Stepping outside St. Blog’s…

You’d never imagine the strange theories that abound. Consider this from a popular economics blog, EconLog:

Religious architecture and art were to medieval feudalism what advertising and commercialism are to modern capitalism: A rather effective way to build support for the status quo using aesthetics instead of argument. My claim, in short, is that Notre Dame played the same role during the Middle Ages that fashion magazines play today. Notre Dame was not an argument for feudalism, and Elle is not an argument for capitalism. But both are powerful ways to make regular people buy into the system.

Now I find this rather interesting. Part of me simply wants to ridicule the preposterousness of this comparison, while on the other hand this blogger has a bit of a point, if a bit misconstrued, or perhaps, too focused on economic systems.

Beauty does attract one to God and the Church, and aids the faith. (I honestly don’t know how it could attract one to feudalism.) One of the points of Ars Catholica is that these externals, whether a beautiful cathedral, a piece of sacred polyphony, or a traditional food tied into the liturgical season, are all ways to bolster one in the faith. They help to create a shared culture, and they appeal to us as the emotional and rational creations that we are. They are not a substitute for the faith, but a means to remind us of our longing for God and our commitment to the faith. Elle doesn’t sell beauty; it sells things that attempt to make the wearer or user beautiful. The Cathédrale de Notre Dame de Paris uses beauty (quite literally with those gothic arches) to point us to look beyond ourselves. So in a since, that blogger is right – both Elle and Notre Dame are using aesthetics to appeal to the viewer. And if we do admit, hypothetically, to his premise that these aesthetics are used to support the status quo, what does it say about today’s status quo?

Your thoughts?

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2 Comments on “Stepping outside St. Blog’s…”

  1. Chris Moran Says:

    Nice writing style. Looking forward to reading more from you.

    Chris Moran

  2. Very succinct analysis. Sacred art and architecture (in the Catholic tradition) are generally “sacramental”: and church architecture is explicitly and theologically sacramental as a material object that is consecrated as a vehicle for the objective reception of God’s grace given the subjective disposition of the individual. As such, the church building has a canon of forms that is grounded in the language of the Ecclesia: the Body of Christ, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, the Heavenly Jerusalem. So the builders of Notre Dame were calling the faithful to a participation in a divine and heavenly reality: to transcend the building and the limitations of their materiality reality. Modern art/architecture/fashion does not admit of anything beyond the physical and material level of existence.

    The simple point that each (Notre Dame and Elle) call us to something outside ourselves is not enough. A traffic light does that.

    Good job, keep writing!


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