Tuesday, April 23, 2019

What farmers, shopkeepers, and peasants could teach us. . .

Why did farmers, merchants and peasants in places like Greece, Russia, Serbia and Romania for many centuries insist on building churches that would last for generation after generation of believers? Also, why are the faithful in many modern, prosperous American communities tempted to build churches that may start to fall apart after a few decades? So asks Terry Mattingly in a Get Religion piece a while ago.  His words have echoed in my mind for some time.  Why, indeed?  Is it that we cannot build such structures today or is it that we no longer value them nor think of the future when we build in the present?  Have we become so wedded to the moment that we think of everything as temporary, an end in and of itself until new ends and selves come along?

As one who has long lamented the buildings built to satisfy architectural whim or earthly focus or budgetary dime, I find it hard not to be haunted by our unwillingness to build as did the faithful folk of old.  Without computer aided design or modern mechanical technology, over many years they built at great cost and labor because they were convinced the cause was worthy and the need was noble.  Now we seem satisfied with warehouses for God instead of houses, with apartments instead of cathedral spaces, and with plastic instead of wood or stone.

Churches are not ends in and of themselves.  That is exactly why we built them so grand and glorious.  They did not end our vision but directed it, making us hunger for the completion of what was begun in brick and mortar.  They did not attempt to create the heavenly reality but to imagine it in the same way imagining food does not satisfy our hunger but enhances our desire to eat and be filled.  They did not imagine a shape and impose it upon the liturgy and its life-giving Word but proposed a form that flowed from that holy purpose of the Lord's House on the Lord's Day.

Listen to Andrew Guild of New World Byzantine Studios, in Charleston, S.C.
“If you build something that looks like a Byzantine church, but it isn’t really built like a Byzantine church, then it isn’t going to look and sound and function like a Byzantine church — generation after generation,” said Gould.
“The goal in most architecture today is to create the appearance of something, not the reality. ... When you build one of these churches, you want the real thing. You want reality. You want a church that’s going to last.”
What he says of Byzantine Churches is no less true of Western Churches, is it?  Or at least it should be true of us as well as the East.

Again, Terry Mattingly:
Take a classic, Gothic cathedral in which all the sight lines point toward the altar and sacred art linked to the Incarnation and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Is that theology different than a giant, mall-friendly megachurch in which the theater seats are focused on huge multimedia screens, a clear plastic pulpit and a studio-quality zone for a rock band?
Perhaps he has it down.  We no longer see Church in terms of God, of the centrality of the Creator who made all things We no longer have our whole being flow out of and back to the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  I am not speaking of those outside the faith but those within the household, or who claim to be.  Faith is formed by us and it is not we who are formed by faith.  God has become the chief captain of our great service economy whose job it is to do as we please when we want it.  So it would follow that architecture must reflect a church where people are front and center, where each of us participate according to preference, and where we all get our 15 minutes in the spotlight.  So the failure of modern church architecture is not a case of the architect failing us but we who have failed to tell the architect what faith is, what church is, and where it is all directed.  So the master of design has given us what we wanted, though it is not what God intends, and we have learned to be content with strip malls and retail, with coffee houses and comfort, with technology on parade and we controlling it all (and God) with the movement of a single thumb on a keyboard. 


Carl Vehse said...

In his March 16, 2019, Get Religion article, "News? Religious communities build new sanctuaries, and repair old ones, for lots of reasons," OCNA church member Terry Mattingly wrote:

"Why did farmers, merchants and peasants in places like Greece, Russia, Serbia and Romania for many centuries insist on building churches that would last for generation after generation of believers? Also, why are the faithful in many modern, prosperous American communities tempted to build churches that may start to fall apart after a few decades?"

Mattingly prefaces this question by noting it's "along those same lines" as the issue raised by Eastern church designer and artist Andrew Gould, about whether a church built to last only 40-50 years "displays a 'sacred ethos' that will resonate with the teachings of Eastern Orthodox Christianity." (also noted by Gould in a March 14, 2019, Mattingly article).

Such a doctrinal view can be labeled "lex construendi; lex orandi," especially when it's preached by a person in the business of construendi. This is just work righteousness, which the Reformation and Lutherans reject.

Now, there's nothing wrong in itself with wanting to build a large, architecturally ornate church designed to last for centuries, and which might take over a hundred years to complete. But today there are also building codes that must be followed, espcially to avoid structural failures and collapses of church buildings that have occurred (sometimes with the loss of life) over the past millennium or so. Of course, it should be realized that to have any church structure last for centuries requires over those centuries, continuing maintenance (a lack of which may have contributed to the Notre Dame fire).

Anonymous said...

My gracious you are a doozy, Mr Vehse, finding a doctrinal statement in a sentence asking if building cheap and disposable church buildings honors the Lord. Do you have a doctrinal opinion on the toilet paper that churches might use?

Carl Vehse said...

"The building of monumental cathedrals in the middle ages was a reflection of faith and the channel for much of the creative energy of medieval European society.

