We can build Jerusalem amongst the Satanic housing projects of our inner cities

Even mass housing can be made uplifting by using traditional proportions What makes a beautiful building? I would say that traditional proportionality is one vital component that is virtually ignored by all modern architects. The new online course of the Way of Beauty (see the page of that name on this blog) gives the most detailed answer to this question yet. It's all about traditional proportion and harmony which was principle, derived from the patterns of the liturgy, that was used to govern the whole of the culture. All of time and space, not just the beautiful buildings of the past, were ordered according to its principles.

This is why the building above left, built in the 18th century, is not only still standing, but is also a listed building and is sought after by professionals in the North of England as a fashionable place to live; but many of the equivalent mass housing projects of the 20 century, like the one show below, are already being knocked down. The one shown was Rockwell Gardens which was demolished in 2003 and didn't even last 50 years.

Rockwell Gardens, Chicago. Demolished 2003.

The traditional idea is that certain combinations of dimensions of a building speak to us more clearly than others because they are more beautiful. The modern idea, in contrast, is that there is an infinite range of ratios and proportionalities to choose from and one is no more valid than any other, it’s just a matter of opinion.

The Christian tradition says that certain proportions are beautiful because they reflect the divine order; and the Creator hardwired us to recognize them. When we see something as beautiful in the natural world for example, it is this is divine order – the thumbprint of the Creator in His work – is what we are responding to. The work of man can reflect this as well, with God’s grace and humility and good sense on the part of man. These proportions were used in architecture almost without question through to the end of the 19th century. (To get more information take the online course from this blog or sign on direct here.) By the end of the 19th century, its use seems to have been disconnected from the Christian understanding. When traditional taste was challenged, those who wished to resist the destruction of the old methods were not equipped with underlying principles to defent their case. The Bauhaus movement in Austria at the turn of the last century, for example, vigorously challenged tradition. they defined themselves as much by what they were not, as by what they were. The challenge was effective and by the period after the Second World War barely any architects used the traditional proportions.

I have picked out some examples to illustrate my points. Consider first the elegant housing, right, in upmarket South Kensington in London dating from the Victorian period. Notice how each storey is has a different dimension. There is a rhythmical progression: the first is to the second as the second is to the third and so on. We pick this up naturally and the effect is pleasing, but those harmonies will have been carefully calculated by the architect.

In the ideal there will be a minimum of three stories. A single relationship is created by two parties. In the context of dimensions two lengths together this relationship is called a ‘ratio’. In order to get a measure of the ratio we need another to compare it to. So a minimum of three stories is needed to create two ratios. That is, the first is to the second, as the second is to the first. A ‘proportion’ is a relationship between two or more ratios. So when the two ratios combine well, we have harmonious ‘proportion’. Consider a musical analogy. While combinations of two notes can be pleasing as harmonious intervals, the chord structure is generally based upon combinations of three notes. This was housing made for the well-to-do in Victorian England. If more than three stories are required, then the architect might continue to diminish the size of each successive storey, repeating the progression each time (as we see in these South Kensington houses). Alternatively, they repeat the dimension of the second for all storeys except the last. So the effect is of a large stable base, a number of storeys of even size, and then a cap which is the smaller than the other two. We see this in the 19th century mill building shown below: Salt's Mill in Yorkshire, England.

Contrast it with modern apartments which were built for a today’s smart set in Chelsea Harbour, right. When this development was built the talk was of the film stars who bought the upper level apartments with the views of London's River Thames. Lady Diana used to work out at the fashionable gym here. Yet I think they were short changed on style. Immediately one can see how each storey is identically spaced and the effect, to my eye, is one of sterility and dullness in comparison with the earlier structures. The point here is that the architects, if they had the knowledge, could just as easily have conformed to the harmonious proportion. If they had, my guess is that the value of these houses would be much higher, because they would be more sought after.

With the establishment of railways in Victorian Britain, seaside town grew up as day trip or holiday destinations a train ride from the main population centres. I grew up in the northwest of England, near the cities of Liverpool and Manchester. Llandudno, on the coast of North Wales is such a resort that grew to serve these populations. The buildings shown left are seafront hotels and one can see the same variation in the stories as we saw in South Kensington. Just to give people a sense of the place (and because it reminds me of home and like to look at them) I have included at the bottom some more photos. They are taken. Even the pier has octagonal geometric art, which looks as though its straight from Islamic Marrakesh on the cast iron railings (complete with seagull).


I would like to make an appeal to architects to start reincorporating these proportional ideas into their designs. How much better might the environment of our inner cities be if even mass housing conformed to them?  And just to inspire you, here is mass housing from the 19th century. These workers cottages, shown at the top and below left, were built by a mill owner, Titus Salt in Yorkshire in northern England. The mill he made, shown left and above, is so beautiful that it is now an art gallery and this and the village he built for the workers is designated a World Heritage Site. The end terrace at the top of this article is one such home. Those that have only two stories are the cheapest housing and smallest homes. Nevertheless, the architects still went to the trouble of varying the storey size  according to traditional ideas. And they are appealing enough to be desirable homes if placed on today's open market. These simply followed design rules not only improve the environment, they add value!

The entrepreneurial spirit of 19th century Britain tends to get a bad press nowadays. No doubt the conditions of Titus Salt’s mill workers would not have been the same as those of today, but these houses do not speak of a mill owner who is seeking to exploit his workforce.

William Blake wrote in a much quoted line of England’s ‘dark, satanic, mills’. I would prefer to think that the end of the poem is more accurate and that Jerusalem was ‘builded here’. Furthermore, Titus Salt is an example that we can follow and try to build Jerusalem today.

