The External Splendor: Art and Architecture
Sometimes we see the Church in less than holy conditions. We see ourselves, we see other people, we see priests and sometimes we see bishops whose lifestyles are not up to the Gospel standard. Yet as Chesterton said, “The Catholic faith even when watered down can still boil the world to rags.” It’s true that the Catholic faith right now is still alive no matter what struggles we face, no matter what internal defections we’ve experienced. The Catholic Church is strong with divine power. This is manifest in so many ways; you can see the splendor of the Church.
Let me just take you through a few of the steps that I took in discovering the splendor of the Catholic Church. The first thing that struck me as an outsider, really as an antagonist, was, “Wow, look at their art and look at their architecture.” If you just judge from human standards apart from Scripture, apart from faith, you’ve got to admit as one author said, “The Catholic faith has the power to produce civilizations and not just denominations.” You look around and even if you hate icons, even if you despise statues and regard them as idols, nevertheless, oh can those Catholics erect fine statues!
Earlier this year in January, I had the privilege of attending a three day colloquium made up of non-Catholic religious leaders in the Vatican spearheaded by my father in-law, Dr. Jerry Kirk, and the Catholic leader Cardinal Bernardin. We were there meeting in the Vatican for three days to discuss the problem of hard-core pornography, and how since the Iron Curtain has fallen, hard-core porn has been flooding into the Eastern bloc countries at alarming rates wherever you look, wreaking havoc in the Church and throughout society. So we were to discuss the problem and perhaps develop some strategies to help the Church combat this and also to help leaders in the civic communities to use legal standards to combat this as well. At the end of these three days, we were to present the results of our proceedings to the Holy Father. Pope John Paul II gave us a very, very close hearing and was very warm and receptive. He gave to us not only the prepared speech, but several off-the-cuff remarks, both of which were published in L’Osservatore Romano.
But what stands out in my memory during that whole three or four day experience was the time that I spent with a lot of my non- Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ touring St. Peter’s or just walking around the Vatican or even taking a trip down the streets of Rome. It was interesting. There was one man in particular — I won’t mention his name — he’s very high up in a certain Southern Baptist convention. At the beginning of the week he was sharply antagonistic, especially when he found out that I was not only a Catholic but a convert from evangelical Bible Christianity. It didn’t help that my father in-law was the head of the group. He went after me, and I’m German enough to go right back after him. So we had a ball for about 3 1/2 hours the very first night. He made it clear to me that this was tantamount to apostasy. I began to watch his whole attitude change in the next two or three days. He made no bones about it. The Pope was pretentious; the Pope was really wrong in claiming to be the infallible Vicar of Christ. But as we toured through St. Peter’s together, you could hear his own hushed awe as he saw these gorgeous mosaics, the sculptures, the architecture. I kept chiding him with a certain gentle persistence. Where has Protestantism produced this sort of architecture, this sort of art? He admitted that there is nothing to compare.