Project Canterbury

Paraments of the Lord's House

By the Rev. G. U. Wenner, D.D.

Read before the Lutheran Liturgical Association, Pittsburgh, Pa., May 23, 1904.

PARAMENTS is an unusual word in English. It is defined in the Standard Dictionary, "rich and ornamental clothes and furniture." Webster cites this line from Chaucer which indicates its ancient meaning: "Lords in paraments on their coursers." It is derived from paro, to prepare, through the later Latin paramentum. In English it refers usually to the ornamental hangings and furniture of state apartments, and the clothing of royal and other exalted personages. In German the word has an ecclesiastical meaning. Paramentics is the art of church decoration. Narrow use confines it to textile fabrics. Wider use applies it to all forms of church decoration and furniture. Among Protestant writers on the subject are Meurer, [Altarschmuck. Ein Beitrag zur Paramentik in der Evangelischen Kirche von Lic. MORITZ MEURER. Leipzig, 1867] Beck, [Soli Deo! Ein Wort zu Nutz und Ehren der evangelischen Paramentik. VON MARTIN EUGEN BECK. Leipzig, 1885] Schaefer [Ratgeber fuer Anschaffung und Erhaltung von Paramenten. Berlin, 1897] and Buerkner [Kirchenschmuck und Kirchengeraet. VON RICHARD BUERKNER. Gotha, 1892]. The sainted Löhe, amid all his labors for the sick and the poor, and his world-wide missionary work, found time to promote its study and development in the churches. In England and Germany a knowledge of the art is required of those who build or reconstruct churches. In America word and thing were until recently almost unknown. Hence so many of our churches look more like drawing-rooms or theatres than houses of God.

The subject is worthy of greater attention than it has received. Ministers of the Lord's House should know something of its furnishings, and intelligent laymen would take a new delight in their house of worship if they understood the art of decorating it in a fitting manner. As George Herbert quaintly says: "They who love God's house will like His household stuff." Luther, with all his hostility to the mummeries of Romanism, its vestments, its caps and its bells, at a critical time in his career, forsook the protection of the Wartburg in order that he might put a stop to the ravages of the iconoclasts. "I do not believe," said he, "that art is to be overthrown by the Gospel, as some hyperspiritual people maintain, but I should like to see all the arts placed in the service of Him Who made them."

When we see a private house furnished with good taste, with tapestries, carvings and pictures, and when we accompany the family to its place of worship to find there an absence of art, or else a superfluity of decoration, and that too of a secular character, does it not recall the words with which David reproached himself: "See now, I dwell in an house of cedar, but the ark of Lord dwelleth within curtains." In the vision of the epiphany, as given in the sixtieth chapter of Isaiah, we are told not only of the Gentiles who shall come to His light and kings to the brightness of His rising, but also "The glory of Lebanon shall come unto Thee, the fir tree, the pine tree, and the box together, to beautify the place of My sanctuary, and I will make the place of My feet glorious."

Whatever the style of architecture may be, the house of worship should bear the impress of the purpose to which it is dedicated. It should distinctly say to him who enters "This is he house of the Lord." The earliest style of buildings, after Christianity emerged from the obscurity to which the persecutions of the first three centuries condemned it, was the basilica. The name expresses the conviction of the Christian conscience that the house of the Lord must be a royal house, a house of beauty. [Mr. Ruskin says that those who built the Gothic churches really believed hey were building dwelling-places for Christ, and they wished to make them as comfortable and beautiful for Him as they could. The facade of Amiens bears out his idea, for the central figure in it is Christ, called "the good God of Amiens," Who welcomes all who come to enter its portals and gives them His benediction." Churches and Castles of Mediaeval France.]

