Built of Living Stones 149: Worthy Art

§ 149 § Worthy art is an essential, integral element in the sacred beauty of a church building. Through skilled use of proportion, shape, color, and design, art unifies and helps to integrate the place of worship with the actions of worship. Artistic creations in the place of worship inspire contemplation and devotion. Sculpture, furnishings, art-glass, vesture, paintings, bells, organs, and other musical instruments as well as windows, doors, and every visible and tactile detail of architecture possess the potential to express the wholeness, harmony, and radiance of profound beauty.

True enough. I think every architectural aspect in a church could express something of God. In some churches, this may be true. But is it a good idea? I mean that as an open question.

Is a rich and dense artistic presentation in a church the best thing to invite contemplation? At what point does the “density” of, say, rococo, become a hindrance to open and “uninterpreted” space. Is it possible for contemplation to be squeezed out by the sheer quantity of artistic offerings?

All texts from Built of Living Stones are copyright © 2000, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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One Response to Built of Living Stones 149: Worthy Art

  1. John McGrath says:

    Rococo was part of the Jesuit strategy to win people back to the Catholic church by winning their consent rather than force them through authority to conform. The Jesuits wanted to appeal to the senses as much as the mind and thus win hearts. Ideas count, but shared emotional experiences count more in disposing people toward your point of view.

    A rococo church was supposed to be a little piece of heaven for the weary worshiper. The ordinary person could not attend the lavish palaces of kings and dukes but they could experience the even richer “court of God” in a rococo church. The lavish rococo movie palaces of an earlier era provided the same sensual and emotional uplift to the masses.

    In the Albigensian Crusade the Dominicans used coercion to win back the Albigensians. The Jesuits realized that a new era had arrived, an era requiring the consent of the governed, even for kings, princes, dukes, and popes.

    Machiavelli’s “The Prince” also reflected the reality that a prince needed to win the consent of the governed, even if the methods Machiavelli advocated involved lying, displays of caring, and relentless propaganda to disguise reality. The recent right wing onslaught on truth, led by the Koch brothers, Fox News, the Tea Party, and the the Romney campaign has shown how powerfully Machiavelli’s methods are in winning the consent of people. The Jesuit appeal to the senses, the emotions and only then to reason fit this “win the consent” pattern but without the base motives.

    Rococo was also exciting because it was a spiritual response to the new theory of gravity. Gravity draws bodies down to the ground. A rococo church was designed around the counter-gravity of grace, drawing souls upward in spiraling movements to the heavenly sphere. We all need uplift.

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