Reforms in Architecture Liturgy Custom and Practice

Protestantism introduced ascetic changes in the function of churches as well as in their design and construction. During the Reformation, Catholic churches were stripped of statuary, paintings, and traditional symbols. New churches were designed as meetinghouses, harking back to early Christianity when believers met in each other's homes. Architecture, having lost its ability to signify the sacred, became merely functional, providing for the assembly's material or practical needs. The concepts of the church as auditorium and theater-in-the-round derive from early Calvinist buildings, which were designed to enable people to more easily see and hear the preacher. Destruction of altar, tabernacle, and sanctuary was commonplace, and often the altar was replaced as the focal point by a pulpit or baptismal font. This minimalist aesthetic, with its theological proscriptions against images and symbols, has continued to characterize Protestantism to the present time.

The contrast between pre-Reformation churches and post-Reformation churches was made more dramatic by the fact that Catholic churches continued to incorporate artistic embellishments into their structure and ceremony, even after the Reformation gained a foothold. According to one account:

While the Protestants in their Hebraic zeal, smashed all the graven images they could find, starting with the decapitation and mutilation of the statue of the Blessed Mother in Paris on Pentecost Sunday 1528, Baroque princes and prelates outdid themselves in producing new ever more glorious works of art. A wonderful example of this contrast between the Baroque and bourgeois spirit is the jewel encrusted statue of St. George... which cost the Catholic kings of Bavaria 300,000 florins, more than enough money to field a whole army. Crafted in 1587 it measures only 12 by 20 inches, but, it is encrusted with 36 large diamonds of 40 carats, 2,613 small diamonds, 130 emeralds, 430 rubies, 32 large pearls, etc. all set in pure gold. This little treasure was not created just to be beautiful but as a token symbol of Bavaria as St. George slaying the dragon of Protestantism in order to save Holy Mother Church.30

A poignant example of the lingering effects of Protestant asceticism can be found in Strasbourg, a city whose nationality shifted back and forth between Germany and France for centuries. The toweringly beautiful and elaborate cathedral of this city was built as a glorious shrine to Catholicism in the Middle Ages, but when the city became Protestant in the sixteenth century, the interior was shorn of its elaborateness. In an effort to make the church less Catholic, Protestants "removed large numbers of tombstones and figures of saints and of the Virgin... and more than forty altars disappeared. The resulting starkness, even gloom, still persists today.''31

Another example of Protestant frugality can be found in the episodic history of religious reform in England. In terms of the number and quality of its church goods and the richness and luxury of its collection of vestments, Holy Trinity Church at Dartford was one of the richest churches in pre-Reformation Kent. But the simplicity of the reformed church services under Edward VI and Elizabeth made the use of these expensive goods and vestments unnecessary. The 1552 inventory shows that Holy Trinity church possessed four silver-gilt chalices, and one of these weighed more than twenty-six ounces. In total the church plate weighed in at over three hundred ounces of silver.32 Church vestments were made from rich fabrics such as velvet, satin, and silk, and embroidered with gold. Eventually, the Dartford Priory was dissolved, and its wealth confiscated by civil authorities.

Protestant liturgy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries also reflected the new asceticism of the reformers. A key principle of the Reformation was its refutation of sacramentality, which brought about a reduction or loss of liturgical sensibility. Within a short time after the beginning of the Reformation, many Protestant denominations rejected strict liturgical worship and adopted different practices.33 As a consequence, Protestantism has a very limited liturgical tradition and a small body of liturgical music, in keeping with its newly defined theology and doctrine.34 This contrast between Catholic extravagance and Protestant frugality extends also to matters of religious dress, both liturgical and ministerial. The different editions of The Book of Common Prayer (the Anglican liturgical book) attest to sixteenth-century reforms and the rising power of seventeenth-century Puritanism as forces that provoked a decline in the use of vestments in church liturgies. It was in fact the struggle to change the liturgics of Protestantism that caused many of the new sects to move toward Puritanism by making worship an intellectual experience with little or no ceremonial form. In sum, practically everything about the Protestant religion was simpler and cheaper.35

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