Friday, May 22, 2009

All the Cosmos is a Stage

I'm so pressed for time this morning, I'm considering not posting. But since we're dealing with the theo-drama, I guess the show must go on.

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.

41 Comments:

Blogger Warren said...

"Ever been inducted into a four year-old's drama?"

Sure, I've watched Olbermann a few times.

5/22/2009 09:19:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Woo-hoo! An out of time post!

5/22/2009 09:25:00 AM  
Blogger Warren said...

Even though history is irrelevant to something like Vedanta, it could still be divine revelation, couldn't it? It's just that, lacking any historical, objective element, there's no way to verify its claim to being such. Believing Vedanta to be divine revelation would be purely a matter of faith, then. There's no objectively compelling reason to accept its claims, however wise and profound and beautiful the tradition might be.

But as Bob points out, in the Semitic religions, we have an essential historical element. Historical facts are not provable in the same way as a mathematical theorem, of course, yet they are susceptible to some degree of proof (or at least evidence). So here we have something a bit more solid and objective to hang onto.

The truth claims of Christianity and Islam, for example, each rest on certain historical claims. Trouble is, some of these claims are directly contradictory to each other (eg, Islam denies that Jesus was crucified), yet each claims to be divine revelation. At least one of these two traditions, then, must be objectively false, hence not divine revelation at all (sorry, Traditionalists!). The situation is a bit more clear-cut here than is the case with the Eastern religions.

But is there any kind of objective, historical claim that, if true, would inescapably lead one to the conclusion that it was a divine revelation? The bobservation that the Bible is "God's own testimony about Himself" is interesting, but doesn't quite make the grade, I don't think. Any informed sceptic could show that the Bible is simply the history of a particular ancient people's IDEA of God. It may well be a historically unique idea of God, but that's still no reason to accept its claim to be divine revelation.

Hmmm....

5/22/2009 09:55:00 AM  
Blogger NoMo said...

Warren - Obviously, Christianity is not about faith in the words (of the Bible), but faith in The Word (Jesus Christ). Profoundly, contemplating the words seems to have a tremendous impact on faith in the Word.

Paul wrote in a beautiful letter to Timothy, "...continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." II Tim 3:14-17

Interesting.

5/22/2009 10:18:00 AM  
Anonymous will said...

This is the post that launches a thousand (more, even) riffs in my head.

Random thoughts:

- This is a bit simplistic, but Western music, with its announcement of theme or overture at the beginning, the following permutations of theme w/counter themes, and then conclusion/fulfillment/integration of all the themes - this starkly contrasts with Eastern music, which, from beginning to end features improvisations around a central note or drone. The former is drama in time, the latter an un-drama in timelessness.

- Tolkien believed that Christianity was indeed myth, only it was myth actually played out in history. Of course, we have to differentiate between myth and fantasy. Tolkien, J Campbell, and a host of others, understood myth as divine archetype manifested essentially in the form of fiction. The New Testament drama was divine archetype manifested with actual flesh and blood characters.

>> . . note that history has already been fulfilled, but that man has yet to receive the memo<< - In a sense, definitely, but I think the Ancient of Days is still waiting in the wings. I guess you could say he appeared at the beginning of the music/drama in a statement of the theme. When he returns, the theme will be fulfilled. Then everyone will get the memo. As to whether they had danced along with the music when it was playing, that's another question. But I think they will definitely get the memo.

>>. . the actor is a kind of accomplished liar.<< - Yes, unless . . . well, first, film actors were certainly lionized in the 30's and 40's. I think this was due to the fact that, at the behest of producers and directors, their screen presences were extensions of their natural personalities. Many of them, S Tracy, Gable, J. Wayne, etc., played an exaggerated version of themselves over and over. In any event, I think as to the wide-ranging-role-playing of the so-called versatile actors, some of them were not so much "lying", but rather were able to access certain archetypes, anti-archetypes included, of the human psyche and were able to "channel" them, so to speak. We all contain these archetypes, though most of them remain dormant (thankfully, considering there are indeed anti or evil archetypes). A skilled actor, however, is able to activate the archetypes, at least to a degree.

