Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Cathedrals and the Transcendence of God

Why would anyone ever want to worship in a big ol' ugly cathedral? One reason I believe people are attracted to Gothic architecture is because it communicates the transcendence or "bigness" of God. To quote John Piper, people go to the Grand Canyon not to feel big about themselves but to be overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of it! (my paraphrase). A lot of modern churches do a pretty good job (using architecture and liturgical forms) to communicate the immanence or closeness of God but they are not doing a very good job communicating the transcendence or even the holiness of God for that matter.


Jennifer said...

Unfortunately, even the beautiful cathedrals of Europe, because they are predominantly Catholic, tend to glorify man, not God. They are filled with "Holy" relics, the bones of dead saints, priests and royalty on display in glass cases. I remember, in the German Cathedral of Koln (Cologne), viewing the corpses of dead popes, their bones covered with jewels and gold. What a contrast to the image of the saints in Glory laying their crowns before the Lord! While these buildings are immense and stunning in many ways, we humans tend to use them to glorify ourselves rather than the One we claim to worship under their gilded beams.

Chris said...

Sad but true! It's unfortunate that God gives men gifts and rather than use them for His glory they use them to glorify themselves. Even under the guise of "church buildings" built for the for the "glory of God."

But I will say, I view every form as an "art form" and if there is beauty there it is ultimately derived from God (the source of all beauty), even if it's crafted under the most selfish of motives. Just like those jewels and crowns given to dead popes. Reminds me of a pearl in a pig's snout!

Tom Atkins said...

This is something I agree with wholly. I have found myself in God-focused awe every time I entered a cathedral. That same sense of space does something acoustically to music that makes it sound as I would imagine angels sing. What I love about the Gothic architecture, is how, even in small gothic churches, the eye is lifted upward, ever upward. I've seen modern churches do the same thing (I work with a lot of churches in the design phase), but most are going for something different. It will be interesting to see, in a few hundred years, if modern churches still have the power to inspire like the gothics.

Zach said...

I agree with the comments here. A building communicates something.

However, we could just built a little rain shelter and set up some chairs on the edge of the Grand Canyon!

Leonora said...

It's interesting I should run across this topic because I was just contemplating this. Growing up in the Catholic church, I sat in Cathedrals for many, many Sundays. (One of our churches was actually named "The Cathedral") I honestly miss worshiping in these buildings. Whatever man's intentions were when he was designing and building these structures, the ultimate result was a Holy place. As a child, my mind would wander during the mass, but my eyes would always fall on a statue or stained glass and give rise to pondering the history behind those objects or the stories they portrayed. Many times I strained my neck upwards to the lifesized image of the crucified Christ. Let me tell you, it's hard NOT to think about what He was up to. I like the reverence, the echoing sounds (you should see everyone's heads turn when you fall off a pew in the hushed silence of mass : ) the history and yes, the presence of God.
So, if anything was missing in my beliefs as a Catholic, I blame that on the teaching, the readings, the rote prayers and the methods of "the church" but not those buildings!