are so frequent in the Church’s human history. If the Church is to continue to transform and humanize the world, how can she dispense with beauty in her liturgies, that beauty which is so closely linked with love and with the radiance of the Resurrection? No. Christians must not be too easily satisfied. They must make their Church into a place where beauty – and hence truth – is at home. Without this the world will become the first circle of Hell.”
Pope Benedict XVI: The Ratzinger Report, p. 129
Beauty, however, is the birthright of all Christians – ours is, after all, a sacramental and incarnational faith, and therefore one which values the created order as an important source of God’s self-revelation to us. The Scriptural warrant for this goes back at least to the Psalmist:
“Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.”
Psalm 29:2, 96:9
And of course the classical Christian tradition, at least in the West, has repeatedly cited the “three Transcendentals” (Goodness, Truth, and Beauty) as not only pointing toward God, but being aspects or attributes of God – ones that we should seek to mirror and live out in our own lives:
[The] Three Transcendentals of ancient philosophy (which has so greatly shaped Christian Tradition) [are] the True, the Good and the Beautiful. To destructively compress Plato and the Neoplatonists, all truth points to the transcendent Truth; all good points to the transcendent Good; all beauty points to the transcendent Beauty; and in turn, the transcendent True, Good and Beautiful is the One, the source of all being, which classical theism identifies as God, and is in turn identified with the God of the Bible by orthodox Christianity.
In short: for Christians, “Beauty Matters.” It is not an extrinsic, superficial adornment to our lives and our liturgy; it is an intrinsic, essential element of them.
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
After too many years of utilitarian, banal, and (for many of us) off-putting modernistic trends in ecclesiastical architecture, we are seeing the beginning of a quiet, subtle, but significant shift back in the direction of traditional, Classical architecture when it comes to building churches, as exemplified in the above photo, of the interior of Our Lady of the Holy Trinity, St. Thomas Aquinas College, in California (please see my separate post for more on this “new” direction in ecclesiastical architecture).
In the video below, Dennis R. McNamara explains why this is important, theologically and liturgically. It is far more than a taste, a fad, or (as he points out) a more architectural style!
“Classical architecture is fundamentally respectful of Tradition; it’s fundamentally respectful of the order of Nature as revealing the mind of God… Certain proportions are harmonic; certain ways of bringing things together are ordered and perfected and radiant, and they ring true to the eye [just as certain musical structures and harmonies ring true to the ear]. So Classicism is basically [a way of creating] architecture that is about the noblest and highest achievements humanity can [attain]. What is the most poetic, most harmonious, most ordered way to do architecture? How can it restore order to the world? So, Classicism is not a style – primarily, although there are stylistic components to it. It is a way of imitating the mind of God in architecture.” — Dennis R. McNamara, “Catholic Church Architecture and the Spirit of the Liturgy”
— Dennis R. McNamara, “Catholic Church Architecture and the Spirit of the Liturgy”