Monday, May 11, 2009

What if we are like Cathedrals?

There's a wonderful series entitled "The Theology and Metaphysics of the Gothic Cathedral" over at the New Liturgical Movements blog.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Br Lawrence Lew, O.P. writes:

"....This is to say that the symbol – and in this case we mean the Gothic cathedral – is not just an earthly reminder or signpost of heavenly realities, but rather it is the ‘en-fleshing’ in worldly matter of heavenly realities. As in the Incarnation the eternal Word communicated with humankind in the flesh, so God continues to communicate his truth to us through material signs and visible means. For, Von Simson argues, the medievals understood that “the physical world as we understand it has no reality except as a symbol… symbol is the only objectively valid definition of reality”. This metaphysical sensitivity characterizes the medieval artistic vision, so that the Gothic cathedral is not to be primarily understood in functional or socio-economic or aesthetic terms, but in metaphysical and theological terms, and one has to ask what truth the cathedral symbolizes; how does God communicate with us in its beauty and form? Hence, Von Simson says, “the medieval artist was committed to a truth that transcended human existence. Those who looked at his work judged it as an image of that truth”.

This strong symbolic sense, which is redolent of a Catholic understanding of sacramentals, the theology of the Incarnation, and the philosophical idea of participation, is central to any grasp of the Gothic cathedral and its architecture. I would argue that this was largely lost after the Reformation, and it needs to be re-discovered. For a church is not built just as a theatre for the sacred drama of Liturgy, nor merely as a badge of our cultural identity, nor even as a didactic 'worship space', but it is, as the medievals saw it, a transformation of space and matter so that the church building makes visible and truly communicated in its very physical form the metaphysical reality of redeemed Creation, which is sacramentally made visible in God's holy Church.

What if our lives are like cathedrals?

1 Cor. 6:12- 20

"I have the right to do anything," you say—but not everything is beneficial. "I have the right to do anything"—but I will not be mastered by anything. You say, "Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both." The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, "The two will become one flesh." But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit. Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins people commit are outside their bodies, but those who sin sexually sin against their own bodies. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.


Jeff Adams said...

Interesting Post,

I like it. By the way, this is Jeff Adams - you're old C.H. student, and fellow colleague from EBC. I'm with L'Abri now, and under the influence of Schaeffer I've thought of Aquinas being the transition point (in intellectual history - if not his own intention) from Symbol (or universal) to particulars the concrete. I'm also not sure I agree with Aquinas, in that he doesn't seem to think the intellect is fallen. I do not consider this move away from symbol as a completely good thing, but which might have been necessary in part. If we only have symbol then we tend toward Gnosticism - a devaluing of the material. If reality is only symbol... isn't that problematic? Certainly we have swung the other way to a nearly complete loss of symbol and universal, a move from Plato to Aristotle if you will. How do we return to symbol (universal - grace) without devaluing the concrete (particulars - nature) if not through Revelation... otherwise there is a lot of projecting of ourselves into the heavens (also very popular today). I'd love to hear your thoughts Beth.

Beth B said...

Hi Jeff!

So good to hear from you! Wow, you raise a lot of issues--and I'm in the middle of the big annual VCC Youth Garage Sale! I want to write you a more careful, reasoned out answer, but quickly, I urge you not to read Thomas through Schaeffer's lenses. That is as skewed as it would be to read Calvin from the viewpoint of a Marcus Borg.

I respect Schaeffer for inspiring a generation of men and women (like my husband) to seriously study philosophy. Ironically, that is how NOTRE DAME got to be the #1place to study philosophy of religion in the world, according to the Philosophical Gourmet report. See

Unfortunately Schaeffer's own philosophy studies were limited. This has led many non-philosophers to a complete misunderstanding of Thomas Aquinas. When I can I will give you a bibliography of some things that might give you a different perspective.

Of course, this will probably not be well received by those of the Reformed persuasion. I urge you to begin listening for anti-Catholic bias and consider whether this builds up Christ's body. All too often in my exchanges with Reformed Christians, it seems like they take anything Catholic to be automatically wrong or evil, as if Christianity only began with the Reformation. I hope you are not among people who inhabit that wing of the Kingdom. Certainly there are Catholics who do the reverse. That is just as bad!

For the time being, you might want to search my blog under the following subject areas: nominalism, premodernism, modernism, postmodernism, monergism, Catholicism, Reformation, Protestantism, theology, St. Thomas.

Feel free to write me at I'm looking forward to continuing our conversation, and catching up with what's going on in your life!

Blessings in Christ,


Ted M. Gossard said...

Great thoughts here, and challenging, and I wish very much that I had more time to read. I think just in inhabiting your blog over a period of time, I'd learn a lot!

I do tend to devalue architecture in church gathering buildings. The church we are part of now is more like a cathedral (in the "sanctuary") than any we've been a part of. But the acoustics in it are bad, and some older people have left because they couldn't hear well, and we're not large enough yet- though growing- to really spend on it --my thinking here.

I do like the concept here. I think it is reflected in C.S. Lewis and some have misunderstood Lewis on this score, as well, from what I've picked up, second hand.