- This comment is getting long and ramble-y. This is because I haven't been sleeping all that well lately.

- On dream and drama: One thing I've noticed about el supremo dramatist Shakespeare is that in quite a number of his plays there are references/allusions to dreams. I think he may have been saying that for all his chronicling of human passion and the myriad manifestations of what we moderns think of as human nature, indeed of "reality" as we think of it, it is all essentially a dream, that is, a shadow existence . . . beyond which lays a Greater Reality. And that's something the next Shakespeare will deal with.

- I wonder what Balthasar thought of the film The Wizard of Oz.

5/22/2009 10:51:00 AM  
Blogger NoMo said...

Maybe it's just me, but is American Thinkerrocking out even more than usual today? Be sure to check it out.

flags: fly 'em if you got 'em

5/22/2009 10:55:00 AM  
Anonymous will said...

>>At least one of these two traditions, then (Christianity and Islam) must be objectively false, hence not divine revelation at all<< (author, Warren)

Heh, by their fruits you shall know them.

5/22/2009 11:07:00 AM  
Anonymous Petey said...

By their fruitcakes you shall know them.

5/22/2009 11:32:00 AM  
Anonymous will said...

By their greatgodpancakes.

5/22/2009 11:39:00 AM  
Blogger NoMo said...

Now you got me goin', Will.

As Gandalf said to Bilbo, "Your story has the ring of truth. It rings true". The same can be said about so very many passages in the Christian narrative drama.

For instance, take some of Christ’s last words on the cross -“At the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?’ (Mark 15) The One who had claimed to be God says this??? Why would anyone attempting to inspire belief in Jesus record this about Him (or make it up)? Then I read in Paul’s 2nd letter to the believers in Corinth that, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Of course. At the climax of God’s work in His-story, while in the flesh as fully man (and fully God), but SINLESS - He is MADE SIN.
I n c o m p r e h e n s i b l e. Words fail, but the story rings true.

Finally, perfectly, Jesus' very last words were apparently, "It is finished." (John 19:30) And it is.

5/22/2009 11:44:00 AM  
Blogger Warren said...

"Tolkien believed that Christianity was indeed myth, only it was myth actually played out in history."

Yes. I like C. S. Lewis' phrase for this: Christianity is "myth become fact".

5/22/2009 11:53:00 AM  
Blogger Warren said...

"Why would anyone attempting to inspire belief in Jesus record this about Him (or make it up)?"

There are many, many things in the New Testament that nobody in their right mind would have made up. Too many examples of this to even begin to list.

5/22/2009 11:56:00 AM  
Anonymous will said...

NoMo - yes, St John of the Cross speaks of the Dark Night passage in which all connection with God is seemingly lost.

I'm sure Christ's experience was the Dark Night of the Soul, cubed. And he knew it would be going in.

5/22/2009 12:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Cousin Dupree said...

The image of a bungee jump into hell comes to mind...

5/22/2009 12:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The truth claims of Christianity and Islam, for example, each rest on certain historical claims. Trouble is, some of these claims are directly contradictory to each other (eg, Islam denies that Jesus was crucified), yet each claims to be divine revelation. At least one of these two traditions, then, must be objectively false, hence not divine revelation at all (sorry, Traditionalists!)"

One could juxtapose Christianity and Judaism in the exact same way. What is your conclusion then Warren?

Perhaps there is another explanation as to why each of the revelations has certain blind spots.

5/22/2009 12:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"As far as I know, no one prior to Balthasar really noticed the richness of the analogy between theatre and divine action..."

The Kashmiri mystic and sage, Abhinavagupta wrote remarkable works on these subjects back in his day. I highly recommend a look at his bio, at least. A few Orthodox Christian scholars have noted remarkable similarities between his philosophy and that of Orthodoxy. Of note is the fact that he did not consider Maya to be radically "unreal" in the same way the Shankara did, or at least how Shankara is normally interpreted.

5/22/2009 12:13:00 PM  
Blogger NoMo said...

All right! Who needs all those other networks when you got....
OTV!That is so wrong.

