God and Enchantment of Place: Reclaiming Human Experience

By David Brown | Go to book overview

5 Competing Styles

Architectural Aims and Wider Setting

Initially it might well be thought that architecture can have nothing to do with sacramentality. For, if the key element in sacramentality is understood to be God's communication through the material aspects of his own creation, clearly what is involved here is something quite different: an essentially human and not a divine artefact. None the less, across the centuries human beings have in fact thought quite otherwise, of architecture as being one of the major ways in which the sacred is conveyed, and by no means just with respect to buildings designed for an exclusively religious purpose. In any case, as previous chapters have already indicated, it is not just a matter of what the Creator has done, but also of how that work is appropriated. So, in this case: architecture can be seen as having a role, provided the intention or result still reflects something of what God is believed to be doing anyway through his presence in our world. In other words, architecture has the power to imitate or mimic God's actions elsewhere in the natural and human world; so through that imitation it can open up the possibility of God himself using such means to communicate with humankind.

We live in a very utilitarian age. Even worship is quite likely to be justified in terms of some further end beyond adoration of the being to whom one owes everything: 'building up the community of faith', 'refreshment for the week ahead', 'teaching', and so forth. It is little wonder then that many find a burden the constant build-up of doctrine and exhortation that so often characterizes modern liturgy, and prefer to sit quietly in the building instead of attending a church service. It is a practice that should not be despised. For each of the building styles that has characterized the history of Christianity has the capacity in its own right to convey something of the enchantment that consists in basking in the presence of God without any further end in view. Of course as a Christian and a

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