Monday, January 21, 2008


The Germans may be well ahead of us in understanding that architecture is uniquely suited to communicating essential, otherwise silent aspects of the gospel. In his Monumentale Theologie of 1867, the German theologian Ferdinand Piper grasped this clearly. "Art," he tells us,
has a thoroughly different form of expression than speech: it also addresses itself to the entire person, not through the faculty of concepts, but rather through the higher faculty of vision... The difference lies in the fact that, whereas in thinking the object is divided up, that is, the perception is a fluid one, bound to a series of moments, the work of art allows the whole to be recognized in its spatial entirety, undivided in the immediacy of all its moments.
Piper then cites a remark attributed to Napolean. "Chartres cathedral might make an atheist feel uncomfortable" (hat tip for these references to this fine book).

Let there be no doubt about the need for precision in theological language, if only for responding to theological errors, which because there exists an objective, actual God, are possible. Still, Hegelian hangover or not, Piper is right. While Christianity is dependent upon discursive theology to defend the perpetually assaulted specificity of God’s revelation in Christ, theology is dependent on architecture for something as well. Heaven is not a book club, but a Beatific Vision. I expect it will not involve digesting a multi-volume theological treaty. Heaven will, I imagine, be somewhat more overwhelming and immediate, comparable to one’s first sight of a Gothic Cathedral; while the first sight of an Evangelical warehouse brings to mind somewhere else.

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