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Online Edition - Vol. VI, No. 1: March 2000

The Temple of the Human Spirit

"It was a place where one would come to feel sinless and strong, to find the peace of spirit never granted save by one's own glory."

by Reverend Mr. Bryce Sibley

Ayn Rand's monumental novel The Fountainhead sets forth, in fictional form, the philosophical system she calls Objectivism. Describe it how you will, objectivism is nothing more than an egoism born out of Nietzche's Will to Power, and is adamantly opposed to altruistic Christianity.

The novel's protagonist is the architect Howard Roark, Rand's ideal man: stoic, objective, rationalistic, fiercely independent, and absolutely egoistic. Roark's philosophy is infused into everything he is and does, especially his architecture. The following passage is the description of a church Roark designs and builds, called the Temple to the Human Spirit. He is hired to construct this temple for a man whom Rand believes represents the American herd mentality a man utterly lacking creativity, one who follows an organized religion and has a comfortable life, a secure job, and a pathetically banal existence. As with all of his projects, Roark obtains complete control to build as he wills, much to the chagrin of the man who hired him.

The latter's fury over the structure leads to a suit against Roark, whose crime is shown as amounting to spitting in the face of all that is good, decent, and Christian in twentieth century America.

Here is the description of the Temple:

"The Temple was to be a small building of gray limestone. Its lines were horizontal, not the lines reaching to heaven, but the lines of the earth. It seemed to spread over the ground like arms outstretched at shoulder height. Palms down, in great silent acceptance. It did not cling to the soil and it did not crouch under the sky. It seemed to lift the earth, and its few vertical shafts pulled the sky down. It was scaled to human height in such a manner that it did not dwarf man, but stood as a setting that made his figure the only absolute, the gauge of perfection by which all dimensions were to be judged. When a man entered the temple, he would feel space molded around him, for him, as if it had waited for his entrance, to be completed. It was a joyous place, with the joy of exultation that must be quiet. It was a place where one would come to feel sinless and strong, to find the peace of spirit never granted save by one's own glory. There was no ornamentation inside, except the graded projections of the walls, and the vast windows. The place was not sealed under vaults, but thrown open to the earth around it, to the trees, to the river, the sun and to the skyline of the city in the distance, the skyscrapers, the shape of man's achievements on earth. At the end of the room, facing the entrance, with the city as background, stood the figure of a naked human body."

This edifice is the physical manifestation of all that Roark believes, the incarnation of his philosophy described above. Take it out of context and it sounds like many of the Catholic churches being built today. There is nothing high, reaching toward heaven like the Gothic cathedrals of France. They simply wallow in a gray humanity. No billowing down of the heavens that they might inspire the lives of men, as in the Baroque period. Instead, heaven is pulled down in order to stain it in the mud of our exalted sinfulness; man made as the measure of what he considers beautiful. No majestic corners and curves of Constantinian architecture but the cold flat lines of a city of skyscrapers. No beautiful bleeding Christ on the cross, but a naked man standing alone. It is a temple to the human spirit to the human spirit devoid of God, grace, and beauty, left to fend for itself like a naked cold animal. It is the temple of Modern Man.

The irony is that many Catholics who worship in structures similar to it every Sunday never question the philosophical or ideological roots of the men who designed and built them. Could it be that Objectivism has seeped into the minds of many Catholics (artists and architects especially)? Could it be that it has seeped into our souls too?

The Rev. Mr. Bryce Sibley is a transitional deacon of the diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana. He is studying at the North American College in Rome.

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