Kolbe Report 5/18/24

Pugin's Contrasts

Dear Friends of the Kolbe Center,

Glory to Jesus Christ!

In our last newsletter I promised to elaborate on the insights of the great Catholic convert and architect Augustus Pugin whose study of medieval Catholic cathedrals played an essential part in his conversion from Anglicanism to the Catholic Faith in the early nineteenth century.  He wrote:

With what delight did I trace the fitness of each portion of those glorious edifices to the rites for whose celebration they had been erected! Then did I discover that the service I had been accustomed to attend and admire was but a cold and heartless remnant of past glories, and that those prayers which in my ignorance I had ascribed to reforming piety, were in reality only scraps plucked from the solemn and perfect offices of the ancient Church.

Augustus Pugin (1812-1852)

Pursuing my researches among the faithful pages of the old chronicles, I discovered the tyranny, apostasy, and bloodshed by which the new religion had been established, the endless strifes, dissensions, and discord that existed among its propagators, and the devastation and ruin that attended its progress: opposed to all this, I considered the Catholic Church; existing with uninterrupted apostolic succession, handing down the same Faith, Sacraments, and ceremonies unchanged, unaltered through every clime, language, and nation.

For upwards of three years did I earnestly pursue the study of this all-important subject; and the irresistible force of truth penetrating my heart, I gladly surrendered my own fallible judgement to the unerring decisions of the Church, and embracing with heart and soul its faith and discipline, became an humble, but I trust faithful member.

Pugin’s Contrasts

In a short work entitled Contrasts, Pugin illustrated the stark contrast between authentic Catholic architecture, reflecting the unchanging Faith of the Church, and the architecture that gained ascendancy after the Protestant revolution and the Renaissance.  In the illustration below, Pugin contrasted the 14th century Catholic St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle in England with a protestant “chapel.”

Established during the reign of King Edward III, the Catholic chapel is focused on the Altar of Sacrifice and orients the worshipper to unite himself with a priest to offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice to the Heavenly Father.  The Protestant “chapel” has removed the Altar of Sacrifice and replaced the Eucharistic Lord with a mere man who offers his private interpretation of Sacred Scripture in place of the infallible teachings of the Church.  In another place in Contrasts, Pugin contrasts a Protestant parish church with a Catholic cathedral, once again highlighting the way that Protestantism in England had reintroduced a this-worldly, pagan style of architecture in place of a Gothic style that raised men’s hearts and minds to Heaven.

As Sr. Diana Milena Devia, EP, observed in an Article in Heralds of the Gospel:

For Pugin, the architectural style then dominant constituted a “perfect outrage to Christian feelings,” a “a sorry substitute” for the wonders of the past. Buckingham Palace itself was conceived in a manner “utterly unsuited for a Christian residence,” forming a “lamentable and degenerate contrast” with the noble medieval structures of Westminster.

The neglect of the country’s Gothic jewels went back to the time of Henry VIII, when “a melancholy series of destructions and mutilations” entirely demolished or stripped Catholic churches and monasteries of their beauty.

As the underlying problem, he shows that the poor quality of architecture was the physical expression of the decay of souls:

[The] mania for paganism is developed in all classes of buildings erected since the fifteenth century, in palaces, in mansions, in private houses, in public erections, in monuments for the dead; it even extended to furniture and domestic ornaments for the table. […]

The triumph of these new and degenerate ideas over the ancient and Catholic feelings, is a melancholy evidence of the decay of faith and morals at the period of their introduction, and to which indeed they owe their origin. Protestantism and revived Paganism both date from the same epoch, both spring from the same causes, and neither could possibly have been introduced, had not Catholic feelings fallen to a very low ebb.”

To correct the deviations in religious art, Pugin proposes a bold solution: “only by communing with the spirit of past ages, as it is developed in the lives of the holy men of old, and in their wonderful monuments and works, that we can arrive at a just appreciation of the glories we have lost, or adopt the necessary means for their recovery. […] Before true taste and Christian feelings can be revived, all the present and popular ideas on the subject must be utterly changed (emphasis in the original).