The Way of Beauty course costs $99 for 25 hours continuing education credit from Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, read more about it on the Online Course page of this blog or sign on direct by following the link here.


Beauty for Truth's Sake - A Book Linking Liturgy and Education by Stratford Caldecott

This book is recommended reading for all serious travelers on the via pulchritudinis. It is an argument for the inclusion of the ‘quadrivium’ in education as an important part of the antidote to modernism. I posted this review when the book first came out about three years ago. I re-post it now because my friend Strat is very ill and will most likely not live through the summer. It is by way of a tribute to him and that I would like to draw attention to his work. Here, Strat pulls together and builds with great insight on themes raised earlier and discussed in issues of the journal of faith and culture,  Second Spring, which he c0- edits. I was lucky to be able to contribute some of these articles to this journal myself. The articles of mine are the product of many enjoyable hours of conversation between Strat and myself over the years and I am flattered that he refers to our conversations in the forward to this book.

Stratford has been one of the main influences on my thinking over the years and one the people who first encouraged me to start writing about my ideas. To the degree that I have done so, I could not have written anything worthwhile without his help. I first went into his office in Oxford 15 years ago looking for help in establishing a new sort of Catholic art school. I had phoned him up out of the blue because someone had told me that he was interested in similar things. He instantly agreed to see me and I travelled up to Oxford from London a week later. In this meeting he patiently listened to me and said that he would like to help me. He then invited me up to Oxford and took me through a week of guided reading and helped me to write the first article I had ever written containing these ideas. This was published in Second Spring and was entitled the Way of Beauty (this is where the name for this blog came from!). I remember two things about this, first of all how slow and difficult writing was for me at that point (I hadn't written an essay for the consideration of others since I was sixteen years old!). Second was how patient he was in molding it, suggesting changes for reasons of both style and unorthodox content in such a way that the elegance and clarity of the prose were improved dramatically, but somehow he preserved the essential ideas in such a way that it was my voice that was talking. Several articles followed this, the next was connecting the patterns of the liturgy to the patterns and beauty of numerical description of the cosmos and was called the Art of the Spheres. It was these articles that caused me to be noticed by Catholic institutions such as my current employer, Thomas More College and by Shawn Tribe when he was looking for an art writer for the New Liturgical Movement website. He opened the door that led to what I do now.

The theme of liturgy and number is one that Strat picks up on in his book here, discussing them in the context of the formation of man in education.

Translated as the ‘four ways’, the quadrivium is the collective phrase for four of the seven liberal arts: number, geometry, harmony (music) and cosmology.

The quadrivium is concerned with the study of cosmic order as a principle of beauty. The patterns and rhythms of the liturgy of the Church reflect this order too. As it is all expressed mathematically it allows for the possibility of the liturgical ordering of all our work - the whole culture - to the divine. The patterns of our days, the dimensions of our buildings, the ordering of our institutions can all be in harmony with heaven, creation and the common good.

Interestingly, Pope Benedict XVI drew our attention to the quadrivium in a recent address about St Boethius, (a patron of this blog). He described Boethius's work in adapting this aspect of Greco-Roman culture into a Christian form of education. Boethius wrote manuals on each of these disciplines.

Stratford describes how at a medieval university, around say 1400AD, students received a Bachelor of Arts for the 'Trivium' or 'three ways' (rhetoric, logic, grammar - the other three liberal arts). After this they progressed onto a Master of Arts by studying the quadrivium. This prepared them for the final and longest stage of study, for a doctorate in for example Theology or Philosophy. For Caldecott does not wish to eliminate or undo progress, but rather to add a unifying principle to all that is good about the developments of the modern world and which binds it to its ultimate purpose, and ours.

In his beautifully clear, penetrating prose he describes how each of these subjects is linked to the traditional idea of beauty. I found the chapter on music particularly interesting in this respect. He even speculates on how these areas could be developed in the light of modern scientific developments, for example in his chapter on the Golden Section.

Then in the final chapter he sets out his stall, explaining how he feels this will benefit modern society. He writes: ‘The modern era can be characterised by a certain outlook shaped in part by the overthrow or displacement of ancient metaphysics. We call this outlook 'secular,' and it may take the form of an extreme form of materialism, though it may also take religious forms...even the protection of religion often takes the form of privatization, with faith being exlcluded from any real influence over public life, morality and technology...The modern person feels himself to be disengaged from the world around him, rather than intrinsically related to it (by family, tribe, birthplace, vocation, and so forth)...'

'This all pervasive modern mentality is what we are up against, in education as everywhere else. So the question is now, what can be done about it, if anything? The Enlightenment is not something you can simply unthink. So how do we combat the negative effects of individualism, without losing the benefits of self-consciousness and rationality? The key lies, I believe in revelation and worship. What defines secularism more than anything is inability to pray, and he modern world in its worst aspects is a systematic attack on worship, an idea that begins with the acknowledgement of a Transcendent that reveals itself in the immanent. [Hans Urs von] Balthasar was right: once we lose the sense of objective beauty, of the Forms of the fabric of the world (confirmed and strengthened by revelation), then the ability to pray goes too. The fully ‘buffered’ self has no Forms to contemplate in the cosmos, no reality higher than itself, it has no God to turn to. Prayer is a vital dimension of fully human living. But while we can all pray on our own, it is always in some sense a community thing. It turns us away from ourselves toward God, and in so doing it turns us toward each other (or should do). In fact human civilization had always been build around an act of worship, a public liturgy. Liturgy (from the Greek leitourgia: public work or duty) technically means any kind of religious service done on behalf of a community. Liturgical prayer is a way of being in tune with our society, with other people. But if we are to renew our civilization by renewing our worship, we must understand also that liturgy is a way of being in tune with the motions of the stars, the dance of atomic particles, and the harmony of the heavens that resembles a great song. And Catholic liturgy takes us even deeper than that. It takes us to the source of the cosmos itself, into the sacred precincts of the Holy Trinity where all things begin and end (whether they know it or not), and to the source of all artistic and scientific inspiration, of all culture.’

