Sunday, July 18, 2010

On the Tradition of Beauty

by Anthony Visco
“I was there when he laid the earth’s foundation; I was beside him like an architect. I was his daily source of joy, always in his presence- happy with the world and pleased with the human race.” Prov. In praise of Wisdom
At the end of the Second Vatican Council, the Sacro Sanctum Concilium announced that in terms of architecture, the Church “has no official style”. For many, this was an alarming thought considering our vast history of what was understood stylistically about Catholic Church art and architecture. But the truth of the matter is and always has been that The Church is not static but dynamic. It always was and will be alive and in transition and now after many attempts, we are reawakening to understand that the Council’s directive was to keep us focused on the content of Catholic art and architecture, not its style. And what is that content?
If the Catholic Church was never about style, then its form is found through the Liturgy of the Mass, in its language, its music, its art and its architecture and of course, in its people. As the Church is not complete here on earth, it cannot be moribund in its nature, and held to one orthodox style. With all we have been given, the Church can borrow from itself as well as ask her architects to invent. As we imitate the Master Architect, we have this endless vocabulary of form because the Sacred Mysteries are endless.
As Catholics we are given the greater responsibility to have our liturgical works repeat in illumination, in revelation and in transformation. We are neither museum nor are we a show of fashion. If we as Catholics have any one tradition, it is to maintain the tradition of the beautiful, the good, and the true, and all in the service of God.
As Catholics, ours is an incredibly rich heritage of sacred art and architecture, perhaps the most expansive in all human history. No other culture but the Catholic Church can claim such an expansive vocabulary of form as we go from the fullness of emptiness in Cistercian to Bavarian Rococo where nothing can be excessive when trying to describe the Most Blessed Trinity. Both forms, in opposite terms, speak of the same Sacred Mysteries.
As in any great masterpiece, content and composition are inseparable. And so should it be in our church designs wherein we see no separation between the form of the liturgy and the form of the building with both always leading us individually and collectively “Ad Deum”. In Holy Communion, we, the part, receive the Whole, the Entire Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. Thus our churches as parts, must also fit into this Mystical Body.If to make sacred art is to wed one’s faith with one’s esthetics, when the artist and architect answer the beauty of God’s call and respond in turn with beauty, then a covenant must is formed; the work in essence, becomes sanctified. It is here that we realize that there can be no faith without an aesthetic just as there that is no truth without beauty.
This covenant is then extended from God to artist and from artist to fellow believers and finally, and from all of us back to God again. It is this covenant that we wish to explore here within our Liturgy. When the beauty of our faith and the beauty of our works combine, they in turn become unified in one liturgy. Sacred art and architecture become an indeterminate good, a means by which we may come together and witness the Mass as the meeting of heaven and earth.