Löhe, in his plea for the beautification of the church, shows how sin, proceeding from man, affected all created things. "The whole creation groaneth." But since God has begun in Christ to heal humanity, it is the mission of sanctified man to sanctify the creature, and to bring it back again to holy uses, so that it may also be delivered from the curse and restored to a beauty exceeding even that of the primal Paradise. The whole earth shall be full of His glory. In the meantime the Church establishes stations on the way, habitations of peace, wherein we may be reminded how fair shall be that Paradise in which our eyes shall see the King in His beauty. This is the secret purpose of the Church when she builds and adorns her sanctuaries. From an inexhaustible store of truth she finds a thousand ways of confessing her faith, not only in the spoken word and the harmonies of music and poetry, but also in architecture and sculpture, in painting and embroidery.

Architecture does not belong to the scope of this paper. For it no apology is needed. It is when we come to the interior of many modern churches that our hearts grow heavy. Large sums of money are wasted for decorations that are incongruous in design and secular in spirit, and therefore convey to the eye and heart no message of sanctity and religion. Sometimes it is an ambitious churchliness which constructs altars and chancels with appurtenances which mean nothing to the Protestant worshipper. Again, the spirit of imitation leads many congregations to sew patches of ecclesiastical decoration on the garments of anti-ritualistic simplicity, without regard to the fitness of things. There may be a wealth of display in the carpets and windows and furniture, but if the decoration is not in harmony with the place, it produces an atmosphere that is foreign to the spirit of devotion.

The present era of prosperity is marked by the erection of many new houses of worship, and the reconstruction of old ones. An improved churchly taste is manifest. This is gratifying. But unfortunately the only available models of churchliness are taken from a denomination whose canons differ somewhat from those of our Church, and it is humiliating to find that a new Lutheran church is nothing but a second edition of an Episcopal church, not revised and improved. While there is an improvement on the unæsthetic simplicity of the past it is much to be regretted that pains are not taken to produce a more truly Lutheran style of church decoration. This style will be found in the via media between Roman Catholicism and Reform. Our fathers accepted the Roman Catholic churches as they were, only removing the most objectionable features. But in building new churches we should not merely repristinate with moderate criticism, we should reconstruct along the lines of our liturgical canons. These canons are:

I. Historical conservatism; 2. Adaptation to modern conditions; 3. Expression of Lutheran principles of worship.

A small handbook on this subject would prove of great value intending builders of churches.

Articles of church furniture in general use are the pulpit, the reading desk, the table and the font. Some churches have the pulpit only. In this case the church is an auditorium. The preacher stands in the focus of all eyes. He is the chief actor, the dominant figure.

No one denies the paramount importance of preaching, nevertheless congregations worshipping in an auditorium suffer distinct loss. There is a dramatic value in the action involved L the use of the lectern, the table and the font. From the reading desk the minister delivers to the people the Holy Scriptures, le inspired Word of God. From the pulpit it is the voice of the herald or messenger. From the table and font are distributed the sacramental gifts. For sacrificial purposes the table becomes an altar where the minister, in the name of the congregation, presents the sacrifices of prayer, praise and thanksgiving. These are valid distinctions in acts of worship and their value and significance are worthy of consideration on the part of the advocates of extreme simplicity.

The earliest Christian altars were simple tables made of wood, specimens of which may still be found among the treasures if the churches in Rome. The oldest of all, at which the Apostle Peter himself is said to have ministered, is a simple slab mounted on a single pedestal. The New Testament speaks only of the Table of the Lord, (I Corinthians 10, 21), although the symbolism of the Supper is also presented in this passage.

The change in the form of the altars was brought about by the dogmatic delusion which transformed the Lord's Supper into the Sacrifice of the Mass, and still more by the relation which the altar was made to take to the graves of the martyrs. The form of the altars, as the Reformation found them, was to a great extent the expression of a doctrinal system which Protestants repudiate.

Nevertheless Luther proceeded in a conservative manner, being more concerned about the preaching of the Gospel than questions of ritual. He made no changes that were not absolutely required. "We must bide our time," he said.

But the Renaissance, a secular movement running parallel with the Reformation, produced important changes in the structure of the altar, and its work was for the worse. With no religious principle to guide it, it gave free play to its aesthetic impulses in designing friezes and architraves and facades of colossal dimensions. Even the Romanists were outdone in obscuring the original significance of the Lord's Table.