These are words that even the colleges who think of themselves as faithfully Catholic should take to heart. How many I wonder, truly integrate the liturgical life with the academic life rather than viewing the liturgy as a supporting player that is practised peripherally, however beautifully, to the activities of the classroom?

Back issues  of Second Spring and subscriptions can be obtained online here.

To buy Beauty for Truth's Sake, go through to here.

A Beautiful Pattern of Prayer - the Path to Heaven is a Triple Helix…

...And it passes through an octagonal portal.  

Liturgy, the formal worship of the Church - the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours, the Eucharist at its centre - is the ‘source and summit of Christian life’. We are made by God to be united with him in heaven in a state of perfect and perpetual bliss, a perfect exchange of love. All the saints in heaven are experiencing this and liturgy is what they do. It is what we all are made to do; this how it is the summit of human existence. Our earthly liturgy is a supernatural step into the heavenly liturgy, this unchanging yet dynamic heavenly drama of love between God and the saints; and the node, the point at which all of the cosmos is in contact with the supernatural is Christ, present in the Eucharist. It is more fantastic than anything ever imagined in a sci-fi drama. There is no need to watch Dr Who to see a space-time vortex, when I take communion at Mass (assuming I am in the proper state of grace) I pass through one. And there’s no worry about hostile aliens, that battle is fought and won.

Everything else that the Church offers and that we do is meant to deepen and intensify our participation in this mystery. Through the participation in the liturgy, we pass from the temporal into a domain that is outside time and space. Heaven is a mode of existence where all time, past and future is compressed into single present moment; and all places are present at a single point.

Our participation in this cannot be perfect in this life, bound as we are by the constraints of time and space. We must leave the church building to attend to the everyday needs of life. However, this does not, in principle, mean that we cannot pray continuously. The liturgy is not just the summit of human existence; it is the source of grace by which we reach that summit. In conforming to the patterns and rhythms of the earthly liturgy in our prayer, we receive grace sufficient to sanctify and order all that we do, so that we are led onto the heavenly path and we lead a happy and joyous life. This is also the greatest source of inspiration and creativity we have. We will get thoughts and ideas to help us in choices that we make at every level and which permeate every action we take. Then our mundane lives will be the most productive and fulfilling they can be.

How do we know what these liturgical patterns are? We take our cue from nature, or from scripture. Creation bears the thumbprint of the Creator and through its beauty it directs our praise to God and opens us to His grace. The patterns and symmetry, grasped when we recognize its beauty, are a manifestation of the divine order.

Traditional Christian cosmology is the study of the patterns and rhythms of the planets and the stars with the intention of ordering our work and praise to the work and praise of the saints in heaven. This heavenly praise is referred to as the heavenly liturgy. The liturgy that we participate, which is connected supernaturally to the heavenly liturgy is called the earthly liturgy. The liturgical year of the Church is based upon these natural cycles of the cosmos. By ordering our worship to the cosmos, we order it to heaven. The date of Easter, for example, is calculated according to the phases of the moon. The earthly liturgy, and for that matter all Christian prayer, cannot be understood without grasping its harmony with the heavenly dynamic and the cosmos. In order to help us grasp this idea that we are participating in something much bigger that what we see in the church when we go to Mass, the earthly liturgy should evoke a sense of the non-sensible aspect of the liturgy through its dignity and beauty and especially the beauty and solemnit of the art and music we use with it. All our activities within it: kneeling, praying, standing, should be in accordance with the heavenly standard; the architecture of the church building, and the art and music used should all point us to what lies beyond it and give us a real sense that we are praising God with all of his creation and with the saints and angels in heaven.  When we pray in accordance with these patterns we are opening ourselves up to God’s helping hand at just the moment when it is offered. This is the prayer that places us in directly in beam of the heat lamp of God’s grace.

The harmony and symmetry of the heavenly order can be expressed numerically. For example, because of the seven days of creation in Genesis there are seven days in the week (corresponding also to a half phase of the idealised lunar cycle). The Sunday mass is the summit of the weekly cycle. In the weekly cycle there is in addition day, the so-called eighth ‘day’ of creation, which symbolises the new order ushered in by the incarnation, passion, death and resurrection of Christ. Sunday the day of his resurrection, is simultaneously the eighth and first day of the week (source and summit). Eight, expressed as ‘7 + 1’ is a strong governing factor in the Church’s earthly liturgy. (It is why baptismal fonts and baptistries are constructed in an octagonal shape and why you might have octagonal patterns on a sanctuary floors.)

Without Christ, the passage of time could be represented by a self enclosed weekly cycle sitting in a plane. The eighth day represents a vector shift at 90° to the plane of the circle that operates in combination with the first day of the new week. The result can be thought of as a helix. For every seven steps in the horizontal plane, there is one in the vertical. It demonstrates in earthly terms that a new dimension is accessed through each cycle of our participation temporal liturgical seven-day week.

The 7+1 form operates in the daily cycle of prayer in the Divine Office too. Quoting Psalm 118, St Benedict incorporates into his monastic rule the seven daily Offices of Lauds, Prime, Tierce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline; plus an eighth, the night or early-morning Office, Matins.

