Modern Roman Catholic churches: A superficial reason to stay Protestant?

Yesterday after work at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (Site Richelieu) I wandered through St-Germain l’Auxerrois. This is a church dedicated to St Germanus of Auxerre (readers of Jack Whyte will know the character), a Gallic bishop of the fifth century (yay fifth century!). The church of St-Germain l’Auxerrois is a fantastic piece of Gothic architecture, with one of only two Flamboyant Gothic porches in Paris (the other is that of La Sainte Chappelle whose interior is Radiant Gothic; this is a fifteenth-century style of Gothic arthictecture) — this is also the style of the Tour St-Jacques at Châtelet in Paris. The outside of St-Germain is clearly Flamboyant Gothic:

To compare, here is Tour St-Jacques:

So that should set the scene well enough.

The interior of St-Germain l’Auxerrois is not all Flamboyant Gothic. I only took a brief look, but there is some woodwork that is clearly Renaissance, and the nave looks to be an early stage of the Gothic era. Several pillars also look Renaissance, and there are portions rumoured to be Romanesque. Like all good Gothic churches, it has a rose window:

What the traditional architecture of St-Germain shows is the ability of these different styles of classical church architecture to join together and form a united whole. None of it feels awkward. None of it feels out of place. It all works, whether one type of Gothic or another, whether Romanesque or Renaissance.

This is the sort of beauty and grandeur that would have attracted me to the Roman Catholic Church a century ago.

Today, alas, visiting St-Germain l’Auxerrois makes me repeat this quote from a wee piece of mine entitled ‘The Allure of Eastern Orthodoxy‘:

If Jesus handed on his teachings to His Apostles, and these traditions were handed on down the ages, they would help provide the key to proper interpretation of the Bible.  And this is what you have in the Eastern Orthodox tradition.

In the West, we used to have it with Rome and the Anglicans, but both of these institutions have reck lessly dived into the world of modernity as modernity flounders and sinks.

Today, where the transepts cross the nave, to align with Vatican II requirements, a Holy Table has been placed in the church besides the High Altar in the chancel. This sort of disruption of ecclesiastical architecture is frustrating, but I could maybe live with it. However, they have not chosen to produce something beautiful infused with the history and tradition and weight of the glory of God and his Saints and his Church on the new post-V2 furniture.

I didn’t have my camera with me yesterday, so I can’t show you the hideousness. But it does not match. It is beaten metal of silvern colour with what looks like an eye wrought in it from golden colour. A square table. An awkward lectern. This is what the Roman Catholic faithful approach every Sunday morning to take in their mouths the Most Sacred Body and Blood of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ?

At first glimpse, this is a superficial reason to stay Protestant, isn’t it? I mean, what about my other areas of disagreement — ‘St’ Joan of Arc, church governance, transubstantiation, justification, Marian dogmas, the cultus of the saints, and so forth? Church architecture and furniture? Really? Has the Scholiast really wandered that far down the traditionalist position?

To me, this new furniture that is jarring and matches NOTHING within sight is symptomatic. The Church of Rome has been trying to reform herself for centuries. What ‘reform’ itself is has changed over time, of course, and meant something different to eighth-century St Boniface (saint of the week here) as to thirteenth-century St Francis (saint of the week here) as to sixteenth-century Luther and Erasmus as to the men of Vatican II in the 1960s.

I believe in some of her 1960s reforms. But the liturgical repositioning and cutting down has allowed a swathe of hideous modern art to flood the churches of Europe in a way that does not integrate with the artistic integrity of their setting. Furthermore, these hideous monstrosities (visible amongst Anglican churches as well) fail to communicate the beauty, truth, and power of the Triune God in any meaningful way. All they can capture of our God is that he is enigmatic …

… in an age when ‘enigmatic’ is about as far as most people are willing to concede to defining the divine, shouldn’t we go a bit farther?

