Sunday 29 May 2022

Catholic Architecture - Steven Schloeder - CTS Deeper Christianity Series

Catholic Architecture
Catholic Truth Society
ISBN 9781860828652
eISBN 9781784694869
CTS Booklet SP39

Over the last few years, I have read many books from the Catholic Truth Society. Most were good reads; some were great reads; and a few are exceptional. This one was hard to pin down. It is the thirteenth in the Deeper Christianity Series that I have read, about half of them I have read at least twice. It is the first volume from Steven Schloeder that I have read. I believe that Schloeder has published 3 books, 2 of them from the CTS, this one and one titled Understanding A Church, and his two thesis's.

The description of this volume is:

“Discover how an effectively designed church building can help to form us in the spirit of prayerful participation in the liturgy and give us a true “sense of the sacred”, in this accessible guide written by a Catholic architect.

The church building has always been intended to express and facilitate the acts of worship and prayer that go on within. A Catholic architect explores the history and meaning of the church, as well as the spiritual significance of its design.

Discover how an effectively designed church building can help to form us in the spirit of prayerful participation in the liturgy and give us a true “sense of the sacred”. Written in an accessible style, this booklet will help Catholics better understand the buildings they use and see their significance.”

The chapters in the book are:

What is Sacred Space?
Why Build a Church?
Sign, Symbol and Sacrament
Symbolism in the Old Testament
Symbolism in the New Testament
Church Architecture as a Sacramental Sign
The Image of the Body of Christ
The Images of the Tent and Temple
The Meaning of the Tent and Temple
The Images of the City
Tent, Temple, and City in Early Christian Imagery
Body, Temple, City: What These Have in Common
The Church’s Vision for Church Architecture

I have mixed feelings about this volume. It seems at times like Schloeder wants to be very critical of modern church architecture. And at other times. Far less so. He give some good history and context going back to the tent and temple worship in Judaism. I highlighted several passages while reading this volume. Some of them are:

“A church is a building that has been created within a cultural and religious tradition, it constitutes a collective memory of spiritual insights, of thousands of mystical moments. A church reminds us of what we have known. Margaret Visser, The Geometry of Love.”

“The Fall can be understood as an account of alienation: Adam and Eve were alienated from their true selves because of what Father Benedict Groeschel calls the “original wound”. They were alienated from each other both as man and woman and as social beings. They were alienated from the rest of creation, and nature became hostile. Most significantly, they were alienated from God: they could no longer share the same intimate and immediate communion with him. Henceforth, only through mediating symbols (words, gestures, objects, ideas, rituals) could we know and communicate with God.”

“We can now begin to understand why the dominant architectural forms and liturgical settings for the Jewish people were the Tent of Dwelling and later the Temple of Solomon.”

“This temple form is understood as the completion of the Tabernacle: what was of cloth was now of stone; what was once transient and moveable was now fixed and permanent. Since both the Tent and the Temple are divinely ordained, the specifications and proportions of these two forms have formed the pattern and intentions of church builders throughout the history of Christian building.”

“In a similar vein, the invocation of the Temple is also seen in Ignatius of Antioch, wherein he calls the Christians to assemble in one place for prayer-which he calls the temple of God (naon theou, templum Dei)-where there is one prayer, one offering, one altar, and one High Priest who is Jesus Christ.”

“As the Church’s architectural expression developed, this Temple arrangement seems to have been the model for early churches. The church was divided into three distinct zones: the narthex or vestibule, the nave, and the sanctuary. In the early Church only the baptised who were in a state of grace were admitted into the nave, or the church proper. The catechumens, penitents, pagans and curious spectators were relegated to the vestibule, and only the ordained were allowed to enter the sanctuary.”

“The symbolic themes of the body of Christ, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and the Heavenly City have inflamed the imaginations of churchmen and architects over the better part of two thousand years. Different ages found different ways of thinking about and expressing these ideas architecturally. The various architectural styles-Byzantine or Baroque, Romanesque, Renaissance Classicism or Revivalism-were all culturally, aesthetically, and technologically contingent on their respective eras.”