Prime has since been abolished in the Roman Rite, but usually the 7+1 repetition is maintained by having daily Mass (not common in St Benedict’s time). Eight appears in the liturgy also in the octaves, the eight-day observances, for example of Easter. Easter is the event that causes the equivalent vector shift, much magnified, in the annual cycle. The Easter Octave is eight solemnities – eight consecutive eighth days that starts with Easter Sunday and finishes the following Sunday.

These three helical paths run concurrently, the daily helix sitting on the broader weekly helix which sits on the yet broader annual helix. We are riding on a roller coaster triple corkscrewing its way to heaven. This, however, is a roller coaster that engenders peace.

For those who are not aware of this, more information on this topic and how to conform you're life to this pattern, read The Little Oratory; A Beginner's Guide to Prayer in the Home and especially the section, A Beautiful Pattern of Prayer.

Pictures: The baptismal font, top, is 11th century, from Magdeburg cathedral. The floor patterns are from the cathedral at Monreale, in Sicily and from the 12th century. The building is the 13th century octagonal baptistry in Cremona, Italy.

12th century Christian geometric art

Some readers will already be aware of the Christian tradition of geometric and patterned art (see longer articles in the section Liturgy, Number, Proportion on the archive site). This was an adaptation of the patterned geometric art that we see in the pre-Christian classical period. TMC is, in a small way. The Way of Beauty class, students reproduce some of the patterns seen at the Romanesque Cappella Palatina in Sicily.The principles behind this geometric design echo the patterns and harmonies that are the basis of proportion and compositional design in traditional architecture and art (and they are surprisingly simple to learn – you do not need special artistic ability). Although all artists would benefit from this knowledge, this is not simply an artistic pursuit. It relates to the study of the traditional education called the ‘quadrivium’.

The quadrivium, four of the seven liberal arts (geometry, music, number and cosmology), is concerned with the study of cosmic order as a principle of beauty, and which is expressed mathematically. The patterns and rhythms of the liturgy of the Church reflect this order too. Christian geometric art is an abstract (in the sense of non-figurative visual representation) manifestation of Christian number symbolism. This aspect of traditional education came from the ancients too. Pope Benedict XVI, again in one of his weekly papal addresses, described how St Boethius worked to bring this aspect of Greco-Roman culture into a Christian form of education, by writing manuals on each of these disciplines. In the medieval university, he seven liberal arts were the basis of qualification of the Bachelor of Arts (the Trivium), the Master of Arts (for the Quadrivium) and these then were the preparation for further study in the higher subjects of Theology or Philosophy, for which one could receive a Doctorate.

Geometry is not now, to my knowledge, a living tradition as a Christian art form. By the time of the Enlightenment the acceptance of number symbolism had fallen away and it died out.

I recently taught an undergraduate class about Islamic geometric patterned art at Thomas More College. This tradition, an example from a tile at the the Alhambra in Granada is shown right, is derived from the Byzantine patterned art of the lands they conquered (and of course the classical mosaics and other patterned art that preceded them). Because Islam was forbidden completely, in its strictest interpretation, from any figurative art, their focus on abstract art forms was intensified. Islamic craftsmen took what they had taken from the Byzantine craftsmen and developed it into something more complex than had previously existed.

The question I asked that first class was: can we safely take it back?  That is, in order to reestablish this as a Christian form, can we look to the Islamic art form and re-form it into Christian tradition again?

I was pleased that in response my class said, yes. (Teachers are always pleased when their class agrees with them!) They understood further that while we can adopt some of the forms, we don’t have to adopt the Islamic numerical symbolism as well. Islamic number symbolism is similar, but crucially different from the Christian symbolism. (The number three and the Trinity come to mind immediately.) That is, it is always important to make sure that due proportion is used – that the number symbolism contained within the symmetry of the pattern is appropriate to the place where it is used, when understood in Christian terms.

For the final project of the semester I suggested to them that they consider how to incorporate some of the patterns they are learning to draw one that could be used in the floor of the sanctuary of a church. (The class in the Way of Beauty summer program will be doing something similar.)

The day after introducing the topic to the TMC students, I stumbled across this website, which is a great resource of images of mosaics and opus sectile work. Its gallery ranges from the floors in the offices of a Victorian architect in Norwich to Roman villas and the great churches of the world. The section on Sicilian mosaics has 80 photographs of the Palatine Chapel in Palermo. This revealed that precisely what my class was proposing had been done by the Norman king, Roger II of Sicily when he built his private chapel in the 12th century. He employed not only Christian mosaicists and Cosmati pavement specialists who produced geometric art in the Christian tradition, but also Islamic craftsmen.  He instructed them to produce patterns obviously derived from those that can be seen in mosques and adapted for Christian use.  This a model that would be well worth further study and I hope any architects reading this might consider commissioning something like this. I have included some photographs below of the chapel, and one pattern from a mosque for comparison; and you can see more at

Below are examples of opus sectile (cut work) from the Palatina)

The Privileged Person - the Cosmos is Made for Man, and Man is Made for Liturgy

Both Modern Astrophysics and Ancient Cosmology Confirm that the Heavens Proclaim the Glory of the Lord and that Man is Made to Discover It I have posted a longer article (see 'Articles' page in this site) inspired by the Discovery Institute film, The Privileged Planet. This film used recent developments in astrophysics to assert that the planetry conditions that are necessary for intelligent life to occur in the universe are the same that will allow that intelligent life to observe the rest of that universe. It also says that the chances of these two sets of conditions occuring are negligible and point the fact that there is very unlikely to be anyother intelligent life in the universe; and that if the laws of physics and chemistry were the only factors contributing to the beginning of life, that it would never have happened at all. It's findings are consistent with the idea that man is hardwired, so to speak, by God to see the work of the Creator in his Creation; and that he is in a unique position to observe the that Creation. I love this film and often show it to our students at Thomas More College as it supports so many of the assumptions behind the observation of nature by artists. However, I feel that the argument could go even further. We could explore the question as to why God would do this?

