Vol. 3, Chapter VIII. Christian Art

102. Religion and Art

Man is a being intellectual, or thinking and knowing, moral, or willing and acting, and esthetic, or feeling and enjoying. To these three cardinal faculties corresponds the old trilogy of the true, the good, and the beautiful, and the three provinces of science, or knowledge of the truth, virtue, or practice of the good, and art, or the representation of the beautiful, the harmony of the ideal and the real. These three elements are of equally divine origin and destiny.

Religion is not so much a separate province besides these three, as the elevation and sanctification of all to the glory of God. It represents the idea of holiness, or of union with God, who is the original of all that is true, good, and beautiful. Christianity, as perfect religion, is also perfect humanity. It hates only sin; and this belongs not originally to human nature, but has invaded it from without. It is a leaven which pervades the whole lump. It aims at a harmonious unfolding of all the gifts and powers of the soul. It would redeem and regenerate the whole man, and bring him into blessed fellowship with God. It enlightens the understanding, sanctifies the will, gives peace to the heart, and consecrates even the body a temple of the Holy Ghost. The ancient word: “Homo sum, nihil humani a me alienum puto,” is fully true only of the Christian. “All things are yours,” says the Apostle. All things are of God, and for God. Of these truths we must never lose sight, notwithstanding the manifold abuses or imperfect and premature applications of them.

Hence there is a Christian art, as well as a Christian science, a spiritual eloquence, a Christian virtue. Feeling and imagination are as much in need of redemption, and capable of sanctification, as reason and will.

The proper and highest mission of art lies in the worship of God. We are to worship God “in the beauty of holiness.” All science culminates in theology and theosophy, all art becomes perfect in cultus. Holy Scripture gives it this position, and brings it into the closest connection with religion, from the first chapter of Genesis to the last chapter of the Revelation, from the paradise of innocence to the new glorified earth. This is especially true of the two most spiritual and noble arts, of poetry and music, which proclaim the praise of God — in all the great epochs of the history of his kingdom from the beginning to the consummation. A considerable part of the Bible: the Psalms, the book of Job, the song of Solomon, the parables, the Revelation, and many portions of the historical, prophetical, and didactic books, are poetical, and that in the purest and highest sense of the word. Christianity was introduced into the world with the song of the heavenly host, and the consummation of the church will be also the consummation of poetry and song in the service of the heavenly sanctuary.

Art has always, and in all civilized nations, stood in intimate connection with worship. Among the heathen it ministered to idolatry. Hence the aversion or suspicion of the early Christians towards it. But the same is true of the philosophy of the Greeks, and the law of the Romans; yet philosophy and law are not in themselves objectionable. All depends on the spirit which animates these gifts, and the purpose which they are made to serve.

The great revolution in the outward condition of the church under Constantine dissipated the prejudices against art and the hindrances to its employment in the service of the church. There now arose a Christian art which has beautified and enriched the worship of God, and created immortal monuments of architecture, painting, poetry, and melody, for the edification of all ages; although, as the cultus of the early church in general perpetuated many elements of Judaism and heathenism, so the history of Christian art exhibits many impurities and superstitions which provoke and justify protest. Artists have corrupted art, as theologians theology, and priests the church. But the remedy for these imperfections is not the abolition of art and the banishment of it from the church, but the renovation and ever purer shaping of it by the spirit and in the service of Christianity, which is the religion of truth, of beauty, and of holiness.

From this time, therefore, church history also must bring the various arts, in their relation to Christian worship, into the field of its review. Henceforth there is a history of Christian architecture, sculpture, painting, and above all of Christian poetry and music.


103. Church Architecture

On the history of Architecture in general, see the works of Kugler: Geschichte der Baukunst (1859, 3 vols.); Schnaase: Gesch. der Kunst (1843-66, 8 vols.); Lübke History of Art (Eng. transl. New York, 1877, 2 vols.); Viollet Le Duc: Lectures an Architecture (London, 1877), and his numerous works in French, including Dictionnaire De l’architecture Française (Paris, 1853-69, 10 vols.); James Fergusson: History of Architecture of all Countries from the earliest Times to the present (Lond., 1865; 2d ed., 1874, 4 vols.). On church architecture in particular: Richard Brown: Sacred Architecture; its Rise, Progress, and Present State (Lond., 1845); Kreuser: Der christl. Kirchenbau (Bonn, 1851); Hübsch: Altchristl. Kirchen (Karlsruhe, 1858-61); De Vogueé: Architecture civile et relig. du Ie au VIIe siècle (Paris, 1877, 2 vols.); Ch. E. Norton: Studies of Church Buildings in the Middle Ages (Now York, 1880). There are also special works on the basilicas in Rome, Constantinople, and Ravenna. See §§106 and 107.

Architecture is required to provide the suitable outward theatre for the public worship of God, to build houses of God among men, where he may hold fellowship with his people, and bless them with heavenly gifts. This is the highest office and glory of the art of building. Architecture is a handmaid of devotion. A beautiful church is a sermon in stone, and its spire a finger pointing to heaven. Under the old covenant there was no more important or splendid building than the temple at Jerusalem, which was erected by divine command and after the pattern of the tabernacle of the wilderness. And yet this was only a significant emblem and shadow of what was to come.

Christianity is, indeed, not bound to place, and may everywhere worship the omnipresent God. The apostles and martyrs held the most solemn worship in modest private dwellings, and even in deserts and subterranean catacombs, and during the whole period of persecution there were few church buildings properly so called. The cause of this want, however, lay not in conscientious objection, but in the oppressed condition of the Christians. No sooner did they enjoy external and internal peace, than they built special places of devotion, which in a normal, orderly condition of the church are as necessary to public worship as special sacred times. The first certain traces of proper church buildings, in distinction from private places, appear in the second half of the third century, during the three-and-forty years’ rest between the persecution of Decius and that of Diocletian. But these were destroyed in the latter persecution.

