Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

God's Glory Appears: The Theodrama

IN PRIOR POSTS WE HAVE SEEN how beauty in nature, particularly in persons, requires not only an openness on the part of the recipient, but a receptiveness to the form of the beautiful object, and a giving of self to the other, all within the envelope of freedom, therefore resulting in a sort of dialogue, a loving exchange, that leads to communion between one person and the other. It is more akin to a mutual self-giving. "[T]he beauty of this form reflects the aesthetic rightness of the mutual exchange of gift given and gratefully received. The epiphany of goodness, we can suggest, is a theophany in earthly form of the triune life." Steck, 50.

So there is for von Balthasar implicit in every authentic human response to beauty a trinitarian aspect.  But though this may be a sort of theophany, it is not, strictly speaking, Revelation.  Our reaction to beauty, however, provides us an analogy for our reaction to the divine beauty, i.e., God's glory.  It provides us therefore a fitting model of how humans ought to response to Revelation.

Revelation--which is a manifestation of the divine beauty or glory of the Lord--is encountered when we have a manifestation of the divine love, specifically "the triune nature of God's love."  Revelation also must contain and effect "God's covenantal intent to include the individual human existence in God's triune love."  Steck, 51.  There is always the possibility of human static in "seeing" God's glory revealed, in choosing another good, or as a result of a disordered soul which hides in its shell of egoism.

To overcome the static, the disordered egoism in our soul which makes us incapable of proper response to God's glory revealed, God must enter history in a "dramatic form," specifically, the form of tragedy.  It is tragedy that is the dramatic form by which God reveals his glory, and so it is tragedy that is "the great, valid cypher of the Christ event." Steck, 51 (GL4.101)

This dramatic form is something more than philosophy, and certainly something entirely other than myth.  Philosophy deals in universals, not particularities.  While myth has the advantage of being open to revelation from above and a sort of particularity, in its Greek form it reached a dead end.  There was "darkness" and "absence" in and ultimate impersonal.  The Greek gods are "above" us and never "with us."  That is why philosophy replaced myth in Greece.  However, philosophical truths do not result in a one-on-one encounter, and do not lead to a communion of giver, gift, and receiver of the gift.  So something other than philosophy and something more real than myth is required for the true God to reveal his glory.  The dramatic form allows for an interpersonal encounter, which is real, and so exceeds the general, impersonal encounter with philosophical truths and the unreal encounter with myth.

 The Oberamagau Passion Play

The dramatic form, however, does borrow the "encounter from above" that is found in myth, but in Revelation the unreal aspect of the myths of men is exchanged for the real aspect of God's glory being revealed.  Ultimately, this is done through tragedy. 

In drama, human action is interpreted in light of some overarching meaning that bestows a final and authoritative judgment on the agent's free historical choices of limited values and goods. The capacity of the dramatic form to interpret concrete existence makes it a particularly appropriate tool of a theological aesthetics. The dramatic story of Christ--what von Balthasar calls the "theodrama"--is the horizon in which the Christian interprets his concrete story. Like the beautiful form, the theodrama awakens a particular response on the part of the person by inviting him to interpret his life in terms of the absolute horizon of covenantal love.

Steck, 53. When Christ reveals himself in the theodrama of the Christ-event, we do not abandon the "'aesthetic lens, but rather move from an 'iconic' aesthetics to a 'dramatic' one."  Steck, 43.  From stasis to dynamis.  The theodrama of the Christ-event is dynamic in the fullest sense of the word since it is dynamic in terms of He who reveals his glory and he who receives the glory of the One revealing.  "God has brought into drama of triune life the drama of fallen human existence, so that 'our play 'plays' in his play."  Steck, 54.   So it is that God enters into our world.

That is why the Christ-event must not be seen only as a Christological event (Christ-in-man), but also as a Trinitarian event (God-in-Three-Persons).  The Trinitarian eternal "play" plays in our temporal "play."  It is a remarkable event wherein God as judge suffers the humiliation of allowing Himself to be judged.  God judges the God-man, and so "something akin to drama is played out between the sovereignty of [God's] judgment and the humiliation whereby he allows himself to be judged," and the voices of the judge and the judged, "are both united and kept distinct by a third, ineffable voice."  Thus Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
In Christ . . . [w]e see in this life a God who allows the distance between Father and Son to become the distance of sinful alienation in order that it be overcome through the ever greater unity of divine love.

Steck, 55.

In a sense, there are two "dramas" in the Christ event: the "economic drama," which is the salvific activity of God to man, but there is also the "triune drama" where God reveals his internal life.  There are therefore two separate "triads" associated with a play and likewise with the theodrama.  The first such triad is author, director, and actor.  The second triad is presentation, horizon, and audience.  To grasp these two triads as occurring in the Christ-event is important, because von Balthasar uses the triads as metaphors to help us understand the "economic Trinity," as well as "the manner in which God accomplishes his reconciliation with humanity, without compromising divine transcendence or human freedom."  Steck, 55.  They are also important points of reference in understanding our response to the Christ-event and therefore in understanding the moral life. 

We shall explore these triads a little further in our next posting.

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