Art can serve religion in two principal ways: either to assist in the worship, or to show our desire to adorn the sanctuary with our best gifts. We find that under the Old Testament, not only the applied arts, but also music, poetry, architecture, and even sculpture were employed in the service of God, and with His solemn sanction, too. ” That the second commandment was not intended to prohibit the making of all artistic representations, as is often supposed, but that it referred to the making and worshiping of idols, is shown by the fact that Moses himself had images of cherubim made for the service of the tabernacle, and that in the temple of Solomon the cherubim retained their place over the mercy-seat, and the molten sea rested upon twelve carved oxen, and the base of the sea was adorned with figures of cherubim, oxen, and lions, while carvings of cherubim, palms, and flowers, covered many of the doors, pillars, and walls of the interior of the temple. The golden candlestick was also adorned with knops of flowers, and the garments of the priests were richly embroidered. In short, no pains were spared to make the temple glorious, not only by its rich and gorgeous construction, but also by its truly aesthetic character.”
Did not David build his magnificent house of imported cedar? Did not Solomon adorn Jerusalem with his first grand and glorious temple? Did not Hiram, King of Tyre, send to Solomon “a cunning man, endued with understanding,” that a skillful artist might superintend the ornaments of the temple? God permitted David to collect vast sums of money and treasures and material for the temple which his son Solomon was to build. It is probable that the noblest building of the ancient world, though not the largest, was Solomon’s temple which was erected to the worship of Jehovah, and dedicated under a miraculous manifestation of the divine prcsence and glory. It long stood in its marvelous beauty and costliness without a rival, one of the wonders of the world, a visible proof of the faith and liberality of God’s people.
And not only did the ancient Jews bring the fine arts under tribute to God’s worship, but the earliest Christians made use in their service of the arts of music, poetry, and oratory, to which were added the other fine arts as soon as their increased numbers and wealth permitted. It has been remarked that “a study of the doctrine, customs and spirit of the early church, as shown in its monuments of art, is a most useful complement to the study of the writings of its great minds.”
We would bring the highest skill and powers of the best artists in painting, sculpture, music and architecture under tribute to the Christian religion. Satan has all too long had these best things of carth employed in his service. It is now high time that these and all of man’s highest talents and attainments were made to do homage to our Lord. The liquor saloons, theatres, and other vile resorts understand well man’s innate love for the beautiful, hence their elegant adornments and artistic decorations. The Grand Opera House in Paris, cost. ten millions of dollars.
We necd carefully to distinguish between a principle and its abuse. Art has no doubt sometimes been made to falsify man’s conception of Deity. But the fact that. art has employed all its skill and resources to render the temples of idolatry beautiful and imposing, as the exquisite temple of Minerva at Athens, or that of Diana at Ephesus, which was called one of the seven wonders of the world, or those of ancient Thebes which surpassed all others in magnitude, if not costliness – this fact of the past devotion or prostitution of noble art to the worship of false gods should not debar its entrance into the service of pure religion.
Art has been often made the minister and patron of idolatry both in heathen and Christian lands. Roman Catholicism has been for centuries a devoted patron of the fine arts, but she has hardly profited by them. She has subjected art to the grossest abuses. There can be no doubt that an abused art has been made a stumbling block to spirituality and pure worship by the church of Rome. The great question which vexed the Romish church at the fall of the Western Empire was how to bring under her influence and convert the invading barbarians. To gain them she decided to ” dazzle their senses and work upon their imagination. Thus it came to pass that the number, pomp, and variety of religious ceremonies were at this epoch wonderfully increased.” She worked upon the barbarians by grand spectacles, and thus converted them to Rome rather than to God. Works of art may be easily employed to teach false and absurd doctrines. In Roman Catholic churches can be seen many images and pictures that express historical and theological pretensions that are without proof.
Art has a tremendous realistic power over minds that are ignorant, credulous, or superstitious. A work of art must be judged by its own absolute merit and not sanctioned simply because it expresses our own cherished views or religion. A very bright or clear picture may but dimly express truth. Many an image or picture which was first placed in a church as an expedient or aid to true worship has come to be a real idol and false object of worship, dethroning God in the mind. What was once intended to help cultivate spiritual life and character is allowed, through lack of careful and continued explanation by the -religious teachers and priests, to be regarded as the very sum and substance of religion. So deep does the reverence for the painted “virgin” and sculptured saints become that to bow before them in the church or cathedral is felt to be bowing in the very presence of Deity; hence, in times of earthquakes, plagues, and danger, the deluded worshipers rush into the sanctuaries and prostrate themselves before the gilded altars and images. An ignorant and naturally credulous person may so admire and extol a statue of Christ or the mother of Christ as to transfer his affections from the unseen Christ to the statue.