To me it seems there are three great lessons to be learnt by looking at the cosmos. The first is the general principle that it's beauty causes awe and wonder in us and motivates us to wonder at the One who created it.

Second is that once having stirred in us a desire to praise and worship God, it then gives us the pattern to which our praise and worship should conform. The Church's liturgy is based upon the movements of the bodies in the cosmos. This then indicates why we have those institutions so hated by modern man - organised religions. Religion is not just a private affair, for if my worship is modelled on the cosmos, so will everybody else's and the end result is that we worship together. The cosmos is the organising principle behind organised religion.

Third is that every aspect of human work can, potentially, be organised on the same principle and historically it was. Christian culture has always been rooted in a reflection of the beauty of the cosmos, articulated numerically. In this way it participates in the beauty of God and both stems from, and points us too the liturgy.

The beauty of the cosmos, therefore, becomes an argument for the religion being liturgical, rooted in worship and not just morality. It answers the question, if I believe in God, why do I need to go to church? The answer is that in participating in the cosmic liturgy, we are opening ourselves up to God's grace in harmony with his offering of it. It is therefore, just as the Church tells us, the most powerful and effective form of prayer and therefore, the most powerful and effective route to a joyful life.

To see this argument developed in more detail go to the 'Articles' page in this website and read the article entitled 'The Privileged Person'.





The Privileged Person - Modern Astrophysics and Ancient Cosmology Point to the Fact that the Cosmos is Made to be Discovered by Man Because Man is Made for the Liturgy

Modern Astrophysics and Ancient Cosmology Both Support the Idea that the Heavens Proclaim the Glory of the Church Many people that I have come across say that they believe in God, and might even acknowledge the need to conform to a moral code (quite how they discern it is another matter) but see no reason for ‘organised religion’, which they see as arbitrary creation of mankind. I think that the beauty of the cosmos provides an answer to this question and here’s why. There is a book (and a film made from book) called the Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery. I show the film regularly to my students. It was published in 2004 by the Discovery Institute and was written by Jay Richards and Guillermo Gonzalez, it describes how recent developments in astrophysics impact our sense of the place of the earth in the universe and the chances of life occurring within. It runs through all the conditions necessary for mankind to exist. (For example, we have an atmosphere that both shields us from the harmful part of the solar spectrum and is transparent to the life sustaining part of the same spectrum.) Then it details the chances of all these conditions (and there are dozens) occurring in the same place through the random processes that govern the laws of physics and chemistry in the universe. When all these probabilities are taken into account, the mathematics says that the chance of a place existing that can support us is negligible - so low that it is almost certain that there is no other life in the universe at all. The earth is probably the only planet in existence in the universe that can sustain intelligent life. Furthermore, it is surprising given the probable age of the universe that these conditions occurred even once, here on earth.

Then it goes further. The fact that scientists are able to study such things at all depends on the fact that man is able to observe the universe from here on earth to obtain data about the rest of  the universe which he can then analyse and draw conclusions. Surprisingly, it is not a given that he would be able to do this. In order for us to be living within the universe and able to observe the rest of it, another string of specific conditions have to be met (for example a transparent atmosphere through which we can see the stars). It turns out that these conditions coincide with those necessary for the existence of life. That is, the conditions that allow a particular form of intelligent life to exist at all are the same conditions that allow the same form of intelligent life to observe the rest of the universe. The odds of this happening are lower than negligible such that it is even hard to accept that it could ever happen. Yet it has. One conclusion that one could draw from this is that there a forces other than the laws of physics and chemistry in operation here. The case presented doesn't prove God as Creator exists, but it certainly it supports the idea very strongly.

Furthermore it supports the idea that the universe is made for man. Read the following from a sermon by the 5th century Doctor of the Church, St Peter Chrysologus: “Why then, man, are you so worthless in your own eyes and yet so precious to God? Why render yourself such dishonour when you are honoured by him? Why do you ask how you were created and do not seek to know why you were made? Was not this entire visible universe made for your dwelling? It was for you that the light dispelled the overshadowing gloom; for your sake was the night regulated and the day measured, and for you were the heavens embellished with the varying brilliance of the sun, the moon and the stars. The earth was adorned with flowers, groves and fruit; and the constant marvellous variety of lovely living things was created in the air, the fields, and the seas for you, lest sad solitude destroy the joy of God’s new creation. And the Creator still works to devise things that can add to your glory. He has made you in his image that you might in your person make the invisible Creator present on earth; he has made you his legate, so that the vast empire of the world might have the Lord’s representative. Then in his mercy God assumed what he made in you; he wanted now to be truly manifest in man, just as he had wished to be revealed in man as in an image. Now he would be in reality what he had submitted to be in symbol.” (Sermon 148, taken from the Office of Readings on his feast day, July 30th)

This passage leads us more deeply into the question as to man’s place in this universe. If God made the universe for us to observe, then one can assume that he wanted man to go ahead and observe it. But why? This is not discussed in the Privileged Planet (I think it leaves a place for a sequel video and this is my pitch for it!). If God went to such lengths to make man so that he could see and respond to the cosmos then it suggest that there are profound reasons for his doing so. I put the forward the following reasons speculatively:

1. The beauty and order of the cosmos point us to its Creator. We are hardwired to see the divine order that permeates all that is, seen, and through this we gain insights into the order that permeates all that is, unseen. The cosmos bears the thumbprint of the One who made it and when we see its beauty we are moved to love Him and to praise Him.