5/22/2009 12:21:00 PM  
Anonymous laketrout said...

No worries NoMo. We can now Obamanize ourselves!

http://apps.facebook.com/obama-ize-yourself/Obama_invites_friends.php?FromIndex=1&_fb_fromhash=2c87bd64d8c02e0a25eaf10cbbaa7539

-sconi. Delicious

5/22/2009 12:50:00 PM  
Blogger NoMo said...

Ahhh, this explains everything.

8^/

(OK, so I'm not that busy today.)

5/22/2009 12:55:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"...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."

Heh. Now... keeping in mind that I rebel at any notions of predestination or diminishing the role or existence of free will, but here's an assignment. Rent three movies. All of them Hamlet. One starring Lawrence Olivier in the title role, the other Richard Burton & the last Mel Gibson. Feel free to add others to the list.

Same Play. Same scenarios. Same dialog. Same events. Same Play? Same Character?

As they say, it isn't whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.


wv:truiti
That's what I just said.

5/22/2009 02:18:00 PM  
Anonymous will said...

Back in the early 70's, I believe there was an all-parrot production of Hamlet.

5/22/2009 02:26:00 PM  
Blogger NoMo said...

Van - God knew you'd say that.

5/22/2009 02:29:00 PM  
Blogger NoMo said...

Van - Figuring out what this means may actually take more than a lifetime:

Paul wrote, "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified." (Romans 8:28-30)

??? Who doesn't naturally rebel against that?

5/22/2009 02:38:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"The truth claims of Christianity and Islam, for example, each rest on certain historical claims. Trouble is, some of these claims are directly contradictory to each other..."

Yeah. But.

Not being technically a Christian, this should be taken with a pound or two of salt, but it seems to this person who has been faster and faster approaching the center from the periphery, that the Truth is true, no matter whether you come at it as a critic, or a reader, or a performer.

The narrative reveals the deepest truths to the extent of your ability to comprehend, assimilate and metabolize it. If you enter into the truth through understanding that the events historically occurred as reported, fantastic. If you into enter the truth through the deeper meanings signified by the narrative, fantastic. If you enter into the truth through an understanding that the events and narrative describe the holographic Truth you discover in all the world around you, fantastic.

As with an exceedingly more mundane example, when Dumbledore tells Harry that "...there is coming a time when we will all have to choose between what is Right and what is easy...", what is True IS True, no matter how you come to it.

Yes, I know that explanation leaves much to be desired, nevertheless, just don't forget that it also has much to offer.

wv:acing
Yes... well.. leaving out the 't' does leave the word somewhat flat.

5/22/2009 02:53:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Will said "Tolkien, J Campbell, and a host of others, understood myth as divine archetype manifested essentially in the form of fiction. The New Testament drama was divine archetype manifested with actual flesh and blood characters."

Always getting there before me. Sometimes I feel like the third or fourth "News Flash!!!" e-update announcing in bold font, what was mentioned several bulletins ago.

Oh well.

;-)

5/22/2009 03:04:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

NoMo said "Now you got me goin', Will.
As Gandalf said to Bilbo, "Your story has the ring of truth. It rings true". The same can be said about so very many passages in the Christian narrative drama."

Ohhh... really starting to feel like day old oatmeal!

"flags: fly 'em if you got 'em"

Yes. Yes indeed.

5/22/2009 03:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would submit that we are all in the cosmic play, the Theo Drama. What are your scenes supposed to be?

Less improv and more script from the Writer is better.

Where to find detailed script? That is the question.

5/22/2009 06:25:00 PM  
Anonymous schadenfreude said...

Heh.

*snork*

I notice that nobody there mentions the elephant in the room - that maybe, just maybe, moving away from the cultural norm of the traditional family (or put another way, doing away with traditional roles and instead encouraging women to act more as men) didn't actually make women happier.

5/22/2009 06:30:00 PM  
Anonymous ximeze said...

Van,
not 'ac{t}ing' you silly: wv 2:53 was patting you on the back for ace-ing that comment.

By the grace of O, how far we've travel within this timelessness. Awe 'n some.

