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A THEOLOGY OF THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT justice Empowerment Redemption T J GORRINGE CAMBRIDGE 1 UNIVERSITY PRESS PUBLISHED BY THE PRESS SYNDICATE OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE The Pitt Building Trumpington Street Cambridge United Kingdom CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS The Edinburgh Building Cambridge CB2 2RU UK 40 West 20th Street New York NY 10011 4211 USA 477 Williamstown Road Port Melbourne VIC 3207 Australia Ruiz de Alarcon 13 28014 Madrid Spain Dock House The Waterfront Cape Town 8001 South Africa httpwww cambridgeorg TJ Gorringe 2002 This book is in copyright Subject to statutory exception and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press First published 2002 Printed in the United Kingdom at the University Press Cambridge Upeface Baskerville Monotype 11 125 pt system IATEX 28 TB A catalogue record r this book is available from the British Library Library f Congress Cataloguing in Publication a ata ISBN 0 521 81465 0 hardback ISBN 0 521 89144 2 paperback Contents Pre ace The theology of the built environment 2 Constructed space and the presence of God 3 The land 4 The human dwelling 5 From Eden toJerusalem town and country in the economy of redemption 6 The meaning of the city 7 Constructing community 8 But is it art 9 God nature and the built environment 10 Towards Jerusalem Select bibliograpyz Index of names Index of subjects page ix 26 5o 79 222 241 262 275 280 CHAPTER I The theology of the built environment Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates Deuteronomy 66 9 To be human is to be placed to be born in this house hospital stable according to Luke or even as in the oods in Mozambique in 2000 in a tree It is to live in this council house semidetached tower block farmhouse mansion It is to go to school through these streets or lanes to play in this alley park garden to shop in this market that mall to work in this factory mine of ce farm These facts are banal but they form the fabric of our everyday lives structuring our memories determining our attitudes How as Christians should we think of them Are they a proper subject for theological re ection Here and there great theologians notably Aquinas and Calvin have glanced in this direction but the built environment forms no locus in theological ethics except insofar as it has dealt with land and property and with the city as a metaphor for community or our nal destinationI It is in ethics that theology has engaged with the concrete with war economics work sexuality Why not then with the built environment We are invited to do that by the very terminology involved Paul constantly urges his congregations to edify one another The word edify comes from the Latin oede eare to build2 The metaphorical use of the word points to a profound truth about the built environment Form follows function buildings serve a purpose For good or ill buildings from the humblest garden shed to the grandest cathedral make moral statements Learning from Barth I take it for granted that for the theologian ethics and dogmatics cannot be separated They are continuous sections I Land is the theme of the third chapter and the city of the sixth 2 A point made by K Harries The Ethical Function y Arohiteoture Cambridge Mass MIT 1998 p 11 The Greek word Paul uses oikoo omeo has the same literal and metaphorical meaning I 2 A Theology oft1e Built Environment on the theological railway not a main line dogmatics and a branch line ethics In that case what is called for is a theological reading of the built environment This will differ from other ethical accounts in its reference to a primarily narrative frame Like teleological ethics it will raise the question of the purpose of our building and planning it will always ask about context and to this extent resemble situation ethics in the ongoing debate which constitutes church life it will seek to discern the command of God in this area as in others in all cases it will be concerned with the way in which the built environment furthers human virtue or destroys it But in each case it will do so in reference to the narratives which give us our account of the Triune God the stories of creation reconciliation redemption To the question Where do we nd the measure of the validity of a given form of architecture or planning it will reply precisely in these narratives and their explication3 The point of this is not of course to teach planners and architects what to do As Hans Urs von Balthasar has said Christianity has no direct competence in the realm of worldly structures This has not pre vented theologians from drawing up quite precise guidelines for eco nomic structures as in the theories of the just price and the just wage and in Catholic Social Teaching or for armed combat as in the socalled just war theory These theories follow because as von Balthasar goes on the gospel sends Christians into the world with an image of the human whereby and according to which they are to organise its struc tures as responsibly as they can 4 Perhaps this is still to state the matter too ecclesiocentrically In his work in Finnish cities Seppo Kjellberg has sought to understand theology as a science of reconciliation promoting interdisciplinary dialogue bringing all concerned with questions of the built environment together but offering as its own perspective an under standing of the overall purpose of humankind within creation5 We can accept this if we understand reconciliation in Barth s sense as the vivi fying and revolutionary action of God within human community seeking the realisation of life in all its fullness for all people If reconciliation meant the Church adopting a managerial role mediating between rich and poor bosses and workers oppressors and oppressed pouring the oil of middle axioms on the troubled waters of social con ict it would certainly be untrue to the gospel Christianity brings to all debates about 3 Ibid p 12 4 H Urs von Balthasar Liberation Theology in the Light of Salvation History inJ V Schall ed Liberation Theology in Latin America San Francisco Ignatius Press 1982 p 144 5 S Kjellberg Urban EeoTieology Utrecht International Books 2000 p 26 The theology of the built environment 3 the structures of the world through which we reproduce ourselves eco nomics social and criminal justice but also town planning and build ing its understanding of God become esh whereby and according to which as von Balthasar says they build In view of the silence of the tra dition it is essential to insist that Christian theology has at its core a vision of the human which is especially pertinent to the built environment In his YEn Books of Architecture written in the rst century BC the Roman architect and engineer Marcus Vitruvius Pollio gave a description of the geometry of the human body which formulated the principles of classical architecture rediscovered and taken up again at the Renaissance6 For many centuries this perception provided the ground rules for an archi tectural practice which was by de nition humanist which sought and built according to human