What is the significance of the altar? The altar is first of all the Table of the Lord. Any other view of it is alien to our doctrine. For this reason, Löhe, whom some regard a very high churchman, says "The location of the altar is higher than the nave, in order that the congregation may be witnesses of all that takes place at the altar. But Protestants have no interest in placing the altar too high, because they repudiate the Sacrifice of the Mass and the worship of the Host, and because they cannot admit that there is a line of separation between the place of the sacrament and the priestly congregation."

In the second place the altar is the place of prayer. The acts of prayer which the minister performed in the name of the congregation were formerly intimately connected with the Communion Service. Hence also the acts of the benediction, such as confirmation, absolution, marriage and ordination, are properly performed at the altar. Here too may be presented the offerings, as "an odor of sweet smell, a sacrifice well-pleasing to God." (Phil. 4, 18; Heb. 13, 16).

In a figurative sense it is therefore not improper to speak of the Table of the Lord as an altar, and it is in this sense that Protestants use the term.

The chancel rail is found almost everywhere in American Lutheran churches. It marks a separation between ministers and people which the teaching of our Church does not recognize. Take it away.

With this review of the history and significance of the altar, to which neither the highchurchman nor the most radical antiritualist can justly take exception, we are prepared to inquire as to its proper place in the arrangement and decoration of the church.

On the one hand our altar will not be the high structure which our Episcopal and Lutheran brethren inherited from Rome and the Renaissance. Nor will it on the other hand be the little stand in front of the pulpit, resembling a piece of parlor furniture, serving on Communion days for the vessels and elements of the Sacrament, and on other days as a convenient receptacle for the hats and overcoats of the brethren.

Whether a celebration takes place or not, it is the Lord's Table in the Lord's House, and is therefore the most fitting symbol of the koinonia, the fellowship that characterized the earliest Church and that still binds believers together. It symbolizes also those sacrificial acts which are an essential part of all true worship. It should therefore be of goodly size, made of substantial material, and should occupy a prominent place in the choir, in sight of the whole congregation. It should be covered at all times, that is at every Service, with a white linen cloth. If the Table stands free, the cloth should project over the four sides. If it stands against the wall, the cloth should project over the front the width of a span, and over the ends a greater length.

As to the decorations which may be placed upon the altar, there is a difference of opinion. It is not very important and the discussion may be deferred. It is a question whether flower vases should be placed upon the table, but artificial flowers are unquestionably forbidden. In some churches the front and sides of the altar are covered with a costly cloth, suitably embroidered, known as the antependium. If the altar is made of sculptured stone, this is not necessary. But in any case a so-called antependium strip is a favorite form of decoration. It is made of wool or silk, is one-third as wide as the table, and covers the entire depth of the table and hangs for a considerable distance over the front. Its purpose is to tell in color and design the story of the particular Season in the Church Year.

The church colors ordinarily used in Lutheran churches are five in number: white, red, green, violet and black. White, according to Luther, "the color of the angels and the saints," is used on the Festivals of Christ, from Christmas eve to the end of the Epiphany, and from Easter to Ascension (Exaudi). Red, the majestic color of fire and blood, is the color of the Church. In garments of red she clothes herself on Whitsunday, the anniversary of her baptism by the Holy Ghost, and also on all Church anniversaries and mission festivals. Violet is the color of solemn meditation and preparation and is used during Advent and the Passion Season. Black is used on the anniversary of the Crucifixion. Green, the every-day and universal color of nature is used at other times.

As for the pulpit, its location is more important than its decoration. The great gulf that often separates the preacher from the people ought to be closed up. For textile fabrics on the pulpit there is little need. The pounding of the pulpit cushion is an unsanitary proceeding. But for wood carving or for metal work there is a wide field for the artist. The draught of fishes afforded a suggestive subject for a carving on an oaken pulpit.

