Theology in Stone: Church Architecture from Byzantium to Berkeley

Article excerpt

Theology in Stone: Church Architecture from Byzantium to Berkeley. By Richard Kieckhefer. (New York: Oxford University Press. 2004. Pp. xii, 372. $39.95.)

Several recent publications regarding Catholic church architecture have been written by or about architects who champion a return to the aesthetics and plan configuration of churches that were built prior to Vatican Council II. These publications partly result from what the authors identify as the banal church architecture that liturgists have inflicted on America's Catholics during the last forty years in the name of the Council's reformed liturgy. While Richard Kieckhefer's purpose in Theology in Stone: Church Architecture from Byzantium to Berkeley is to address the tension between these viewpoints, he presents an evenhanded and well buttressed discussion of both camps' strengths and weaknesses. Although this book addresses the major aesthetic and theological traditions regarding church design within both the Eastern and Western branches of Christianity, its coverage of the current conflict among America's Roman Catholics is a prominent part of the text.

Kieckhefer, a professor of religion at Northwestern University, early in the study categorizes the main church building traditions as those of the classic sacramental church, the classic evangelical church, and the modern communal church. In the book's first four chapters, he analyzes each within the context of four experiential issues, i.e., spatial dynamics, centering focus, aesthetic impact, and symbolic resonance. As the book's subtitle states, examples of Christian church architecture dating from the fourth to the early twenty-first century are the vehicle for discussing the theology and history of these four issues. In these chapters, and throughout the book Kieckhefer's text is buttressed by extensive and often lengthy endnotes that are valuable resources for both amateur and seasoned scholars, but which at times elicit the surfeited character of a never ending Google online search. Large amounts of tangential information, presented not only in citations but within the main text, at times challenged this reader's ability to follow the author's argument in a linear manner. …