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We here suspend our discussion. We have said nothing of the moral and religious influences of the system. We reserve the right to accept any additional proved facts, and at any time to modify our opinion in accordance therewith.
ARCHITECTURE AND PREACHING.
A distinguished divine is reported to have said that the pulpit is the devil's master-piece. Perhaps the remark is apocryphal, or only an extravagant way of putting things, the bold outlining of a master-hand, though like most of such startling sayings it contains more than a trace of truth; as we shall see in the sequel, it suggests a vital question.
The elements of effective and successful preaching arrange themselves in two groups ; in the one are the truth with its supernatural adjuncts and the moral and intellectual state of the preacher's mind; in the other, the circumstances of the place in which the truth is spoken, together with the temper of the audience, which depends often upon what are deemed apparently very trivial matters, as heat, light, air, density, food, clothing, etc. Every age has furnished powerful preachers, who have produced the most profound impressions upon audiences by the simple force of truth and earnestness, when nearly everything of an accessory character was unfavorable to such a result. President Edwards and Dr. Lyman Beecher were men of mighty power anywhere. Meantime not a few ministers of varied and enlarged culture, sometimes of decided intellectual ability, of more than average address and presence,
, fail to accomplish anything very marked in preaching, simply because the objective conditions of successful preaching are adverse to them. As these failures are quite numerous, and some of the causes of defeat sufficiently definite, we may examine, in this light, a thought suggested in the opening
sentence of this essay, viz. : The Influence of Architecture in Preaching.
THE AIM OF PREACHING.
Assuming that the elements of preaching, so far as the truth and the preacher's own mind are involved, are favorable to success, the question may be asked, — What are the aids or impediments in the way of such success arising from architecture, confining this term to the interior structure and arrangement of churches. The subject which the preacher handles before his audience is religious truth and its application to human conduct, and the end which he aims to secure is the right moral action and life of men. Accordingly, the preacher aims at something more than to impart instruction and knowledge. He is not merely a teacher; he has an office beyond this, to impel men to right moral action, so that the highest style of religious discourse is that which is the most moving and inspiring of religious thought and life. Whatever leaves the hearer in a passive frame of mind, simply an absorbent of the truth, which does not urge him to right moral action, is essentially defective, and can not be classed as preaching in the highest sense. The preacher aims at results.
DISTRIBUTION OF AUDIENCE.
A point of the first consideration is the distribution of the andience. This should be such as promptly to meet the demands of the laws of harmony and sympathy, as compact as possible, and upon a plan so as to bring all parts into direct and close relation with the speaker, and as equidistant from hiin as the nature of the case will admit. All extremes of distances and breaks are so many impediments which the speaker must overcome before he is put into full and sympathetic possession of his audience. An advocate holds a jury under his argument with breathless interest, whilst he stands within arm's reach of each man, when, in all probability, he would lose his hold upon them if each one sat at the head of a pew, one behind the other, ranging down the aisle of a stately church, with the advocate in a stilted pulpit.
In order now to meet such a distribution, we may easily anticipate what should be the outline of a model audience chamber. Perhaps the best type is the half of a common bivalve, in nearly equal proportions of length and width, the hinge corresponding to the pulpit, and from this point lines radiating to all parts of the shell. The curvature of such a shell distributes each part as nearly as possible at an equidistance, and thus it fulfills, in the highest degree, the law before indicated, viz., that in the distribution of an audience every person should be brought as equally near to the speaker as possible.
A popular impression prevails that the best proportion of an audience chamber is a hall nearly twice as long as it is wide. On this principle a great many churches are built; the voice, it is maintained, has a free range to ring out. Even if this were admitted, which is by no means an undisputed fact, there is such an undoubted loss in other respects as wholly to outweigh this single supposed gain. But it will be found that the voice goes out in nearly the radiation of a semi-circle, striking points to the right and left of the speaker at distances almost equal to those directly in front of him.
Passing now from these general principles, we may glance at some facts illustrating their influence on preaching and the preacher.
The influence of architecture in single cases can not be so easily traced as it can be if we look at the subject on a broader theatre. The law at work is very subtle, and must not be confounded with other forces. All forms of architecture may be reduced to two orders: the Gothic and the Classic. The former is distinguished by the pointed arch as the ruling law, the latter may be characterized as rectilineal. The Romish church, faithful to a cherished theory, makes architecture and art tributary to her service, which is addressed to man more through his sensuous nature than his intellectual, and consequently the element of preaching proper occupies a subordinate place in her services. Two things are worthy of note as necessarily affecting the preaching: the disturbing influence of art on the audience, by which there is a division of attention, and her general forms of architecture, with their confusion of arches, angles, transepts, niches, recesses, etc. And it does not change the aspect of the question by saying that the Romish church intentionally subordinates the element of preaching to other aims in her service. She is at least wise in adapting means to an end, and builds her churches with their adornings to meet that end. Addressing herself to one side of man's nature more exclusively, she uses those forms of religious service best suited to impress it, one of the most powerful of which is her general style of architecture.
The Episcopal church is Protestant in doctrine and theory, and Romish in form and ceremony. She maintains with great pride and tenacity the Gothic style of architecture, and boasts herself the guardian and patron amongst Protestants of its "dim religious light.” In her service preaching is more pronounced than it is in the Catholic church, yet on an average it is not equal in strength, power and influence to that of other denominations, which, with her, pride themselves on an educated ministry; and whatever impression she makes upon her audiences is secured through her beautiful and reverent liturgy rather than by anything marked or striking in her preaching. Perhaps her theory is the correct one, still the conviction can not be resisted that her style of architecture, together with her ritual, are detrimental to the development of the highest type of powerful preaching.
If the inference above seems too sweeping from so narrow a basis of facts, we may contrast with these another class of facts. Scrutinize for a moment those branches of the church which employ little or no ceremony, and which lay very especial stress upon preaching as the grand agency in reaching and moving men. With rare exceptions these churches have furnished the great masters of popular pulpit eloquence. Whatever impression they made upon their audiences was accomplished through the truth and the voice of the living preacher, and that impression has been often almost supernaturally grand and inspiring; thousands have hung with wrapped attention upon the words of the impassioned and eloquent speaker, and been stirred to the beginning of a new and better life, illustrating most strikingly that there is no such magic sound as that of the human voice, and no such powerful and persuasive laws as those of human sympathy and affinity.
It would be difficult to classify the style of church edifice found in connection with such masterly and impressive preaching. But whatever it is, it is without any provision for ceremony and ritual, for the simple reason that ceremony and ritual form no part of the services of those churches. Yet the suggestive fact remains that these church edifices are primarily places to speak and to hear the gospel in; and that single fact has, without doubt, contributed largely to the development of efficient and noble preaching.
The incidental association of ceremony with architecture must not be considered a case of applying the inference from one class of facts to another class. For ceremony and high art go together. When the Puritans cut loose from the Established church, they aimed at a simpler church service, and that aim included a plainer form of church edifice. It might easily be shown that the elaborate style of Gothic architecture would naturally mould to itself an elaborate church service, would tend toward greater unity and harmony, or, as Mr. Spencer would say, the equilibration of forces.
Such, as we understand them, are the facts, but, of course, it would be unfair to claim these different results as springing solely from architectural influences; such a claim is not set up, only it is maintained that there is a subtle law at work determining, in part, such diverse results.