2. The beauty and order of the cosmos are models that show us how to direct that praise. The rhythms and patterns of the cosmos and the numerical description of its beauty (for example, the movements of the sun, the moon) are those upon which the patterns of our worship are based. The seasons of the liturgical year, the patterns of worship in the each week and each day are based upon this. This is the organizing principle behind ‘organised’ religion, which is so detested by modern man. If we all worship in harmony with the cosmos, then we worship also in harmony with each other. That is why when we go to church there are others there too. They are following the same principle. God gave us this cosmic sign to order our worship. When we worship in harmony with the cosmos, we are in harmony with all the saints and angels in the heavenly liturgy. This is what makes the liturgy the most ‘effective and powerful’ prayer there is (as the Catechism says). Our action of love for God is sychronised perfectly with his gift of himself for us and his grace. This is our route, therefore, to greatest joy in this life.

3. The beauty and order of the cosmos are the models upon which all other human activity, beyond the church, can be ordered. The culture in the broadest sense of the word can be infused with these values. To the degree that man can order time and space he can do so in harmony with the cosmos, and therefore with the liturgy. All that he creates and does can be graceful and beautiful. When the culture reflects the cosmic order in this way, then just as with the cosmos itself, it can raise hearts and minds to God and to praise of Him in the liturgy. Everything stems from and points back to the liturgy. God is still the ultimate author of its beauty, but is now working through man and inspiring each person in his work. Historically, all Christian culture was founded on this principle and it is an important part of what makes the liturgy the basis of culture. It can be illustrated in so many ways and is the basis of my course The Way of Beauty taught at Thomas More College.

The worship of God in the liturgy is the basis of the deepest personal relationship that it is possible to have; it is an earthly but supernatural participation in the heavenly state for which we are made: a perfect and dynamic exchange of love with God the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit, partaking of the divine nature. Therefore, the consideration of man as a human person is founded first on this relationship. Both modern astrophysics and ancient cosmology point to the same idea: that the ‘heavens proclaim the glory of the Lord’ and that it is intrinsic to man’s nature to see this and to respond with praise and worship God. Therefore any anthropology must be founded on the liturgical nature of the human person. It is incomplete if it does not. Similarly all considerations of man and society that rely on anthropology for their basis (such as economics) will also be incomplete if they do not take this into account.

And to come back to the original question posed at the beginning of this article: the beauty of the cosmos is an argument not only for the existence of a Creator but for the liturgy.  It sings the song that calls us to church, and to pray the Mass and Liturgy of the Hours. As was said to me recently, the Mass is a jewel in its setting, which is the Liturgy of the Hours; and the Liturgy is a jewel in its setting which is the cosmos. The heavens, therefore point to Heaven, and we participate in the Heavenly dynamic through the liturgy, which is modelled on the heavens…and so the cycle is completed, forever reinforcing and adding to itself. All of this is for man. He is indeed a privileged person.


When I posted this article some readers contacted me to point out that there have been announcements of the discovery of planets that could support intelligent life and that we may not be alone. Does this undermine any of the arguments.? I don't think so because it does not change the statistical argument in any way. The authors of the book upon which the film was based simply presented the statistical arguments for such an event occurring. The chances, while negligible, were not zero. This means that for it to happen once is amazing. For it to happen twice is even more amazing since the chances are even less, but still possible. Furthermore, before we accept that such planets other than our own exist, we should try to find out how certain the information is. If it is merely hypothesis, then it is not yet scientifically proven. And many newspaper articles mistakenly present scientific hypotheses in tones that portray the information as certain.

As Jay Richards one of the authors put it to me: 'We have discovered many hundreds of extra-solar planets, but none that come anywhere near fulfilling the basic conditions for habitability. Often when an extra-solar planet is discovered, though NASA puts out a press release claiming we've discovered an earthlike planet. The most earthlike planet we know of is...Mars.

'That said, nothing in our argument requires that Earth be unique. Our argument simply entails that however many habitable planets there are, they will be extremely earthlike, and they will be better platforms for scientific discovery than the alternatives.'

What about the idea that it points to the existence of a Creator? This is to my mind not undermined either, but represents even more circumstantial evidence; provided that the probablitility of such an event has not been challenged. And to my knowledge it has not.

The fact that there turn out to be more such privileged planets does, one might argue, lessen our privilege in a relative sense (there is another part of the universe that is equally privileged so we are not so privilege relative to the rest of the universe although the reduction is tiny). however, it does not lessen the privilege in an absolute sense (the a priori chances of any one planet in the universe possessing such a privilege, remain unchanged . The material evidence of God's love and generosity that has increased ).

What if at some stage we find such a planet and then can get close enough to find life there? This is an interesting point that is purely hypothetical at this stage. It might be that we would discover that such life had a common salvation history and an immortal soul like man; or could have an immortal soul but unlike man on earth, never experienced a Fall, so have a distinct salvation history; or could be intelligent but possess no immortal soul and so would be a sort of hyper intelligent monkey. All of these life forms would be privileged too.




How all human work can be inspired - The Divine Office, II

How busy people can strive for the ideal of praying continuously. The Divine Office for lay people, part 2 (part 1 is here): St Paul exhorts us: ‘Always rejoice. Pray without ceasing.’ (1 Thessalonians 5:16-17).

How can we do this? One can imagine the heavenly host of angels and saints doing this as they participate in the heavenly liturgy. But how can we, while here in this earthly life, strive towards this ideal? The answer is the liturgy of the hours, also known as the Divine Office.

