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12. Of the Windows of the Church

Antiquities of the Christian Church
CHAPTER IX. Of Churches and Sacred Places

12. Of the Windows of the Church

No aspersion was ever more unjust than that which charged the primitive Christians with seeking concealment and hating the light. In imitation of the temple at Jerusalem, 1 Kings 6:4, they sought, from the beginning, to furnish their churches fully with light. It is customary to refer the first use of glass windows to the third century; but, in the opinion of many, they had an earlier origin, as is shown in the ruins of Herculaneum. In France, windows, both of colored and of cut glass, were in use in the sixth century. Venantius Fortunatus, a poet of the fifth, has a distich respecting the cathedral church at Paris, from which it would seem that glass windows were then in use:

Prima capit, radios vitreis occulata fenestris
Artificisque nianu clausit in arce diem.

From the history of the venerable Bede, on the other hand, it would seem that these were not in use in England in the seventh century, but were introduced from France.

Pliny affirms that the art of painting glass was known to the Romans. If so, it must have been lost again; for no traces of the art are discoverable until the beginning of the eleventh century. It was brought to perfection in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and is justly regarded as the most finished specimen of the arts in the middle ages. After a slumber of three hundred years, it is beginning to be again revived in the nineteenth century.

The windows of churches were not only greater in number, but larger in dimensions, than those of private dwelling houses. In the Carlovingian dynasty, however, the windows were small and round, and very far from affording sufficient light.

It is but justice to the ancient fathers, to remark, that they were very far from bestowing unqualified approbation upon that style of gaudy magnificence in which their churches were decorated. St. Ambrose says, "that whatever is done in purity, and with sincerity, is commendable, but that it is neither praiseworthy to rear superfluous structures, nor to neglect such as are needful, – that the priest ought especially to adorn the temple of God with becoming graces, – that it should be rendered resplendent by acts of humility and charity; in giving to the stranger according to his necessities, and as the dictates of humanity require; not by pride, self-indulgence, and personal aggrandizement, at the expense of the poor." Jerome, in various passages, inveighs against the pomp and pride displayed in their churches, and in the attire of the priesthood. Chrysostom complains of the vanity, superstition, and oppression of the poor, with which their churches were erected, though he objects not to these expenditures upon the churches in themselves considered. St. Bernard rebukes this extravagant folly with so much simplicity and fervor, that the reader will be interested to hear him in his own tongue. Tali quadam arte spargitur aes, ut multiplicetur. Expenditur, ut augeatur, et effiisio copiam parit. Ipso quippe visu sumptuosarum, sed mirandarum vanitatum, accenduntur homines magis ad offerendum, quam ad orandum. Sic opes opibus hauriuntur, sic pecunia pecuniam trahit: quia nescio, quo pacto, ubi amplius divitiarum cernitur, ibi offertur libentius. Auro tectis reliquiis saginantur oculi, et loculi aperiuntur. Ostenditur pulcherrima forma Sancti vel Saneiae alicujus, et eo creditur sanctior, quo coloratior. Currunt homines ad osculandum, invitantur ad donandum; et magis mirantur pulcra, quam venerantur sacra. Ponuntur dehinc in ecclesia gemmatae, non coronae, sed rotae, circumseptae lampadibus, sed non minus fulgentes insertis lapidibus. Cernimus et pro candelabris arbores quasdam erectas, multo aeris pondere, miro arlificis opere fabricatas, nee magis coruscantes superpositis lucernis, quam suis gemmis. Quid, putas, in his omnibus quaeritur? poenitentium compunctio, an intuentium admiralio? O vanitas vanitatum, sed non vanior, quam insanior! Fulget ecclesia in parietibus, et in pauperibus eget. Suos lapides induit auro, et suos filios nudos deserit. De sumptibus egenorum servitur oculis divitum. Inveniunt curiosi, quo delectentur, et non inveniunt miseri, quo sustententur. Utquid saltern Sanctorum imagines non reveremur, quibus utique ipsum, quod pedibus conculcatur, scalet pavimenlum. Saepe spuitur in ore Angeli, saepe alicujus Sanctorum facies calcibus tunditur transeuntium. Et si non sacris his imaginibus, cur vel non parcitur pulcris coloribus? Cur decoras, quod mox foedandum est? Cur depingis, quod mox necesse est conculcari? Quid ibi valent venustae formae, ubi pulvere maculantur assiduo? Denique quid haec ad pauperes, ad Monachos, ad spirituales vivos? Nisi forte et hic memoratum jam poetae versiculum propheticus ille respondeatur: Domine, dilexi decorum domus tuae, et locum habitationis gloriae tuae. Assentio: patiamur et haec fieri in ecclesia: quia etsi noxia sunt vanis et ava. ris, non tamen simplicibus et devotis. – 0pp. T. I. p. 545. ed. Bened.

The use of pictures of saints, martyrs, and Scripture-histories in churches, was gradually introduced about the latter end of the fourth century.

The Eustathians, Messalians, Manichaeans, and other heretics suffered their prejudices to carry them into the opposite extreme; and, by the simplicity and rudeness which they affected, promoted that ostentation in the Catholics which they so much condemned.

De Offic. lib. ii. c. 21.

Comment, in Jer. 7: in Zech. 8: Ep. 2. ad Nepot: Ep. 8. ad Demetr.: Ep. 12. ad Gaudent.

Horn. 81. in Math.: 51 in Math.: Horn. 60. ad Pop. Antioch.


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