scale For Vitruvius in fact we become human only as we build7 In the twentieth century another architect Rudolph Schwartz who regarded ethics as determinative for architecture gave further expression to this principle8 Building he said is done with the whole body so that it is the movements of the body which create living space What then comes into being is rst and foremost circumscribed space shelter living space ceremonial space a space which replaces the space of the world We could almost say and indeed it is true that building is based on the inner spaciousness of the body on the knowledge of its extent and the form of its growth on the knowledge of its articulation and of its power to expand Indeed it is with the body that we experience building with the outstretched arms and the pacing feet with the roving glance and with the ear and above all else in breathing Space is dancingly experienced9 6 The passage runs For if a man be placed at on his back with his hands and feet extended and a pair of compasses centred at his navel the ngers and toes of his two hands and feet will touch the circumference of a circle described therefrom And just as the human body yields a circular outline so too a square gure may be found from it For if we measure the distance from the soles of the feet to the top of the head and then apply that measure to the outstretched arms the breadth will be found to be the same as the height as in the case of plane surfaces which are perfectly square Vitruvius The n Books y Architecture tr M Morgan Cambridge Mass Harvard University Press 1914 p 73 Leonardo produced a classical illustration of this claim See on this the excellent discussion in M Ostwald and R John Moore Dig39ecta Membra The Architect The Serial Killer His Victim anal Her Medical Examiner Sydney Arcadia Press 1998 Vitruvius Ten Books Book 2 ch 1 p 38 Speaking in 1951 to architects concerned with rebuilding in Germany he told them I am terribly sorry to say this but you only get a house by marrying and by devoting yourself to that great law That may well be much more demanding than designing a house with wonderfully large windows But I don t think we can arrive at a house in any other way And this should be the rst step towards establishing a decent house then a village then a city Quoted in Harries Function 13 363 9 R Schwartz The Church Incarnate Chicago Chicago University Press 1958 p 27 my italics COI 4 A Theology of the Built Environment This is a profound expression of the Vitruvian view though the con clusion is more of an eschatological hope than a lived reality In the twentieth century such humanist architecture was more the exception than the rule as this kind of humanism was discarded in favour of a brutalist technocracy for which man was a machine and buildings accordingly machines for living in 10 At the same time from Patrick Geddes onwards sociologists have seen that if utopia cannot be pro duced by building better at least the reverse is true that there are environments which generate crime and physical and mental ill health11 Balthasar is right in relation to the built environment the recovery of a new humanism is an urgent need and in this Christian theology as one dialogue partner amongst many certainly has a role to play Kjellberg however points out that the anthropocentrism of earlier Christian the ology is inadequate What is needed is what he calls a cosmological holism which understands creation and incarnation doctrine and ethics together12 Balthasar is right that the church s involvement in the city was always based on the doctrine of the incarnation the idea of the humanity of God 13 However he seems to have forgotten what otherwise he has learned from Barth that there is no theological assertion without its ethical correlate It is not just Christian anthropology which determines our activity but all the propositions of the creed Christian faith brings the whole Trinitarian economy of creation reconciliation anal redemption to its rg lection on the world I shall therefore be attempting a Trinitarian re ec tion in what follows A Trinitarian theological ethic will also I shall argue be a theology of grace and for that very reason a theology of liberation Barth gave his entire Dogmatics a Trinitarian structure He had there fore an ethics of creation and planned an ethics of reconciliation and of 0 The slogan of Le Corbusier On these grounds Harries notes that it is possible to charge mod ernism with moral failure Function p 9 See further on this the discussion in chapter 7 2 Kjellberg Urban EcoTheology p 17 I3 I cannot agree with Elaine Graham s criticism of the incarnational theology of Faith in the Gib as the perfect expression of the Church of England s position in a settled harmonious social order Theology in the City Ten Years after Faith in the CiD Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 781 1996 p 184 Incarnation can be an expression of the status quo but for the Christian socialist tradition in which the Report stands it was always a reminder that God identi ed with the poor and that justice demanded concrete and more egalitarian expression Harvey notes that the socialist utopian literature of the nineteenth century contains a powerful and important critical element Spaces f Hope Edinburgh Edinburgh University Press 2000 p 195 The same applies to the views of the incarnation To appeal to the incarnation as the ground of a humanist architecture is queried by both Schopenhauer who criticised the Christian aspiration to verticality as opposed to the horizontal which stays close to the earth and by Bloch who contrasts Greek corporealhumane proportions with Christian otherworldly ones The Principle f Hope Oxford Blackwell 1986 p 716 But the incarnation which begins with a story set in a cow shed is precisely what announces a this worldly intention I H The theology oft1e built environment 5 redemption Different aspects of human life were grouped by him under these headings For example he dealt with the relations of women and men with work with respect for life under creation As that which forms our third skin however I want to argue that the built environ ment relates to every area of Christian ethics and that only a Trinitarian ethic an ethic of creation reconciliation and redemption is adequate to explore it It is a fundamental principle of Trinitarian theology that opera Trinitatis aa extra indivisa sunt the works of God cannot be divided If it is God who acts it is God who acts not parts of God for God is indivisi ble At the same time the Church has always spoken of appropriations whereby we speak of some forms of divine activity more especially in terms of one person of the Trinity than another In relation to the built environment we can say that God the Creator is the one who brings order out of chaos and is therefore the source of all order and of the planning which gives form to our world The perspective of creation points us away from the anthropocentric city to one in which the wider ecology is fundamentally respected God the Reconciler is the one who breaks down the walls of partition both between God and humans and between humans themselves