If there is one thing that we saw often in Rome, it was churches. Churches were literally on every corner. And these were not the austere types of churches that I have attended all my life. They were all architectural masterpieces filled with priceless sculptures and other artwork. Two of the bigger churches served as bookends for our time in Rome: the first church we entered was St. Peter’s Basilica and the last one we saw was the Basilica of St. John Lateran (or the full name – Archbasilica of the Most Holy Saviour and Sts. John the Baptist and the Evangelist at the Lateran).
St. Peter’s Basilica has the largest interior of any Christian church in the world. According to Catholic tradition, it houses the bones of its namesake, the apostle Peter.
The dome of St. Peter’s reaches 452 into the air, and it can be seen from any clear view in the city.
The last place we visited in Rome was the Basilica of St. John Lateran. This is the highest church in the city in terms of authority, and it serves as the official ecclesiastical seat of the Bishop of Rome, commonly called the Pope.
The nave is lined by ornate statues of the twelve apostles.
These churches were truly a shock to the senses. The words that come to mind are extravagance and opulence. St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican certainly rival any king’s palace. I left pondering the propriety of such displays of wealth for a church. Should churches like this be built?
Whatever you think about that, one can see the logical impulse behind their building. David in the OT had a similar thought in 2 Samuel 7. Recognizing that the Lord deserves the best, David figured that the temple of God should at least rival his own personal palace. On that occasion, the Lord states that he did not request such a building, but he does allow David to build it.
It is not that I am against aesthetics. Our sense of beauty is a gift of God. The arts show an area of human creativity related to our bearing of God’s image. It makes sense that aesthetics should play some role in recognition of God. Yet, I get the sense that God might respond in the same way today, stating that this is not something that he asked for.
So, what does God want from us? I have some question about these churches, but I know that God desires our hearts be given in complete devotion to him. God is more pleased with the two mites of the widow than mere wealth (Luke 21:1-4).