It is not the purpose of cathedrals simply to make people feel small . . . but rather to help people understand that they are located within the vast orderly architecture of creation. We are indeed small, but a small part of something glorious, in which we can participate, find our place, find our purpose. Cathedrals are celebrations of all that God has made, and they embody in their stone and glass the history of God’s dealings with his world and people made in his image.
Jacobs’ answer is problematic, I think, on the whole. He demonstrates well enough the deep inadequacy of de Botton’s notions both of religion & history (not diminishing, though, his insights about basic human needs and the recurring conflicts of secularism). But Jacobs, in this reply to de Botton, is like de Botton in missing the essential counterpoint, the volatility at the heart of Christian religion, that undoes cathedrals as surely as it gives rise to them: that is, cathedrals emerge as attempts in architecture to tell or ‘embody’ a history only because built first of all to house, impossibly, something come from outside of history, an intervention relativizing history itself, an intervention itself an embodiment, an incarnation — God speaking to us, among us, in a singular Word. Not merely ‘finding our place in creation’ but finding ourselves involved, in Christ, in the life of the Creator, is what we’re confronted with, mysteriously, contradictorily, in the Church. A recovery of cathedral-building might be enough for de Botton’s ‘new’ religion, but for the religion that has sometimes indeed given the world the sort of cathedral he seems to admire, there’s the disclosure within history of something infinitely more — something infinitely more personal — in view.