God is therefore the source of all attempts to realise community and of the justice without which community cannot survive God the Redeemer is the author of all dreams and visions the author of the imagination which seeks the new Jerusalem and anticipates it in structures here and now One or other of these appropriations lies behind my attempt to think through the question of the built environ ment theologically in each of the chapters that follow I speak here of God the origin and end of good which is to say creative reconciling redeeming human action A major strand of theological re ection has wanted to con ne truly good action within the sphere of the Church We cannot say that the great pagans had true virtues said Augustine The best we can allow is that they did not depart from virtue very much14 I cannot share this view God sustains in being all that is works in and through all events and elicits response in all created reality It is of course foundational to Christian faith that God works through history through the particularity of Israel of Jesus of Nazareth of the Church In no way do I wish to reduce these historical particularities to myth or symbol But the Christian scriptures are quite clear that God is not con ned to Israel and Church and they invite us 4 Augustine Contra julz39anum 432 5 This conclusion follows because without faith it is impossible to please God Heb 116 He wrestles with the issue from 318 on This is probably the most intransigent of his Anti Pelagian treatises 6 A Theology of the Built Environment therefore to move from the narrative of the particular to discern God at work in all things Redemption was nished neither on Calvary nor at the resurrection The work of redemption is continued by the Holy Spirit The Messianic writings the narratives which speak of the life death and resurrection ofJesus together with all the texts which they presuppose provide us with criteria to discern that work15 It is on these grounds that Aquinas when turning his mind to the city noted that there are two aspects of the work of God in the world creation and governance and invited rulers and planners to an analogous practice One who is about to establish a city or a realm must in the rst place choose a suitable site healthy to ensure the health of the inhabitants fertile to provide for their sustenance one which will delight the eye with its loveliness and give natural security against hostile attack Having chosen the site the next task which confronts the founder of a city or a kingdom is to plan the area to meet all the requirements of civic life one must decide where to build towns and where to leave the countryside open or to construct forti cations centres of study open places for military training and markets all have to be taken into consideration otherwise neither city nor kingdom would long endure attackI6 This activity the activity of establishing a city and setting up civic life is not outwith the remit of theology and Church precisely because of God s activity in creation and providence If God is active and not absent then faith in the activity of that God informs our building and planning Because God is the Creator says Elaine Scarry making is set apart and honoured as the most morally authoritative of acts creating divine resonances amongst other places at the doorway of the house and the gateway of the city In imaging God as Creator the Hebrew bible conceives the whole cosmos as the proper territory for acts of arti ce and intelligence These are not autonomous but represent responses to the Creator Spirit There were of course very good reasons for the emergence of the divide between sacred and secular speci cally the desire to avoid the worst of all forms of government theocracy18 Here above all we see how religion can lead us into the valley of the shadow of death In this as in 15 In his condemnation of liberal theology Graham Ward seems to me to miss this point There is a difference between reducing incarnation cruci xion resurrection to metaphors and learning from them how it is that God acts and seeking to discern God in the world in the light of them Cities y Goo London Routledge 2000 p 43 16 Aquinas On Princely Government ch 13 in Selected Political Writings ed A D Entreves Oxford Blackwell 1948 17 E Scarry The Body in Pain Oxford Oxford University Press 1985 p 222 18 I read thus Marsiglio of Padua s Defensor Pacis which in 13 24 already argued for a properly secular realm He had every reason for being sceptical of the claims of the Church The theology oft1e built environment 7 other areas recognition of the Lordship of Christ over every aspect of life is a quite different matter from the tutelage of the Church over every area or even the belief that piety is always what promotes true human integrity19 But this political need cannot blind us to the foundational impossibility of generalising the divide A Trinitarian theology cannot allow a secular and sacred divide in which secular occupations are left to the non theologians and theology con ned to specialists Rather the rationale of such a theology will be a discernment of God active in God s world This includes the built environment This seems to be straightfor ward but as I have noted the written tradition is largely silent about this and amongst many Christians the secular sacred prejudice is still strong When you announce a lecture on the theology of the built environment people expect you to talk about churches and are disappointed when you do not This book is not about churches but about supposedly secular buildings and settlements To answer the disappointment of those who look for a book on sacred buildings and places I begin by considering the reasons for the silence of theology about the built environment and ways we might go about such theological re ection GOD IN THE EVERYDAY BUILT ENVIRONMENT Writing about the suburban house John Archer remarks that eighteenth century European thought had articulated a number of fundamental po larities subjectobject public private masculine feminine but that such distinctions had no more than putative existence until they could be realized in the material domain of everyday life 20 One may doubt both that Archer s polarities are the invention of the eighteenth century and that they are exclusively European but he is right that ideologies are only of consequence when they impinge on the material domain of everyday life through legal and political codes social practices and the shaping of space The built environment which provides us with all the most direct frequent and unavoidable images and experiences of everyday life is never just happenstance21 It re ects conscious decisions which in 9 As Blake puts it in The Marriage f Heaven and Hell Let the Priests of the Raven of dawn no longer in deadly black with hoarse note curse the sons of joy Nor his accepted brethren whom tyrant he calls free lay the bound or build the roof For every thing that lives is Holy Complete Writings ed G Keynes Oxford Oxford University Press 1969 p 160 2 Archer Colonial Suburbs in South Asia 1700 1850 and the Spaces of Modernity in R Silverstone ed Visions y Suburbia