Rose, Michael S.,
Ugly as Sin: Why They Changed Our Churches from Sacred Places to Meeting Spaces and How We Can Change Then Back Again.,
Sophia Institute Press, 2001|
Reviewed by DAVID TRUMBULL.
In this book—“more about architectural theology than it is about church architecture per se”--Rose sets forth his Three Natural Laws of Church Architecture, stating that Catholic church buildings should be:
The three-fold canon corresponds to and is based on that of Vitruvius, the first century B.C. Roman architect whose rules for buildings
were utilitas, firmitas, and venustas—utility, strength, and beauty. Verticality corresponds to the utility of the church
building a domus dei (house of God) and porta coeli (door of heaven). It is a tenet found in the Catechism of the Catholic
Church (#1180) “These visible churches are not simply gathering places but signify and make visible the Church living in this place, the dwelling
of God with men reconciled and united in Christ.” The permanence of the church building points to the permanence of the Church. It is expressed in
the properties of physical durability found in the construction materials such as stone and brick and in the thickness and substantiality of the construction.
Permanence is also manifest in the continuity of design, in how it conforms to the forms that have been used historically for Catholic church buildings.
Ecclesiastical architecture has followed many fashions, from early Christian, to Romanesque, to Byzantine, to Gothic, to Renaissance, to Baroque,
to neoclassical, to neogothic, but in each of these fashions are manifest the Three Natural Laws of Church Architecture and taken together they show the
organic development of church architecture. Fashions of architecture that violent break with this organic tradition will have an aspect of impermanence regardless of the qualities of the construction materials.
(2) permanent, and
The final Law calls for the church building to be iconographic. That is, the building should instruct. Rose tells us that sacred art conveys meaning of three kinds.
The historic meaning is the most obvious. This is art illustrating a story. The symbolic meaning is understood when a scene visually depicted stands for another scene,
as when Old Testament scenes symbolize New Testament events. Finally there is the allegorical meaning where figural images are used to represent principles, theme, or virtues.
In chapter two Rose walks us up to, into, and through the traditional Catholic church building, pointing out how every element of the structure
combines to bring the whole into harmony with the Three Natural Laws. This is contrasted in chapter three’s walk to and through of the modern church building in
which every element conspires to direct the worshipper away from the transcendent.
The Second Vatican Council is often blamed for modern church architecture—ugly in form and Protestant in concept. It is a surprise to find out then, according to
Rose, that the documents of Vatican II say little about church art and architecture. And what little they do say is an admonition to preserve the church’s artistic treasury.
Rather, says Rose, the justification for some much bad architecture and vandalism starting in the 1960s was an advisory document
called Environment and Art in Catholic Worship, prepared by the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Liturgy and mistakenly, perhaps fraudulently, promoted
as an official directive of the bishops. This document, the directives of which have been the source of much butchery of ecclesiastical fabric and furnishings, can be,
according to Rose, traced to the architectural theories of Edward Sövik, a Lutheran architect whose goal was the deliberate replacing of sacred places with
meeting spaces in service of a radically Protestant concept of the church.
Rose's prescription for now and the future? It’s four-fold,
1) Restore churches that were marred by fashionable renovations;
2) Salvage and renovate the modernist churches by reorienting them and endowing them with verticality, iconography, and permanence;
3) Transform ugly modernist churches into parish halls or school buildings and build replacement churches; and
4) Build beautiful churches anew when parishes are established.
Rose thoughtfully provides a list of architects and artists who understand the history and tradition of Catholic church architecture. As he points out, America is
wealthy nation; we have the financial resources to recover our heritage of church architecture. His charges is to the bishops, priest, and laymen to learn the principles
of traditional Catholic church architecture and hire the men and women who can implement a plan of restoration of sacred places.