"Although cathedral building was driven by religious figures or institutions, it was often a community effort. From the mid-twelfth century, the Church started granting indulgences (forgiveness of sins) to those who would help to build a church or cathedral, and therefore, rather than going on crusades, which had been a popular means of absolving sins in the late eleventh century, people dedicated more effort to the construction of houses of God instead.

"Cathedral chapters financed the construction by actively raising money from their congregations, by creating systems of fining clerics for transgressions such as tardiness, and by arranging for relics to go on tour. Taking relics on tour was a very lucrative means of fund-raising."

Excerpted from "Cathedral Building in the Middle Ages"

Carl Vehse said...

Chartres Cathedral (aka Notre-Dame d’Chartres) in Chartres, France, is an impressive cathedral, especially after a $22 million restoration.

In her 2012 Florida Atlantic University BA Thesis, "How Much did the Gothic Churches Cost? An Estimate of Ecclesiastical Building Costs in the Paris Basin between 1100-1250," Amy Fleming estimated the Chartres Cathedral cost over a half billion in 2011 dollars to build.

Anonymous said...

Don't be too hard on Vehse. He is an old retired man with a lot of time on his hands and apparently no idea what to do with it, other than trolling Lutheran websites.

Carl Vehse said...

My gracious, you are a doozy, Anonymous @ 11AM, finding a sentence asking "if building cheap and disposable church buildings honors the Lord." Such a sentence was not in Rev. Peters' article, nor in my comment, nor was it in any of the linked articles. Depending from where you pulled that phrase, Anonymous, it's you who may be in need of toilet paper, especially after your 2:08PM diarrhetic comment.

Anonymous said...

If you haven't read Th. Graebner's "As Others See Us" (free online), it's very relevant:

"The Lutheran of April 6, 1922 quotes some remarks on the impressive ugliness of many Missouri Synod churches, "which resemble town halls more than ecclesiastical buildings and possess no form or furniture symbolizing liturgies and indicating sanctuaries...

"It is not strange that the principles held by Missouri should produce no architectural features in their church buildings. Architecture involves beauty, grace, adaptation, sympathy, and symbolism. It develops curves, shades, shadows, high lights, and decorations. It abominates wearying hardness, punctuating pinnacles, and deadly fixation of lines and boundaries. A group that prides itself on its isolation, which boasts of its narrow and unprogressive tenets, which will not join another body to say even an "Our Father," may employ, but it cannot produce, architecture. The whole world would need re shaping by such principles. It should be a cube and not a sphere. The rich and varied colors of clouds and twilights must be resolved into blacks and whites. The trees which the Infinite Architect empowered to throw out twigs and tendrils, leaves multiform in size and color, would need to appear in one deadly and ever-recurring model. No, it is not strange."

Carl Vehse said...

It is important to read the entire article, "As Others See Us" (in The Problem of Lutheran Union and Other Essays, by Theodore Graebner, St. Louis: CPH, 1935, pp.107-134) to understand the context of the excerpts (from pp. 116-7) provided by Anonymous at 2:44 PM.

Furthermore, Graebner included phrase from the April 6, 1922, issue of The Lutheran magazine, which simply quotes from an unreferenced American Lutheran magazine, with no substantiation, documentation or church locations included. It is little more than idle gossip, concentrating on form rather than substance of those unnamed Missouri Synod churches.

The second excerpt is from the Editor of (presumably) The Lutheran, who then gives what Graebner describes as "bitter reflections on the Missouri Synod."

Thus the alleged relevance of the excerpts taken from a 1922 magazine of a now-defunct church body to the failure of Missouri Synod churches in resembling Eastern Church architecture is not clear.

For early 20th-century information on church architecture, see A Short Introduction to Church Architecture and Ecclesiastical Art, especially from the standpoint of the Lutheran Church, Paul E. Kretzmann, St. Paul, MN (St. Louis, CPH, 1912).

Anonymous said...

You have to understand that when it comes to Richard Strickert aka Carl Vehse, that he regards the golden age of The LCMS to be the years his father attended the seminary and was in the ministry. That's why he quotes people from the 1920s, 30s and 40s, incessantly. He is a sad, pathetic old man who now is spending his golden years ranting and raving away on only a few Lutheran blog sites. The rest have long ago banned him from commenting. He is good for a few laughs.

Carl Vehse said...

Added to your 2:08PM diarrhetic comment, Anonymous, you are now posting at 6:22 PM the erroneous droppings, which a mentally disturbed St. Louis publisher previously flung on other Lutheran blogs.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 6:22 - true Christians do not mock others for sport.

Carl 5:30 - The relevance of the Graebner article is twofold: one, the blog post laments a lack of beauty and permanence in church architecture, to which Graebner attests in the 1930s is nothing new in the LCMS; and two, Graebner's article attests even to a notoriety of ugly churches in the LCMS, which could be seen as not simply a zeal for mission and frugality on the part of the LCMS in the early days, but also a historical point of proud tradition.

Anonymous said...

