Change and Eternity

The British architect, Quinlan Terry’s beautiful invocation of the old myth of the divine origin of the Classical orders, certainly expresses the most profound truth. The truth about dependence and grounding of the classical tradition in the Absolute, in God. This grounding must of necessity be even more important in the case of Sacred architecture.

Without the permanence of God, the change becomes all-important. By rejecting the spiritual dimension of reality, man submerged himself in materiality which is ruled by change. Change that in due course became deified in the idea of Progress.

However, change is a divine creation. Our way of salvation depends on change, not least in ourselves. The quick survey of the history of Sacred architecture shows types in evolution, in change. After all, the new St. Peter’s is different from the old.

But, not everything changes. The Classical Orders, for instance, do not change, and neither do beautiful proportions. These unchanging elements remind us of Eternity. That is what Mr. Terry’s story catches in a nutshell. Orders with their elements and proportions are, we believe, reflection of the divine aesthetic will, not unlike the laws of ethics and logic. After all, the ultimate proportional reference is the human body, created in the image of God.

So, it is not the change itself that is antagonistic to Eternity and Permanence, it is rather the modernist aberration which decrees that since it is only change that matters, the architect’s prime duty is pursuit of Novelty. The rest of us have to bear in mind that although we are submerged in change and we shape our world and destiny through it, we are not of it. To be a constant reminder of this fact is the sacred task of architecture.

Piotr Choynowski is an architect practicing in Oslo, Norway.

Drawings, by architect Quinlan Terry, of the derivation of Classical Orders from the Temple of Solomon.