The lectern is sometimes regarded as an innovation in our American churches. Few German churches in this country have it, and it looks as though we had borrowed it from the Episcopalians. But such is not the case. They are a survival of the ancient ambo, and at least in Middle Germany are to be found in many of our churches. Where they have disappeared, I am inclined to think it the result of carelessness and neglect. Where the lectern is not used the minister uses the altar-table instead, a practice which is undesirable but not altogether indefensible.

Lecterns should be graceful in form and not so high as to hide the reader's head. The "eagle" is only one of many forms that may be used. As in the case of the pulpit, it is not necessary to deck it with textile fabrics, nor does the rule of color apply to the decoration of the lectern or pulpit.

The font is an object which has not yet received a settled home in our Lutheran churches. The liturgists have not yet reached an agreement upon its proper location. The weight of authority seems to be in favor of the administration of baptism in the presence of the whole congregation, and hence the font should be placed outside of the choir, at the head of the middle alley of the church so that the officiating minister may be seen and heard by all.

Space will not permit me to enter into details or to speak of le numerous minor objects of the church edifice. I shall simply allude to the walls, the windows and the floors. Bach of lese is worthy of careful study. We should reject the eccentric, the unæsthetic, the gross, and should endeavor to treat these objects in harmony with the sacred uses of the house which they re to serve. These may seem to be unimportant things for a minister, but is it unreasonable to believe that He Who made this beautiful world and Who is Himself the author and source of beauty, should be unable to speak to us through the eye as well as the ear. As Gregory of Nyssa said: "It is not enough to e led to the knowledge of God by hearing only, the sight must also be a teacher of exalted ideas."

Mosaics, frescoes, sculpture and wood carving are possible only for the richer churches. But where the price can be paid, these are desirable forms of church decoration. We need only recall the frescoes of Kaulbach in Berlin to appreciate the value if mural painting. Examples of fine wood carving are to be found both in the ancient and modern churches of Europe.

The art of embroidery deserves mention, because in it the Left hands of the women of the congregation may be employed o such great advantage. In the Christian era, the art of embroidery as applied to church decoration, is traced to Helen, the mother of the first Christian emperor. But eighteen centuries earlier, when Moses erected the tabernacle, "all the women that were wise-hearted did spin with their hands, and brought that which they had spun, the blue and the purple, the scarlet and he fine linen." There were men also "whom God filled with wisdom of heart, to work all manner of work of the engraver and of the cunning workman and of the embroiderer.'' (Exodus 35).

The progress of the art of embroidery in Christian history :an only be briefly indicated. In the seventh century it was cultivated in the British Isles with such success that "opus Anglicanum" became proverbial. And if to-day the merchants of the world have to send to St. Gallen for their finest embroideries, it is because more than a thousand years ago the clerics of that little town in Eastern Switzerland cultivated this art as they did other arts to the glory of God.

The Crusades brought back to Europe not only a wealth of new material, but also of new designs, against some of which Bernard of Clairvaux protested with ascetic earnestness. The climax of excellence was reached in the fifteenth century, not in Italy, but in the Lowlands of Germany and along the Rhine, and even in Scandinavia. The Reformation greatly reduced the sphere of the art while the Renaissance corrupted its spirit, substituting the classic forms of heathendom for the sacred symbols of Christianity. The closing decades of the nineteenth century have witnessed a revival of the earlier and purer art.

The antependium affords a fitting place for the embroiderer's designs. The simple Chi Rho, X P, the monogram of Christ, or the common Alpha and Omega, A O, tell of Him Who is the first and the last in Heaven and on earth. The flowers and leaves of the thistle wound around the cross tell how Christ suffered for a guilt that was not His own. If roses are used, they tell of the Divine love that brought Him to earth. Five in number, they remind us of the wounds in His hands and His feet and His side. The ears of grain and the clusters of grapes speak of Him Who is the Bread from Heaven and the life of the world. That primeval innocence has been restored by the death of the sinless God-man is indicated by the lily, while the cross and the palm leaves proclaim the final triumph of the Crucified One.

