We deny to claim "any Superiority to ourself
to defyne, decyde, or determyn any Article or Poynt
of the Christian Fayth and Relligion,
or to chang any Ancient Ceremony of the Church
from the Forme before received and observed
by the Catholick and Apostolick Church."

Norman Simplicity

Norman Simplicity
Click image for original | © Vitrearum (Allan Barton)

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Crisis of Church Fashions

The LMS chairman says:

Such a rejection is characteristic of Protestantism, and this forms the background, looking at the big picture, of the crisis of fashion we are living through. The Protestants taught that at the Fall nature human became depraved, evil, and by parallel the created world falls under suspicion. The Protestant attack on religious art did not limit itself to devotional images: it included Gregorian chant. Of course it is impossible to exclude the artful use of created things to raise the heart to God completely from religious architecture and liturgy, but Anglicans, Lutherans, Calvinists and Anabaptists settled at different points on this dismal road. The Anglicans smashed the stained glass and abolished the antiphons of Vespers and Compline. The Lutherans insisted that no syllable have more than one musical note. The Calvinists got rid of the organs. All of them created white-washed churches which look like neo-classical meeting rooms instead of holy places.

The Protestant mindset had it that to contemplate a devotional image - a crucifix, say - is to contemplate something other than Christ, to give to the image what we owe to Christ. It is idolatry. By extension, to contemplate any beautiful thing is to focus our attention away from God, onto something else. Something, in fact, which is worthless or even evil, because all created things have been tainted by the Fall.

The Catholic attitude is that by contemplating the crucifix we look beyond it, and raise our minds and hearts to the real Christ. By extension, any beautiful thing can raise the heart to God. Religious and devotional art, of course, expresses all sorts of specific truths, but all art which aims at beauty expresses the Catholic doctrine that God's creation is good even after the Fall. It lost Grace, and was wounded, by the Fall, but it did not lose all its value.

I mostly agree and by that standard I would qualify as "catholic." But is the altar pictured above -- or, say, this -- too little, on this view? (I happen to think they both might be "just right.")

I don't know any Puritans -- now that my great-Grandmothers are dead. Their views had consistency but I have long since ceased to think that consistency ought to be our highest goal (see the numerous references here to complexio oppositorum). We also have travelled quite a long way, since the moments of iconoclasm pointed to. The byword of the Anglican Counter-Reformation? The "beauty of holiness."

Too much white-washing can be a problem but, really, so is too much of anything. I will prescind here and avoid posting photos of truly hideous Roman churches. Instead, I might suggest that sometimes the eyes of an outsider might help all of us: let's not be too dismissive of others.

The truly critical thing is what Lacan identifed as the gaze: there should be an identifiable point from which we are looked at. Else, there is really nothing to see.

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