In this short video Denis McNamara talks about the nature of beauty and then talks about it in the context of sacred architecture (scroll to the bottom if you want to go straight to it and avoid my comments!). Denis is on the faculty of the Liturgical Institute, Mundelein; and his book is Catholic Church Architecture and the Spirit of the Liturgy.This is the second in the series of 10 which I will be featuring in coming weeks.
In this video, Denis points out that beauty is not simply ‘in the eye of the beholder’ but is a property of the object itself, the thing that we are judging to be beautiful. He is asserting the the principle of objective beauty – it is in the object percieved; and objecting (if you’ll forgive the pun) to the opposite principle, the idea of subjective beauty – which would be to say that it is simply a matter of personal taste of the person – the subject – who is seeing the object.
He defines beauty as a property of something that ‘reveals its ontological being’. Another way of putting this was given to me by Dr Caroline Farey of the School of the Annunciation in Devon, England. She defined beauty as the ‘splendour of being’. Both definitions are telling us that beauty is a property of something that reveals to us what it is. So in the context of this talk, to be beautiful a church must look like church. It must appeal to our sense of what a church is.
As a bit of supporting anecdotal evidence for the definition that Denis gives: when I was a high school physics teacher in England many years ago, at the end of term I used to present the class with a piece of mechanical equipment made in Victorian times. It had cogs and moving parts exquisitely machined in polished brass. No one in the building knew what it was for, and we couldn’t tell from looking at it what its purpose was (I never found out). Nevertheless, the precision and harmony of the motion its parts when turned were such that all assumed that it must have one. I would bring this into the classroom and without comment place it down on the table in front of them; I would let them look at it for a few moments. Then I (Read More)