We lament that a church “lacks scale.” But what does it mean? What is the difference between a church that has scale and one that does not? In architecture, scale refers to the relative size of architectural parts as compared with the whole or as compared with the human figure. The human aspect is key. When you, the lowly “human figure,” enter a church (or any building) that lacks scale, you feel disconnected, disoriented, lost or anonymous. Dehumanized.
If you are kneeling in silent communion with Our Lord and Savior, miraculously present in the Blessed Sacrament, what do you do when the maintanence worker comes in with the vacuum? You flee, faster than the apostles.
Saint Thomas Aquinas noted three conditions that lead to beauty (Summa Theologica, I, 39, 8). These apply equally to both the Via Positiva and Via Negativa, the most complex Baroque cathedral and the simplest country chapel (see previous post, “What Are the Two Ways to Beauty?” July 2016). Simply put, if these “conditions for beauty” are met, the church in which you stand will be beautiful. If you can locate which of the conditions are lacking, you may know where to start your renovation.
The “first way” is the way of abundance in sacred architecture, the Via Positiva. This way may be best understood as an attempt to foreshadow our participation in the glories of Heaven. It is architecture that overwhelms our senses, so that we are lifted and immersed in the presence of an unfathomable God. The glorious churches of the Baroque exemplify the Via Positiva.