Of all the ancient buildings I visited while in Rome, I particularly liked the Pantheon. It was unlike any of the other architectural wonders and glorious churches I saw: though it could never surpass the majestic beauty of St. Peter’s Basilica, it was different.
It wasn’t just an old Roman building, and it wasn’t simply another church.
The Pantheon was unique: it was both.
Where once the Romans had sought to glorify the whole world of the gods, in one breathtaking universal statement in architecture, the seed of Christianity had taken root in the porphyry and marble, and risen to the great sun-like opening in the coffered roof. The Christians had baptized the temple and made it truly universal: they made it Catholic. Statues of saints now fill the niches where the Greek and Roman gods stood.
They didn’t say: “Look at this evil pagan temple erected to all the false gods, let’s tear it down and destroy it and build a church in its place.” No; rather, they said, “Look at this thing of beauty. Let it glorify God!” While removing the pagan deities, they preserved the religious beauty of the building—indeed, they elevated it to a spiritual plane the pagans had not anticipated. God Himself is present in the Pantheon.
More than an architectural wonder, the vast dome of the Pantheon is a cultural wonder, a testament to what Christians are called to do in a pagan world. We are not meant to destroy the world around us. We are meant to recognize the good, the true, and the beautiful, and to transform and baptize a neo-pagan world, restoring all created things in Him and all people in His image. This is the call of the New Evangelization, and the Pantheon recalled it again to my mind.
To be perfectly honest, when naming this blog, I also had a much less serious reason for picking this somewhat unusual name—a reason that tickles my English major heart. The word “pantheon” in common usage can have a double-meaning: it can mean something that encompasses everything worthwhile, as in, “in the pantheon of literary classics.” And that’s what I’d like to write about: everything. Or at least, anything that is worth talking and writing about.