Indifference is not characteristic of the liturgy
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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

For Glory and For Beauty

There is a modern tendency to bifurcate and then reduce the mysteries of God, holy things, into form and substance. This is not the Aristotelian understanding of and distinction between form and substance. It is a modern diminishing of both with an Aristotelian facade.

When the issue of liturgy, rite, ceremony, vestments, and music comes up in the church, there is almost a knee-jerk reaction to those who contend for high church practice, that they have put form over substance, that they are concerned with aesthetics more than theology. The aesthetic charge is cast. “Adornment,” they say, wagging their fingers, “is only part of it. You have to get to the heart of it, the substance. That’s what is important.”

It is almost as if these people have never peeled back the layers of an onion. After each layer, and even at it’s heart, what you have is, well, er, an onion—only now much smaller, diminished, lacking the fullness of its flavoring power. Behind the Aristotelian facade is Minitrue Newspeak—the triumph and heresy of mediocrity.

Adornment: Is that The Gottesdienst Crowd’s contention? Yes and no. It is part of it, but not the whole of it. We contend for beauty, to be sure. But we contend also for glory.

When the Lord brought the people of Israel out of Egypt to Mount Sinai, He spoke to Moses. He instructed Moses to speak to the people that they would do all that He commanded them. Most of that revelation was the institution of the tabernacle, its rites and ceremonies, its feasts and festivals, its vestments and sacred vessels. When it comes to the vesting of the priests, Moses records:

And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty.
— Exodus 28:2
For Aaron’s sons you shall make coats and sashes and caps. You shall make them for glory and beauty.
— Exodus 28:40

“For glory and for beauty” says the Lord of Hosts, is the purpose for the vestments that the priests wear. Theses holy garments communicate the very glory of the Lord who dwelt with them. And to do that they were to be beautiful. This can not simply be reduced to some practical matter and then dismissed. The garments that they wore for the purpose of communicating God’s glory among the people were beautiful, as attested by the elements of which they were made, and that beauty constituted the glory by the command of the Lord.

Let us then leave behind the childish talk of aestheticism, of reducing the wisdom of the church—the establishment of her rites and ceremonies, her feasts and festivals, her vestments and sacred vessels—to mere practical matters, so that we can peel back the layers to get to the substance, and find out that neither the form nor the substance remains. These things are for beauty, but not for the sake of beauty, as the modern man understands it. These things are for beauty and for glory. They are beautiful because they are for glory—communicating the presence and holiness of the only true God, who deigns to dwell among us by these very means.