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§ 103. Church Architecture.

On the history of Architecture in general, comp. the works of Kugler, Kinkel, Schnaase, and others, on the plastic arts; also Kreuser: Der christliche Kirchenbau, seine Geschichte, Symbolik u. Bildnerei, Bonn, 1851. 2 vols., and the English works of Knight, Brown, Close, J. Ferguson (A Hist. of Architecture, Lond. 1865, 3 vols.), etc.

Architecture is required to provide the suitable outward theatre for the public worship of God, to build houses of God among men, where he may hold fellowship with his people, and bless them with heavenly gifts. This is the highest office and glory of the art of building. Architecture is a handmaid of devotion. A beautiful church is a sermon in stone, and its spire a finger pointing to heaven. Under the old covenant there was no more important or splendid building than the temple at Jerusalem, which was erected by divine command and after the pattern of the tabernacle of the wilderness. And yet this was only a significant emblem and shadow of what was to come.

Christianity is, indeed, not bound to place, and may everywhere worship the omnipresent God. The apostles and martyrs held the most solemn worship in modest private dwellings, and even in deserts and subterranean catacombs, and during the whole period of persecution there were few church buildings properly so called. The cause of this want, however, lay not in conscientious objection, but in the oppressed condition of the Christians. No sooner did they enjoy external and internal peace, than they built special places of devotion, which in a normal, orderly condition of the church are as necessary to public worship as special sacred times. The first certain traces of proper church buildings, in distinction from private places, appear in the second half of the third century, during the three-and-forty years’ rest between the persecution of Decius and that of Diocletian.11261126   Euseb. Hist. Eccl. viii. 1. But these were destroyed in the latter persecution.

The period of church building properly begins with Constantine the Great. After Christianity was acknowledged by the state, and empowered to hold property, it raised houses of worship in all parts of the Roman empire. There was probably more building of this kind in the fourth century than there has been in an period since, excepting perhaps the nineteenth century in the United States, where, every ten years, hundreds of churches and chapels are erected, while in the great cities of Europe the multiplication of churches by no means keeps pace with the increase of population.11271127   The cities of New York, Brooklyn, and Philadelphia, for instance, have more churches than the much older cities of Berlin, Vienna, and Paris. New York has some three hundred, Berlin and Paris each hardly fifty. This is a noble triumph of the voluntary principle in religion. Constantine and his mother Helena led the way with a good example. The emperor adorned not only his new residential city, but also the holy Places in Palestine, and the African city Constantine, with basilicas, partly at his own expense, partly from the public treasury. His successors on the throne, excepting Julian, as well as bishops and wealthy laymen, vied with each other in building, beautifying, and enriching churches. This was considered a work pleasing to God and meritorious. Ambition and self-righteousness mingled themselves here, as they almost everywhere do, with zeal for the glory of God. Chrysostom even laments that many a time the poor are forgotten in the church buildings, and suggests that it is not enough to adorn the altar, the walls, and the floor, but that we must, above all, offer the soul a living sacrifice to the Lord.11281128   Homil. lxxxi in Matth. § 2, and l. § 3. Jerome also rebukes those who haughtily pride themselves in the costly gifts which they offer to God, and directs them to help needy fellow-Christians rather, since not the house of stone, but the soul of the believer is the true temple of Christ.

The fourth century saw in the city of Rome above forty great churches.11291129   Optatus of Mileve, De schism. Donat. ii. 4: “Inter quadraginta et quod excurris basilicas.” In Constantinople the Church of the Apostles and the church of St. Sophia, built by Constantine, excelled in magnificence and beauty, and in the fifth century were considerably enlarged and beautified by Justinian. Sometimes heathen temples or other public buildings were transformed for Christian worship. The Emperor Phocas (602–610), for example, gave to the Roman bishop Boniface IV, the Pantheon, built by Agrippa under Augustus, and renowned for its immense and magnificent dome (now called chiesa della rotonda), and it was thenceforth consecrated to the virgin Mary and the martyrs.

But generally the heathen temples, from their small size and their frequent round form, were not adapted for the Christian worship, as this is held within the building, and requires large room for the congregation, that the preaching and the Scripture-reading may be heard; while the heathen sacrifices were performed before the portico, and the multitude looked on without the sanctuary. The sanctuary of Pandrosos, on the Acropolis at Athens, holds but few persons, and even the Parthenon is not so capacious as an ordinary church. The Pantheon in Rome is an exception, and is much larger than most temples. The small round pagan temples were most easily convertible into Christian baptisteries and burial chapels. Far more frequently, doubtless, was the material of forsaken or destroyed temples applied to the building of churches.

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