Gothic architecture makes my heart sing. I am too inadequate an art lover/critic to explain what La Sainte Chappelle does to me. But it is powerful and profound. And it was meant to do this to me. As I have discussed, Gothic architecture is meant to bring physical light to us as a manifestation of the uncreated light of the Trinity as well as to draw our eyes ever upwards in a search for the invisible God, symbolically in the ‘heavens’. Modern church architecture, whether a barren Megachurch(TM) auditorium or frankly monstrous Roman Catholic post-V2 furnishings does not, cannot, do this to me.

Where is the glory of God for a lost generation? Where is the splendour of the resplendant Son of God for my thirsty soul?

Finally, what St-Germain l’Auxerrois says to me is: We used to know who we were and Whom we worshipped. But now we are chasing culture along with the Protestants and have forgotten.

The real divide in today’s Christianity

‘Hayesworldview’ over at his blog Apologia and the Occident recently posted about ‘The Great Realignment‘. The inspiration was Metropolitan Jonah (OCA) and his address to the Anglican Communion in North America. The post brings up the ever-widening, yawning gulf that exists in today’s Christianity, and that gulf is not Catholic-Protestant or evangelical/charismatic-mainline. It is a chasm that cuts through across these divides, between what once was called ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’.

Of course, even if you read Hayes’ table of the different ecclesial bodies, it is inevitable that there are strong, traditional, biblically-faithful congregations in the more ‘progressive’ denominations such as ELCA (and ELCIC) and TEC (and ACC) and the United Church of Canada, even, despite the fact that more and more of the upper hierarchy and governing bodies are relativising or denying biblical, gospel, creedal realities — and not just the usual moral/ethical issues that are brought up in these contexts, but, as I have blogged before, compromises on the divinity of Christ, the Virginal conception, the Resurrection of Christ, miracles, demons, angels, sometimes even the ‘theistic’ conception of God himself.

What has become difficult for me these days is that people don’t always fit clearly into these camps. Perhaps someone compromises on one or more ethical issues but affirms all of the doctrines of the Nicene Creed. Perhaps someone denies Penal Substitutionary Atonement (probably because they haven’t read this fine article from First Things), but seems otherwise orthodox. Perhaps someone questions biblical authority in various ways but still believes most biblical theology. Perhaps someone denies the divinity of Christ but still affirms his messiahship and resurrection. There are probably endless combinations.

Maybe it’s just cognitive dissonance.

Maybe such folks are still symptomatic of the wider concern that ‘progressive’ Christianity presents: I, myself, the lone reader with my enlightened twenty-first century perspective and historical-philological-logical tools am the final arbiter of truth. And thus a pick-and-choose orthodoxy arises?

But this sort of pick-and-choose orthodoxy is common to all of us, to some extent. My friend pastors an independent, evangelical church in Nicosia, Cyprus. He has congregants who self-identify as both Orthodox or Roman Catholic and Protestant. One of the elders goes to Mass on Saturday nights, and then the Protestant church on Sunday mornings.

I, myself, am something of an eclectic orthodox Christian. Some days, I fully affirm a Thomist view of the Trinity. But I also find Palamas’ concept of the essence and energies of God compelling — a Byzantine concept far divorced from Thomism. I agree with Luther on the Eucharist — not consubstantiation but an affirmation that it is the Body and Blood of our Lord. Full stop. I waffle on Predestination and Just War, but other than those last three I usually agree with the remaining 36 Articles of Religion. I am known to kiss icons and light candles, but would never require it of anyone. I like a little incense, but not every Sunday. I’ll call Mary Theotokos but not ask her to intercede for me.

And so forth.

In fact, sometimes, when I think about this divide, I wonder if the only real difference is whether someone sat down and read C S Lewis et al. while developing his’er personal theology or J S Spong, et al. That is to say: My answers may differ, but is my methodology ultimately that different from my ‘progressive’ friends?

This why we should all, progressive and conservative alike, flee to the Fathers. We need something to root us beyond our own, personal whims and tastes. I want to believe orthodoxy because it is true, not because it suits me. May that be the case evermore and evermore.