Philip Nielsen

Philip Nielsen has studied both theology and architecture at the graduate level at the University of Notre Dame. He has written on aesthetics for various journals, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and Ignatius Press.

Articles by Philip Nielsen

America’s First Cathedral

In America’s First Cathedral, Mary-Cabrini Durkin presents a beautifully illustrated history of the Baltimore diocese’s cathedral from Latrobe’s original designs through its rise as a national symbol of American Catholicism, culminating in years of restoration that have only recently been completed.

Depicting the Whole Christ: Hans Urs von Balthasar and Sacred Architecture

The theological work of twentieth-century theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar has only recently begun to take its proper place in Catholic theology. In his lifetime he certainly took a back seat to contemporaries such as Karl Rahner, Yves Congar, and those men who were known as the theological architects of Vatican II. Balthasar never attended Vatican II, unlike so many of his fellow theologians and friends. This absence, combined with the difficulty inherent in classifying such a diverse corpus as his, has slowed his acceptance as a theological authority in the Church. But for the past thirty years—since the election of John Paul II to the Holy See—Balthasar’s star has risen as one of the great theologians after Trent, a status that the election of Balthasar’s close personal friend and theological sympathizer Joseph Ratzinger to the Chair of Saint Peter seemingly stamped with an imprimatur of the highest rank. At Balthasar’s funeral, Henri Cardinal de Lubac described him as “probably the most cultured man in the Western world.” Indeed, when one looks at the cultural topics that Balthasar treated, Cardinal de Lubac’s statement becomes hard to refute: Balthasar wrote his doctoral dissertation on German literature; his first major work was on music; he was one of the foremost patristic scholars of his time; and, thanks to his father’s practice of church architecture in Switzerland, he loved the visual arts and architecture.