No Sacred Space

Writing in the London Review of Books, Keith Thomas says of sacred space and the Church:

All these practices presuppose that divinity is immanent in the world, but in a localized way. The demarcation and protection of holy spaces becomes one of the means by which religious institutions assert their claim to supernatural authority. It is, therefore, all the more remarkable that the first Christians should have rejected the whole notion of sacred space. Whereas the Greek and Roman world had been full of holy places, the early Christians were encouraged to see themselves, not buildings or sanctuaries, as the temple of the living God (II Corinthians 6.16). For them, God was ubiquitous, rather than located in some particular spot. Only in the fourth century did Christians begin to construct their own sacred topography. The driving force as the cult of the martyrs and the building of urban churches to contain their relics. It set in motion a long process by which Catholic Christianity would construct a new geography of the sacred.

This same glorification of space still exists in Protestant circles with regard to Jerusalem, the “Holy City” which is thought of as somehow closer to God than Ames, Iowa or anywhere else. The fact is that all the land is now sacred.

3 thoughts on “No Sacred Space”

  1. I would apply it to the Church as the heavenly Jerusalem. She is free and is our Mother:

    “Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.” Galatians 4.25-26

    So Augustine and Calvin:

    Our feet stood in the courts of Jerusalem. What Jerusalem? This earthly Jerusalem also is wont to be called by the name: though this Jerusalem is but the shadow of that. And what great thing is it to stand in this Jerusalem, since this Jerusalem has not been able to stand, but has been turned into a ruin? Does then the Holy Spirit pronounce this, out of the kindled heart of the loving Psalmist, as a great thing? Is not it that Jerusalem, unto whom the Lord said, O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you that killest the Prophets, etc. Matthew 23:37 What great thing then did he desire; to stand among those who slew the Prophets, and stoned them that were sent unto them? God forbid that he should think of that Jerusalem, who so loves, who so burns, who so longs to reach that Jerusalem, our Mother, Galatians 4:26 of which the Apostle says, that She is eternal in the Heavens. 2 Corinthians 5:1 – Augustine

    …it is not surprising to find David recommending to all the children of God to cultivate this anxious concern about the Church. If we would order our prayers aright, let us always begin with pleading that the Lord would be pleased to preserve this sacred community. Whoever, confining his attention to his own personal advantage, is indifferent about the common weal, he not only gives evidence that he is destitute of all true feeling of godliness, but in vain desires his own prosperity, and will profit nothing by his prayers, since he does not observe the due order. – Calvin

  2. Thanks so much. I had wondered about that for years. It did not sit right with me to sit around praying for the earthly city of Jerusalem. It just seemed misguided and odd. I love what Calvin said about the sacred community and the due order.

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