Summary: We need to understand both meanings of church, and how the beauty found in a church can attract unbelievers to Christ.
Monday of 14th Week in Course
Jacob, following in the steps of his grandfather Abraham, was careful as he moved through the land of Canaan to identify special places of the divine presence. One of these is Bethel, which means “house of God.” There Jacob had a vision, a dream of angels moving up and down between heaven and earth. There Jacob also renewed the covenant of his grandfather and father with the Lord, and made it tangible by promising a tenth of all his produce to God.
We distinguish between two meanings of the word “church.” The first and most important is the ekklesia, or the assembly of believers. Church is people, the people of God. And Jesus promised that wherever two or more are gathered in His name, He is there, and there is church.
But the word also refers to those sacred places, those buildings, set aside for the church to gather. It has been an important part of Christian tradition to establish places of worship where the local community, the local church could gather safely to pray, to listen to God’s word, and to share the bread of life and the chalice of salvation. In Europe, many towns were named after the church, like the Norman village of St. Marie Eglise. Moreover, those sacred places were made places of beauty, because the Church has always taught the unity of truth, goodness and beauty, and the beautiful works of art commissioned by the Church are designed to attract mankind to the truth of the Gospel and the goodness of Jesus.
The Council had much to say about beauty–more general than specific. “Very rightly the fine arts are considered to rank among the noblest activities of man's genius, and this applies especially to religious art and to its highest achievement, which is sacred art. These arts, by their very nature, are oriented toward the infinite beauty of God which they attempt in some way to portray by the work of human hands; they achieve their purpose of redounding to God's praise and glory in proportion as they are directed the more exclusively to the single aim of turning men's minds devoutly toward God.
“Holy Mother Church has therefore always been the friend of the fine arts and has ever sought their noble help, with the special aim that all things set apart for use in divine worship should be truly worthy, becoming, and beautiful, signs and symbols of the supernatural world, and for this purpose she has trained artists. In fact, the Church has, with good reason, always reserved to herself the right to pass judgment upon the arts, deciding which of the works of artists are in accordance with faith, piety, and cherished traditional laws, and thereby fitted for sacred use.
“The Church has been particularly careful to see that sacred furnishings should worthily and beautifully serve the dignity of worship, and has admitted changes in materials, style, or ornamentation prompted by the progress of the technical arts with the passage of time.