The period of church building properly begins with Constantine the Great. After Christianity was acknowledged by the state, and empowered to hold property, it raised houses of worship in all parts of the Roman empire. There was probably more building of this kind in the fourth century than there has been in an period since, excepting perhaps the nineteenth century in the United States, where, every ten years, hundreds of churches and chapels are erected, while in the great cities of Europe the multiplication of churches by no means keeps pace with the increase of population. Constantine and his mother Helena led the way with a good example. The emperor adorned not only his new residential city, but also the holy Places in Palestine, and the African city Constantine, with basilicas, partly at his own expense, partly from the public treasury. His successors on the throne, excepting Julian, as well as bishops and wealthy laymen, vied with each other in building, beautifying, and enriching churches. This was considered a work pleasing to God and meritorious. Ambition and self-righteousness mingled themselves here, as they almost everywhere do, with zeal for the glory of God. Chrysostom even laments that many a time the poor are forgotten in the church buildings, and suggests that it is not enough to adorn the altar, the walls, and the floor, but that we must, above all, offer the soul a living sacrifice to the Lord. Jerome also rebukes those who haughtily pride themselves in the costly gifts which they offer to God, and directs them to help needy fellow-Christians rather, since not the house of stone, but the soul of the believer is the true temple of Christ.

The fourth century saw in the city of Rome above forty great churches. In Constantinople the Church of the Apostles and the church of St. Sophia, built by Constantine, excelled in magnificence and beauty, and in the fifth century were considerably enlarged and beautified by Justinian. Sometimes heathen temples or other public buildings were transformed for Christian worship. The Emperor Phocas (602-610), for example, gave to the Roman bishop Boniface IV, the Pantheon, built by Agrippa under Augustus, and renowned for its immense and magnificent dome (now called chiesa della rotonda), and it was thenceforth consecrated to the virgin Mary and the martyrs.

But generally the heathen temples, from their small size and their frequent round form, were not adapted for the Christian worship, as this is held within the building, and requires large room for the congregation, that the preaching and the Scripture-reading may be heard; while the heathen sacrifices were performed before the portico, and the multitude looked on without the sanctuary. The sanctuary of Pandrosos, on the Acropolis at Athens, holds but few persons, and even the Parthenon is not so capacious as an ordinary church. The Pantheon in Rome is an exception, and is much larger than most temples. The small round pagan temples were most easily convertible into Christian baptisteries and burial chapels. Far more frequently, doubtless, was the material of forsaken or destroyed temples applied to the building of churches.


104. The Consecration of Churches

New churches were consecrated with great solemnity by prayer, singing, the communion, eulogies of present bishops, and the depositing of relics of saints. This service set them apart from all profane uses, and designated them exclusively for the service and praise of God and the edification of his people. The dedication of Solomon’s temple, (2 Chron. 5-7) as well as the purification of the temple after its desecration by the heathen Syrians (1 Macc 4:44ff.), furnished the biblical authority for this custom. In times of persecution the consecration must have been performed in silence. But now these occasions became festivals attended by multitudes. Many bishops, like Theodoret, even invited the pagans to attend them. The first description of such a festivity is given us by Eusebius: the consecration of the church of the Redeemer at the Holy Sepulchre, and of a church at Tyre.

After the Jewish precedent, it was usual to celebrate the anniversary of the consecration.

Churches were dedicated either to the holy Trinity, or to one of the three divine Persons, especially Christ, or to the Virgin Mary, or to apostles, especially Peter, Paul, and John, or to distinguished martyrs and saints.

The idea of dedication, of course, by no means necessarily involves the superstitious notion of the omnipresent God being inclosed in a definite place. On the contrary, Solomon had long before said at the dedication of the temple at Jerusalem: “Behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded.” When Athanasius was once censured for assembling the congregation on Easter, for want of room, in a newly built but not yet consecrated church, he appealed to the injunction of the Lord, that we enter into our closet to pray, as consecrating every place. Chrysostom urged that every house should be a church, and every head of a family a spiritual shepherd, remembering the account which he must give even for his children and servants. Not walls and roof, but faith and life, constitute the church, and the advantage of prayer in the church comes not so much from a special holiness of the place, as from the Christian fellowship, the bond of love, and the prayer of the priests. Augustine gives to his congregation the excellent admonition: “It is your duty to put your talent to usury; every one must be bishop in his own house; he must see that his wife, his son, his daughter, his servant, since he is bought with so great a price, continues in the true faith. The apostle’s doctrine has placed the master over the servant, and has bound the servant to obedience to the master, but Christ has paid a ransom for both.”


105. Interior Arrangement of Churches

The interior arrangement of the Christian churches in part imitated the temple at Jerusalem, in part proceeded directly, from the Christian spirit. It exhibits, therefore, like the whole catholic system, a mixture of Judaism and Christianity. At the bottom of it lay the ideas of the priesthood and of sacrifice, and of fellowship with God administered thereby.

Accordingly, in every large church after Constantine there were three main divisions, which answered, on the one hand, to the divisions of Solomon’s temple, on the other, to the three classes of attendants, the catechumens, the faithful, and the priests, or the three stages of approach to God. The evangelical idea of immediate access of the whole believing congregation to the throne of grace, does not yet appear. The priesthood everywhere comes between.

1. The portico: In this again must be distinguished:

(a) The inner portico, a covered hall which belonged to the church itself, and was called πρόναος, or commonly, from its long, narrow shape, νάρθηξ, ferula, i.e., literally, staff, rod. The name paradise also occurs, because on one side of the wall of the portico Adam and Eve in paradise were frequently painted, — probably to signify that the fallen posterity of Adam find again their lost paradise in the church of Christ. The inner court was the place for all the unbaptized, for catechumens, pagans, and Jews, and for members of the church condemned to light penance, who might hear the preaching and the reading of the Scriptures, but must withdraw before the administration of the Holy Supper.