There is but little danger of the prostitution of art to ignoble or idolatrous purposes among intelligent people. Where the masses are enlightened and Christianity exists in its present form, art has its “proper and helpful niche in the temple and worship of God.” The fault is not in the beautiful work of art as such, but in the groveling and wicked heart of man, when he de-grades that worthy art from being the handmaid of religion into a ” bedizened idol.” We must, therefore, carefully separate the real effects of art from its associated abuses. Are we to be deprived of our right to admire, possess, and enjoy innocently a worthy object simply because some others abuse and debase it? Be-cause some buildings are used for vile purposes, must we therefore have no buildings? The simple admiration of noble art must not be confounded with the worship of idols more than with the worship of God.
Religious art especially should guard against exalting the means above the end. At this danger-point the Jews lapsed again and again into gross idolatry, and compelled Jehovah to revisit upon them the most signal punishments. It was ,said of King Hezekiah that he did right in the sight of the Lord when He re-moved the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made; for unto those days the children did burn incense to it.”. Now, the objects here referred to were originally designed to be proper means to the knowledge and worship of the true God, but the people, in their perversity, regarded them as ends, and would not distinguish “between a proper reverence for symbols and their domination.” It will not do to love the glitter and gold. of the altar better than the God of the altar. It is the temple that sanctifieth the gold, and the altar that sanctifieth the gift. Jacob raised a stone to the honor of God, but he did not worship the stone. The true worshiper does not leave the heart-door open for every intruder to enter. Surely the spirit of the second commandment is not adverse to sculpture as a fine art. It was meant to be a warning to the Hebrew people against idolatry in view of the prevalent error of surrounding nations.
Shall we oppose or destroy all works of art because some of them have been converted into idols of worship? Christianity should foster man’s aesthetic nature and encourage refinement and good taste. It is no honor to the Christian church that some of her jealous and over-zealous adherents once ” dismantled temples, and disfigured statues in Italy, Greece, Asia, and Egypt.” Those iconoclasts had a zeal of God, but hardly according to knowledge. Theirs was the same spirit revived that had once destroyed the great Alexandrian library, and which is not calculated to will opponents over to the right. In its utter abhorrence of pagan idolatry, Christianity has at times seemed to antagonize the arts of painting and sculpture which in their highest forms had been given up to false religions. In one’s blind zeal for the right, it is possible to plunge into the extremes of folly and fanaticism like the deluded crusaders of early church history. We need not regard the jeers of unreasoning zealots whose capacities are too narrow to comprehend and appreciate the sublime conceptions of the world’s great masters in art. Is anything too good for God’s service? Did not. David play before the Lord on all manner of instruments? What a cry of holy horror would go up from some of our moderns religious fanatics if they had seen in God’s ancient temple the four thousand playing on instruments alone! “Those were doubtless good men who broke the beautiful statues in the old English abbeys, and made the pathway of the Puritan armies a track of barbaric ruin. So were those good men who, in later days, ruled out all songs from the sanctuary; and some good men yet reject all hymns but the psalms of David, and cannot worship if the sound of an instrument is heard in the church. But such people, while good, are in error.”
We believe that God loves the Shakers, but we do not think that He admires their style of dress. Yes, we believe that God loves the Quakers and old-time Puri-tans, but we do not believe that He has now a special liking for their meeting-house” architecture, so hard, prosaic, unsuggestive, unattractive, forbidding! Perhaps it was sufficient for its day, but it is intolerable now where the country is improved and the people have comfortable and fine homes. Fanaticism has ever been destructive of art. “It is to be hoped that Christianity and civilization have made such advances, that no more Goths, Vadals, Turks, and fanatics will take pleasure in demolishing works of art as in past ages.” Queen Elizabeth had many virtues, but was such a bitter persecutor of art that she ordered all sacred pictures in the churches to be destroyed and the walls to be white-washed. It was then ” fashionable, to sally forth and knock pictures and images to pieces.” At one time the mistaken zeal of the Puritans in England demolished the splendid gallery of Charles the First and destroyed almost the last vestige of art. A recent writer says:
“Still more absurd and stupid is the view of those who exclude from worship everything beautiful and pleasing, believing that holiness and beauty are incompatible. Holiness is the highest order of beauty, and nothing on earth can enhance its charms. The best that architecture and music, eloquence and painting, can produce is inadequate. But in our desire to render it attractive we greatly err when we make human devices so prominent as to obscure the divine glory.”
