All the Cosmos is a Stage
I suppose I've never discussed Balthasar's overall purpose in writing (and writing and writing) the Theo-Drama, so let me briefly begin with that. It is the second part of his trilogy of systematic theology dealing with the good, the true, and the beautiful. The Theo-Logic, which we had been discussing, has to do with the truth of the world and of God, while the Glory of the Lord, which we discussed prior to that, has to do with knowing God through the divine beauty, i.e., glory.
Naturally, each of the three transcendentals is always reflected in the others -- they can never be radically separated -- but the Theo-Drama has to do with the good, specifically, with God's action in the world. But this action is not merely random; rather, it is structured in the manner of the theatre, where "man attempts a kind of transcendence endeavoring both to observe and to judge his own truth, in virtue of a transformation... by which he tries to gain clarity about himself."
As far as I know, no one prior to Balthasar really noticed the richness of the analogy between theatre and divine action, for, according to professor I. M. Bookflap, his aim is nothing less than "to show how theology underlies it all, how all the elements of drama can be rendered fruitful for theology." And a big part of the reason why no one ever noticed the analogy before, is that throughout most of history, people regarded actors as more or less disreputable scumbags. Yes, just like today. We'll get into the reasons why later.
With that in mind, on with the show. And awaaay we go...
We still have some loyal opposition to the idea that the Christian revelation is unique and cannot be reconciled with other religious approaches. But it cannot be, for the same reason that Hamlet cannot be reconciled with hypnosis. For example, neither Vedanta nor Buddhism actually require any divine revelation at all, any action on God's part. Although the Upanishads are considered sruti, i.e., of divine origin, the fact of the matter is that they are actually a seer's catalogue of personal testimony of various sages who attained union with the ground of being, or Brahman. They are not God's own testimony about himself.
And although the Bhagavad Gita is presented in the form of a story, it is again not God's own story, but a retelling of the truths of the Upanishads in dramatic form. It is myth (in it's highest sense), not history. But Christianity is not myth; rather, it is history. Yes, it subsumes a lot of mythology, in that mythology is one of man's primary modes of theology in the absence of God's own revelation. Therefore, there are parts of the Old Testament that are quite obviously mythological.
You may have noticed that a lot of people who are antagonistic toward Christianity suggest that this only proves that Jesus was also a myth, when the point is that Jesus is the "fulfillment," or "post-figuration" of the myths. Myth is a result of man's groping around in the dark, trying to arrive at God's own story before he has fully revealed it.
Eastern religions can do without history, thank you. Indeed, as mentioned the other day, one of their purposes is specifically to exit history. But Christianity does not exit history. Rather, it uses history as the very means of its self-expression, or of God's self-telling.
You might say that what we call "history" takes place within or at the margins of the divine drama. I picture it like a huge river flowing from Genesis to Revelation, or alpha to omega, or from page 6 to page 266 of my book, with all sorts of eddies, lakes, creeks and crocks that spin off from the main source. To the extent that they imagine they are radically separate from the source, then they are radically false. For there is only one history and one truth, and human history is played out in the light of the divine history. (And please note that that history has already been fulfilled, but that man has yet to receive the memo; in short, it will require more history for man to understand that history has already been fulfilled, if he ever does.)
I am again so astoneaged by Balthasar's erudition, that he makes me feel like a freaking neanderthal. For not only was he a master of theology, philosophy, metaphysics, and mysticism, but it seems that he has literally seen and assimilated every play from antiquity to modernity.
I'm just going to go through my notes from page to page, and reflect upon whatever struck me.
HvB talks about how medieval mystery plays were like "cathedrals in time." This makes a lot of sense, not just because the vast majority of people were illiterate, but again because Christianity is susceptible to just such a dramatic rendering. But at the same time, there was this deep suspiciousness of actors, since it is equally evident that the play is not really real, and that the actor is a kind of accomplished liar.
In a footnote, HvB quotes someone who said that the actor "presents us directly with the ultimate mystery of human nature: i.e., that when we have entirely overcome ourselves and totally ceased being ourselves, we then find our true selves and begin for the first time to be ourselves." But the actor finds that it is so easy for him to be someone else, that there is the danger that he can go from inhabiting a role to the role inhabiting him.
For there is no humanness in the absence of role -- this being a full employment cosmos -- except that there are true roles and false ones. False roles bear on the problem of pathological narcissism, in which the person has merged with a false self, or "as if" personality. But the true role is voc-ation, in which one also finds one's true voice. "In fact, theatre owes its very existence substantially to man's need to recognize himself as playing a role. It continually delivers him from the sense of being trapped and from the temptation to regard existence as something closed upon itself. Through the theatre, man acquires the habit of looking for meaning at a higher and less obvious level" (HvB).
Now in drama, the ideas the author wishes to convey are seen in the action. Importantly, the gospels are not theo-drama, for the Bible is not the word of God; rather, it is words -- inspired words -- about the drama of the Word, as it passes through and shapes history. The real theo-drama is this clash of finite and infinite freedom, as the latter takes on flesh and enters the finite and bounded stage of history. Holy Scripture itself is worthless unless "in the Holy Spirit, it is constantly mediating between the drama beyond and the drama here" (HvB).
It's very strange and paradoxical when you think about it, for it is ultimately a case of the author entering his own play. In so doing, how much of his own freedom is he abdicating, and how much of the play is "unwritten" and left to be shaped by man's finite freedom as it intersects with the infinite freedom on the stage of history? Did the play have to turn out as it did? Or were there other options, based upon man's response? Were there alternate endings to the drama?
At the time the play was going on "in the flesh," no one understood what was happening. That only occurred later, with theological reflection. But as it turned out, God was inducting various actors into the theo-drama, as if people were leaving the audience and jumping onto the stage. You there, fisherman -- want to be in a play?
This is quite strange, for it's a bit like improvisational theatre. How much of, say, Peter's role was written, and how much did he improvise on the spot? Please note that we cannot say that it was pre-written without eliminating man's freedom, and therefore his role in the drama. Somehow the drama had to be both written and unwritten, with a lot of "space" for the actors to improvise.
Again, this is no static revelation, but a dynamic one that unfolds in time. Nor is it narrated. Yes, there is some kind of structure, but we cannot see the structure when the play is happening. Judas, Pilate, John the Baptist -- none of them have any idea of what's really going on. Time and again in reflecting upon this, I was reminded of the structure of dreaming, in which our internal Dreamer writes the dialogue, casts the roles, scouts the locations, builds the sets, etc. But from our standpoint inside the dream, it all seems to be unfolding spontaneously. We can't get outside the dream, and yet, some unKnown part of us must be outside it, since we wrote it!
Impossible blogging conditions. Ever been inducted into a four year-old's drama? Exit stage left.