In this fine essay (pages 21-34), Margaret Hughes considers what makes a cathedral like Notre Dame simultaneously “delightful” and “terrible.”
The answer helps to explain why contemporary man finds it hard to appreciate, much less replicate, this kind of awful beauty.
Modern philosophy abandons the classical notion of the soul, by which our inner lives are naturally connected to the order of things.
In the modern, “enlightened,” view, sense impressions trigger ideas within us, but these concepts have no necessary relation to things in themselves.
Architects and liturgists steeped in such theories envision contemporary worshippers as flat beings, or “pancake people,” supposing we will be content with rituals and spaces that provide only the simplest information and the most sentimental stimuli.
Many who are rightly repulsed by the banality of modernism, lacking a viable alternative, sadly fall into the grotesqueries of so-called postmodernity.
By contrast, a perennial philosophy teaches that the ideas we conceive of the world correspond to the forms that make things what they are. This is possible because our minds, and the world they perceive, are products of the same divine intelligence.
According to this view, worship is meant to immerse us, body and soul, in the reality of a God who delights us because his supreme goodness satisfies our natural longings in all of their rich complexity.
At the same time, this encounter with God reminds us of the terrifying fact that we have lost and, without the help of his grace, are powerless to regain our union with him.
Do we realize what it means that God has offered to restore our relationship with him? Do we realize what it means to accept this invitation?
A well made cathedral, like a well ordered soul, embodies an awesome hope equally removed from the twin follies of presumption and despair.
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