Search This Blog

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Isn't the Church too opulent? Why doesn't the Church sell its riches and give it to the poor?

“Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul,
                                                         and with all your MIND”--Matt 22:37

It seems that this question was asked 2000 years ago, and has been with us ever since the beginnings of Christianity.

Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected,  “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages." He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.--John 12:1-6

As with most Catholic answers, the response to the above objection is not either/or but both/and.  We do not have ornate Basilicas or serve the poor--with all due respect, the Catholic Church is big enough and catholic (meaning UNIVERSAL) enough to do both.  We give glory and worship to God through our magnificent and sacred cathedrals, basilicas and churches, AND we provide corporal works of mercy:  feeding the poor, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, etc, etc.

The Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization in the world.  It educates, houses, medicates, clothes, feeds, shepherds, nurtures and nourishes more people than any other organization on the planet.

And, if we were to sell off our beautiful works of art, who would buy them?  Who could pay what they're worth?  And if someone could indeed afford to buy what the Catholic Church sells, the question, naturally arises, then why doesn't THIS INDIVIDUAL sell his property and help the poor?  

Now, this may be a matter of preference, but I cannot help but look at the picture below and see the glory and grandeur of God:

Upon entering a sacred space like the above, it is almost impossible not to be in awe at the Presence of God.  This type of magnificent, rich architecture simply elevates us and inspires prayer, don't you think?  It awakens in us a profound sense of the divine.

We are called to be HOLY--to be set apart--and creating a sacred space that is SET APART for worship only, which separates us from our mundane activities, is a worthy human endeavor.

Now, contrast the above to the photo below of a Quaker church. 

Please note:  certainly God can be present in the above worship space; indeed, He is present in all places of worship, where 2 or 3 are gathered in His name.  And I am making no statement about whether spartan architecture is never warranted--in fact, there are many Catholic orders that eschew the ornate and embrace a life of apostolic poverty. 

Again, the Catholic Church is a both/and, not either/or.

And I welcome those who feel that, for them, the Quaker worship space is more inspiring of prayer than the resplendent basilica. 

My point:  beautiful worship spaces do have a place in our Church, for they do inspire and elevate us.  We are a Sacramental people, both spirit and body, who express and absorb through our senses.   Worship in a sensual way (meaning:  through our senses), through architecture, art, music, incense is both human and necessary. 

The books of Scripture, in particular Exodus (Exodus 25:1) and Revelation (Revelation 19), detail the construction of ornate offerings, using precious gold and silver, fine linens, inlaid stones to give honor and glory to God.  The book of Psalms proclaims:  How lovely is thy dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yea, faints for the courts of the Lord--Ps. 84:1–2.

In fact, the book of Revelation provides rich and splendid imagery of liturgy:  Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a golden censer; and much incense was given to him, so that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar which was before the throne.

When I read the above passages, as well as the many, many passages in Ezekiel, Isaiah, Psalms, Hebrews, the image that comes to mind from Scripture of a sacred space suitable to worship the Divine Godhead is more in line with what we Catholics have, than the austere, muted styles of some Protestant congregations. 

For more in-depth study visit these websites:

Shouldn't the Church Sell Off Its Artifacts?

Why does the pope wear decorated robes and ornate headwear? If he is a Christian, he should be Christ-like. Jesus never dressed that way. He was very humble in his dress.

Catholic Bible online

Catechism of the Catholic Church online


  1. Someone counseled me once to think of the church as a steward. So, let's say I'm an artist and I create something for the glory of God and I want others to see it and feel inspired and grow closer to Him. I create a masterpiece for the God and the church has it. 100 years later I'm dead (& famous--so my art is worth alot), what should the church do? Keep it, let people study it, let people see it and learn from it, be inspired by it. Or sell it? What if the buyer is a terrible person and wants it just to destroy it and laugh at the faithful who mourn its destruction. Or maybe the buyer is just a very wealthy person and they are miserly with the art work and keep it in a vault so it inspires no one . . . it just increases in value, nothing more than an investment--money in their own pocket. Maybe the buyer is a good person, but then they die and their estate is not so good. But at least the money earned from the sale fed 100 people for 1 month, right?

    Feeding people is always a good and noble choice--period. But the other option is not bad either, here's why: 100 years from the sale date, no one will remember those 100 people that were fed. But if the church had kept that piece--what if for those 100 years, that art work had brought 1 soul per year to God? What if the piece inspired them to serve the poor? What if finding God inspired them to give 10% of their income? What if it inspired them to take in foster children? The domino effect could be so much greater than those few meals--it would be meal after meal after meal, soul after soul after soul, for years on end--unending acts of charity brought about by that piece.

    Too lofty an idea? Perhaps. But as an artist, that's what I would strive for. That's what I would want from my art. Artists (at least the ones we're talking here) aren't just creating commodities that can traded. They are encapsulating truths, giving inspiration, serving God. I would hate to be the person who had to decide which of the church's works of art were "only" worth a few bucks and which would feed 1,000s of souls.

  2. A thing of beauty is joy for ever. Forever means eternity and eternity define God alone.

  3. Matt. 7 comes to mind. It is not the material trappings any longer. With the destruction of the temple in 70 C.E., this ended that era. Jesus instituted a new concept of keeping the eye simple.(See Matt 6) What a waste of resources to spend so lavishly as we see of he Bishop in Germany. If all of these monstrosities were built by volunteers, that is the beginning putting the Kingdom first (Matt. 6:9,10)

    1. I don't see anything in Matt 7 that contravenes the Church's beauty and architectural worship of God.

  4. Replies
    1. V20: by your fruits you shall know them.

      That says nothing at all about not building beautiful churches in God's honor.

      Is there something you see in that verse that tells you differently?

  5. If gold and opulence is what it takes for someone to be inspired to prayer and awe, I doubt the sincerity of their faith. The Kingdom of Heaven is within, unfortunately, most don't understand this concept - including the clergy draped in gold and wealth.

    1. When one reads the OT, one ought to be stunned and awed by the demands by God to use gold and wealth to honor Him. See how the Temple was built by Solomon. And the Ark of the Covenant, which is to be plated in gold. And please note: the Ark of the Covenant was not God, but was a container used to bring God to the people. Kind of like a Catholic church building!

  6. The OT has types and shadows of things to come, not a direct model of things to be imitated. In similar sense, Jesus came not to destroy the law but to fulfill it. He brought the OT's physical representations of godly principles into greater spiritual truth, demonstrated in His very life and interactions with others. Therefore, a better defense for your support of grand and opulent trappings in church buildings would be to use NT examples; those from this dispensation of grace, full of the teachings of Christ, and not from another time of eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth. Those things have waxed old and should have faded away. If no such examples can be found in the NT church here on earth, then perhaps you should reconsider your position.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Elder Mitchell. We are agreed that the OT is not a direct model of things to be imitated (this, BTW, is not something found in Scripture but a Tradition which you submit to).

      With that said, I'd like to know what verse you're using to get the idea that our model for church buildings must be found in the NT?