London Routledge 1997 p 52 2 M SmithJ Whitelegg and N Williams Greening the Built Environment London Earthscan 1998 p 13 8 A Theology of the Built Environment turn re ect ideologies and class positions22 Grasped as an image says Heinrich Rombach the basic character of a farmhouse says a great deal more about the spirit of the country and a style of building reveals more of the basic philosophy of a period than the carefully smoothed out texts of the school philosophy of that time 23 Not just farmhouses we have to add but council estates tower blocks and out of town shopping centres and not just philosophy but theology Theology as one form of ideology plays its part in the shaping of space and not just in overtly religious buildings nor just in pre secular societies I have insisted that a Trinitarian theology eliminates any fundamental distinction between sacred and secular This seems to be a paradoxical claim the moment we look at the built environment for humans have everywhere marked out sacred space from the secular Karsten Harries suggests that the history of building forms an ellipse between the private and the public domestic and pedigreed The archetypal version of the latter in his view is the church or temple we must add mosque24 There is he insists a necessary dialectic between these two forms in that it is the whole point of architecture by which he means the non domestic to take leave of the everyday and then return to it with fresh eyes25 I think we cannot escape this ellipse but it is not unproblematic from the perspective of the Christian tradition Karl Barth noted that Christianity showed a certain preference for the oppressed those falling short for the immature and the sullen26 I would put it slightly differently and say that we nd in Scripture classically in the Magni cat a prefer ence for the everyday the modest humble and ordinary and we cannot but take account of that in re ecting on the built environment This leaves us with an embarrassment because to be interested in architecture is to be concerned almost solely with what I will call following Red eld the great tradition 27 Red eld distinguishes between the great tradition the written and celebrated the work of the philosophers historians the ologians the learned and the little tradition which for the most part comes to us only in scraps in folk memories songs tales and ballads in pamphlets crudely written One of the remarkable things about the 22 Cf S Giedion the main task facing contemporary architecture is the interpretation of a way of life valid for our period Space Time and Architecture 5th edn Cambridge Mass Harvard University Press 1974 p xxxii 23 Quoted in G Pattison Art Moderniyr and Faith London SCM 1998 p 142 24 Harries Function p 286 25 Ibid p 291 26 K Barth The Epistle to the Romans tr E Hoskyns London Oxford University Press 1933 p 463 27 R Red eld Peasant SocieD and Culture Chicago University of Chicago Press 1956 ch 3 The theology of the built environment 9 New Testament is that it contains so many documents which bear the marks of the little tradition written in a Greek which was an acute em barrassment to the rst educated Christians In the built environment the great tradition means the work of prestigious architects or planners whilst the little tradition corresponds to the work of unknown crafts men who have left their mark on every ancient village town and city Christianity I shall claim is wedded to the little tradition This would not be contentious were it not for what seems to be the elective af nity between Christianity and the great tradition in music art literature and perhaps above all building Since one of my aims is to champion precisely the little tradition in the built environment I will substantiate my claim about the Christian marriage and by the same token ask about the reason for the deafening silence on the little tradition in architecture in Christian re ection Theology works between a triangle of text tradition and experi ence Tradition here almost invariably means the great tradition from Origen to Barth orJohn Milbank In this tradition it is true there have been many trends which have militated against a perception of God in our everyday built environment There has been in the rst instance a marked emphasis on the spiritual as opposed to the material on the priority of the eioitas Dei to the eioitas terrena We crave freedom from death deception and distress Augustine wrote and we will never have that in this life In our present state what human being can live the life he wishes when the actual living is not in his control life will only be truly happy when it is eternal 28 The problem with this Platonising train of re ection is that it rules out true happiness in this life and in so doing relativises the signi cance of what we do here Even in the late twentieth century with all its hedonism activism and emphasis on the pleasures of the body prominent represen tatives of this view could be found Thus Edward Norman in his 1978 Reith Lectures claimed that the true Christ of history directed people to turn away from the preoccupations of human society and characterised Christianity as the evocation of the unearthly 29 No theological under standing of the built environment could emerge from this theology Such a theology is interested only in church building and in building which seeks to evoke the unearthly at that But such a theology shortchanges the world in which we live As Nicholas Wolterstorff remarks 28 Augustine The Gig y Goa Book 142 5 29 E Norman Christianiyr and the WEer Order Oxford Oxford University Press 1979 pp 78 9 10 A Theology oft1e Built Environment The tragedy of modern urban life is not only that so many in our cities are oppressed and powerless but also that so many have nothing surrounding them in which any human being could possibly take sensory delight For this state of affairs we who are Christians are as guilty as any We have adopted a pietistic materialistic understanding of man viewing human needs as the need for a saved soul plus the need for food clothes and shelter True shalom is vastly richer than that30 On top of this relativising of the present has been an introspective tra dition which began with Augustine s Confessions and which has concen trated on the inner life at the expense of the active In medieval theology in particular there was a strong sense that communion with God required retreat the Cloister cutting oneself off from the everyday Unless a man has disentangled himself from all things created wrote Thomas a Kempis in the fteenth century he will not be free to make for the things of God and this was a representative View31 Richard Sennett s marvellously rich meditation on the urban order The Conscience oft1e Eye begins with precisely this prioritisation of interiority Nothing is more cursed in our culture he writes than the continuing separation between inner and outer It makes the places we live in puzzling to us The street is a scene of outside life and what is to be seen on the street are beggars tourists merchants students children playing old people resting a scene of human differences What is the relation of