A commenter asked, “wonder what Paul would say if he could see St. Paul’s Cathedral?” Excellent question, and alluding to a basic issue that Christians have been grappling with through the ages. Probably not excluding the cathedral’s namesake.
I’ve been in St. Paul’s in London, and, wow. It’s something. I’ve also been in many of the grand cathedrals in France, and some elsewhere in Europe. Wow again. I’m of two minds when entering such places. The first is usually, “surely they could have found a better use for the money this all cost?” Like, maybe, feed the hungry, clothe the poor, shelter the homeless. That sort of thing.
The second is to be in awe at some of the craftsmanship, sculptures, and paintings. Beautiful. What price to put on it? Ad majorem dei gloriam, as my Jesuit brothers say. As to what Paul might have said, don’t know. He was a bit of a curmudgeon, in a righteous cause, for which he gave his life. I suspect he’d not have liked it much.
The “graven images” controversy has been going on probably since Luke handed his draft of Acts over to the editor. For centuries, at least since the Reformation, many Protestants have rejected the “graven images” that seem to overwhelm the senses in many Catholic cathedrals and churches. [The Church of England is Protestant only by the narrowest of definitions. They are a catholic, sacramental church, one step removed from Rome. Which I only bring up just in case the CoE is confused with some of us harder-core Protestants.]
Baptists, especially, have made it a point of not having anything that could be remotely construed as an “image” of God, or of Christ. That is not a uniform practice, these days, but it is not an accident that Protestants tend to have empty crosses, and Catholics crosses filled with the crucifed Christ. The usual theological argument is that we Protos celebrate the empty cross symbolizing the risen Christ; Catholics the filled cross symbolizing the suffering servent. That’s a convenient but only partial explanation.
All Christians, to be faithful Christians, must acknowledge that it isn’t a question of one as against the other. Both are necessary; it’s just a matter of emphasis. And here’s where I suggest that a Protestant distaste for “graven images” comes into play. “Less is more” might have been the motto of some Protestants, especially among Baptists, Methodists, and Church of God. Quakers take it to the extreme, and don’t have even a cross in their meetinghouses (at least those of “unprogrammed” Friends in the United States).
As for stained glass, statues, votary stands, gilt, reliquaries, and all of the other works by the hand of man that one may find in churches and cathedrals? They may, or may not, meet your personal standard for beauty. They may, or may not, pass the “ho-ho” test on nurturing the Christian faith. But they are plainly not forbidden by Scripture.
What is forbidden is to pray to a crucifix, statue, painting, reliquary, or any thing made by the hand of man.
| technorati tag | Christianity|