Art And God
( Originally Published 1896 )
We believe in using art, and especially architecture in its most impressive forms, to give "dignity and attractiveness to the house of God." We believe that there may be a devotional architecture - beautiful and grand buildings erected to the worship and glory of God, temples pleasing to both God and man. God's earthly Zion, his church ought to be, so far as possible, the perfection of physical beauty as the type of her moral beauty and of the beautiful Zion built above. God's people should reflect the beauty of His character in their own character and that of their lovely dwelling places for the Most High built on earth. "Strength and beauty are in his sanctuary." It is the duty of man to avoid all ugliness in his life and art, and to shape both after the pattern of divine beauty and purity. First, we are to study what will be pleasing and acceptable to God. We have seen church buildings that were so horrid and irreverent that they could hardly fail to give offense to a Being who admires beauty and symmetry. As a secondary consideration, we should aim to please and attract men. Architectual forms and colors will affect the human soul as distinctly as music or tones of sound. The mere sight of a gloomy and mysterious building influences like the melancholy strains of music.
There is a power in architecture over the human soul not always appreciated. The design of the colossal Egyptian architecture and temples- grand and imposing beyond description even now in their ruins - was to impress the beholder and worshiper with a feeling of his own nothingness, and at the same time to inspire a sense of overwhelming awe in the presence of a deity of terrible power and will. The three grand cathedrals towering to-day above the walls of Peking indicate Romanist sagacity at least. We believe that God is pleased with our decorations that produce within us sensations of awe as well as of delight in his service, that " solemnize our spirits by the sight of large stones laid one on the other, and ingeniously carved." Ruskin declares the purpose of a cathedral to be not so much to shelter the congregation as to awe them." The prophet of the Lord spoke thus: " The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him."
The grand aim of art in religion should be to kindle a profound yet intelligent reverence, and a holy, ennobling admiration. Carlyle says, that thought without reverence is barren and poisonous. A standard writer defines the function of architecture, as a fine art, to be to " arouse emotion by combinations of ordered and decorated mass." There are decorative designs in architecture that produce in the beholder an elastic and vital feeling, a sense of balance and proportion." Ornament and artistic design have a powerful influence on character. May not certain of God's attributes be illustrated and impressed more forcibly by a fitting church architecture, as when the clustered marble columns of the Cologne cathedral, the mighty interior piers of St. Peter's, the strong buttresses of the Milan cathedral, or the large solid masses of plain masonry, make the beholder alive to the element of reserve and power? The emotions awakened in viewing the relief ornaments and decorative friezes of antique temples and early Renaissance cathedrals and tombs are never to be forgotten. The building whose style of architecture impresses with its massive power and simplicity is the one most admired by many. It is worth a trip to Florence to see the massive and wonderful cornice alone, by Cronaca, of the Strozzi Palace. It is a benediction to us, brings new light into our eye, even to pass by a grand and beautiful Christian church.
The architecture of a church or cathedral may be pure, grand, and inspiring, even while the worship going on within it is coldly formal or idolatrous. We were pleased, overpowered and spiritually benefited while beholding the wonderful architecture of many European cathedrals, but we were not pleased nor profited with the gorgeous spectacular service that we saw going on at the same time around these Papal altars. We do not believe that the showy ritualistic solemnities of a cathedral either please God or kindle and foster in man true religious sentiment and Christian worship. Coming out of St. Peter's, Rome, and St. Paul's, London, awed by their vastness and architectural sublimity we felt stronger fortified to mingle with the worldly throng. So after gazing at the wonderful cathedral of Milan, we had more admiration for the inspired geniuses who designed and made it, and more love for the Great God to whose pure worship it ought to be kept consecrated. The Milan cathedral is pronounced the most sublime and perfect material embodiment of religious thought and feeling that ever came from the hand of man. We thought that its heavenward-tending architecture was the " true artistic utterance of the only real and infinite religion of man." While viewing its glories, we felt that we could fairly engage in a "worship that mounts to heaven in vertical lines, carrying the beholder with it."