these differences to inner life The Augustinian tradition he says deprives us of the ability to make sense of them32 A further dif culty is symbolised by the medieval distinction based on the Latin of I Corinthians 7 25 between precepts binding on every one and counsels taken up by those who sought to be perfect which institutionalised a distinction between religious and everyday sacred and secular33 Those who took monastic vows and ful lled the counsels were the ones who led a truly Christian life Politically the division of powers between Pope and emperor corresponded to this distinction socially the division of realms between sacred and secular The need to nd God apart from the structures of everyday life found architectural expression in the theology of sacred space To say that the eucharist can only be celebrated on consecrated ground could be seen as denying the holiness 3 N Wolterstorff Art in Action Carlisle Solway 1997 p 82 3 Thomas a Kempis The Imitation y Christ London Burns amp Oates 1959 Book I ch 20a Book 111 ch 31 32 R Sennett The Conscience y the Eye New York Norton 1990 pp 9 10 33 Paul wrote Concerning virgins I have no commandment praeceptum of the Lord but I give my opinion consilium as one who by the Lord s mercy is trustworthy The theology of the built environment I I of creation as a whole To say one s prayers to encounter the divine one therefore went to special buildings set apart and within those buildings the chancel and altar area were in turn increasingly fenced off from the mundane world accessible only to the clergy In the middle ages at least sacred and secular architecture were distinguished in terms of vertical and horizontal axes the one reaching to heaven the other the temporal death shadowed dwelling on earth 34 I shall return to this distinction in the following chapter The Reformation represented an attack on many of these distinctions and the radical Reformation changed the idea of sacred space so that the house once again became church35 Sacred space however would not be pushed away In his famous essay The Sacred and the Profane Mircea Eliade argued that the distinction between sacred and profane was prob ably ineliminable even in the most secularised of worlds Human beings become aware of the sacred because it manifests itself shows itself as something wholly different from the profane though in and through objects that are an integral part of our natural profane world36 As a description of the sacramental I would regard this as unexceptionable The sacramental precisely refuses any division of realms It arises from a Trinitarian perception which sees God in all things even in sin and death the cross Eliade however with much of the Christian tradition goes on to talk of two fundamentally different orders of human experience so that we have sacred and profane space sacred time and ordinary time even sacred and profane love the practical implication of Nygren s Agape ana Eros The effect of the distinction is once again to mark off only one small area of experience as the sphere of encounter with God This is counter to any kind of Trinitarian perception but as we know the doctrine of the Trinity was for most of the Christian centuries hitherto virtually a dead letter In the nineteenth century the art for art s sake movement repre sented another version of this separation of realms There was art and all the rest was not art During this period says Benevolo Art took on the task of communicating emotion and organizing the language of the heart the urban setting was cut off from this process Art was stripped 34 Harries Function p 187 35 See for example Flora Thompson s account of the Methodist meeting in her hamlet in Lark Rise to Candle ra Oxford Oxford University Press 1954 ch 14 36 M Eliade The Sacred and the Prty ane New York Harcourt amp Brace 1959 p 11 He was drawing on Rudolf Otto s Die Heilige The Idea y The Holy published in 1917 which traced the root of religion to the numinous which broke in on the believer and left her trembling in awe and fear This experience was marked off as sharply as possible from the everyday 12 A Theology oft1e Built Environment from the city and became an experience speci c to certain spaces to be enjoyed during leisure time 37 When cities were ruthlessly rebuilt and only important buildings preserved quite apart from their original context the separation of art and life and the transfer of beauty to the separate sphere of entertainment and free time was reinforced38 Harries remarks that religion and art for art s sake have to be enemies because all religion claims integrative power39 I have put this differently in terms of the claims of God upon the whole of our life and the activity of God in the whole of life but I agree A new cause for the division of sacred and secular appeared when existentialism the philosophy which was to dominate the middle years of the twentieth century privileged the extraordinary boundary situa tions and the experience of angst over the everyday When Paul Tillich ed to the United States in 1933 he took his existentialism with him and was responsible for its dominance in Anglo Saxon theology until the end of the 1960s For Tillich the refusal of the division of sacred and secular was part of what he referred to as the Protestant principle and on a number of occasions he attempted short re ections on domestic building His audiences however repeatedly brought him back to churches and whilst much theological re ection on art may stem from Tillich no the ology of the everyday built environment developed from his theology40 Although Tillich himself believed any situation or reality might be a vehicle of ultimate concern I suspect that the concern of existentialism with anxiety or the boundary is the reason for this Before existentialism had reached the zenith of its in uence it was already Eric Auerbach writing in Istanbul during the Second World War who marked a reaction to these preoccupations He began by com paring the Hebrew bible with Homer and noted how in the latter the representation of daily life remains in the peaceful realm of the idyllic whereas in the Old Testament the sublime tragic and problematic take shape precisely in the domestic and commonplace The sublime in uence of God here reaches so deeply into the everyday that the two realms of the sublime and the everyday are not only actually unseparated but basically inseparable 41 In the New Testament we do not as is often suggested enter a more spiritualised world On the contrary as Auerbach puts it 37 L Benevolo The European Gib Oxford Blackwell 1993 p 164 38 Ibid p 180 39 Harries Function p 331 4 For his re ections on domestic architecture see ch 8 in On Art anal Architecture New York Crossroad 1989 and for the way audiences drew him back to church see ch 17 41 E Auerbach Mimesis Princeton Princeton University Press 1974 p 22 my italics The theology oft1e built environment 13 the story of Christ embraces a ruthless mixture of everyday reality and the highest and most sublime tragedy 42 This fact and the common language and style in which all this was recorded set a problem for the early Church Fathers who had to