Chartres Cathedral

Although the degeneration of church architecture had accelerated in the Protestant areas of Europe, Pugin noted that a similar decline had taken place within Catholic nations.  In Contrasts, he observed:

Did not almost every edifice erected during the last few centuries attest the fact, it would hardly be believed, that after Christianity had utterly overthrown the productions of Paganism, with its false doctrines, and when a new and sublime style of art had been generated by its holy and ennobling influence (in all respects suited to its faith and discipline), its professors in future ages would have abandoned this glorious achievement of their religion, to return to the corrupt ideas of pagan sensuality which their ancestors in the faith had so triumphantly suppressed, and, horrible profanation! turn the most sacred mysteries of Christianity into a mere vehicle for their revival. But every church that has been erected from St. Peter's at Rome downwards, are so many striking examples of the departure from pure Christian ideas and Architecture; and not only have the modern churchmen adopted the debased style in all their new erections, but they have scarcely left one of the glorious fabrics of antiquity unencumbered by their unsightly and incongruous additions . . .

The most celebrated palaces of Europe are the veriest heathen buildings imaginable; in Versailles, the Tuileries, Louvre, St. Cloud, Fontainebleau, Brussels, Munich, Buckingham Palace, in vain we look for one Christian emblem or ornament. The decoration of garden, terrace, entrance hall, vestibule, gallery, or chamber, ceiling, panel, wall, window, or pediment, is invariably designed from heathen mythology. Gods and goddesses, demons and nymphs, tritons and cupids, repeated ad nauseam, all represented in most complimentary attitudes, with reference to the modern pagan for whom the sycophant artists designed the luxurious residence. In new Buckingham Palace, whose marble gate cost an amount which would have erected a splendid church, there is not even a regular chapel provided for the divine office; so that both in appearance and arrangement it is utterly unsuited for -a Christian residence, and forms a most lamentable and degenerate contrast with the ancient Palace of Westminster, of which the present unrivalled Hall was the hospitable refectory, and the exquisitely-beautiful St. Stephen's the domestic chapel. That was, indeed, a noble structure, worthy of the English monarchs, every chamber of which was adorned with emblems of their faith . . .

Conspicuous above the rest were depicted St. George and St. Edward, whose names in moments of desperate peril have oft animated the English in sustaining many an unequal tight with foreign foes. But these saintly names, so famous in our national annals, and the very mention of which wrought such wonders in time of old, have no charm for modern ears. In lieu of their venerable images, we have now a pagan Victory or a Minerva, while the standard of England is hoisted on a scaffold-pole, stuck above a mass of soot-stained marble, miscalled a triumphal arch, and a sorry substitute for the turreted gateways of the ancient palace . . . While Catholic faith and feelings were unimpaired, its results were precisely the same in different countries. There is scarcely any perceptible difference between the sepulchral monuments of the old English ecclesiastics or those of the ancient Roman churchmen . . .

Pugin’s Remedy for the Corruption of Christian Culture

Pugin correctly identified two forces at work to corrupt Christianity and debase its art: Protestantism and paganism.  By identifying the causes of corruption, he was able to prescribe the appropriate remedy:

Protestantism and revived Paganism both date from the same epoch, both spring from the same causes, and neither could possibly have been introduced, had not Catholic feelings fallen to a very low ebb. The ravages of the former were carried on by plunder and violence; the inroads of the latter by pretended improvement and classic restoration. On the whole, however, it must be admitted, that the axes and hammers of the puritanic factions were far less dangerous or productive of lasting evils than the chisels and brushes of the modern Pagan artists, who, by insinuating their pernicious ideas and emblems into the very externals of true religion, seduced the weak-minded, and gained thousands who would have revolted at professed mutilation of ecclesiastical architecture, to aid in its destruction, under the supposition of replacing it by more ornamental erections.

It is only by communing with the spirit of past ages, as it is developed in the lives of the holy men of old, and in their wonderful monuments and works, that we can arrive at a just appreciation of the glories we have lost, or adopt the necessary means for their recovery . . .