Graebner also addresses the Lutheran liturgical movement in "Our Liturgical Chaos" (also free online):

"Now, if we weigh the merits of either tendency, that towards making the service bare of traditional liturgical elements and that of embellishing it with a colorful ritual, the latter is certainly more in harmony with original Lutheran tradition. The Church of the Reformation, however, did not attach much importance to the "laudable practices" which were carried on into the Lutheran Church as a historic endowment. The Reformers then treated them lightly. The elevation of ritual to a level equal to that which the sermon has in worship runs counter to Lutheran traditions. The liturgical part of the service, even the Eucharist, must remain subordinate to the sermon. And there are things liturgy cannot do. Liturgy will not rouse a dormant conscience; will not create a consciousness of sin which makes the heart eager for the consolation of the Gospel; will not instruct and in the best sense of the word edify, that is, build up the inner man with ever new additions of spiritual knowledge. Liturgics does not make plain the Word, does not lead into a better knowledge of Christian doctrine. Those who join in the liturgy--and I say, let it be ample, ornate, beautiful--have tasted the heavenly food, have been transformed by it, and praise God for His mercies. But the ministry of the Word alone will keep them sound in spirit and loyal to the truth, so that also their worshiping will be done "in spirit and in truth."

Anonymous said...

"In the Reformed churches, as already noted, the trend toward liturgy has not been altogether wholesome. In it not an aid to spiritual edification, but a substitute for it, the appeal of aesthetics replacing the lost appeal of the Gospel, has been found. There is more and more of the form of worship and less and less of the contrite spirit eager for light and strength. The Lutheran Church should heed the lessons of this development. Ours is indeed a liturgical Church. Let our services be restored to uniformity, with none if the traditional elements of the Common Service omitted. Let those who desire that sort of thing indulge their liking for vestments, candles, and incense. But let nothing be done or implied that will mean a departure of the congregation from the Lutheran conception of the Sacrament and of the ministerial office."

Carl Vehse said...

Anonymous at 7:49 PM,

It's not clear how Graebner's article laments or attests to ugly Missouri Synod churches.

First, Graebner didn't lament or attest to a lack of beauty and permanence in church architecture in the LCMS. He simply notes the unsubstantiated accusations from The Lutheran. On the same page as the posted excerpts, Graebner writes:

"In the A.L.C. paper Kirchenblatt (September 3, 1932) Rev. H. Krause reports that in a certain out-of-the-way town in Texas by the name of The Grove, "the Missourians have a strong representation." He continues: "Some years ago they built a real neat church. One of my members was present at the dedication."

The reference to the Missouri Synod church in The Grove is probably to St. Paul Lutheran Church. The church structure was built in 1907, then rebuilt in 1917, and currently still is in use, so its permanence is already more than twice Gould's "40-50 year" expiration date complaint..

Krause then continues with his member's remarks, not about the church's architecture or interior design, but about the prayer at the dedication, which was not provided, so we're left with second- (or third-) hand gossip.

Second, following the quote from The Lutheran Graebner quotes from a reviewer of two U.L.C. pamphlets on church architecture by an apparent Missouri Synod reviewer, who thinks the Missouri Synod should lead the way in church-building (e.g., Kretzmann's 1912 book).

These and the previously noted excerpts are the only times Graebner refers to others commenting on Missouri Synod church buildings. The rest of his article is filled with excerpts from non-Missouri Synod excerpts complaining, in their opinion, about Missouri Synod's stubbornness in maintaining its Lutheran doctrine and practices. It is the Missouri Synod's Lutheran doctrinal stubbornness, which, at least in 1935, Theodore Graebner saw as a proud tradition.

Carl Vehse said...

"Our Liturgical Chaos" begins on p. 135 in Graebner's 1935 book.

The only mention of architecture in that article is on p. 144:

"A second reason for the wearing of vestments is liturgical. They lend a certain dignity and harmonious note to the service. Where a Lutheran church is built according to Lutheran architecture, the pastor, arrayed in a sack, frock, or Prince Albert coat, is as out of place as a pink shirt worn with a dress suit."

Anonymous said...

"Liturgy will not rouse a dormant conscience; will not create a consciousness of sin which makes the heart eager for the consolation of the Gospel; will not instruct and in the best sense of the word edify, that is, build up the inner man with ever new additions of spiritual knowledge. Liturgics does not make plain the Word, does not lead into a better knowledge of Christian doctrine."

This assertion is plainly idiotic because the Words of the historic liturgy are taken directly out of the Bible.

So, what Graebner is saying and apparently defended by Vehse is that the Bible has no power if it is used in the liturgy.


Carl Vehse said...

Anonymous on April 24, 2019 at 1:00 PM wrote: "So, what Graebner is saying and apparently defended by Vehse is that the Bible has no power if it is used in the liturgy."

It was you, Anonymous, or someone pretending to be you on April 23, 2019, at 8:15 PM, who posted that excerpt from the essay, "Our Liturgical Chaos."

I posted nothing that referred to or implied support for that excerpt, but only gave a link to the first page of that essay, and then provided a quote from the essay that referred only to architecture and clerical garb.

You should apologize for falsely asserting that I apparently defended Graebner's excerpt posted on April 23, 2019, at 8:15 PM.