“These styles are deeply embedded in our very understanding of church building, and constitute a sort of “cultural memory” which seems to be lacking in modernist churches. The more radical twentieth-century rejection of historical styles unwittingly also discarded the symbolic content embedded in these styles-it largely eradicated the cultural memory of the Church and rendered the parish community architecturally illiterate.”

“But in the mind of the Church, the church building itself is a sacramental reality. Like any other sacramental, holy water or rosaries or scapulars or icons, the church is a material thing that is solemnly blessed by the Church and permanently made a means of obtaining grace. Unlike the sacraments, sacramentals are not instituted by Christ, and are not objective means of receiving grace, but rather rely on the subjective disposition of the faithful. Yet the sacramentals still draw their graces from the treasury of the Church, by the authority of the Keeper of the Keys.”

“The formal blessing of a church building is a momentous occasion for any diocese, since it establishes a new and permanent sign of the City of God in the city or town in which it is built.”

“The purpose of this book was to reacquaint us with the Church’s intention for sacred architecture. As we approach a church building, whether for prayer or simply driving by and seeing it as part of the urban landscape, we can consider afresh how the forms of the building help us to understand better the Church herself, the liturgy, and our own place in the Kingdom of God. Today we are witnessing a recovery of architectural meaning, and a growing appreciation for the value of architectural and liturgical symbolism.”

The ends of the description of this volume states:

“Written in an accessible style, this booklet will help Catholics better understand the buildings they use and see their significance.”

I find I enjoyed much in this book, and other parts I could have skipped entirely. But it was well written and the author is both an architecture in fact he holds a  Master in Architecture. His thesis was The Architecture of the Vatican Two Church which was republished as Architecture in Communion: Implementing the Second Vatican Council Through Liturgy and Architecture for a wider readership. He also holds a Pd.D. in Theology. His Doctoral thesis was The Church of the Year 2000: A dialogue on Catholic Architecture for the Third Millennium.

After reading this volume my impression is that Schloeder is not a fan of post Vatican II church buildings and believes much has been lost by changes over time. But also that the church is important as a sacramental and as such can be effective in a variety of designs and constructions. I came away from this volume a little confused on the authors opinions and to be honest the books intent. But it was good enough that I am looking to track down his other volume from the CTS Understanding A Church. 

Of the many books I have read in this series this is the only one I find does not fit the series purpose, Deeper Christianity Series. It was worth the read but The others in this series are about spiritual growth and this one is about history and modern practices in church design and construction. I feel this would be a better fit for the CTS Concise Histories, or even just a stand alone volume.

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2022 Catholic Reading Plan! For other reviews of books from the Catholic Truth Society click here.

Books in the Deeper Christianity Series:
7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit
8 Deadly Sins Learning to Defend the Life of Grace
Catholic Architecture 
Christian Fasting Disciplining the Body, Awakening the Spirit
Deepening Prayer Life Defined by Prayer
Desire & Delight
Faith, Hope and Love The Theological Virtues
Fruits of the Holy Spirit Living a Happy Life
Lectio Divina Spiritual Reading of the Bible
Making Sunday Special

Mary in the Liturgy
Mary Mysteries of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Providence and Prayer
Prayer in Sadness and Sorrow

Prudence, Justice, Courage, and Temperance
Purgatory A Mystery of Love
Rediscovering Virtue The Art of Christian Living
Spiritual Warfare Fighting the Good Fight
The Call to Evangelise: Founded on loving intimacy with the Lord
The Church's Year Unfolding the Mysteries of Christ
The Name of God The Revelation of the Merciful Presence of God
The Trinity and the Spiritual Life
Understanding The Story Of The Bible
Union with God

Books by Steven Schloeder:
Understanding A Church
Architecture in Communion: Implementing the Second Vatican Council Through Liturgy and Architecture 
The Church of the Year 2000: A dialogue on Catholic Architecture for the Third Millennium

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