The theme of the conference was: Benedict XVI on Church Art and Architecture. This report is by Patrick Duffy.
In his introduction, the chairperson, Prof. D. Vincent Twomey, SVD (Maynooth, Ireland), decried the iconoclasm that wrought havoc on so many church buildings in the name of the conciliar reform of the liturgy and suggested a number of theological causes. He pointed to the difference between treating beauty as something peripheral, a matter of taste or a decoration, and (following Ratzinger) seeing beauty as being as integral to liturgy as truth and goodness are. The utilitarianism of the age favours the former, as was manifest in the reform. Benedict XVI, on the other hand, is acutely aware of the necessity for reason to combine with aesthetic and intuitive sensibility, both in liturgy and art. Twomey also pointed to the profound theological implications of the reordering of the liturgical space in the wake of the recent liturgical reforms, something that few adverted to at the time. To quote the English philosopher, Roger Scruton: “Changes in the liturgy take on a momentous significance for the believer, for they are changes in his experience of God …” Once such change was the removal of the tabernacle from its former position on the altar to a side-altar. The theory of Francis Rowland, mentioned by Twomey, that the post-conciliar liturgical reforms, with their stress on reducing everything to the essentials, were inspired a kind of neo-Scholasticism that was ahistorical and acultural was hotly disputed later in the discussion.
All the papers were inspired by Pope Benedict XVI’s aesthetics, i.e. his understanding of the nature of beauty. This was the topic of the opening paper by Monsignor Joseph Murphy (Rome) and the keynote address by Cardinal Pell. Mons. Murphy’s paper was entitled: “The Fairest and the Formless: The Face of Christ as Criterion for Christian Beauty according to Joseph Ratzinger”. For the Pope, the most persuasive proof of the truth of the Christian message, offsetting everything that may appear negative, “are the saints on the one hand, and the beauty that the faith has generated, on the other”. Hence, for faith to grow today, “we must lead ourselves and the persons we meet to encounter the saints and to come in contact with the beautiful”. After outlining the patristic debate with regard to how Jesus Christ could be said to be beautiful, Murphy describes the way beauty wounds the soul and so awakens man to his higher destiny. The beauty of truth appears in Christ, the beauty of God himself, who powerfully draws us and inflicts on us the wound of Love, as it were, “a holy Eros that enables us to go forth, with and in the Church, his Bride, to meet the Love who calls us.” His beauty is the manifestation of his love, a love poured out for others. Finally, addressing one of Ratzinger’s favourite themes, seeking the face of God, itself one of the primordial themes of Scripture, Murphy points out how seeing Christ is only possible to those who follow Him. As in much else, here Ratzinger takes his inspiration from the Fathers of the Church.
Cardinal Pell, in his paper entitled: “Benedict XVI on Beauty: Issues in the Tradition of Christian Aesthetics” took up several of the themes mentioned by Murphy and developed them. He stress that, for Ratzinger, the truth of love can transform the ugliness of the world – manifested in its extreme on the Cross – into the beauty of the
Resurrection. According to Plato beauty is profoundly realistic: it wounds man and so makes him desire the Transcendent. Thus beauty causes a painful longing of the human heart for God. By way of contrast, falsehood suggests that reality is ugly and so promotes either a cult of the ugly or the craving for transient pleasure to escape from the ugliness. Addressing the question of the interaction of the Gospel and culture, Ratzinger argues that the Logos purifies and heals all cultures – and so enables them to achieve their full potential as culture. Though the Hebrew and Greek cultures retain their unique significance for the faith – as the linguistic vehicles of Salvation History – the Gospel itself transcends all cultures. Pell also examined Ratzinger’s theology of music. One of the points he makes is that music is the place where the clash between good and evil is played out at a certain level of society. Ratzinger rejects pop-music, the music equivalent of kitsch, because through it the soul is swallowed up in the senses. Finally, Pell pointed out that, for Ratzinger, there must be a proper understanding of Church, of liturgy, and of music. The Church is not simply the local community but is always Catholic, that is, the whole Church universal, including the cosmic dimension of salvation. Liturgy must be understood as the work of God, not some human fabrication or action. Each rite, therefore, is an objective form of the Church’s worship. And when the languages of Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic are put to music, they should evoke awe and receptivity for what is beyond sense. Sacred music should be a synthesis of sense, sensibility and sound. Finally, Cardinal Pell stressed that simple, orthodox faith remains the single most important factor in the celebration of the liturgy.