(b) The outer portico, αὐλή, atrium, also locus lugentium or hiemantium, which was open, and not in any way enclosed within the sacred walls, hence not a part of the house of God properly so called. Here those under heavy penance, the “weepers” as they were called, must tarry, exposed to all weather, and apply with tears to those entering for their Christian intercessions.

In this outer portico, or atrium, stood the laver, in which, after the primitive Jewish and heathen custom, maintained to this day in the Roman church, the worshipper, in token of inward purification, must wash every time he entered the church.

After about the ninth century, when churches were no longer built with spacious porticoes, this laver was transferred to the church itself, and fixed at the doors in the form of a holywater basin, supposed to be an imitation of the brazen sea in the priest’s court of Solomon’s temple. (1Ki_7:23-26; 2Ch_4:2-5) This symbolical usage could easily gather upon itself superstitious notions of the magical virtue of the holy water. Even in the pseudo-Apostolic Constitutions the consecrated water is called “a means of warding off diseases, frightening away evil spirits, a medicine for body and soul, and for purification from sins;” and though these expressions related primarily to the sacramental water of baptism as the bath of regeneration, yet they were easily applied by the people to consecrated water in general. In the Roman Catholic church the consecration of the water is performed on Easter Sunday evening; in the Greco-Russian church, three times in the year.

2. The temple proper, the holy place, or the nave of the church, as it were the ark of the new covenant. This part extended from the doors of entrance to the steps of the altar, had sometimes two or four side-naves, according to the size of the church, and was designed for the body of the laity, the faithful and baptized. The men sat on the right towards the south (in the men’s nave), the women on the left towards the north (in the women’s nave), or, in Eastern countries, where the sexes were more strictly separated, in the galleries above. The monks and nuns, and the higher civil officers, especially the emperors with their families, usually had special seats of honor in semicircular niches on both sides of the altar.

About the middle of the main nave was the pulpit or the ambo, or subsequently two desks, at the left the Gospel-desk, at the right the Epistle-desk, where the lector or deacon read the Scripture lessons. The sermon was not always delivered from the pulpit, but more frequently either from the steps of the altar (hence the phrase: “speaking from the rails”), or from the seat of the bishop behind the altar-table.

Between the reading-desks and the altar was the odeum, the place for the singers, and at the right and left the seats for the lower clergy (anagnosts or readers, exorcists, acolytes). This part of the nave lay somewhat higher than the floor of the church, though not so high as the altar-choir, and hence was also called the lower choir, and the gradual, because steps (gradus) led up to it. In the Eastern church the choir and nave are scarcely separated, and they form together the ναός, or temple hall; in the Western the choir and the sanctuary are put together under the name cancelli or chancel.

3. The most holy place, or the choir proper; called also in distinction from the lower choir, the high choir, for the priests, and for the offering of the sacrifice of the Eucharist. No layman, excepting the emperor (in the east), might enter it. It was semi-circular or conchoidal in form, and was situated at the eastern end of the church, opposite the entrance doors, because the light, to which Christians should turn themselves, comes from the east. It was separated from the other part of the church by rails or a lattice, and by a curtain, or by sacred doors called in the Greek church the picture-wall, iconostas, on account of the sacred paintings on it. While in the Eastern churches this screen is still used, it in time gave place in the West to a low balustrade.

In the middle of the sanctuary stood the altar, generally a table, or sometimes a chest with a lid; at first of wood, then, after the beginning of the sixth century, of stone or marble, or even of silver and gold, with a wall behind it, and an overshadowing, dome-shaped canopy, above which a cross was usually fixed. The altar was hollow, and served as the receptacle for the relics of the martyrs; it was placed, where this was possible, exactly over the grave of a martyr, probably with reference to the passage in the Revelation: “I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held.” Often a subterranean chapel or crypt was built under the church, in order to have the church exactly upon the burial place of the saint, and at the same time to keep alive the memory of the primitive worship in underground vaults in the times of persecution.

The altar held therefore the twofold office of a tomb (though at the same time the monument of a new, higher life), and a place of sacrifice. It was manifestly the most holy place in the entire church, to which everything else had regard; whereas in Protestantism the pulpit and the word of God come into the foreground, and altar and sacrament stand back. Hence the altar was adorned also in the richest manner with costly cloths, with the cross, or at a later period the crucifix, with burning tapers, symbolical of Christ the light of the world, and previously consecrated for ecclesiastical use, with a splendid copy of the Holy Scriptures, or the mass-book, but above all with the tabernacle, or little house for preserving the consecrated host, on which in the middle ages the German stone-cutters and sculptors displayed wonderful art.

Side altars did not come into use until Gregory the Great. Ignatius, Athanasius, Gregory Nazianzen, and Augustine know of only one altar in the church. The Greek church has no more to this day. The introduction of such side altars, which however belong not to the altar space, but to the nave of the church, is connected with the progress of the worship of martyrs and relics.

At the left of the altar was the table of prothesis, on which the elements for the holy Supper were prepared, and which is still used in the Greek church; at the right the sacristy, where the priests robed themselves, and retired for silent prayer. Behind the altar on the circular wall (and under the painting of Christ enthroned, if there was one) stood the bishop’s chair, overlooking the whole church. On both sides of it, in a semicircle, were the seats of the presbyters. None but the clergy were allowed to receive the holy Supper within the altar rails.


106. Architectural Style. The Basilicas

Comp. the works on the Basilicas by P. Sarnelli (Antica Basilicografia. Neapoli, 1686), Ciampini (Rom. 1693), Guttensohn & Knapp (Monumenta di Rel. christ., ossia raccolta delle antiche chiese di Roma. Rom. 1822 sqq. 3 vols.; also in German, München, 1843), Bunsen (Die Basiliken des christlichen Roms. München, 1843, a commentary on the preceding), Von Quast (Berl. 1845), and Zestermann (Die antiken und die christlichen Basiliken. Leipz. 1847).