While we should wage an uncompromising war against all abuses of art in matters of religion, let us not oppose its legitimate use. It cannot be denied that there is need of special caution in introducing elaborate works of art into the house of God lest they distract the attention from the true object of worship; and we do not wonder that loud protests are heard in certain quarters against Romish innovations.
Works of art are not to be used at all as objects or even mediums of true worship. The moment we employ them thus, they belittle our ideas of God and degrade our own spirits. If they are introduced into our sanctuaries and churches at all, it must not be with any intention on our part of using them or even looking at them as mediums through which to worship, but only for didactic purposes, or for the same reason that we employ the highest art and skill of the architect, sculptor, and painter, in building, decorating, and beautifying our churches and sacred temples – simply and solely either to illustrate, teach and enforce religious truth, or to show our love for, and liberality to God’s house and that we would give the best we have to Him-the best not only of our substance but also of our skill and art, that we would make His earthly courts attractive to the unsaved, so that it may be said, How lovely are Thy dwellings!
As in ancient times God required the best and choicest of earth’s productions for offerings in His sanctuary-the best workmen, too, and artists, singers, players on instruments, so now we believe He is pleased with the best of everything – the best marbles, the best metals, the best colors, the best painters, the best sculptors, the best architects, the best musicians. God is certainly entitled to the best we can offer, even the heart’s best affections, for He is the only Being who is infinitely, originally, essentially, and eternally good. God will never occupy a second place in the human heart. We dishonor Him in the very thought of giving Him any but the first place. Ruskin truly says, “Any-thing which makes religion its second object, makes religion no object. God will put up with a great many things in the human heart, but there is one thing He will not put up with in it-a second place. He who offers God a second place, offers Him no place.”
If we are in doubt which of two things to give to God, give the best. Raleigh flung down his plush coat for Queen Elizabeth to walk on over a muddy place, and received for his reward a proud queen’s favor. Never mind the reward. Think only of the honor that may result to our Heavenly Sovereign from our humble offerings which at best are unworthy. Is not that a commendable spirit which offers for God’s sanctuary °precious things simply because they are precious ” – gifts, which imply a surrendering, a giving up, a real sacrifice of what would be desirable to keep for our-selves? To part with what we esteem as precious may do us good, for “where our treasure is, there will our heart be also.” Let us give that to God which we most prize. When we think of the unspeakable Gift of His only begotten and well-beloved Son to die for sinful man, who would not say: –
“Had I a thousand hearts to give, Lord, they should all be Thine.”
God never fails to see and remember any labor of love done in His name. He admires those who do their best. It is not how much we do, but how well-how hearty our offering. God wants man’s heart-his best, supremest love. He would have the best of the kind we have to give. Our offering may be very humble, but very valuable in God’s sight who looks at the spirit of the giver. Not a stroke of the chisel was ever in vain in carving for God’s temple. It is a blessing to any community to build a church, if done in the right spirit-a fine and costly church too, not for its own sake, “but for the sake of the spirit that would build it”-even the spirit of sacrifice, of faith, of adoration, and of supreme de-sire to please God. To build a noble church as a pure heart offering to God, is or should be to increase the piety of the builders. “It is not the church we want, but the sacrifice, not the gift, but the giver.” It does one good to give from the heart, imparts a blessing that can be obtained in no other way. There is a pleasure in the consciousness of having contributed to the building or proper adorning of a beautiful and substantial church – more and nobler pleasure than in wearing and beholding on our frail persons or families gold, jewels, aud extravagant apparel. Giving material and costly presents to God serves to keep up the remembrance of Him in our hearts. There is a true luxury-the luxury of giving, luxurious giving. There has no doubt been much fanaticism, undue haste, and mistaken zeal in the matter of giving in the name of religion. It is said that the loveliest church tower in North France was built with funds which the priests raised by selling permission to eat butter during Lent. So it seems that a ridiculous superstition may take the place of refined aspiration. It is well known that St. Peter’s Cathedral at Rome, costing with its magnificent furnishings hundreds of millions, was largely built from the abominable practice of selling indulgences. In making offerings to God’s house, the giving should be intelligent, considerate, cheerful, prayerful, and general. In the building of Solomon’s temple, both young and old contributed their share, and each helped to give the house to God, for we read, “The king and all the children dedicated the house of the Lord.” It is calculated that the Israelites gave one million two hundred and fifty thousand dollars to build the tabernacle in the wilderness.