The Church’s General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours reads as follows:

"Consecration of Time

10. Christ taught us: "You must pray at all times and not lose heart" (Lk 18:1). The Church has been faithful in obeying this instruction; it never ceases to offer prayer and makes this exhortation its own: "Through him (Jesus) let us offer to God an unceasing sacrifice of praise" (Heb 15:15). The Church fulfills this precept not only by celebrating the Eucharist but in other ways also, especially through the liturgy of the hours. By ancient Christian tradition what distinguishes the liturgy of the hours from other liturgical services is that it consecrates to God the whole cycle of the day and the night. [56]

11. The purpose of the liturgy of the hours is to sanctify the day and the whole range of human activity.'' [My emphasis]

If all times in the day and all human activity (no matter how mundane) can be sanctified by praying the liturgy of the hours, as the Church tells us, then this is this is a wonderful gift by which we can open ourselves up to God’s inspiration and consolation in all we do, and the degree that we cooperate, all our activities will be good and beautiful; and will be infused with new ideas and creativity. And we will have joy.

There are seven liturgical hours to be marked in the day and by tradition the process of doing something seven times symbolizes doing it perfectly or continuously. So for example, the psalmist (Ps 12:6) tells us that, ‘The words of the Lord are pure words: like silver tried by fire, purged from the earth refined seven times.’ This pattern of cycles of seven runs through the liturgy (see previous article, The Path to Heaven is a Triple Helix).

Even if we accept this and want to benefit from it, it is a huge problem for most lay people. If you get the full cycle of prayer of seven Offices in the day for seven days of every week in the year it adds up to a three or four volume set. Priests and religious who are obliged to pray it, devote a huge part of their lives to praying the liturgy of the hours. Benedictine monks can spend up to six hours a day singing the psalms in church. One might expect them to be able to cope as that is their special calling, but what about the rest of us?

This is how I approached the problem. First, as with all these things the help of a spiritual director is invaluable. He told me that I should take heart in the fact that through its priests and religious especially, the Church as a whole is praying the Hours on our behalf. As the globe turns, someone somewhere is praying for all of humanity (most of whom have no idea of the benefits they are getting as a result). So any additional contribution that I might make, no matter how small, to this prayer of Christ in the mystical body, the Church, will be good, but neither is everything going to collapse if I don't do it perfectly. Even one Hour (or ‘Office’) a week is worth it.

I was told to start modestly. If I found it beneficial, then I was told that I could increase what I did, but then it would be best to do so only gradually. There was a danger that if I took on too much too early that I would find it overwhelming and then give up altogether.

I started by aiming to read a maximum of two each day: Morning Prayer (‘Lauds’) when I got up and Night Prayer (‘Compline’) before I went to bed. I had a single volume version that just had Lauds, Evening Prayer (Vespers) and Compline for the year. If you want to try this but don’t even want to buy a book, you can see what each Office is for any day by going to

Mark the Hours

It took me a while to develop this habit, but once I had, I had to decide what to do next? I'd experienced enough to know that this was good and I knew I wanted to do more. But, like many busy people it seemed to me that trying to introduce even just Vespers on top of what I was already doing was going to be difficult. I was given an alternative. If at any time I could not recite a full Office, why not substitute it with a memorized prayer, and aim gradually to mark each Hour and aim for the ideal of sevenfold prayer each day?

I was helped by reading a book recommended to me by a fellow faculty member of Thomas More College of Liberal Arts called Earthen Vessels, the Practice of Personal Prayer According to the Patristic Tradition, by Fr Gabriel Bunge. Despite its daunting title it is in fact quite easy to read and very practical. Fr Bunge a Swiss Benedictine monk explains that the essence of the liturgy of the hours can be described as two things: first praying the psalms; and second, the marking of an hour. The official ‘off-the-shelf’ cycles of psalms, canticles, hymns and prayers are produced to allow people to sing in community, and this is why priests and religious must say a prescribed form. However, as lay people, we are free to devise any cycle of the psalms we like.

So this is what I did: for the most part I tried to keep to the standard form of each Office as in the Liturgy of the Hours book I had been given (which was according the Roman Rite, it said in the front) and from that to the schedule of Compline at night and Lauds in the morning. However, in between I marked the hour with a short memorised prayer, sometimes just the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be. If I could remember any, I tried to have just a line from a psalm. The ideal would be to memorise one psalm (and some are short!). This habit of continual prayer is what opens the door to the possibility of continuous prayer.  The publication Magnificat is a cycle of the psalms, with some prayers and canticles, that one can subscribe to monthly, which has been designed with lay people in mind.

What are the Hours?

The hours are not set times according the clock, but to the traditional organisation of time in which, roughtly speaking, usual hours of daylight are broken up into twelve divisions. So it is roughly like this: Lauds at dawn or when you get up; Terce (the ‘third hour’)at 9am or mid-morning, Sext (the ‘sixth’ hour) at noon or the middle of the day, None (at the ‘ninth’ hour)at 3pm or mid afternoon  and Vespers at dusk. Then there is Compline at bed time and during the night Matins, which is also called the Office of Readings. Because busy people are not expected always to be able to rise at midnight to praise God, this can be said at any convenient time and is often run together with Lauds, first thing in the morning.

The experience of doing this has been so positive that I can't imagine not wanting to pray at least part of the Hours each day. As someone said to me recently, he found that the praying of the liturgy of the hours was like regular physical exercise: although it meant an investment of time, there was a sense that in doing so, time was created because work seemed more efficient and productive and things just seemed to go more smoothly during the day. We both felt the same. We couldn’t prove it, but once we had tried it, we were convinced of its value.