The history of church building, from the simple basilicas of the fourth century to the perfect Gothic cathedrals of the thirteenth and fourteenth, exhibits, like the history of the other Christian arts and the sciences, a gradual subjection and transformation of previous Jewish and heathen forms by the Christian principle. The church succeeded to the inheritance of all nations, but could only by degrees purge this inheritance of its sinful adulterations, pervade it with her spirit, and subject it to her aims; for she fulfils her mission through human freedom, not in spite of it, and does not magically transform nations, but legitimately educates them.

The history of Western architecture is the richer. The East contented itself with the Byzantine style, and adhered more strictly to the forms of the round temples, baptisteries, and mausoleums; while the West, starting from the Roman basilica, developed various styles.

The style of the earliest Christian churches was not copied from the heathen temples, because, apart from their connection with idolatry, which was itself highly offensive to the Christian sentiment, they were in form and arrangement, as we have already remarked, entirely unsuitable to Christian worship. The primitive Christian architecture followed the basilicas, and hence the churches built in this style were themselves called basilicas. The connection of the Christian and heathen basilicas, which has been hitherto recognized, and has been maintained by celebrated connoisseurs, has been denied by some modern investigators, who have claimed for the Christian an entirely independent origin. And it is perfectly true, as concerns the interior arrangement and symbolical import of the building, that these can be ascribed to the Christian mind alone. Nor have any forensic or mercantile basilicas, to our knowledge, been transformed into Christian churches. But in external architectural form there is without question an affinity, and there appears no reason why the church should not have employed this classic form.

The basilicas, or royal halls, were public judicial and mercantile buildings, of simple, but beautiful structure, in the form of a long rectangle, consisting of a main hall, or main nave, two, often four, side naves, which were separated by colonnades from the central space, and were somewhat lower. Here the people assembled for business and amusement. At the end of the hall opposite the entrance, stood a semicircular, somewhat elevated niche (apsis, tribune), arched over with a half-dome, where were the seats of the judges and advocates, and where judicial business was transacted. Under the floor of the tribunal was sometimes a cellar-like place of confinement for accused criminals.

In the history of architecture, too, there is a Nemesis. As the cross became changed from a sign of weakness to a sign of honor and victory, so must the basilica in which Christ and innumerable martyrs were condemned to death, become a place for the worship of the crucified One. The judicial tribune became the altar; the seat of the praetor behind it became the bishop’s chair; the benches of the jurymen became the seats of presbyters; the hall of business and trade became a place of devotion for the faithful people; the subterranean jail became a crypt or burial place, the superterrene birth-place, of a Christian martyr. To these were added other changes, especially the introduction of a cross-nave between the apse and the main nave, giving to the basilica the symbolical form of the once despised, but now glorious cross, and forming, so to speak, a recumbent crucifix. The cross with equal arms is called the Greek; that with unequal arms, in which the transept is shorter than the main nave from the entrance to the altar, the Latin. Towers, which express the heavenward spirit of the Christian religion, were not introduced till the ninth century, and were then built primarily for bells.

This style found rapid acceptance in the course of the fourth century with East and West; most of all in Rome, where a considerable number of basilicas, some in their ancient venerable simplicity, some with later alterations, are still preserved. The church of St. Maria Maggiore on the Esquiline hill affords the best view of an ancient basilica; the oldest principal church of Rome — S. Giovanni in Laterano (so named from the Roman patrician family of the Laterans), dedicated to the Evangelist John and to John the Baptist; the church of St. Paul, outside the city on the way to Ostia, which was burnt in 1823, but afterwards rebuilt splendidly in the same style, and consecrated by the pope in December, 1854; also S. Clemente, S. Agnese, and S. Lorenzo, outside the walls — are examples. The old church of St. Peter (Basilica Vaticana), which was built on the spot of this apostle’s martyrdom, the Neronian circus, and was torn down in the fifteenth century (the last remnant did not fall till 1606), surpassed all other churches of Rome in splendor and wealth, and was rebuilt, not in the same style, but, as is well known, in the Italian style of the sixteenth century.

Next to Rome, Ravenna is rich in old church buildings, among which the great basilica of S. Apollinare in Classe (in the port town, three miles from the main city, and built about the middle of the sixth century) is the most notable. The transept, as in all the churches of this city, is wanting.

In the East Roman empire there appeared even under Constantine sundry departures and transitions toward the Byzantine style. The oldest buildings there, which follow more or less the style of the Roman basilica, are the church at Tyre, begun in 313, destroyed in the middle ages, but known to us from the description of the historian Eusebius; the original St. Sophia of Constantine in Constantinople; and the churches in the Holy Land, built likewise by him and his mother Helena, at, Mamre or Hebron, at Bethlehem over the birth-spot of Christ, on the Mount of Olives in memory of the ascension, and over the holy sepulchre on Mount Calvary. Justinian also sometimes built basilicas, for variety, together with his splendid Byzantine churches; and of these the church of St. Mary in Jerusalem was the finest, and was destined to imitate the temple of Solomon, but it was utterly blotted out by the Mohammedans.


107. The Byzantine Style

Procopius: De aedificiis Justiniani. L.i.c. 1-3. Car. Dufresne Dom. du Cange: Constantinopolis Christiana. Venet. 1729. Salzenberg und Kortüm: Altchristliche Baudenkmale Constantinopels vom V. bis XII Jahrh. (40 magnificent copperplates and illustrations). Berlin, 1854.

The second style which meets us in this period, is the Byzantine, which in the West modified the basilica style, in the East soon superseded it, and in the Russo-Greek church has maintained itself to this day. It dates from the sixth century, from the reign of the scholarly and art-loving emperor Justinian I. (527-565), which was the flourishing period of Constantinople and of the centralized ecclesiastico-political despotism, in many respects akin to the age of Louis XIV. of France.