The philosophical implications of the above understanding of beauty were the subject of Fr Daniel Gallagher (Rome) paper: “The Liturgical Consequences of Thomistic Aesthetics: exploring some philosophical aspects of Joseph Ratzinger’s Aesthetics.” Gallagher formulated the basic question as follows: “what has reason to do with beauty”. This led to a discussion of Thomistic aesthetics (is beauty for Thomas a transcendental?) and the subsequent theory of Emmanuel Kant. For Thomas, beauty, though originating in subjective experience, is a form of objective knowledge. Kant sets out to find what he considered to be objective criteria to determine the validity of the subjective experience of beauty. The basic question was resolved with the help of Jacques Maritain (in the Thomist tradition) and in opposition to Umberto Eco (in the Kantian tradition). “Maritain seamlessly connects aesthetic beauty to transcendental beauty, whereas Eco despairs of finding a passage from transcendental beauty to aesthetic beauty.” Gallagher drew out some of the implications of this for liturgy: Beauty is not instrumental, but the very way of experiencing the Triune God in the liturgy. Thus beauty engages the intellect such that God’s Word and life are apprehended in a way that transcends the imparting of information. Most importantly, if beauty is most especially related to the good, then the beauty of the liturgy is directly connected with moral life – and thus concerned with culture as the context for the promotion of virtue. This paper provoked perhaps the most lively discussion of all the papers.
Dr Janet Rutherford (Castelpollard, Co. Westmeath, Ireland) in her paper, “Eastern Iconoclasm and the Defence of Divine Beauty” outlined the turbulent political background to, and profound theological issues at stake in, the first major iconoclastic controversy in the Church, which culminated in the Seventh Ecumenical Council, the Second Council of Nicaea (AD 787). At stake was nothing less than the unity of divine-human nature of Christ as defended above all by St Maximus the Confessor. For the latter, the icon was not a sign of absent realities; the realities themselves were made present to the beholder of the icon. The icons are thus for the believer windows onto eternity. For the East, Second Nicaea is the “orthodox” Council par excellence, an indication not only of their appreciation for the teaching of the Council but also of the centrality of the icon in the life, liturgy, and theology of Easter Christians. According to Maximus, icons, by stressing the humanity of Christ, evoke the possibility of our humanity being divinized, theosis, whereby, according to Rutherford, the Greek notion of theosis is other than the Western notion of divinization. With deft strokes of the brush Rutherford sketched the rich theology of the icon developed by medieval Orthodox theologians such as Nicholas Cabasilas and modern theologians like Paul Evdokimov. These were inspired by the great Fathers of the Church, such as St John of Damascus, who stressed that the Incarnation restored material humanity to its original innocence, and St Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople, who defended the veneration of images and paid for it by resigning and going into exile to die in obscurity – until his reputation was restored at Second Nicaea. Rutherford eloquently demonstrated what Ratzinger once claimed in one of his writings, when he wrote that, with regard to the liturgy, we have a lot to learn from the East.