I started doing the liturgy of the hours about 15 years ago and gradually, I have found that my life circumstances have altered to give room for it. I don’t do it all perfectly, but I now do most Offices each day. It does not feel like a burden, but a source of sustenance.

Psalm 116

O praise the Lord, all ye nations: praise him, all ye people.                                         For his mercy is confirmed upon us: and the truth of the Lord remaineth for ever.

You can read a more detailed article about it by following the link: Achieving the Pauline Ideal - Praying Continuously Body and Soul.

Those who want to learn to do the Divine Office, you might approach a priest or religious (ie monk or nun) and ask them to show you. Alternatively, the Way of Beauty summer retreats at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts will teach you how to pray the Liturgy of the Hours and how you can realistically incorporated it into a busy working or family life

Praying with the Cosmos – the Ancient Treasury of the Divine Office I

An ancient beautiful prayer that leads us to joy, and opens us up to inspiration and creativity; part 1, part 2 here The Divine Office (also called the Liturgy of the Hours), is one of the four pillars of the spiritual life of the new liturgical movement. This is the first in a regular series that highlight the riches of the the liturgy of the Church and how it is at the root of Western culture.

'The Mass is a precious jewel and that jewel has its setting, which is the Divine Office. The Divine Office also has its setting, which is the cosmos.' This is how a priest who was visiting Thomas More College of Liberal Arts put it to me recently. In the picture of words he painted for us, the Divine Office mediates between the Mass and cosmos. Through its pattern of prayer, it highlights for us the rhythms and patterns of sacred time, which are reflected also in the cosmos. The cosmos points us not only to the Divine Office, through its order, but also through its beauty draws us in and lifts our souls to God in heaven. God's angels and His saints are praying the heavenly liturgy - this is the activity, so to speak, of the exchange of love with God in perfect and perpetual bliss. And through the Mass the heavenly and the earthly, the divine and the human meet and the otherwise impassable divide is bridged supernaturally. By it, can step supernaturally into the heavenly dimension.

The Divine Office is an often-forgotten ancient form prayer, which has its roots in the pre-Christian worship of the Jews. We can assume that as a devout Jew, Christ will have prayed it, and we know from the Acts of the Apostles that the tradition was continued by His Church. Priests and religious of the Church are obliged to pray it to this day and we would perhaps most commonly associated it with the chanting of monks and nuns. But it is not their preserve. In the past it was a widespread regular practice for most lay people also. The Church of today encourages lay people to pray this too placing it in value above all other prayers and devotions apart from the Mass.  I was first encouraged to pray it by my spiritual director, one of the Fathers at the London Oratory, when I was living in England. It has been a life transforming experience for me.

In essence the Divine Office is simple. We say, or ideally sing, the psalms at regular intervals during the day, marking significant times called ‘Hours’. It is part of the Liturgy, the formal and public worship of the Church (like the Mass) and for this reason also known as the Liturgy of the Hours. If you want to pray with the priests of the Church then you can see each Office set out each day at

If we pray in harmony with rhythms and patterns of the cosmos, especially the cycles of the the sun, the moon and the stars, then the whole person, body and soul, is conforming to the order of heaven. The daily repetitions, the weekly, monthly and season cycles of the liturgy allow us to do just that. In his book, the Spirit of the Liturgy, Pope Benedict XVI calls our apprehension of this order, when we see the beauty of Creation a glimpse into 'the mind of the Creator'. This conformity in prayer opens us up so that we are drawing in the breath of the Spirit, so to speak, as God chooses to exhale. It increases our receptivity to inspiration and God’s consoling grace and leads us more deeply into the mystery of the Mass.

Also, participation in the Liturgy of the Hours is an education in beauty. It impresses upon our souls the order of the cosmos and so enhances our creativity. Whatever your discipline, ideas that are in harmony with the natural order are more likely to occur to you in your daily work. For example, I wrote about how awareness of the symmetry of the natural order has already aided scientific research, in the field of particle physics, in a previous article called Creativity in Science through Beauty.

Those who want to learn about this can approach any priest or religious (ie monk or nun) and ask them what they do. Alternatively, the Way of Beauty summer retreats at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts teach us how to pray the Liturgy of the Hours and how you can realistically incorporated it into a busy working or family life. It also teaches us just how the heavenly order that permeates traditional Western culture and can again in the future. Those who are interested in more information about this should go here.

For a longer essay on this read The Cosmic Liturgy and the Mind of the Creator.

The painting at the top is Fra Angelico and the frescoes below are by Giotto. Note the stars in the sky. This is not just a device by an interior designer to make the space seem bigger by creating the illusion that there is no roof. This is deliberately encouraging in us the sense that the cosmos is praying with us and that the heavens point us to Heaven.

Part II is here.


Below, Giotto's The Last Judgement.

Summary of the Kenrick Seminary talks on art

By Mark Scott Abeln on his Rome of the West blog For any who are wondering whether or not it's worth the effort to watch them, here is a summary of the four talks at the Kenrick-Glennon seminary by Mark Scott Abeln. His blog is worth a look. He is a skilled photographer and he has insights how the principles I have been articulating in art and architecture apply in the art of photographer. The 'Rome of the West' for those of you, like me, who didn't know is his home town of St Louis. Photograph: the Cathedral Basilica of  St Louis, in St Louis, Missouri.

Four talks on Sacred Art at Kenrick Seminary, St Louis

This autumn I was invited to address the seminarians at the Kenrick Seminary in St Louis. I gave four lectures on sacred art and liturgy. Here are four podcasts, posted on the seminary website. They are enhanced -  you hear my voice and see the slides I am describing. Harmony and Proportion - linking culture to the cult

Iconographic art

Baroque art

Gothic art