Pugin’s prophetic analysis of the causes of corruption within Christendom agrees perfectly with the Kolbe Center’s quarter-century of research into the corruption of catechesis on creation and the early history of the world.  As we have tried to demonstrate in our publications and conferences, the erosion of the foundations of the Faith that culminated with the on-going modernist revolution did not begin with Vatican II but with the Protestant Revolution, the Renaissance, and the rationalist reaction to the irrationality of Protestantism in the form of the so-called Enlightenment.  It was these combined forces that began to corrupt “the spirit of past ages” that had produced the “wonderful monuments and works” of medieval Christendom.

Litchfield Cathedral

Pugin goes on to describe his horror at the way that “modern churchmen,” particularly those of the Anglican communion, made use of beautiful once-Catholic cathedral buildings for a new form of man-made worship.  He writes of:

visitors to these wondrous fabrics, not one of whom feels in the slightest degree the sanctity of the place or the majesty of the design, and small indeed is the number of those on whom these mutilated but still admirable designs produce their whole and great effect. Few are there who, amid the general change and destruction they have undergone, can conjure up in their minds the glories of their departed greatness, and who, while they bitterly despise the heartless throng that gaze about the sacred aisles, mourn for the remembrance of those ages of faith now passed and gone, which produced minds to conceive and zeal to execute such mighty, glorious works. 'Tis such minds as these that feel acutely the barren, meagre, and inappropriate use to which these edifices have been put; and to them does the neat and modern churchman appear truly despicable, as he trips from the door to the vestry, goes through the prayers, then returns from the vestry to the door, forming the greatest contrast of all with the noble works which surround him. What part has he, I say, what connexion of soul with the ecclesiastic of ancient days? Do we see him, when the public service is concluded, kneeling in silent devotion in the quiet retreat of some chapel? Do we see him perambulating in study and contemplation those vaulted cloisters, which were erected solely for the meditation of ecclesiastical  his income ; he lives by religion — 'tis his trade. And yet these men of cold and callous hearts, insensible to every spark of ancient zeal and devotion, will dare to speak with contempt and ridicule of those glorious spirits by whose mighty minds and liberal hearts those establishments have been founded, and from whose pious munificence they derive every shilling they possess.

Have they not common decent gratitude? No; daily do they put forth revilings, gross falsehoods, and libels, on that religion and faith which instigated the foundation and endowments which they enjoy, and under whose incitement alone could the fabrics have been raised which they pretend to admire, Awhile they condemn and ridicule the cause which produced them.

While reading these words, it is hard not to think of the modernists of our day who continue to use the beautiful monuments of our Fathers in the Faith while denying and even reviling the doctrines of the Faith that those same forefathers handed down to them.   And, of course, no doctrine was more fundamental to the Faith that produced the great medieval cathedrals than the doctrine of creation derived from the sacred history of Genesis.  In our next newsletter, we will finish this series of reflections on the life and work of Augustus Pugin in relation to the evolution revolution that erupted soon after his death.

Through the prayers of the Mother of God, may the Holy Ghost guide us all into all the Truth!

Yours in Christ through the Holy Theotokos, in union with St. Joseph,

Hugh Owen

P.S. We would like to offer you a concrete opportunity to let the true Catholic doctrine of creation beautify your homes and the homes of your children and grandchildren.  This magnificent 54-piece puzzle of the beautiful holy icon of the first day of creation from Monreale Cathedral gives the lie to the many modern commentators who insist that “There could not be days without the sun,” by reminding us that God created the light on the first day of creation to alternate with darkness to form the day-night cycle, continuing in that role until God created the Sun on the fourth day of Creation Week to “rule the day” that He had created on Day One.

P.P.S. Beginning in June, Ellen Finnegan who runs the Catholic educational website, “Teach to the Text,” will host a ten-week course on “I Have Spoken to You from Heaven” during which I will give a weekly 30-minute presentation to a class of up to 20 students, followed by a 30-minute discussion.  You can learn more about the course at this link.

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