One of the most fascinating papers was delivered by Dr Helen Ratner Dietz (Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A): “The Nuptial Meaning of Classic Church Architecture”. She described how, after Constantine, the Roman basilica was transformed by the inheritance of Judaism. The main influence here reached back to Sinai, which was understood in terms of the bridal covenant between God and Israel. This in turn led to Israel’s expectation that, in the final days, God the Bridegroom would consummate his union with Israel, His Bride. This final consummation was anticipated in the Temple liturgy, which determined the architecture of the Temple of Solomon. There the Holy of Holies was understood in terms of the Bridal Chamber – in imitation of the wedding canopy used in the Jewish wedding ceremonies (as was used up to the Christian Middle Ages). The High Priest represented not only the Bridegroom, but, when he entered the Holy of Holies, the Bride, Israel. The Jerusalem Temple was divided into three, with three sets of steps leading up to the Holy of Holies. The Temple Veil represented this world, or rather the whole of creation, symbolized by the colours of the elements (white, blue, red and purple), which also have bridal significance. These colours were likewise those of external vestments of the High Priest who represented Israel’s God, the Creator of heaven and earth. The Holy of Holies was a perfect cube, symbol of the spiritual world, the heavens above the heavens. As in the Jewish tradition, the bridegroom takes on the vulnerability of the bride to protect her from the dangers inherent in child-bearing (and is vested accordingly), the High Priest, divesting himself of his glorious vestments and clad in a simply linen tunic, takes on the vulnerability of the Bride Israel when he entered the Holy of Holies once a year on Yom Kippur (cf. Is 61:10).. Christ called himself the Bridegroom and so claimed to be the High Priest. What is less noticed is that, when he took on the vulnerability of humanity in the incarnation, he identified Himself with the Bride when he into the Temple not made of human hands through his Death on the Cross. Dietz stressed that for the Jewish – and later the Christian – tradition God is totally hetero, other, and Israel is hetero to God. Only in this way, can we understand the “role-exchange” between bridegroom and bride that is characteristic of both Jewish nuptial ceremonies and the Temple liturgy. The form of Christian church-buildings was profoundly shaped by this Jewish tradition, which itself was rooted in the pagan Semitic traditions of the ancient Near East. The Church took over the tripartite division of the Temple and, in the place of the Holy of Holies, the wedding canopy or baldachin over the altar that, like the nuptial chamber, was surrounded by curtains that were only opened to reveal the elevated Host and Chalice. Like the Temple it faced east, but now with a new meaning: the rising sun represented the return of the Bridegroom in glory at the end of time for the final consummation now anticipated each time the Sacrifice of the Mass is celebrated on the altar.
Perhaps one of the most radical changes in the liturgy after the Council – though not recommended, or even mentioned, by Sacrosanctum concilium – was the change in the position of the celebrant, who now faces the congregation, instead of facing East with the congregation. Facing East was the common practice (with some notable exceptions, such as St Peter’s in Rome due to space problems caused by building the Constantinian basilica over the tomb of Peter) at least since the second century. Christian worship was in the direction of the Rising Sun and no longer in the direction of the Jerusalem Temple, as in the Jewish synagogue. This was a central topic taken up Dr Michael Uwe Lang, Cong. Or., in his paper entitled: “Louis Bouyer and Church Architecture: Resourcing Benedict XVI’s Introduction to the Spirit of the Liturgy”. Lang showed both the indebtedness of Ratzinger to Bouyer but also the selective use the former made of the latter by avoiding Bouyer’s more controversial and polemical points. Lang showed how Ratzinger took up and developed Bouyer’s insight into the cosmic and eschatological significance of the liturgical call after the liturgy of the Word around the bema (a raised platform for the liturgy of the Word in the centre of the basilica): “Conversi ad orientem”. Moving to the altar in the apse, priest and people faced the East, acknowledging the cosmic dimension of Christian worship. But in the first place, the rising sun symbolizes the final Return of the Risen Lord now anticipated in the Sacrifice of the Mass. Lang pointed out that celebrating the Sacrifice facing the people tends to eclipse the transcendental dimension of the liturgy. God tends to be absorbed into the community whereas in facing East what is expressed is the dialogue between the People of God and God Himself. Further, the sacrificial character of the Mass tends to be downplayed while the Mass tends to be seen primarily as a sacred banquet. In the discussion, the Chair pointed out that, according to the English anthropologist, Mary Douglas, in her book, Natural Symbols, one of the reasons why this radical change found immediate acceptance was because it found a resonance in the contemporary culture which, in terms of the different categories of cultural expression, has a close affinity to the culture of nomads, for whom the focus of their gatherings is the fire. Huddled around the fire, they find comfort from the darkness and alienation of the surrounding world.