True love never counts the cost. Christ’s endorsement of the costly offering of Mary of Bethany when she broke the alabaster box of precious ointment is a rebuke to that spirit of niggardliness for God which did not disappear with Judas who murmured- “To what purpose this waste? Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence and given to the poor? This he said, not that he cared for the poor. The people who give liberally to God’s cause are not those who neglect the poor. There may be a consecrated waste that is not waste. An offering made, a work done, a vote cast, in carrying out a principle is not lost, though apparently wasted. Our seeming failures may prove what ,God counts successes. Christ does not say ” well done, good and successful servant,” but “well done good and faithful servant.” If we always do our best, God will take care of results. What Jesus predicted of Mary’s .act is literally true, for the whole world has heard the sweet story and is filled with the fragrance of the precious ointment which she ‘gave. No ointment can be too ,costly to break for Jesus, no church too beautiful, no music too sweet for his ears. Our churches, our homes, our hearts should all be surrounded with the beautiful – the beauty of the Lord our God, the beauty of holiness. An artist was once engaged upon one of the exquisitely wrought statues far up on the lofty roof of the incomparable cathedral at Milan, when a visitor upon the roof said to him, “Why take so much pains with your work, the fine and beautiful details of which can-not be seen at all by the masses of people who pass so far below?” The artist replied, ” God sees it.” And as we once stood upon the same roof and surveyed with wondering gaze its matchless beauty – its thousands of white marble statues of saints and angels that seem to have just alighted from heaven on the sky-reaching pinnacles we could repeat, with Bishop Warren, ” Surely this is none other than the house of God and the gate of heaven.”
Within and without the builders wrought with care, For God’s eye seeth everywhere.”
The reasonable expenditurcs of art and taste are right. enough, and where wealth is laid out in a way to awaken the sentiment of worship, thus contributing to spiritualize man’s heart, it is far from waste.
The needs of suffering humanity are immediate and the encroachments of sin are threatening. That we may not be forgetful of our whole duty to both God and man, we need often to sing,
” Oh! the world is full of sighs, Full of sad and weeping eyes.”
And we must do more than sing and pray, too. Man’s first duty may be to man – to some suffering or sinful one, though in thus serving needy man we serve the Lord also, for He has said, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of. the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” The work of caring for the poor and saving sinners may often be more pressing than attention to fine church architecture. A rude inclosure or plain chapel for a sanctuary may be first demanded for the perishing masses in the neglected quarters of a great city or for the poor settlers in a frontier town. Mr. Ruskin observes on this point: “The question is not between God’s house and His poor. It is not between God’s house and His Gospel. It is between God’s house and ours. Have we no tesselated colors on our floors? no frescoed fancies on our roofs? no niched statuary in our corridors? no gilded furniture in our chambers? no costly stones in our cabinets? Has even the tithe of these been offered?”
In the palmy days of Athens, the noblest edifices were erected in honor of the gods, and the most distinguished. Athenians were satisfied to have their own dwellings comparatively simple and inconspicuous. King David said, “See now I dwell in an house of cedar, but the ark of God dwelleth within curtains;” so he resolved to prepare the costly materials for God’s temple. It is selfish to highly ornament the inside of our private houses and leave our churches barren of beauty and becoming decoration. Let us put the best adornment upon the churches so as to give pleasure to the multitudes and not simply to a few of our personal friends at home. St. Paul wrote, “To do good and to communicate forget not, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” In vain will we beautify the temple of God unless we sanctify the temple of our body, and labor and sacrifice to sanctify also the bodies and souls of neglected and suffering humanity. A good way often to warm our own heart is to warm poor people’s bodies. There are too many cold, lifeless, useless statuary religionists who remind us of an incident in the life of Cromwell: when Oliver Cromwell, who did not have much love for images, visited York Cathedral and in one of the apartments saw statues of the twelve apostles in solid silver,–” Who are those fellows?” he asked, as he approached them. On being told, he replied, “Take them down, and let them go about doing good.” They were at once carried away and melted and made to do duty as current coin.
