Sunday, January 06, 2019

"The holiness of beauty"

Some converts are drawn to Catholicism for aesthetic reasons. And I can understand that if you were raised in an aesthetically drab Protestant tradition, how that might have a siren-like appeal. 

Artistically I'm high church but theologically I'm low church. And there's no tension between them. 

To begin with, people who are overawed by Catholic aesthetics are cherry-picking the best examples. But there's lots of ugly Catholic churches with mediocre music. 

In addition, there's a difference between impressive architecture and good taste. Impressive can simply be ostentatious. I suspect many people who are drawn to Catholicism for artistic reasons are undiscriminating in their taste. They just go for the wow effect. 

On the musical side of things, I grew up with classical music, so I never felt religiously deprived in that respect. I didn't need to get it in church. And the best recordings are generally superior to all but the cream of what most churches can provide. Moreover, the greatest Protestant music (Anglican, Lutheran) is at least the equal of the greatest Catholic music. Likewise, there's great Anglican devotional poetry. 

Just as Catholicism has some overwhelming religious architecture, so does Islam. When I was in Istanbul, I went to Santa Sophia and the Blue Mosque. Great religious architecture doesn't single out Catholicism. Even if architecture is your criterion, that doesn't select for Catholicism in particular. The finest mosques rival the finest Catholic architecture. Likewise, there are some stupendous Buddhist temples. 

Another problem is that Catholicism is like those magnificently carved marble sarcophagi. Impressive on the outside but what's on the inside? 

Consider the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. That's an example of what taste and wealth can produce. Yet last Christmas, disgraced Cardinal Donald Wuerl celebrated Mass there. 

So it's, at best, like a shell that's shapely and decorous on the outside, but morally and spiritually rotten or empty on the inside. Splendid architecture is just inanimate stuff. Stone. Glass. Candles. Shiny metal. Has nothing to do with God's presence. 


  1. My dad left this thought with me- The gold in Mexico is in lavish Catholic churches& her people are impoverished ...

  2. I remember going to Europe when I was young. I had never been in a Catholic church before. Those cathedrals like Notre Dame were certainly impressive on the outside but looked cold, dingy and lifeless on the inside.