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Did you know that Archbishop Fulton Sheen had a lot to say about Sacred Architecture?
Joseph Tuttle shared Sheen’s thoughts about architecture at Word on Fire July 6. Tuttle graduated cum laude from Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, in theology this May and learned about sacred architecture from the college’s Center for Beauty and Culture, which awarded its inaugural Prize for Excellence to Word on Fire leader Bishop Robert Barron.
Tuttle is a Catholic freelance writer who is the author or editor of numerous books including An Hour With Bishop Fulton J. Sheen (Liguori, 2021), Tolkien and Faith: Essays on Christian truth in Middle-Earth (Voyage Comics, 2021), and The Stations of the Cross with Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J. (Missio Dei, 2022).
What follows is a brief excerpt from his article “The Sacramentality of Buildings: Fulton Sheen on Sacred Architecture” at Word on Fire.
Venerable Fulton J. Sheen had a great love for Sacred Architecture. The crowning jewel of church architecture, for Sheen, was the Gothic tradition. In his life, Sheen had a great devotion to our Blessed Mother. This affection transferred over to one of his favorite churches: the Gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.
In his book, Thoughts For Daily Living originally written in 1956, Sheen discusses two important points regarding Sacred Architecture: 1) the philosophy behind architecture and 2) the sacramentality of architecture. He writes “Architecture is a reflection of a philosophy of life.”
Not only does Sheen criticize modern architecture but he also explains why it looks the way it does: “The Ancient architecture was always using material things as signs of something spiritual. But today our architecture is flat, nothing but steel and glass, almost like a cracker box. Why? Well, because our architects have no spiritual message to convey.” Modernism says that there is no spiritual realm. No angels (or demons). The modernist makes the same mistake that Adam and Eve made in the Garden: he removes God and places himself in His stead.
Every church is meant to be a microcosm of the heavenly Jerusalem. It should be adorned as St. John describes it throughout the book of Revelation. When man disregards this philosophy of life, one ends up with centrums and “house churches” — buildings that reflect a modernist philosophy of life.
As Sheen says, “[w]hen Faith in the spiritual is lost, architecture has nothing to express or symbolize.”