Tuesday, June 08, 2010

One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic: Marks of the Church Building as well as the Church Herself

I have recently struck up a very enjoyable correspondence with Prof. Peter Kwasniewski, of the excellent Wyoming Catholic College, and read with great interest an article he recently wrote for the next edition of Latin Mass Magazine on the philosophy and theology of church architecture. (More information can be found at the magazine's website here.) Particularly interesting for me is his innovative but sound idea of linking the built structure of the church to the four marks of the institutional Church--One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. This is the first time I have seen such an idea advanced and I find it elegant and eloquent. Prof. Kwasniewski has been kind enough to secure permission for us to publish his article at The New Liturgical Movement, and you can find it below. Some highlights, with my comments and expansions:

We identify her four “notes” or essential characteristics when we say that she is “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.” Almost in the same breath, we then link the Church to her life-giving Sacraments and the ultimate goal to which our membership in her carries us: “we acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins, we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” An entire understanding of church architecture is sketched out in these few words of the Creed.

[...] “One.” We are talking about one and the same Church across all the ages. [...] So the church building and its furnishings ought to convey a sense of something one, visibly and tangibly one, that is greater than all of our differences. [One is reminded of Ninian Comper's synthetic unitive eclecticism: "All generations shall call me blessed." I would also remark that the "oneness" of the church building should also be manifest in a clarity of liturgical form and focus. --MGA] We concretely express this mystery by an architecture that remains in continuity with ecclesiastical Tradition. [...]

“Apostolic.”
I jump ahead to this note of the Church because it clarifes that the unity or oneness just spoken of consists in belonging to the Church founded by Christ on the Apostles, especially on Peter, the Rock. Our Lord Jesus gave to the Apostles the Deposit of Faith, what we call Apostolic Tradition. [...] The church building, for its part, passes down that same Tradition in artistic form, in a kind of silent visual preaching.

“Holy.” This characteristic is arguably the most important of all when it comes to architecture. A church should represent and refect and remind us of the holiness of God, the holiness to which we have been called and in which we share. Hence, verticality—the upward thrust of architectural and decorative elements—is crucial in a sanctuary. When we enter a well-designed church, our mind, our feelings, are immediately drawn upwards to God, the Holy One of Israel; to the Divine, the Transcendent, the Infinite.

[I'd also remark that there are various ways of expressing this verticality, this exchange between God and man exemplified in the Incarnation--in Gothic it goes up, while in Byzantine architecture domes recall God's enclosing movement downwards to man while retaining a sense of loftiness. Baroque creates a sort of aerial, spiralling ballet that has elements of both upward and downward verticality to it. --MGA].
Anyway, have a read through the article: it is excellent work, and innovative while being firmly grounded in tradition. It is good to see, in this article, and in other works (like Dr. McNamara's new book) that we are now examining in great detail and with great theological seriousness what a church should look like, as well as what it should not look like. I hope to hear more in this vein from the good professor in the future.

What is a Church Supposed to Look Like? Peter Kwasniewski