Pictures, emblems and symbols have from the earliest times been favorite forms of expression, although the Puritans and all the Reformed Churches repudiated them. The justification of pictures and emblems is found in the fact that religion, occupying the field of the supernatural, must find means of expressing unseen realities by means of visible things. Goethe said: "All things transitory are but parables.''

Among the commonest emblems are the hart, the serpent, the anchor, the lamp, the ark, the sickle, the fish, the pelican, the rainbow and the rose. Types are often an effective method of illustration. Thus in a church in Freudenstadt the wood carvings on the gallery panels represent Creation and the Nativity, Jonah and the Resurrection, Manna and the Supper, Sodom and the Judgment. Types form an important part of the Passion-Play of Oberammergau. They should be used in moderation and should come within the ready comprehension of the congregation.

Do you object to these pictures in church? Luther himself was a smasher of idols. But when Carlstadt quoted to him "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image," Luther retorted at once "Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them." "You cannot help making images," said he, "if not with your hands, then with your imagination, in your mind and heart."

But for those who object to pictures, there is still left a wide field for edifying decoration in the use of Scripture texts.

Art cannot take the place of religion. If art is in the church for its own sake, whether in preaching, or in the singing of the quartet choir or in church decoration, it is not an aid but an obstacle to religion. The work of decoration must follow the religious life. We decorate not for its aesthetic value, but because our faith therein finds expression. Where religion precedes, art may follow and by its aid expression may be given to spiritual truth in a multitude of subtle and suggestive forms. As Michel Angelo said "True decoration is the shadow of the hand with which God decorates."

But paramentics has its limits, and there is another point of view which we cannot but respect. The iconoclasts of the eighth and ninth centuries made legitimate protest against perverted Forms in which the idol had taken the place of God. And we cannot ignore the spiritual earnestness of their followers in the sixteenth century, the Reformed Churches of Switzerland, Holland and Scotland, who saw in these things the trappings of the great whore, and therefore banished them from their services. These protests must not be overlooked. History warns us of perils. There were periods in the Church when religion declined as ritual advanced. In our day we have a striking example in the Greek Church of a perfected system of symbolism and ritual, along with what seems like the absence of a spiritual religion. Such, at least, is the verdict of Harnack in his graphic picture of the Greek Church in Wesen des Christentums.

In view of such facts it behooves us to inquire whether art really is the handmaiden of religion. The Saviour teaches us that the characteristic of true worship is spirituality. Forms of worship are admissible only in so far as they conduce to edification. If art has any relation to true worship, it must be in harmony with these truths. It is not enough to show that there has been a historical connection, we must prove that there is no real antagonism between them.

The oft-quoted apothegm of Goethe throws some light on the subject. He calls art "a preliminary redemption, a Gospel of the natural man, a human introduction to the Gospel of grace. It is the province of art to separate the spiritual, the permanent and the real from that which is material and transitory." It is this faculty that distinguishes the painter from the photographer. Another consideration is the fact that as soon as religion finds expression in worship, there is not only a field for art but also a necessity for it. Hence we conclude that St. Paul's injunction as to "whatsoever things are lovely'' is not to be ignored in our treatment of the House of the Lord.

In the church of St. Sebald in Nürnberg, there is a famous sacramentary, towering sixty feet from the floor. While the sculptor was finishing with scrupulous care some ornament near the top, he was asked why he was so careful, no one would see it. He replied, "God will see it." Of the neighboring church of St. Lorenz Luthardt says: "I heard there many a sermon which I have forgotten, but there is one sermon which I could never forget, the "sermon in stones," which the edifice itself preached to all that worshipped there. The spirit of piety which made these buildings so beautiful has made them permanent witnesses of religion. And yet the simplest interior, even though it may be only a hired hall in the city street, or a sod church on the prairie may reflect a spiritual message as truly as the Gothic arches of St. Sebald and St. Lorenz.


New York.

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