The characteristic feature of this style is the hemispherical dome, which, like the vault of heaven with its glory, spanned the center of the Greek or the Latin cross, supported by massive columns (instead of slender pillars like the basilicas), and by its height and its prominence ruling the other parts of the building. This dome corresponds on the one hand to the centralizing principle of the Byzantine empire, but at the same time, and far more clearly than the flat basilica, to that upward striving of the Christian spirit from the earth towards the height of heaven, which afterwards more plainly expressed itself in the pointed arches and the towers of the Germanic cathedral. “While in the basilica style everything looks towards the end of the building where the altar and episcopal throne are set, and by this prevailing connection the upward direction is denied a free expression, in the dome structure everything concentrates itself about the spacious center of the building over which, drawing the eye irresistibly upward, rises to an awe-inspiring height the majestic central dome. The basilica presents in the apse a figure of the horizon from which the sun of righteousness arises in his glory; the Byzantine building unfolds in the dome a figure of the whole vault of heaven in sublime, imposing majesty, but detracts thereby from the prominence of the altar, and leaves for it only a place of subordinate import.”

The dome is not, indeed, absolutely new. The Pantheon in Rome, whose imposing dome has a diameter of a hundred and thirty-two feet, dates from the age of Augustus, b.c. 26. But here the dome rises on a circular wall, and so strikes root in the earth, altogether in character with the heathen religion. The Byzantine dome rests on few columns connected by arches, and, like the vault of heaven, freely spans the central space of the church in airy height, without shutting up that space by walls.

Around the main central dome stand four smaller domes in a square, and upon each dome rises a lofty gilded cross, which in the earlier churches stands upon a crescent, hung with all sorts of chains, and fastened by these to the dome.

The noblest and most complete building of this kind is the renowned church of St. Sophia at Constantinople, which was erected in lavish Asiatic splendor by the emperor Justinian after a plan by the architects Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus (a.d. 532-537), and consecrated to the Redeemer, but was transformed after the Turkish conquest into a Mohammedan mosque (Aja Sofia). It is two hundred and twenty-eight feet broad, and two hundred and fifty-two feet long; the dome, supported by four gigantic columns, rises a hundred and sixty-nine feet high over the altar, is a hundred and eight feet in diameter, and floats so freely and airily above the great central space, that, in the language of the Byzantine court biographer Procopius, it seems not to rest on terra firma, but to hang from heaven by golden chains. The most costly material was used in the building; the Phrygian marble with rose-colored and white veins, the dark red marble of the Nile, the green of Laconia, the black and white spotted of the Bosphorus, the gold-colored Libyan. And when the dome reflected the brilliance of the lighted silver chandeliers, and sent it back doubled from above, it might well remind one of the vault of heaven with its manifold starry glories, and account for the proud satisfaction with which Justinian on the day of the consecration, treading in solemn procession the finished building, exclaimed: “I have outdone thee, O Solomon!” The church of St. Sophia stood thenceforth the grand model of the new Greek architecture, not only for the Christian East and the Russian church, but even for the Mohammedans in the building of their mosques.

In the West the city of Ravenna, on the Adriatic coast, after Honorius, (a.d. 404) the seat of the Western empire, or of the eparchate, and the last refuge of the old Roman magnificence and art, affords beautiful monuments of the Byzantine style; especially in the church of St. Vitale, which was erected by the bishop Maximian in 547.

In the West the ground plan of the basilica was usually retained, with pillars and entablature, until the ninth century, and the dome and vaultings of the Byzantine style were united with it. Out of this union arose what is called the Romanesque or the round-arch style, which prevailed from the tenth to the thirteenth century, and was then, from the thirteenth to the fifteenth, followed by the Germanic or pointed-arch style, with its gigantic masterpieces, the Gothic cathedrals. From the fifteenth century eclecticism and confusion prevailed in architecture, till the modern attempts to reproduce the ancient style. The Oriental church, on the contrary, has never gone beyond the Byzantine, its productivity almost entirely ceasing with the age of Justinian. But it is possible that the Graeco Russian church will in the future develop something new.


108. Baptisteries. Grave-Chapels, and Crypts

Baptisteries or Photisteries, chapels designed exclusively for the administration of baptism, are a form of church building by themselves. In the first centuries baptism was performed on streams in the open air, or in private houses. But after the public exercise of Christian worship became lawful, in the fourth century special buildings for this holy ordinance began to appear, either entirely separate, or connected with the main church (at the side of the western main entrance) by a covered passage; and they were generally, dedicated to John the Baptist. The need of them arose partly from the still prevalent custom of immersion, partly from the fact that the number of candidates often amounted to hundreds and thousands; since baptism was at that time administered) as a rule, only three or four times a year, on the eve of the great festivals (Easter, Pentecost, Epiphany, and Christmas), and at episcopal sees, while the church proper was filled with the praying congregation.

These baptismal chapels were not oblong, like the basilicas, but round (like most of the Roman temples), and commonly covered with a dome. They had in the center, like the bathing and swimming houses of the Roman watering places, a large baptismal basin, into which several steps descended. Around this stood a colonnade and a circular or polygonal gallery for spectators; and before the main entrance there was a spacious vestibule in the form of an entirely walled rectangle or oval. Generally the baptisteries had two divisions for the two sexes. The interior was sumptuously ornamented; especially the font, on which was frequently represented the symbolical figure of a hart panting for the brook, or a lamb, or the baptism of Christ by John. The earliest baptistery, of the Constantinian church of St. Peter in Rome, whose living flood was supplied from a fountain of the Vatican hill, was adorned with beautiful mosaic, the green, gold, and purple of which were reflected in the water. The most celebrated existing baptistery is that of the Lateran church at Rome, the original plan of which is ascribed to Constantine, but has undergone changes in the process of time.

