Friday, July 16, 2021
Wednesday, July 14, 2021
Okay, there's gotta be an easier way than slogging through 2,700 pages of Balthasar's five-volume Theo-Drama to understand his point. After all, the whole Bible -- both testaments -- comes to about half that. Then again, John did end his gospel with the caveat that if one were to attempt to document everything about Jesus, "the world itself could not contain the books that would be written."
Balthasar: "Hold my beer."
What is the lazy man to do? Oh, right. I saved myself the obligation of reading the Theo-Drama by having previously read it over a decade ago, mostly in 2009. All I had to do was search "Theo-Drama" on the blog, and 12 items come up, one in 2007, one in 2017, and ten between April and June of 2007, when I read most of the the material and subsequently forgot all about it.
But did I actually forget it, or did something else happen to the information? In other words, did the material just dissipate into the ether, or did it undergo some sort of transformation after floating into my head -- the same way food does after entering one's mouth? Analogously, I've had a lot of meals over the years, more than I can remember. But just because I can't remember them doesn't mean they didn't enter into and become me.
Besides, isn't that the point of reading? To weave truth and light into our substance so as to maintain our health and strength? True, there is reading for mere pleasure, or escapism, or information, but that's not the sort of reading we do around here -- unless we are just very tired and incapable of comprehending anything deep, wide, and high.
Let's see if we can overcome our retrospective embarrassment and find out if there's anything back there worth dredging up from the past:
In the Theo-Drama, Balthasar likens God's involvement in history to a stage play that reconciles the problems of divine and human freedom -- which is to say, the paradox of infinite and finite freedom.
For example, "facing forward," it always looks like we have a more or less radical existential freedom -- at least those of us privileged to live in the West.
But "facing backward," it often seems as if our freedom was more or less an illusion.... as if one's life were being dreamt by a "supraconscious" (or infraconscious) "dreamer" of whom we were unaware at the time.
Yesterday we discussed the idea of spatial, "geometrical" truth vs. temporal, "musical" truth. Our lives are a combination of geometry and music, of adventure and law, of harmony and melody, of freedom within the constraints of some kind of hidden necessity. Our "life" consists of the more or less winding road we take to re-arrive where we startled and even jumped into our skin. In the words of the Poet, And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time.
Now, Balthasar has an interesting take on the Trinity and its relation to the cosmic theo-drama. The Jesus of history, because he was all-man, had to be fundamentally no different than the rest of us in this respect.
As such, just like us, he couldn't fully know or understand the nature of the drama in which he was situated. If he had known, then his passion would have been something less than that, more of a detached "dispassion," as he simply "played out the clock" -- as in a one-sided basketball game, in anticipation of the buzzer-beating resurrection.
Thus, just like us in our own lives, Jesus had an element of horizontal freedom -- which is to say existential nothingness -- within the constraints of a much larger drama in which he was taking part. While he obviously had "hints" of a larger purpose -- as indeed we all do -- the human Jesus could not have been privy to the whole script.
And in fact, Balthasar uses the metaphor of playwright, director, and actor to conceptualize the situation. The Father is "playwright"; the Son is "actor"; and the Holy Spirit is "director." As Edward Oakes explains,
"a successful theatrical production always depends on the harmonious cooperation of three freedoms, which are not however equal: for the director must serve the script and the actor must serve both; yet the actor cannot simply afford to be an automaton if the production is to be successful: some unnamed element... must be engaged if the play is to emerge before the audience as playwright and director intended it."
As Sachs (quoted in Oakes) writes, "The fact that the actor-Son has the responsibility to play the role given him by the author-Father, as 'whispered' to him in each moment by the prompter-Spirit, does not exclude the actor-Son's interpretive freedom. On the contrary, it assumes it and provides the material in which his freedom as an actor can become concrete. Therefore, although the author has a definite primacy with regard to the actor and the prompter (or director), it is by no means a tyrannical relationship. The author continues to be present in his work but as one who opens up the creative 'space' of the part."
Back to our own lives, in which there is a curious freedom that accompanies surrendering to that which we are and He Who Is. Looking back at our lives, we can see that we were least free when we thought we had the most freedom, and most free when we finally gave up the faux freedom.
Balthasar compares it to the artist who moves from the persecutory space of being tormented by indecision and infinite possibility, until he is finally "possessed by the idea inspiring him and surrenders himself completely to its imperious and peremptory demands."
So history -- both personal and collective -- is a God-given space of freedom in which we are free to choose the path back to ourselves and to God. Some roads get there faster than others; some are more scenic and beautiful, others more painful (in fact, all inevitably involve both beauty and suffering). Still others arrest the journey altogether -- e.g., leftism -- unless one returns to that fork in the road and reorients.
To be continued....