In "Why Not Beautiful Churches?" Elizabeth Scalia observes that many people are decrying money spent on artistic works for churches, and calling for churches to sell off those things of value and beauty. Scalia quotes Katrina Fernandez, who says most of the criticism is being leveled specifically at Catholic churches. I maintain that there is a sad reason for this: Too many Protestant churches are already woefully ugly -- and have accepted a utilitarian view of beauty where no hint of the transcendent is visible.
Why should we build and commission artists to paint and craft works of beauty for our churches?
I think we have to answer that question by identifying who the Client is. Antoni Gaudi, famous architect of the the Cathedral of the Sagrada Familia (Holy Family) in Barcelona, Spain, had the right answer to our question when he identified his Client: God.
Next, through meeting with our Client by reading Scripture, we need to discern His affections and character: God is beauty. Since we know through His word that God is beauty, we also need to look around us, to see the beauty He created. The earth and everything in it, and the heavenly bodies are filled with his reflective beauty. From Scripture and experience, we can identify His handiwork and character. But it doesn't stop there.
From Scripture we know that God created man in His own image. He gave us jobs as co-creators and co-redemptors. Since we know that God is beauty, we are commanded to create beauty too. We are to create it to reflect His character.
We are to create great works of beauty because they point to the transcendent. People are attracted to beauty; it's something that resonates within the core of our beings. In a devotional talk he delivered here about a year ago, T. M. Moore said that beauty endures, and that the Gospel tells us that beauty will be remembered.
People throughout the ages have known this. In the Old Testament, God gave Solomon specific instructions on building a beautiful temple because He is beauty. Medieval artisans and craftsmen put beautiful works of art on the rooftops. No one else would see them, but they did it to glorify God.
Through the ages, people have been able to correctly identify their Client. Let's hope that our age will be able to maintain that knowledge.
Finally, ugliness will not help the poor. We will always have the poor among us. Yes, we must help them, but we won't be helping them by stripping churches of beauty. As Elizabeth Scalia writes, by doing these acts, we will actually make the poor, poorer.