After the sixth century, when the baptism of adults had become rare, it became customary to place a baptismal basin in the porch of the church, or in the church itself, at the left of the entrance, and, after baptism came to be administered no longer by the bishop alone, but by every pastor, each parish church contained such an arrangement. Still baptisteries also continued in use, and even in the later middle ages new ones were occasionally erected.

Finally, after the time of Constantine it became customary to erect small houses of worship or memorial chapels upon the burial-places of the martyrs, and to dedicate them to their memory. These served more especially for private edification.

The subterranean chapels, or crypts, were connected with the churches built over them, and brought to mind the worship of the catacombs in the times of persecution. These crypts always produce a most earnest, solemn impression, and many of them are of considerable archeological interest.


109. Crosses and Crucifixes

Jac. Gretser. (R.C.): De cruce Christi. 2 vols. Ingolst. 1608. Just. Lipsius: De cruce Christi. Antw. 1694. Fr. Münter: Die Sinnbilder u. Kunstvorstellungen der alten Christen. Altona, 1825. C. J. Hefele (R.C.): Alter u. älteste Form der Crucifixe (in the 2d vol. of his Beiträge zur Kirchengesch., Archäologie u. Liturgik. Tübingen, 1864, p. 265 sqq.). Comp. the Lit. in vol. ii. §§75 and 77.

The cross, as the symbol of redemption, and the signing of the cross upon the forehead, the eyes, the mouth, the breast, and even upon parts of clothing, were in universal use in this period, as they had been even in the second century, both in private Christian life and in public worship. They were also in many ways abused in the service of superstition; and the nickname cross-worshippers, which the heathen applied to the Christians in the time of Tertullian, was in many cases not entirely unwarranted. Besides simple wooden crosses, now that the church had risen to the kingdom, there were many crosses of silver and gold, or sumptuously set with pearls and gems.

The conspicuous part which, according to the statements of Eusebius, the cross played in the life of Constantine, is well known: forming the instrument of his conversion; borne by fifty men, leading him to his victories over Maxentius and Licinius; inscribed upon his banners, upon the weapons of his soldiers in his palace, and upon public places, and lying in the right hand of his own statue. Shortly afterwards Julian accused the Christians of worshipping the wood of the cross. “The sign of universal detestation,” says Chrysostom, “the sign of extreme penalty, is now become the object of universal desire and love. We see it everywhere triumphant; we find it on houses, on roofs, and on walls, in cities and hamlets, on the markets, along the roads, and in the deserts, on the mountains and in the valleys, on the sea, on ships, on books and weapons, on garments, in marriage chambers, at banquets, upon gold and silver vessels, in pearls, in painting upon walls, on beds, on the bodies of very sick animals, on the bodies of the possessed [ — to drive away the disease and the demon — ], at the dances of the merry, and in the brotherhoods of ascetics.” Besides this, it was usual to mark the cross on windows and floors, and to wear it upon the forehead. According to Augustine this sign was to remind believers that their calling is to follow Christ in true humility, through suffering, into glory.

We might speak in the same way of the use of other Christian emblems from the sphere of nature; the representation of Christ by a good Shepherd, a lamb, a fish, and the like, which we have already observed in the period preceding.

Towards the end of the present period we for the first time meet with crucifixes; that is, crosses not bare, but with the figure of the crucified Saviour upon them. The transition to the crucifix we find in the fifth century in the figure of a lamb, or even a bust of Christ, attached to the cross, sometimes at the top, sometimes at the bottom. Afterwards the whole figure of Christ was fastened to the cross, and the earlier forms gave place to this. The Trullan council of Constantinople (the Quinisextum), a.d. 692, directed in the 82d canon: “Hereafter, instead of the lamb, the human figure of Christ shall be set up on the images.” But subsequently the orthodox church of the East prohibited all plastic images, crucifixes among them, and it tolerates only pictures of Christ and the saints. The earlier Latin crucifixes offend the taste and disturb devotion; but the Catholic art in its flourishing period succeeded in combining, in the figure of the suffering and dying Redeemer, the expression of the deepest and holiest anguish with that of supreme dignity. In the middle age there was frequently added to the crucifix a group of Mary, John, a soldier, and the penitent Magdalene, who on her knees embraced the post of the cross.


110. Images of Christ

Fr. Kugler: Handbuch der Geschichte der Malerei seit Constantin dem Berlin, 1847, 2 vols.; and other works on the history of painting. Also C. Grüneisen: Die bildliche Darstellung der Gottheit. Stuttgart 1828. On the Iconoclastic controversies, comp. Maimbourg (R.C.): Histoire de l’hérésie de l’Iconoclastes. Par. 1679 sqq. 2 vols. Dallaeus (Calvinist): De imaginibus. Lugd. Bat. 1642. Fr. Spanheim: Historia imaginum restituta. Lugd. Bat. 1686. P. E. Jablonski († 1757): De origine imaginum Christi Domini, in Opuscul. ed. Water, Lugd. Bat. 1804, tom. iii. Walch: Ketzergesch., vols. x. and xi. J. Marx: Der Bildersturm der byzantinischen Kaiser. Trier, 1839. W. Grimm: Die Sage vom Ursprunge der Christusbilder. Berlin, 1843, L. Glückselig: Christus-Archäologie, Prag, 1863. Hefele: Beiträge zur Kirchengeschichte, vol. ii. Tüb. 1861 (Christusbilder, p. 254 sqq.). Comp. the liter. in Hase’s Leben Jesu, p. 79 (5th ed. 1865).

Mrs. Jameson and Lady Eastlake: The History of Our Lord as exemplified in Works of Art (with illustrations). London, 1864; second ed. 1865. 2 vols. Also the works on Christian Art, and on the Catacombs quoted in vol. ii. §§75 and 82.