5/22/2009 06:46:00 PM  
Blogger Warren said...

Van,

I think I completely agree with what you said. I was just trying to approach the issue from an angle that's too often overlooked these days, but which is very traditional (see Ed Feser's book "The Last Superstition").

5/22/2009 08:48:00 PM  
Blogger Warren said...

"One could juxtapose Christianity and Judaism in the exact same way."

Not really the same. Christianity and Judaism don't flatly contradict each other on matters of fact. Perhaps the Jews think that they do, I'm not sure - but if they think that, it's because they are assuming up front that Christianity is not a divine revelation, and thus are begging the question. Christians, on the other hand, fully accept that Judaism is a divine revelation, so there's no problem in that direction. But Christianity and Islam DO flatly contradict each other on matters of fact - in which case at least one of them MUST be false.

"Perhaps there is another explanation as to why each of the revelations has certain blind spots."

Maybe, although I have problems with the concept of a divine revelation that has blind spots.

5/22/2009 09:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Christianity and Judaism don't flatly contradict each other on matters of fact."

I know you must be kidding. Have you ever heard of Christians referring to the "son of God"? That's a real sticking point for Judaism.
Obviously Christians believe Judaism to be divine, since it fulfills it, but, of course, Judaism, at this point, without Christianity is insufficient, from the Christian point of view.

If you have trouble with a revelation having blind spots, you might want to ask yourself what it is you expect from a form. To say form is to say limitation, and limitations imply blind spots. In fact, the actual need for a revelation in the first place implies distance from the Divine, a fall.

5/22/2009 09:23:00 PM  
Blogger Warren said...

"Have you ever heard of Christians referring to the "son of God"? That's a real sticking point for Judaism."

Well, sure. But it's not a contradiction of historical, objective fact, the way that the Muslims' denial of Jesus' crucifixion is. Rather, it's a case of the Jews assuming that Christianity is false because it seems to conflict with their own religious beliefs. Christians acknowledge the exact same set of facts as the Jews, yet see no contradiction in them.

"To say form is to say limitation, and limitations imply blind spots."

That's a good point. Probably we each meant somewhat different things by the term "blind spots".

5/22/2009 10:48:00 PM  
Blogger Warren said...

"Christians acknowledge the exact same set of facts as the Jews"

Probably I should have added "except for the Resurrection".

5/22/2009 10:50:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"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."

Ugh.

5/23/2009 01:05:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

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."

Indeed. More than a few actors had/have major difficulties being comfortable as themselves, if at all.

Whereas some of the very best actors knew very well who they were (Heston, Stewart, Wayne, O'Hara, Stanwyck, etc.).

5/23/2009 01:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Skully said...

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?"

Were there outtakes (and intakes)?
A blooper real? A Directors cut?

5/23/2009 01:19:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Outstanding post, Bob!
You sure whetted my appletite with this one.

In a sense, I often felt like I was acting; filling many roles, and lookin' for that role of a lifetime.

Is our dreams where we practice our lines, or is it when we are awake? Or perhaps both our concious and supra-concious (unconcious) work hand in hand to produce the epic role we were destined to fullfill?

Obviously there is a paradox, in one sense, for we can fall far short of our destiny and potential if we so choose, however, it's never to late to accept that perfect role.

Sure, there may hafta be a few (or several) rewrites, but that dream role is always waiting for us, is it not?

5/23/2009 01:33:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Will-

Fascinating thoughts you got there. :^)

I've also been havin' trouble sleepin' lately, but that may be due to a new puppy that seems to not need much sleep at all. At least partly.

I hope you get some primo rem sleep soon. Ditto for me. :^)

5/23/2009 01:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Skully said...

Petey said...
By their fruitcakes you shall know them.

Will said...
By their greatgodpancakes.

And by their waffles you shall know them.

5/23/2009 01:45:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Petey, Will & Skully said "Petey said... By their fruitcakes you shall know them.
...By their greatgodpancakes.
... And by their waffles you shall know them."

And I know what to do with them. Pass the syrup please.

5/23/2009 07:57:00 AM  

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