defend Christianity against the attacks of the educated and in so doing discovered that Scripture had created an entirely new kind of sublimity in which the everyday and the low were included not excluded so that in style as in content it directly connected the lowest with the highest 43 This I suggest will give us theological criteria for our understanding of the built environment The same is true of the generalisation of vocation by Luther at the Refor mation which tacitly ennobles the calling of the ordinary craftsman as against the exceptional genius what we shall later call in chapter 4 the vernacular against the pedigreed Others who helped to create the conditions for a theology of the every day built environment include Paul Tillich s contemporary Karl Barth His second commentary on Romans published in 1922 appropriated Otto s language of the ganz anders Wholly Other in order to use it to attack the very view of religion it represented Religion for Barth meant the domestication of grace the defusing of the danger of God in our midst On the edge of this attack was the sense that religion became a privileged preserve which squeezed God out of ordinary life This came into sharper focus in the course of resistance to Hitler when Barth had to oppose the Lutheran two kingdoms teaching With increasing clarity Barth sought to put Christ at the centre of all human life social and political as well as ecclesiastical and by implication trivial routine and humdrum as well as in the great events of war and revolution which he began by echoing in his work The implications of this can be seen in his great ethics of Creation Barth did not take up the theme of the built environment but we have to ask what are the implications of his attack on religion for this theme What are the implications of the Lordship of Christ over all as af rmed at Barmen in 1934 for the world we build Bonhoeffer famously developed Barth s attack on religion in his prison letters going on to ask how it was possible to speak in a secular way about God in order to understand God as really the Lord of the world 44 The questions posed by this letter have rung down the decades since Bonhoeffer s correspondence was rst published They were taken up especially by the secular city theologians of the 1960s The concern with 42 Ibid p 555 43 Ibid p 154 44 D Bonhoeffer Letters and Papers from Prison 3rd edn London SCM 1967 pp 280 1 14 A Theology oft1e Built Environment secularisation began shortly after the Second World War and the driving force was undoubtedly the massive fall off in church attendance but there was also a more positive side to it Led by Old Testament scholars like Von Rad theologians pointed out that the roots of secularisation lay not in the Enlightenment but in Scripture In Genesis for example sun moon and stars are desacralised they are there for street lighting and not to be worshipped The world is not an enchanted forest but a garden to till and keep The Exodus teaches us that no one rules by divine right and that all sacral politics can be challenged45 In the New Testament the idea of the holy is rede ned away from that which is set apart to a recognition of the common as itself holy the point of Peter s vision in Acts 1046 In The Secular City Harvey Cox argued that secularity was rooted in the Hebrew approach to history as a series of events beginning with Creation and heading towards a consummation The impact of Hebrew faith on the Hellenistic world mediated through the early Christians was to temporalise the dominant perceptions of reality so that the world became history part of the priority of time over space which was as sumed in most disciplines throughout the century The effect of this was to negate any distinction between sacred and secular for the secular or ordinary was the true sphere of God s operation Speaking about God in a secular fashion in his view requires placing ourselves at those points where the restoring reconciling activity of God is occurring where the proper relationship between people is appearing 47 Other theologians pointed out that the very etymology of the word profane demonstrates that it is an unacceptable category for Christians to use The word derives from the Latin profano ie before or outside the temple But according to Paul We are the temple of the living God I Cor 316 For Paul the temple is not a building but the community living in the world There cannot therefore be an idea of the profane as the sum total of common life outside the sphere of the holy48 From a very different standpoint Teilhard de Chardin insisted that by virtue of the Creation and still more of the Incarnation nothing here below is profane for those who know how to see it 49 45 H Cox The Secular Cry Harmondsworth Penguin 1965 p 46 46 S0 A Hake Theological Re ections on Community in A Harvey ed Theology in the Cry London SPCK 1989 p 57 47 Cox Secular Cit p 265 48 G Davies Eoerya cy God London SCM 1972 p 60 49 P Teilhard de Chardin LeMilieu Dioin Glasgow Collins 1967 p 66 The theology oft1e built environment I 5 If Eliade s two realms mean the desancti cation of the everyday then the implications of secularisation by contrast as Richard Niebuhr rightly observed is the sancti cation of all things What we learn from Scripture is that every day is the day that the Lord has made every nation is a holy people called by him into existence in its place and time and to his glory every person is sacred made in his image and likeness50 There is no doubt that the theology of the Secular City was wedded to the optimism of the early nineteen sixties especially in its embrace of that acme of Enlightenment ideas the notion that humankind had at last come of age 51 It was overly rationalistic and its critique of the city far too muted52 It succumbed to the danger of which Barth had warned of a loss of Christian distinctiveness following from in this case not so secret respect for the fashion of the world and secret respect for its glory 53 Ten years after Cox s book appeared the Green Movement and Celtic Christianity were urgently engaged in the reenchantment of nature in face of its ongoing destruction and sacral politics made a comeback with a vengeance It was a classic example of Dean Inge s famous remark that any theology which marries the Zeitgeist quickly becomes a widower What was right about it however was the celebration of a world in which God is continuously at work not just in the nature of the Romantic poets but also in the environments human beings produce for themselves As Seppo Kjellberg has remarked Cox was correct to understand the city as a man and Godmade process resembling the kingdom of God which is eschatologically forthcoming but also already present 54 That the world is fallen does not mean that goodness gratuity and divine creativity cannot be found in that world or that God is not active there What it calls for is discernment 5 H R N iebuhr Radical MonotLeism and western Culture London Faber 1961 p 52 5 I nevertheless do not nd that it is reducible without remainder to liberal correlationism or a craven submission to the values of consumer capitalism as Graham Ward maintains which