Dr Alcuin Reid (London, England) read a though-provoking paper entitled “Noble Simplicity Revisited” on one of the central recommendation of the Sacrosanctum concilium for the reform of the liturgy (SC 34). He traced the origins of the term “noble simplicity” back to Edmund Bishop (1899) who described the genius of the Roman Rite in terms of sobriety, simplicity and austerity. This was further developed by Dr Adrian Fortescue (1912), though modified significantly in 1945, by the Anglican Dom Gregory Dix. According to the latter, there was no squalor in the pre-Nicene liturgy (as we know from Eusebius), which in fact was marked dignity and splendour. Reid concludes that there was “noble simplicity” should not be understood as distaste for ritual itself or its later embellishments. Though some liturgist called for “a certain spiritual unction” in the Rites, the reference to the didactic and pastoral nature of the liturgy became one of the central preoccupations of the Bugnini Commission, which was primarily concerned with the principle of what Reid claims was the translation of participatio actuosa as “active participation” instead of “actual participation”. The latter implies interiority and promotes contemplation. In this context, “noble simplicity”, which is a practical policy and not a dogmatic statement (and thus open to disagreement), takes on a rather more radical meaning that that perhaps originally intended. Is this principle not in need of a critical reappraisal? According to McManus, the principle should be evangelical and not render the liturgy banal. Unfortunately, some, perhaps influenced by Jungmann’s theory of the corruption of the liturgical tradition and his distinction between the essentials and the non-essentials, understand “noble simplicity” to mean a rupture with tradition. Thus a new Puritanism arose (K. Flanagan). The irony is that the reforms satisfied none of the constituents which the reforms were supposed to appeal to (youth, educated, etc.), who find the liturgy mostly boring. Katherine Pipstock and David Torvelle have produced trenchant criticisms of the reforms. Interestingly, Sacramentum caritatis does not even mention the terms “noble simplicity”. The main question today is; to what extent do the rites contribute to the true “actual participation” of the faithful in worship.
Mr Ethan Anthony (Boston, USA), a practicing church architect in the tradition established by Ralph Adams Cram (1889-1942), gave an illustrated talk on the topic: “The Third Revival: New Gothic and Romanesque Catholic Architecture in North America”. Cram’s basic policy as an architect was summed up in his statement: “I want people who come into church to be taken out of themselves”. For him, beauty is a manifestation of the divine. We simply need beauty to be human. However, as in all art so too with architecture, inspiration can only be received not fabricated. “We need architects who see though the eyes of faith”. According to Anthony, the First Revival was inspired by Newman and Pugin. The Second was under the influence of Willam Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement. Under the influence of Gropius and the Bauhaus movement that flourished in the Weimar Republic and came to the USA from 1939, there was a period in the 1950s in the suburban Catholic Church when concrete-block churches became fashionable. The Third Revival began with work on the restoration of older churches, which in turn required the re-learning of older skills more akin to the building of the medieval churches. Soon congregations wanted new churches built in the older style, a more distinctly sacral style than found in the modern buildings. The question was raised: could we build churches in the traditional styles, where faith was expressed through the medium of stone and glass. In dialogue with the pastors and their congregations, architects began to design new church buildings under the inspiration of those medieval masterpieces scattered around Europe and using new materials that were both cost-effective and, in terms of design, modern. Anthony’s power-point presentation of many of these magnificent churches of the Third Revival captivated the audience.
In another fascinating power-point presentation, Professor Duncan G. Stroik (Notre Dame, USA) addressed the topic “All the great works of art are a manifestation of God:
Pope Benedict XVI and the Architecture of Beauty”. Stroik used the magnificent church buildings of Bavaria that formed the background to Ratzinger’s theory of beauty and gave it its existential depth. Here in particular the meaning of the Baroque period was made accessible to an audience that has little experience of that style – and indeed are often rather sceptical of its value.
All of the papers highlighted new aspects of the theme. However the final paper was the most surprising of all. Dr Neil J. Roy (Peterborough, Canada) discussed the topic “The Galilee Chapel: A Medieval Notion Comes of Age”, which certainly opened up new vistas for the participants. The Galilee Chapel has its origins in the Cluniac monasteries, where it formed the place where processions started in memory of the beginning of the public ministry of Our Lord in Galilee. From thence, the procession moved to Jerusalem, the sanctuary area. Using Durham’s monastic Cathedral as his starting point, Roy described the development of the Galilee Chapel, in particular in Cluny, before making some important suggestions about restoring the institution – and with it the baptistery – to the front of the church and decorating it with suitable motives. With this paper, the conference looked to the future and the possibility if innovation based on the inspiration taken from the Cluniac tradition.