• July 9th, 2020

The synchronisation of societal priorities

Reverend Jan Scholtz

When, in 1137, the Abbot Suger announced his plans to build a new choir for the Abbey church in St Dennis, France, and adorn it with gold, his long time friend, the Cistercian Abbot, Bernard of Clairvaux, criticized Suger’s taste for excessive opulence in these words:  “What is the good of displaying all this gold in the church…?”. You display the statue of a saint and you think that the more overloaded with colours it is, the holier it is.  And people throng to kiss it… they pay homage to the beauty of the object more than to its holiness. The church sparkles and gleams  on  all rides; while its poor huddle in need, in it the art lovers find enough to satisfy their curiosity, while the poor find nothing there to relieve their misery.”

But the Abbot Suger was not easily dissuaded from his project, and replied to Bernard in these words:  “We maintain that the sacred vessel should be enhanced by outward adornment, and nowhere more than in serving the Holy Sacrifice, where inwardly all should be pure and outwardly all should be noble…”
“The church clothes her stones with gold, but lets her children go naked!” came back the response from Bernard; unmoved, Suger replied:  “It was as if (the martyrs of the church) wished to tell us through their own mouths, whether you wish it or not, we want only the very best.”

In the end, the Abbot Suger built his choir, the prototype of the great Gothic cathedrals of the thirteenth century.  And Bernard of Clairvaux continued to deplore what he considered needless extravagances.
This historical tale shows the seemingly eternal struggle regarding the reconciliation of priorities.
Some seek beautiful effigies while others are unwilling to consider such investment until the last hungry stomach has been filled. 

The need for ornate buildings spurs economic development, providing temporary and permanent employment from its conceptualisation until its inauguration as a building or landmark. Builders and artisans are employed; offices to house productive initiatives are created. In the case of landmarks, tourism is boosted by the presence of such building. Everywhere around the world, we stop to capture the moment we visited various landmarks. This indeed shows the very need for such expenditure in our society.

On the opposite side of the coin, usage of said funds could directly impact the lives of the poor. Loans or security for loans could be provided. Social development projects might be initiated which allow for direct stimulation of small businesses. Community centres such as soup kitchens could be opened to feed masses and ensure that nobody goes to bed hungry.

Both priorities are equally important. Yet the focus on one tends to have negative impact on the other. We as society need to decide and assess how best to balance the “coin”, so that both ends see the light and possible gains are gleaned without excessive sacrifice on the other part. We should rather see both as good rather than operating with the mindset “seeking the best of two evils”. None are evil, but if one is sacrificed, supporters of the sacrificed side will feel so. Synchrony between both priorities will aid our nation attain its great destiny. 

*Reverend Jan. A. Scholtz is the //Kharas regional chairperson and !Nami#nus constituency regional councillor and is a holder of a Diploma in Theology, B-Theo (SA), a Diploma in Youth Work and Development from the University of Zambia (UNZA), Diploma in Education III (KOK) BA (HED) from UNISA. This article is written in his personal capacity.

Staff Reporter
2020-02-21 12:32:44 | 4 months ago

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