Skip to main content

On Rebuilding

April 23rd, 2019 | 2 min read

By Susannah Black Roberts

Yesterday, I guest-adjuncted for a friend’s class of Baylor students, who are on a sort of NYC Study Abroad semester (Yes, NYC is Abroad from Texas. Texas, after all, is on the continent.)

The class was meant to be a crash course on virtue ethics, and we were talking about MacIntyre’s notion of virtues as those “acquired human qualities the posession and exercise of which tend to enable us to achieve those goods which are internal to practices and the lack of which effectively prevents us from achieving any such goods.”– which meant that we had to talk about practices. The practice I focused on, as an illustration, was cathedral building, for obvious reasons.

So, to get them to think about this, I asked them to list all the things necessary for the cathedral to be built. What did those people need, and what needed to be true of them, for Notre Dame to get built?

Well, they said, they needed the materials. The stone, the wood, the sand, the dyes, the fabric for the altar-cloths.

What else, I asked?

They needed math and plum-bobs and to be stonemasons and carpenters and foresters and architects and theologians.

And what else?

They needed to be honest. If a whole bunch of people applied with designs for the thing, the flying buttresses and the vaulting, and the guy who got the commission was someone’s nephew– if, that is, the commission was awarded on the basis of corruption– the building would not have stood. Its remaining standing is a testimony to the integrity of those who decided who would get the commission for its design.

And they needed patience, generosity, piety, love.

But as we were talking, we realized that I had missed out one profession on the list of professions required for Notre Dame to exist.

The cornerstone of Notre Dame was laid in 1160, and the cathedral was completed, more or less, by 1260. That means that another one of the professions necessary to the completion of the cathedral was midwife.

(AP Photo/Michel Euler)

Susannah Black Roberts

Susannah Black Roberts is senior editor at Plough. She is a native Manhattanite. She and her husband, the theologian Alastair Roberts, split their time between Manhattan and the West Midlands of the UK.