Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Geometry Of Love

The Geometry Of Love:

Space, Time, Mystery, and Meaning in an Ordinary Church

By Margaret Visser

Open Road, June 2015


The concept is clever: by studying, in minute and gratifying detail, the history, architecture, adaptation, structure, decoration and liturgical use of the ancient church of  St Agnes in Rome, it acts as a guidebook to the structure and meaning of a huge number of other traditional churches too, and by and large, it works exceptionally well.

When reading this book, I vacillated between thinking that it was a really good piece of scholarly research, which the author has managed to make humorous, lucid and thoroughly enjoyable as well as enlightening, and then falling into stunned speechlessness at some of the comments made.

Having been familiar with the Western liturgy of Holy Saturday and the Easter Vigil since I was a small child, and having read reasonably widely around the subject myself, I was more than a little disconcerted to read:

"The priest may plunge the paschal candle’s base into the font: fire uniting with water, vertical intersecting with horizontal, Christ entering the waters of Jordan at his baptism, the fiery Spirit “making the water fruitful.” The gesture insists on the conjunction of opposites, and creates an image decidedly sexual."

Really? Of all the things that spring to my mind when thinking of the symbolism of this ceremony, sexual imagery relating to this solemn act is really and truly the farthest thing from my mind and certainly would be looked at askance by my Catholic, Anglo-Catholic and Western-Rite Orthodox friends who share essentially the same ritual as described above.

The subject of relics also makes for interesting reading:

"The bones of saints, for instance, were often believed to have intrinsic power (in other words they could work magic), and were kept like fetishes."

This may indeed have been the case on occasion, but there is no satisfactory mention of the actual official theology behind the cult of relics, that due to the grace of holy baptism, the body has become the temple of the Holy Spirit and that the relics of those saints who through martyrdom for Christ or by leading lives of exemplary sanctity, retain undimmed the grace and power bestowed.

There are other issues too, but I must stress that by and large, I greatly enjoyed the book and appreciate the huge amount of hard work which has been put into it. Pictures truly do not always do such subjects justice, but I do think it would have been nice to have had some illustrations included.

This book has certainly whetted my appetite to visit this remarkable church.

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