Religion and Sustainability
DGC 01 - 05 - 2010

Almost without exception, religion has proven itself to be the most culturally sustainable institution. Even language can be considered to be relatively transient in most cases in relation to the sustainability of religion although its role in cultural identity is as strong (if not stronger). The Roman Catholic Church is no exception, and although has changed much in its almost 2,000 year lifespan, it has remained a rock of Western civilization through a historical gauntlet of barbarian invasion and intellectual resistance. The increasing secularity of the modern age is a far cry from the politics of religion in the Middle Ages, and religion as a whole has undergone vast alterations in order to remain viable, and ultimately sustainable. While politics and a monopoly on knowledge have allowed the church to remain a dominant power in the past, the now largely symbolic role of the pope and Vatican City continue to be integral to the sustainability of the Roman Catholic Church as a viable cultural institution. Vatican City is the center of the vast worldwide religious network of Catholicism, and St. Peter's Basilica lies at the core. Most major world religions have similar nucleii, such as Islam's Great Mosque in Mecca or the Wailing Wall and Temple Mount of Judaism. All of these places represent the closest physical link between the adherent and deity, and this relationship ultimately holds the key to salvation. Can salvation be achieved, for most, on a small, individual scale? The sustainability of Catholicism in part lies on the ability of the church to maintain a monopoly on salvation, and the physical location of the church is the only place this can be achieved through mass, confession, communion, etc. The Vatican not only represents the symbolic center of Catholicism, but all activities meant to provide salvation for devotees find their legitimacy in Papal authority and the Holy See. As smaller Catholic churches maintain the monopoly on individual salvation, St. Peters (as a direct representation of all of the Vatican) is the center of salvation for the entire Catholic world. Because of its literal and symbolic importance, if not necessity of existence, in Catholicism, St. Peters is at the center of culturally sustainable Catholicism. As a place, the physical construction of the basilica is also designed for cultural sustainability. When considering the religious significance of the location of St. Peters, it seems rather unimportant compared to the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Not only is this church the supposed site of Christ's crucifixion and burial, but is located in the region where Jesus lived and spread his ministry. Practically speaking, however, the incredible distance between Jerusalem and the center of Christianity (Rome in the time of Constantine) would have made it almost impossible to access the symbolic center of the church. The location within Rome provided an accessible, but still equally holy, alternative to Jerusalem, and so by centrally locating the symbolic nucleus of Christianity and maintaining the pope as a very real material and spiritual presence in the lives of Romans, Constantine established the sustainability of Catholic tradition. Although St. Peters itself is different than the original basilica, the symbolic location remains the same. In terms of sustainability, St. Peters is a direct representation of the link between God and the Vatican, of the pope's role as God's representative on earth. As the largest church in the world, in addition to lavish decoration and soaring architecture, the mere physical presence is inspiring enough to inspire pride and devotion; a physical representation of the source of spiritual devotion for countless millions. St. Peters is the link between Catholics and the tradition of the Vatican, of their church, and the importance of that link, the mystery and abstract divinity involved within, are the direct sources of the continuing cultural sustainability in St. Peters. [Caption 001]: The plan of St. Peters, including the collonade and piazza, are meant to invoke awe and reverence for the pope and Christ, but also to provide a space suitable for massive gatherings on certain occasions. By allowing people to gather en masse inside and outside the church, the physical design has the ability to create a sense of community among those adherents who come to worship. Physical connection with the dominating structure leads to inclusion in the Catholic community and the closest possible connection to God through the pope, inspiring devotion which leads to both individual and collective religious sustainability. [Caption 002]: The Papal Insignia; the two crossed keys of the insignia are the keys to heaven entrusted to St. Peter, founder of the church and recognized as the first pope, by Jesus. Because the church (through the pope, God's representative on earth) possesses these keys to heaven, they possess the literal and figurative keys to salvation in Catholic tradition, ensuring that they church will always be used as the medium through which salvation is achieved. The key to the sustainability of Catholic tradition is the overt message that people need the church, and that is directly embodied in this symbol, which is an important part of the interior decoration of St. Peters and the Vatican.

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