A religion confined to church walls is that of the nypocrite. A parlor religion that goes not outside, even into the slums and places of moral putrefaction is of little worth. Shall the river of human sin and misery be allowed to sweep on unnoticed by the door of luxurious churches reposing in the arms of carnal security, intent only on saving their own soul? The worst type of modern infidelity is not that which disbelieves in God, but that which is an unbelief in the sincerity of many professing Christians, who fail to carry their religion into their daily practices, who do not talk to the sinner and show a personal interest in his present and eternal welfare. “No man careth for my soul or body” is the cry of multitudes. A popular preacher of the day says in his own forcible style:-” The Christianity that does not reach the masses reaches nobody. It is a caricature. It is a farce. It is a swindle. It is a stench in the nostrils of the Father of humanity. The sooner we tear down such churches, split them into kindling wood, and grind them into concrete the better. The better for the church. The better for truth. The better for organic religion. The better for man. Such social clubs masquerading. under the sacred name of the Christ, the Son of man, the Man of the people, the despised Nazarene, the Son of the carpenter, only crucify Him afresh. They are a curse. They cumber the ground. Standing oat and out as social clubs for the exchange of social courtesies, they might be the vehicle of divine influence. But standing as churches, pretending to be the organic embodiment of the regenerating Spirit of the living God, they are unmitigated humbugs. The sooner we learn this the better.”
It is said that once when Michael Angelo was walking with some friends through an obscure street of Florence, he stopped suddenly and began clearing away the slime and dirt from a block of marble which he discovered lying neglected and half buried in the rubbish. His companions, much surprised at what he was doing, asked him what he wanted with that worth-less rock. ” Oh, said he, “there’s an angel in the stone, and I must get it out.” And sure enough, after he had it removed to his studio, the great master with his chisel and with care and patience and toil did let the angel out of that ungainly mass of rock. While to others it seemed fit only for a stepping stone, Angelo saw the angel in it before it came out, and he transformed the dirty shapeless stone into a thing of beauty and a joy forever. Christians should not forget that there is many an angel of man or woman kind among those rough, ragged and squalid castoffs of the gutter, and they are to lay hold of them and strive to get them out and clothe them with beauty and immortality. Where are our Angelos to get the angel out?
There is something wrong with a church or individual that can endure the rags and filth and hunger and Gospel destitution of the poor, while they themselves dress gaily and live high. There is many a Dives whose name stands on the church register, but just outside his gate Lazarus perishes unheeded. Bellamy tells of a picture which he saw representing a Christmas feast in a wealthy family where the curtains not being closely drawn permitted to be seen two beggar children standing outside peering in at the gay festival with their longing, hungry eyes and gaunt, pale faces. Can the church expect to impress the perishing world favorably by thus living sumptuously in its sight every day? Too much of the Lord’s salt is kept in silver-hooped casks instead of being scattered where it is most needed. How many men might today be given work, kept from idleness and consequent mischief and crime, if wealthy Christians would give them employment in building beautiful churches and neat chapels in neglected places! The expense for a single year of supporting the choir alone in certain “high-toned” churches would build a half dozen mission chapels or sustain two dozen mission Sunday-schools in neglected quarters. No one enjoys fine singing better than we, and if we may not have less good choirs and sanctified music, nor less elegant churches, let us have more consecrated charity and soul-saving work. “These ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” We want beautiful church buildings and beautiful things said about the consistent, pious, self-sacrificing, sympathizing, hard-working memhers thereof. Let us have art and heart also.
It is charged that a poor man has no place in certain aristocratic Protestant churches now-a-days except to fix the furnace or gas pipes, perhaps. It is claimed that the poor are shamed away from attending stylish churches because of the contrast between their plain clothes and the costly apparel, high looks, and proud hearts of the members.