is to miss Cox s insistence on prophecy Ward Cities y Gou p 47 Although the coming of age theme is for the most part patently absurd it should give us pause for thought that it is the author of The Cost QfDiSCZIJZeShZIJ who introduced it into the debate albeit unwittingly So Jonathan Raban Sty Gib Glasgow Collins 1974 There is in this theology he says an overweening emphasis on the rationality of the city especially in contrast with the countryside and he insists by contrast that there is a great deal of superstition in the city and its tribalisms The magic of the city he says is profoundly solipsistic selfbound and inward Its very ignorance of plan or creation is its most obvious strength One could not deduce the existence of God from the Portobello Road but one might register from it the force of the amoral the relative the anarchistic p 182 53 K Barth Church Dogmuties IVQ Edinburgh TampT Clark 1958 p 668 54 S Kjellberg Urban EeoTLeology p 109 H NJ 5 16 A Theology of the Built Environment TRINITARIAN DISCERNMENT To speak of God the Holy Spirit as God the Redeemer a practice learned from Karl Barth highlights the eschatological dimension of faith in God its aspect as critical hope in dialogue with all forms of secular utopia Mere optimism about the future of human accomplishment and progress is never adequate for Christian witness writes Ben Sparks There is an apocalyptic edge to the church s presence in the city which requires us to be both prophets and builders for the well being of all citizens 55 Where Sparks uses apocalyptic I would use eschatological but the sentiment stands56 Dreams visions and views of justice of course differ substantially amongst Christians as amongst everyone else Amongst liberation the ologians there is a move away from a substantive theology applied to diverse situations to a procedural theology where insight arises not from the application of timeless truths but from listening to the context in which God speaks 57 The problem is that contexts do not themselves speak What we have to do is to discern God in the context Any theol ogy which wants to speak of God in the world is subject to a discipline of discernment Test the spirits to see whether they are from God I John 41 In order to avoid bondage to some idolatry or other we need to measure our practices by revelation For this reason theology is as M M Thomas put it a spiritual source of constructive and discrim inating participation Certainly we should not seek any new revelation of God in any historical event other than the Christ event but faith in the divine revelation ofJesus Christ can be a key to understanding and discernment of God s creation judgement and redemption in secular history 58 Here Thomas moves from the centrality of the Christ event to the Trinitarian economy Nicholas Lash has argued that it is the task of the doctrine of the Trinity to obviate the danger of eliding God and the world and therefore falling into idolatry by insisting on both God s pres ence to the world and God s difference The doctrine gives us a grammar by which to speak of God Thus in the doctrine of the Spirit we learn to nd God in all life all freedom all creativity and vitality each 55 0 Ben Sparks III From Eden toJerusalem Interpretation 54 I January 2000 p 51 5quot Apocalyptic is an increasingly popular genre post Hiroshima and in the shadow of the environ mental crisis Its danger is luxuriating in hopes for an end for this wicked world Eschatology we have been taught by Moltmann prioritises hope 57 P Hackwood and P Shiner New Role for the Church in Urban Policy in M N orthcote ed Urban Theology A Reader London Cassell 1998 p 74 58 M M Thomas The Christian Response to the Asian Revolution London SCM 1966 p 22 The theology oft1e built environment 17 unexpected attainment of relationship and community 59 The doctrine of creation ex nizilo on the other hand insists on God s absolute differ ence from the world whilst the doctrine of the incarnation points us to the history of interpretative practice which teaches us to use the word God in the stories which take us from Exodus to Easter The doctrine of the Trinity therefore functions both to indicate where God is to be found and by denying at each point that what we nd there is to be simply identi ed with God to prevent us from getting stuck in one sidedness The doctrine thus leads at every turn to both af rmation and denial 60 It offers us in other words rules for discernment in un derstanding where God is in the everyday world This is not to say that faith is a matter of mere interpretation because as Lash argues the interpretations we offer make a difference to our experience itself just as being in relation or being in community do and that is the point of believing61 Drawing on the theology of Gregory Nazianzus Sigurd Bergmann offers a liberation theology of the built environment with a Trinitarian shape The relationships of the Triune God point us to community the cruci ed God points us to the simultaneous presence of good and evil the Spirit works in each place for human freedom62 I shall be taking up these suggestions in various ways in what follows GRACE AND THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT I have tried to argue that Christian re ection on the built environment will take the shape of a Trinitarian theological ethic re ecting on God in all reality and thus refusing the pre Christian distinction between sacred and secular This articulates itself as a theology of grace The word grace as part of Christian vocabulary we owe to Paul He took over a word in common parlance Charis translated by the Latin gratia and so by English grace which meant amongst other things charm beauty and spiritual energy and reinvented it in relation to his understanding of what had happened in Christ Charis means the fact that God works in weakness rather than in power 2 Cor 129 and signi es love in action Rom 61 Christ inaugurates a new order kata charin according to grace rather than 59 N Lash Easter in Ordinary Re ections on Human Experience anal the Knowledge y Goa London SCM 1988 p 267 60 Ibid p 267 61 Ibid p 248 62 S BergmannGeist a er Natur befreit Die trintariseLe Ifosmologie Gregor oon Nazianz im Horizont einer 6kologisenen Theologie a er Be eiung lVIainz Grunewald 1995 18 A Theology oft1e Built Environment kata opheilema according to what is due Rom 44 Because it stands for what God has done freely in Christ with no conditions or strings attached it means radical giftedness calling forth radical gift in return I Cor 12 By the same token it is about our absolute dependence the fact that I am a debtor to all to all I am boundenFellowman and beast season and solstice darkness and lightAnd life and death as Edwin Muir put it in The Debtor This great poem articulates what it means to live in response to grace namely in acknowledgement that I am not my own that I am bought with a price that I am a debtor to all Augustine emphasised the need for grace to live the Christian life though what he meant by the term was fatally distorted by his contro versy with Pelagius which forced him into extreme positions Drawing on his discussions Aquinas de