Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Few Comments Regarding Early Christianity

1.There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need (Acts 4:34-5).

These verses came up in the First Reading at Mass recently, and I was struck by a similarity between the way the Apostles organized the distribution of property and Notre Dame's financial aid policy, namely, that to every admitted student they provide aid sufficient to meet the student's demonstrated financial need. Perhaps partly because I benefited from this system, I am highly in favor of it, agreeing that admission should be the endpoint for judgments based on merit in the university admission/aid/housing process. Other universities, which base some of their aid on further post-admission considerations of merit, seem to be lacking in the commitment to the Gospel that Notre Dame exhibits in this regard, which is, I grant you, a slightly unusual situation. But I don't mind Notre Dame admitting meritorious students and then giving them all the aid they need to get the education that Notre Dame can give them. It certainly works out well for Notre Dame in the end, since they get their money back in many different ways, such as investments  as well as in the tuition paid by wealthier students, who can afford it without much aid. On investments, see the first verse of the Acts passage, although Fr. Jenkins and the other administrators at Notre Dame are not quite the apostles, although at least one of the Fellows is an Apostolic Successor.

2. Has anyone else noticed the trend recently of basing new churches somewhat loosely but pretty recognizably on Early Christian architecture? Fairly wide in comparison to their height with clerestories (sometimes as the main area of windows) and round apses. The two things that are often missing (to my sorrow) are Columns (what's a Basilica without Columns?) and Mosaics. I really think a Liturgical Consultant was sitting around one day with a Somewhat Traditional Architect and the conversation went something like this.

LC: I'd like to help design a church, and I can, thanks to my vague liturgical training.

STA: OK, what kind of church would you like it to be? We've got Early Christian, Romanesque, Byzantine, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassical, Neogothic, and, I guess, Modern.

LC: Which one of those is the most like a Great Big Welcoming Hug?

(The STA considers for a moment. He seems unsure.)
STA: Um, none of them really, but the Early Christian basilica was based on a Greco-Roman meeting place type of building called a Basilica.

LC: Aha, the church is basically a place to gather, not like a temple you know. It's more about celebrating community than doing some kind of adoration for a God who's in "some heaven light-years away." It's more Gather than Worship, I'd say.

STA: I guessed you might be hoping for something along those lines. Yeah, Early Christian's pretty cool. Just think...all those Columns and Mosaics.

LC: Those aren't accessible to the average Joe Gather. Columns block the view and what possible symbolic significance could they have? And mosaics...they're all little pieces...way too scholastic for me. They don't look like anything

STA: The same could be said for a lot of your art.

(The STA collapses in a fit of laughter; when he has recovered, he leaves the LC to design his own church, while he himself goes to his studio and draws the elevation of a Renaissance palazzo or something.)

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  1. Pretty sure only students go to "studio," actual architects go to "work." =P

    Also a Basilica was slightly less of a meeting place (if you wanted that you went to a stoa--okay fine that's Greece not Rome) and more of a "ruler or judge declares your fate" place. At least that's the impression I got from History (back me up or correct me please N.W.T.?).

    And if I didn't know better, I'd say you'd spent some time with real-life Pastoral Administrators in my home diocese.

  2. You are correct, of course, about the law-court aspect of the Roman basilica, but I think I remember hearing that the Christians adopted it as their worship space because of its public gathering nature. It was distinguished in this way from, say, a temple, which was basically a shelter for a "god" (i.e. a cult statue) rather than a meeting-place for groups of people, which a basilica was, besides being a place of judgement. Business and law matters were both attended to in a basilica.

    Oh, and a basilica is technically a type of stoa :-) .(http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02325a.htm)

  3. Also, I just changed it to "his studio" instead of "studio" to imply a more professional climate.

  4. The Basilica was indeed the space for judgements to be passed down, but as Hieronymus says, it is related to the stoa and thus was used as a sort of indoor gathering place for the market/forum. Essentially, it was the indoor Forum.

    The Bath, on the other hand, was more of a recreational gathering place, but Bath and Basilica types influenced each other (see Basilica Nuova) and they both together influenced church architecture.

  5. Hm. What if someone decided to design a church based on Roman baths....

  6. Well, they would have S. Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri as at least one possible model.