Not long since on a Sunday morning a stranger entered a fashionable church in one of our large cities, and there being no usher just at hand, was permitted to occupy a standing position a moment or two. At last one of the brethren condescended to approach him, when the stranger inquired, ” What church is this?” ” Christ church, sir.” “Is He in?” again asked the intruder. The stranger was led to the conclusion that He was in, for he was immediately shown to a seat. A popular American pastor, who has served several of the most aristocratic churches, writes thus:
“There are evidently two sides to this fine church story. Among Protestants we continually hear the complaint that the splendor of churches excludes the poor. But does that fault really lie in the splendor of the edifice, rather than in the spirit of the religion that is professed and practiced there? If we insist that the fault is in the splendor, why does not the still greater splendor of Catholic churches exclude the poor from their doors? Pray tell us that. Why does the Catholic laborer haste with alacrity to worship in the church where the highest genius in painting, sculpture and music is consecrated to the service of God, and feel no envy, no humiliation, no unworthiness in the very presence of the aristocratic and wealthy? So far, in-deed, from feeling abased, he feels elevated to an equality before God, with the loftiest of earth. His soul is lifted by whatever of the sublime and beautiful the temple presents, and transported by the strains of devotional music away from the carping envy and care of this world. He feels that he is at home; in the palace of his Heavenly Father; and that his right there is just as good as that of his rich neighbor; and more than that, it is acknowledged to be just as good. And the man who checks out his thousands to build the gorgeous Cathedral enjoys its splendors no more than a humble, devoted servant who practices some self-denial to con-tribute a dollar. It is not the finery alone that keeps the masses from ‘ fashionable churches.’ ”
We quote the above as containing a merited rebuke to certain Protestant churches; though we believe the picture is somewhat overdrawn in that it is too flattering to Romanism, and would convey the impression that it is pure religion and its devotee a true worshiper, whereas it has become a corrupt and idolatrous system, vain, arrogant, and proud, and has perpetrated more abominable frauds on the credulous, more extortion and robbery on the poor, more cruelties, persecutions, and horrible “inquisitions” on conscientious apostates and heretics, than any other false religion unless it be Mohammedanism. Too many forget the real nature of Romanism and its intolerant past history, in this age when it tries to assume a Protestant garb. The darling deity of Romanism is not God, but the Madonna. Mary is the pride of the Roman Catholic, and his fondness for her too often outstrips his piety.
While it is true that the poorest and humblest seem to feel perfectly at home in the Roman Catholic churches, it is also true that the condition of the poor and ignorant is the worst and most pitiable under the domination of Roman Catholicism. We have only to compare Protestant with Catholic countries to see that where for centuries the Papal religion has been the only religion, the great mass of the people are kept in the most abject ignorance, poverty, degradation, and wretchedness. The traveler in Roman Catholic countries is beset on every hand with beggars. Compare Roman Catholic Spain with Protestant Bible-handling England, or Catholic South America with Protestant North America. In Switzerland, we could tell at once when we passed the line between a Protestant and Catholic canton -soil, climate, nature, all about the same. In the Catholic regions the Dark Ages still linger and enshroud the mind.
What a contrast, too, we observed in passing out -through the great bronze doors of St. Peters at Rome, within which we had just gazed in wonder upon the richest art treasures in the world lavished upon its mosaic floors, ceilings, and altars, costing untold millions-what a contrast all this to the sight which con-fronted us on its marble steps just outside-a crowd of distressing beggars in tattered rags and filth, with haggard eyes, and bony fingers held out in pitiable appeals for our charity. We were told that they beg not only to support themselves but also to help maintain this one great extravagant cathedral, which for a single year consumes forty thousand dollars of the poor people’s money. When one visits Rome, Naples, and other cities of perfection in art, he asks not only to see what manner of beautiful carved stones are here, but what manner of men. Art alone cannot exalt or save.
Priest-ridden Italy has today vast numbers of Catholic churches or cathedrals many of which are worth millions in art treasures stored away or in landed estates. Yet the masses-the constituency of these cunning, crafty priests – are groping in ignorance, poverty, and wretchedness. Modern Rome has 300,000 inhabitants, of whom 100,000 can neither read nor write. Priest-ridden Italy has “3000 beggars for every person worth $5,000, seventeen criminals for every 1,000 population, a professional brigand for every church, and five corrupt government officials for every honest man,” yet all classes profess to be devout Roman Catholics. They sin again and again, and their accommodating priests hear their confessions and forgive them again and again. Italy, like other Roman Catholic countries, is burdened with swarms of well-fed, sleek-looking, long-gowned, sanctimonious priests. In Florence we were told that 300 happy, comfortable priests are kept performing in the one great cathedral where we saw again crowds of their poor, benighted, deluded constituents-disgusting beggars swarming about the priceless bronze doors and under the very shadow of its glorious campanile-the most beautiful piece of delicately carved marble architecture in the world. Naples alone has 330 Catholic churches, many of them marvels of architectural beauty. It sometimes happens that where there is most religion there is most dirt. Naples has too much of both.