While the temple of Solomon left to the Christian mind no doubt concerning the lawfulness and usefulness of church architecture, the second commandment seemed directly to forbid a Christian painting or sculpture. “The primitive church,” says even a modern Roman Catholic historian, “had no images, of Christ, since most Christians at that time still adhered to the commandment of Moses (Exo_20:4); the more, that regard as well to the Gentile Christians as to the Jewish forbade all use of images. To the latter the exhibition and veneration of images would, of course, be an abomination, and to the newly converted heathen it might be a temptation to relapse into idolatry. In addition, the church was obliged, for her own honor, to abstain from images, particularly from any representation of the Lord, lest she should be regarded by unbelievers as merely a new kind and special sort of heathenism and creature-worship. And further, the early Christians had in their idea of the bodily form of the Lord no temptation, not the slightest incentive, to make likenesses of Christ. The oppressed church conceived its Master only under the form of a servant, despised and uncomely, as Isa_53:2, Isa_53:3, describes the Servant of the Lord.”

The first representations of Christ are of heretical and pagan origin. The Gnostic sect of the Carpocratians worshipped crowned pictures of Christ, together with images of Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, and other sages, and asserted that Pilate had caused a portrait of Christ to be made. In the same spirit of pantheistic hero-worship the emperor Alexander Severus (a.d. 222-235) set up in his domestic chapel for his adoration the images of Abraham, Orpheus, Apollonius, and Christ.

After Constantine, the first step towards images in the orthodox church was a change in the conception of the outward form of Christ. The persecuted church had filled its eye with the humble and suffering servant-form of Jesus, and found therein consolation and strength in her tribulation. The victorious church saw the same Lord in heavenly glory on the right hand of the Father, ruling over his enemies. The one conceived Christ in his state of humiliation (but not in his state of exaltation), as even repulsive, or at least “having no form nor comeliness;” taking too literally the description of the suffering servant of God in Isa_52:14 and Isa_53:2, Isa_53:3. The other beheld in him the ideal of human beauty, “fairer than the children of men,” with “grace poured into his lips;” after the Messianic interpretation of Psa_65:3.

This alone, however, did not warrant images of Christ. For, in the first place, authentic accounts of the personal appearance of Jesus were lacking; and furthermore it seemed incompetent to human art duly to set forth Him in Whom the whole fulness of the Godhead and of perfect sinless humanity dwelt in unity.

On this point two opposite tendencies developed themselves, giving occasion in time to the violent and protracted image controversies, until, at the seventh ecumenical council at Nice in 787, the use and adoration of images carried the day in the church.

1. On the one side, the prejudices of the ante-Nicene period against images in painting or sculpture continued alive, through fear of approach to pagan idolatry, or of lowering Christianity into the province of sense. But generally the hostility was directed only against images of Christ; and from it, as Neander justly observes, we are by no means to infer the rejection of all representations of religious subjects; for images of Christ encounter objections peculiar to themselves.

The church historian Eusebius declared himself in the strongest manner against images of Christ in a letter to the empress Constantia (the widow of Licinius and sister of Constantine), who had asked him for such an image. Christ, says he, has laid aside His earthly servant-form, and Paul exhorts us to cleave no longer to the sensible; (Comp. 2Co_5:16) and the transcendent glory of His heavenly body cannot be conceived nor represented by man; besides, the second commandment forbids the making to ourselves any likeness of anything in heaven or in earth. He had taken away from a lady an image of Christ and of Paul, lest it should seem as if Christians, like the idolaters, carried their God about in images. Believers ought rather to fix their mental eye, above all, upon the divinity of Christ, and, for this purpose, to purify their hearts; since only the pure in heart shall see God. The same Eusebius, however, relates of Constantine, without the slightest disapproval, that, in his Christian zeal, he caused the public monuments in the forum of the new imperial city to be adorned with symbolical representations of Christ, to wit, with figures of the good Shepherd and of Daniel in the lion’s den. He likewise tells us, that the woman of the issue of blood, after her miraculous cure (Mat_9:20), and out of gratitude for it, erected before her dwelling in Caesarea Philippi (Paneas) two brazen statues, the figure of a kneeling woman, and of a venerable man (Christ) extending his hand to help her, and that he had seen these statues with his own eyes at Paneas. In the same place he speaks also of pictures (probably Carpocratian) of Christ and the apostles Peter and Paul, which he had seen, and observes that these cannot be wondered at in those who were formerly heathen, and who had been accustomed to testify their gratitude towards their benefactors in this way.

The narrow fanatic Epiphanius of Cyprus († 403) also seems to have been an opponent of images. For when he saw the picture of Christ or a saint on the altar-curtain in Anablatha, a village of Palestine, he tore away the curtain, because it was contrary to the Scriptures to hang up the picture of a man in the church, and he advised the officers to use the cloth for winding the corpse of some poor person. This arbitrary conduct, however, excited great indignation, and Epiphanius found himself obliged to restore the injury to the village church by another curtain.

2. The prevalent spirit of the age already very decidedly favored this material representation as a powerful help to virtue and devotion, especially for the uneducated classes, whence the use of images, in fact, mainly proceeded.

Plastic representation, it is true, was never popular in the East. The Greek church tolerates no statues, and forbids even crucifixes. In the West, too, in this period, sculpture occurs almost exclusively in bas relief and high relief, particularly on sarcophagi, and in carvings of ivory and gold in church decorations. Sculpture, from its more finite nature, lies farther from Christianity than the other arts.

Painting, on the contrary, was almost universally drawn into the service of religion; and that, not primarily from the artistic impulse which developed itself afterwards, but from the practical necessity of having objects of devout reverence in concrete form before the eye, as a substitute for the sacred books, which were accessible to the educated alone. Akin to this is the universal pleasure of children in pictures.

