A good liberal arts college naturally encourages debate, and at the University of Dallas, a regular subject of debate is the Church of the Incarnation.
Among our community of university students and alumni is a vocal minority who frequently criticize our campus church for its not-so-traditional architecture and artwork. This group sees this nonconformity as a failure to live up to the ideals of a Catholic university.
In doing so, such critics not only miss what makes our university culturally and academically exceptional, but they also undermine our authentic Catholic identity in the process.
Criticisms of our church’s lack of traditional aesthetics undermine our Catholic identity because they emphasize outward appearances over an authentic search for sanctity.
By holding up aesthetics as the primary standard by which our church should be judged, critics impose a restrictive view of what it means to live in the Catholic tradition, which has always held that “lex orandi, lex credendi” — the law of prayer, not appearances — is the law of belief.
This means that a church should be seen as not only a work of liturgical architecture but also as a place which is molded by expression of faith in the liturgy and prayer.
While traditional baroque, Romanesque and Gothic churches are undeniably beautiful, these styles were defined by expressions of a faith that preceded their construction and were not standards by which faith was measured.
Furthermore, by emphasizing conformity with outward appearance as the measure ofvalue, these critics show their ignorance concerning the exceptional principle upon which our university was founded. This principle, “Veritatem, Justitiam Diligite,” means that we should love truth and justice wherever we find it.
When one considers our unique church from this broader perspective, one comes to realize that what makes a church truly valuable is not how much it conforms to our mental image of a proper church but rather the nature of its role on campus.
The reality is that, while our church may not be the most aesthetically pleasing, she is nonetheless worthy of our appreciation as an essential part of our own lives as students.
Our church should be judged by her real role in the spiritual lives of our students.
There are few who can say they have never experienced a moment of grace within her doors. Being able to appreciate the true good of the things we are given despite what we perceive as flaws and insufficiencies are not always easy, but it is an essential part of a liberal arts education.
By misunderstanding what is truly good about our church, such critics are actively causing harm to our university.
By constantly critiquing our church’s aesthetics, these critics sow dissatisfaction and undermine our gratitude for the goods our university truly possesses.
This culture of ingratitude can, unfortunately, condition within us an attitude of bitterness and cynicism towards our university.
One glaring example of this is the extremely low rate of alumni donation, despite passionate involvement from the alumni community in the recent debate over creating a degree completion school and the university presidential search.
Attitudes that lead members of our community to catalog complaints while refusing to take positive action are dangerous.
By adding their voices to the cacophony of critics while refusing to put their money where their mouths are, these people feel as if they are enacting positive change when they are actually discouraging progress.
A better approach would be to recognize the true goods our university can offer and then pursue meaningful action to promote those goods.
The Church of the Incarnation may serve the university better with more beautiful art, or a different design. There are many artists in our community who could be commissioned to provide this art, or alumni who would consider donating towards such a cause.
There is real beauty in traditional liturgical architecture, which could also be drawn from. In order to improve the Church of the Incarnation and foster the good of the university as a whole, critics ought to spend less time complaining and more time discerning action.
In doing so, they would recognize that UD calls us all to be magnanimous instead of critical.