” Fair Naples, of thy loveliness Full many a poet tells; But truth is lost in poetry Without thy fleas and smells.”
It can hardly be denied that the right spirit does not prevail in certain American Protestant churches towards the poor and lowly. If the proper feeling-a true Christ-like spirit-prevailed among the members of all rich and fine churches so that the poor could feel that they are welcome to the pews, we should hear less complaint about the antipathy of the masses toward the churches. It should be borne in mind, however, that if the attitude of the rich is thought to be too arrogant by the poor, the pride of the poor is too sensitive. A poor man- may be as proud as a rich man. Indeed, is it not the common saying that pride and poverty go together? Some of the poorest people are the proudest, and some of the richest are the humblest. The rich are often accused unjustly by the poor. Estrangement between rich and poor and hostility to the churches on the part of the poor often exist without reason. As a whole, the Christian churches are right-spirited, warm-hearted, and the best friends of the poor man. The world has more to hope from the orthodox church than from any other source. What have the poor or any unfortunate class to hope from infidelity and irreligion? What has infidelity done for the world? Where are its alms-houses, its Tom Paine orphans’ homes, its Ingersoll insane asylums, or even its colleges? Infidelity is a destructive in society, it helps no one, it conserves nothing, it tears down. It struts about and babbles nonsense and blasphemy, while Christianity works-does something for humanity. The ignorant prejudice existing among the poor, low and vicious classes against Christian ministers and churches is largely due to the hatred and malevolent teaching of the “baser fellows” and infidels-those little creatures whom God for some inscrutable purpose permits to live.
In the vestibule of many of the finest Protestant churches may be seen “Welcome” bulletin cards reading somewhat as the following which we have copied: “Welcome is the shibboleth that will win the people. So long as there is a vacant seat in the sanctuary, no person should be kept waiting in the vestibule. Welcome to lofty and lowly; welcome to old and young; welcome to capital and labor; welcome to the wise and unwise; welcome to all to a place in our Father’s house.”
Another popular church in Brooklyn, N. Y., which is not so “little” as one might suppose, issues a small paper called the Greeting, a late number of which pithily expresses the following wholesome sentiments indicative of the paper’s hospitable name: ” Ours is the ‘little church around the corner’ of Sixth Avenue of Seventh St. Philip said to Nathaniel, ‘Come and see.’ That is what we say to you. If you have any very fine clothes, pray do not wear them to church. The house of God is not the place for the exhibition of dry goods. Most of us are poor folks, but we do not despise the rich. ‘A than with a gold ring, in goodly apparel,’ will be treated just as politely as anybody else so long as he behaves himself. We do not want to steal any sheep that belong to flocks in our ncighborhood; but we do want to gather stray sheep into our fold.”
The question is not now so much how to get the masses to go to our fine churches as how to get the church to go to the masses. She can never reach them by moving about among them on stilts and disregarding the apostle’s words, – ” Mind not high things, but condescend to-men of low estate.” The problem now calling for solution is how to reconcile artistic church-building with practical philanthrophy. The question is at once settled, if our fine churches are not made monuments of human pride and luxury, but temples of holy, heart sacrifice, divine worship, and sympathy for the lost sheep of the. house of Israel. We believe that fine art and architecture may express the true spirit of sacrifice and devotion. And unless all artistic effects in building and adorning churches spring from this pure spirit of sacrifice, stripped of every taint of selfishness, self-glorification and pride, there will be no spiritual beauty and no justification for lavish expenditures. We would not seem to advocate that fine church architecture and art decorations are the highest expression of the spirit of self-denial. ” There are always higher and more useful channels of self-sacrific, for those who choose to practice it, than any connected with the arts.” While therefore we may not be less in love with the sublime and beautiful, less in earnest in art, we must not be less earnest in practical philanthropy. If some church edifices show a vain spirit and unnecessary extravagance, so a poor and ” mean church architecture may be dishonoring to God as being the exponent of a sordid spirit.” There is such a thing as fine art – fine architecture. Shall the devil have it all? It may have a noble mission. Let it be adopted and consecrated to God.