The church-teachers approved and defended this demand, though they themselves did not so directly need such helps. In fact, later tradition traced it back to apostolic times, and saw in the Evangelist Luke the first sacred painter. Whereof only so much is true: that he has sketched in his Gospel and in the Acts of the Apostles vivid and faithful pictures of the Lord, His mother, and His disciples, which are surely of infinitely greater value than all pictures in color and statues in marble.

Basil the Great († 379) says “I confess the appearance of the Son of God in the flesh, and the holy Mary as the mother of God, who bore Him according to the flesh. And I receive also the holy apostles and prophets and martyrs. Their likenesses I revere and kiss with homage, for they are handed down from the holy apostles, and are not forbidden, but on the contrary painted in all our churches.” His brother, Gregory of Nyssa, also, in his memorial discourse on the martyr Theodore, speaks in praise of sacred painting, which “is wont to speak silently from the walls, and thus to do much good.” The bishop Paulinus of Nola, who caused biblical pictures to be exhibited annually at the festival seasons in the church of St. Felix, thought that by them the scenes of the Bible were made clear to the uneducated rustic, as they could not otherwise be; impressed themselves on his memory, awakened in him holy thoughts and feelings, and restrained him from all kinds of vice. The bishop Leontius of Neapolis in Cyprus, who at the close of the sixth century wrote an apology for Christianity against the Jews, and in it noticed the charge of idolatry, asserts that the law of Moses is directed not unconditionally against the use of religious images, but only against the idolatrous worship of them; since the tabernacle and the temple themselves contained cherubim and other figures; and he advocates images, especially for their beneficent influences. “In almost all the world,” says he, “profligate men, murderers, robbers, debauchees, idolaters, are daily moved to contrition by a look at the cross of Christ, and led to renounce the world, and practise every virtue.” And Leontius already appeals to the miraculous fact, that blood flowed from many of the images.

Owing to the difficulty, already noticed, of worthily representing Christ Himself, the first subjects were such scenes from the Old Testament as formed a typical prophecy of the history of the Redeemer. Thus the first step from the field of nature, whence the earliest symbols of Christ — the lamb, the fish, the shepherd — were drawn, was into the field of pre-Christian revelation, and thence it was another step into the province of gospel history itself. The favorite pictures of this kind were, the offering-up of Isaac — the pre-figuration of the great sacrifice on the cross; the miracle of Moses drawing forth water from the rock with his rod — which was interpreted either, according to 1Co_10:4, of Christ Himself, or, more especially — and frequently, of the birth of Christ from the womb of the Virgin; the suffering Job — a type of Christ in His deepest humiliation; Daniel in the lion’s den — the symbol of the Redeemer subduing the devil and death in the underworld; the miraculous deliverance of the prophet Jonah from the whale’s belly — foreshadowing the resurrection; (Comp. Mat_12:39, Mat_12:40) and the translation of Elijah — foreshadowing the ascension of Christ.

About the middle of the fifth century, just when the doctrine of the person of Christ reached its formal settlement, the first representations of Christ Himself appeared, even said by tradition to be faithful portraits of the original. From that time the difficulty of representing the God-Man was removed by an actual representation, and the recognition of the images of Christ, especially of the Madonna with the Child, became even a test of orthodoxy, as against the Nestorian heresy of an abstract separation of the two natures in Christ. In the sixth century, according to the testimony of Gregory of Tours, pictures of Christ were hung not only in churches but in almost every private house.

Among these representations of Christ there are two distinct types received in the church:

(1) The Salvator picture, with the expression of calm serenity and dignity, and of heavenly gentleness, without the faintest mark of grief. According to the legend, this was a portrait, miraculously imprinted on a cloth, which Christ Himself presented to Abgarus, king of Edessa, at his request. The original is of course lost, or rather never existed, and is simply a mythical name for the Byzantine type of the likeness of Christ which appeared after the fifth century, and formed the basis of all the various representations of Christ until Raphael and Michael Angelo. These pictures present the countenance of the Lord in the bloom of youthful vigor and beauty, with a free, high forehead, clear, beaming eyes, long, straight nose, hair parted in the middle, and a somewhat reddish beard.

(2) The Ecce Homo picture of the suffering Saviour with the crown of thorns. This is traced back by tradition to St. Veronica, who accompanied the Saviour on the way to Golgotha, and gave Him her veil to wipe the sweat from His face; whereupon the Lord miraculously imprinted on the cloth the image of His thorn-crowned head.

The Abgarus likeness and the Veronica both lay claim to a miraculous origin, and profess to be εἰκόνες ἀχειροποίηται, pictures not made with human hands. Besides these, however, tradition tells of pictures of Christ taken in a natural way by Luke and by Nicodemus. The Salvator picture in the Lateran chapel Sancta Sanctorum in Rome, which is attributed to Luke, belongs to the Edessene or Byzantine type.

With so different pretended portraits of the Lord we cannot wonder at the variations of the pictures of Christ, which the Iconoclasts used as an argument against images. In truth, every nation formed a likeness of its own, according to its existing ideals of art and virtue.

Great influence was exerted upon the representations of Christ by the apocryphal description of his person in the Latin epistle of Publius Lentulus (a supposed friend of Pilate) to the Roman senate, delineating Christ as a man of slender form, noble countenance, dark hair parted in the middle, fair forehead, clear eyes, faultless mouth and nose, and reddish beard. An older, and in some points different, description is that of John of Damascus, or some other writer of the eighth century, who says: “Christ was of stately form, with beautiful eyes, large nose, curling hair, somewhat bent, in the prime of life, with black beard, and sallow complexion, like his mother.”

No figure of Christ, in color, or bronze, or marble, can reach the ideal of perfect beauty which came forth into actual reality in the Son of God and Son of man. The highest creations of art are here but feeble reflections of the original in heaven, yet prove the mighty influence which the living Christ continually exerts even upon the imagination and sentiment of the great painters and sculptors, and which He will exert to the end of the world.