Cosmic History and the Trinitarian Timewave
I would guess that there are even many Christians who would opt for the former. After all, since when is "drama" a fundamental aspect of reality? Thinking involves abstracting rules and laws from underneath the flow of events. No physicist would say that there are five fundamental forces in the universe: gravity, electromagnetism, weak interaction, strong interaction, and a damn good plot.
Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that one of the problems of physics is that it cannot unify the four fundamental forces. Perhaps it's because they're leaving out the fifth -- or because the fifth is actually the first. You could say that order is the first law of the cosmos, and that order implies intelligence. However, when we think about order, it is usually in the spatial sense, as in the legendary "ordered desk."
But if there is spatial order there must be temporal order. Order is simply meaningful pattern, and for Balthasar, Theo-Drama is the meaningful pattern underneath history.
This is not an entirely novel idea. I suppose I first came across it in Whitehead, and then in Terence McKenna's The Invisible Landscape: Mind, Hallucinogens, and the I Ching, with its speculations about the fractal timewave of history. Although I never thought that McKenna had the details right, something about the general idea of time having some sort of inner coherence always struck me as correct. Call it a strong intuition.
For McKenna, cosmic history could be mapped by creating a temporal graph from the big bang to the eschaton, alpha to omega. It consists of one continuous timewave pattern that maps the ingression of novelty into the cosmos. However, the wave is fractal, meaning that it exhibits the same pattern across scale; magnify any part of the wave, and it is a mirror of the whole.
I don't like to speculate, but let's just get into the spirit of this worldview, shall we? For McKenna, the entirety of human history could be mapped in such a way that it mirrored the cosmic timewave, with its periods of stagnation and novelty. Likewise, an individual human life is also a fractal that mirrors the whole of history and of cosmology. For example, there have been periods of your own life that mirrored the Dark Ages, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, postmodernity, etc. Remember your dark ages? Of course you do. You may be going through one today, or even some part of today.
Now, before you dismiss this out of hand, McKenna found a kindred spirit in James Joyce. For example, in Ulysses, Joyce tried to show how a typical day in the life of an anonymous man wandering around Dublin on June 16, 1904, actually resonated with the myths of antiquity, specifically, with the travails of Odysseus (the Coen Brothers obviously attempted the same thing in O Brother, Where Art Thou?).
Joyce then outdid himself by showing how all of human history was analogous to a single dream in the long night of a single human being called Homo sapiens. And in this dream, the same patterns and motifs recur again and again: sin, fall, redemption, resurrection; there are also certain irreducible polarities, e.g., male-female, mother-father, sibling rivalry, father-son, mother-daughter, man of action vs. contemplative man, etc.
As I believe I mentioned in the previous post, this dramatization of history is something we all do, and cannot help doing. Instead of looking at drama as something we only superimpose on the random facts of time and history, people as diverse as McKenna, Joyce, Balthasar, and the B'ob believe otherwise: that history has a point, and that if it didn't have a point, we literally couldn't know it.
For example, dogs don't have history, and they don't know it. And unless you think that dogs know something we don't, history is actually quite important in its own right. It cannot be reduced to the random play of genes, or the ungulations of the quantum ocean, or the class struggle between the proletariat and bourgeoisie, or the Hegelian dialectic.
The question is, can man possess meaningful knowledge about his history, or only meaningless knowledge? For example, Darwinism gives us only "meaningless knowledge," as it insists that the "real story" isn't a story at all, just an elaborate lie told by idiot genes.
Take yesterday's celebration of Memorial Day, on which we honor the Americans who have given their lives in defense of this great nation. A Darwinian would say that we are just fooling ourselves, and that these fallen heroes are actually just dupes of their genes. Organisms don't actually "give their lives" unless there is some hidden genetic payoff, such as "inclusive fitness." "Selfless" behavior always has a covertly selfish motive.
Thus, taken to its logical endpoint, the Darwinian doesn't argue his point because he believes it is true, which would be absurdly self-refuting. Rather, he does so in the hope that it will make him a tenured alpha male who is more likely to pass on his genes to one of those adoring coeds. Likewise, his struggle against religion is not a struggle against bad ideas, but bad genes.
But again, what's the point? To "improve" the gene pool? That might be fine for the gene pool, but what does it have to do with humans? And the gene pool can't be improved anyway, any more than we can improve a rock. Rather, it simply is what it is, not what we think it is or what we would like for it to be.
So we are inevitably dealing with profoundly different narratives, or dramas. Two things distinguish the Christian: first, he acknowledges that we are in a drama, instead of pretending we aren't; second, he believes that the drama is real, not an epiphenomenon that can be reduced to genes, atoms, or economics.
Before even getting into the theology of it, Balthasar spends considerable time analyzing and discussing the basic elements of drama -- elements without which there could be no drama. For example, he talks about "event." Both fundamentalism on the one hand and theological liberalism on the other, get this wrong. The former tend to reduce theology to "something that has taken place historically (a fact) or a string of data that can be enumerated," while the latter tend to rationalize it as mythology historicized.
True, the events of revelation demonstrate principles. However, these are not static principles, like mathematical equations. Rather, Balthasar's task is to show that they are intrinsically dymamic and dramatic, because they mirror something that is (always) going on within the Trinity -- which is not "object" but event (so to speak).
The "event" of revelation has to do with this dynamic reality vertically "breaking into" time and history, "revealing both the living God's mode of being and his mode of acting." Jesus is not just God's "word" but his eternal act as well. Or, the action is dictated by the nature of his Word. It's something of a paradox, since it means that God not only uses time to express the timeless, but that this is the only way to do so. Again, the atemporal object is an event that "spread[s] itself out in dramatic form."
Obviously, history is composed of "events." Or is it? Once again we see that we cannot help converting time into history. It is what humans do. But in the absence of God, there can obviously be no objective history. Any pattern we impose is ultimately arbitrary, like imposing patterns on the stars. We could say that history is written by the winners, or that a counter-history is written by the tenured losers, but neither one could be said to be objective.
But if history is rooted in God and not man, then there is the possibility of intuiting its objective pattern. And of course, this is the very purpose of revelation, which is the story of the confrontation between finite freedom and infinite freedom.
Thus, the Incarnation, say, is not something that happens "in" history. Rather, it is more like a huge object in space that bends time around it. After the Incarnation, we cannot help viewing all of history in its light. It shapes history more than it was shaped by history. In fact, isn't this one of the key points, that history could not vanquish him, but that he vanquished history? He merely used history to beat it at its own game.
Again, as in Ulysses, this is all happening now; it is the structure of the now, and gives it its event quality. Therefore, "it is quite right to say that the death and Resurrection of Jesus inwardly affects all men of all ages since they all share solidarity in a single history of mankind." And "In one aeon the outer man dies daily, in the other aeon the inner man continually rises to new life" (HvB). Thus, the Christian drama is indeed holographic and fractal.