ned grace as a kind of interior disposition infused into us which inclines us to act rightly something supernatural issuing in human persons from God 63 He also thought of the sacra ments as instrumental causes of grace instruments of divine power 64 Sacraments were therefore channels of grace Though these views on grace can be interpreted freely they fail to do justice to the radical quality of Paul s vision First in concentrating on the believing individ ual they underplay the sense in which creation is grace The fact that creation is grace acknowledged every time we say grace at meals is what illuminates the divine giftedness of everyday The word grace is not a reference to a power or in uence breaking through at certain key moments but a way of saying that the God who loves in freedom sustains the fabric of daily life including our own Sacraments signify precisely this65 What the eucharist signi es is not the existence of a sacred world set over against the profane requiring its own sacral space and time but rather the hallowing of the ordinary of bread wine labour and community Because creation is grace grace is concrete it meets us in what Padraic Pearse called the bulks of ordinary things and this of course includes buildings and settlements the places in which we live and work The theology of everyday life therefore is a theology of grace as a theology of gratuity of love for nothing and of joy in the minutiae of things Recognition that we live by grace puts an end to all notions of building the kingdom The insistence that we do not and cannot do 63 Aquinas Summa Theologiae 1a2ae 1081 1101 64 Ibid 3a 621 65 Martin Buber recognised this in saying that the world becomes a sacrament through God s in dwelling everything wants to become a sacrament The Origin and Meaning y Hasidism New York Horizon 1960 pp 96 181 The theology oft1e built environment 19 this has been an obligatory caveat in all liberation theology from the beginning and for good reason Dear NN Karl Barth wrote to an en thusiastic theological student who used this language in 1967 in speaking thus you do not contradict merely one insight but the whole message of the whole Bible If you persist in this idea I can only advise you to take up any other career than that of pastor 66 This seems to call in question Blake s famous verse I will not cease from Mental Fight Nor shall the Sword sleep in my hand Till we have builtJerusalem In England s green amp pleasant Land67 What is often not remarked is that Blake su ixes this poem with Numbers 1129 Would to God that all the Lord s people were Prophets a ref erence to the descent of the Spirit on elders who had not initially been ordained The poem is thus not Pelagian in intent at all but an ex pression of con dence in God s Spirit to remake human beings and therefore their world I have taken this text as the superscription for the whole book precisely for this reason and because it classically calls into question that reliance on either the state or technocratic exper tise which has so disabled people in relation to the built environment Building Jerusalem the city of justice peace and beauty is a project which will never be completed this side of the kingdom but it is a project to which we are called by the kingdom by grace abounding in the lives of sinners This was emphatically denied by the Calvinist sociologist and theolo gian Jacques Ellul who attacked the Thomist heresy that grace does not destroy nature but perfects it According to him the city is an at tempt to prolong the momentary gift of Christ s healing during his life on earth This is the tragedy of ideal cities the terrible problem of modern urbanism as of older utopianism not believing that this meeting with Christ is unique that it cannot be prolonged on earth that it is only a sign of the hidden kingdom and an announcement of the kingdom to come 68 Cities represent the hubristic attempt to build an ideal place for full human development equilibrium and virtue the attempt to con struct what God wants to construct and to put humankind in the centre in God s place 66 K Barth Letters 1961 1968 Edinburgh TampT Clark 1981 p 283 67 W Blake Milton Complete Writings ed G Keynes Oxford Oxford University Press 1969 p 480 68 Ellul The Meaning y tne Gib Grand Rapids Eerdmans 1970 p 130 20 A Theology oft1e Built Environment However whilst rejecting the Thomist doctrine of grace Ellul replaces it by a doctrine of pardon and acceptance which concretely amounts to the very same thing We learn from the myth of the heavenly city he says that the golden age will be characterised by an acceptance of history and not by its refusal69 Furthermore because Christ is Saviour and Lord of both creation and humankind he is also Saviour and Lord of human works To the extent that in Christ therefore the city is not devilish to the extent that it is destined to be trans gured we must work along with others in the construction of the city70 The city pardoned or gracious building a sign of the liberative activity of God at work in the depths of creation Whichever way we have it what is essential is to recognise that as Bonhoeffer put it God is indeed and in truth Lord of the world and therefore does not leave Godself without effect Grace is the word we use to talk about the way in which the liberating God works in the depth of the world Because God s Word does not return to God void Isa 551 I God s gracious activity has effects what Aquinas called created grace what we can call gracious living This gracious living is of course the very opposite of what is usually designated by this phrase It is however a fundamental reality in daily life and not least in the built environment Conversely and equally importantly the rejection of grace can also be seen writ large and in concrete and glass across our landscapes the reality of sin Sin calls for repentance which in this context means learning new ways of building and planning which follow justice and do not have a hubristic approach to creation Because the older tradition of grace concentrates on the believer and the sacraments it misses the political sense of the doctrine a sense on the whole not much remarked by the liberation theology of the late twentieth century7I The doctrine of grace of the gratuitousness of all things is however the most politically far reaching of all Christian doctrines If creation is grace if I am a debtor to all then self evidently life is not there to appropriate the bene ts for myself to hoard things over against others The only response to grace as Barth always insisted is gratitude which politically means the struggle for social justice It is precisely because he was a theologian of grace that Barth was a political theologian Grace as a political doctrine keeps the importance of the attempt to realise human equality on the agenda against the cynicism of realists of all kinds including theological realists Because as E M Wood puts it a humane social truly democratic and equitable capitalism is more 69 Ibid p 162 7 Ibid p 180 71 An exception is the work of L Boff Liberating Grace lVIaryknoll Orbis 1979
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