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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Theology and Drama, part II

In this post, I shall continue the train of thought started in the last post, which was interrupted by the blog's space limits.

Wojtyla - following Kotlarczyk - wished the actor to minimize his own personality and any unnecessary fabrications of personality imitating that of a character so that the bare splendor of the Word could shine through. Minimizing the role of personality not only emphasized the story of the play rather than its mode of presentation, but also brought the actor out of the realm of some fictitious space and temporal sequence and into the souls of the audience. Once the actor becomes emptied of his self and identified (in the audience’s minds) only with the text or narrative of the play, eye contact between stage and audience turns the theatrical form of communication into an intensely interpersonal encounter, with direct communication between the soul of the actor (or playwright) and the beholder.

Seen in this light, Kotlarczyk believed that the theatrical act was a means of sanctification in which the actor transmits the Word of God to, and thus enters into a sort of communion with, the audience. The theatre is a liturgical act which by its artistic character renews and re-presents the mundane world. Just as secular life is a type or image of the Mass (which is the nuptial banquet of supernatural life), Kotlarczyk believed that life mirrors drama and not just vice versa; human drama transmits the divine Drama which is the ultimate meaning of the world as seen in God’s eyes. Faithful to the traditional Catholic symbol of salvation history as being a divine dance or symphony, Kotlarczyk believed that the whole of reality is structured as a drama with the crux of the plot centered around the phenomenon of man - that is, in the man who was also God.
This seemingly radical view of art as a reflection of the divine drama of salvation is in fact well within the Scholastic tradition. For the Scholastics, poetry (including drama) uses the outward form to reveal an inward form of beauty, which is a reflection of the Form of forms, God. As the Catholic philosopher Edward Ingram Watkin wrote (A Philosophy of Form, p. 358):

“We might almost call art a natural religion of immanence, prelude and antechamber of the supernatural religion of transcendence. Every natural beauty, since it is a form, is the objective praise of God, the Exemplar of which every created form is a revelation. And every beauty of art, since it is a presentation of form, is His human praise. The work of art is an objective and continual act of worship. The artist, nature’s priest, does on his lower plane what the liturgical priest does on the higher. Both are to offer a sacrifice of praise, respectively natural and supernatural. The rubric bids the priest at the opening of the Canon spread out, raise and join his ands, lifting his eyes to heaven to drop them immediately to the altar in a profound reverence. The artist also spreads out his hands to embrace the whole of nature, sub-human and human, in a generous and universal acceptance and love, then raises hands and eyes in a profound concentration of thought and feeling as though to draw the outer world into his personal experience. At the same time he lowers his eyes by a penetrating glance into his own spirit, to attain those rich creative depths whence his intuition proceeds. The minor artist no doubt does this also, but remissly and more superficially. Only the great artist carries out the operation with the power and profundity it demands. That is why he is a great, the former a minor, artist. But it is everywhere the ritual and movement of art.”

If this is a true description of art, then drama is something primarily transcendent and not human in origin, in which God transmits the Word to the soul through the playwright and the actors. The soul of such a playwright must be enlightened by sanctifying grace, because all art transmits beauty precisely by manifesting the beauty of the soul of the artist, which, in order to manifest a divine origin, must first have been deified. In the words of Frithjof Schuon (Spiritual Facts and Human Perspectives, p. 38), “Metaphysical or mystical poets such as Dante and some of the troubadours, and also the Sufi poets, expressed spiritual realities through the beauty of their souls. It is a matter of spiritual endowment far more than a question of method, for it is not given to every man sincerely to formulate truths which are beyond the range of ordinary humanity.” The word can now be deified for the same reason that the human soul can be, namely the Incarnation of the Eternal Word in a human flesh and a human soul.

Like drama, Wojtyla believed that poetry is an expression of the natural human longing for God. As such, poetry complements the “theatre of the inner word”, since it rises upward seeking transcendent beauty; it enlarges the human soul beyond its natural capacity, helping open it up to receive the bare nakedness of the Word, and the perspectives of literature qua drama and literature qua poetry are seen to be mutually implicit. In a letter written to a friend and fellow-student at the Jagiellonian University and quoted by Adam Boniecki's The Making of the Pope of the Millennium (Kalendarium of the Life of Karol Wojtyla), p. 80, Wojtyla expressed this idea by saying that poetry was “not just a longing for beauty, but a demand for it… Art does not exist merely to be a realistic truth, merely a diversion, but above, it is a superstructure, a gaze forward and upward. It is the companion of religion and a guide onto the road to God; It has the dimension of a romantic rainbow: from the earth and from the human heart towards the Infinite.”

While art may be a natural religion of immanence, a prelude and antechamber to the supernatural religion of transcendence, the fact of Christ' Incarnation now means that all purely natural religions have been fulfilled.  Human nature has been radically and irreversibly changed for ever, and this means that our artistic theory must take this fact into account.  To quote Hans Urs von Balthasar (Theo-Drama III:25, 32), "with the coming of Christ something has been done to man that continues to have an effect; man will never again be what he was before Christ... On the basis of this eschatological provocation introduced by Christ, the drama enacted between God and mankind, and between men themselves as they put forward and defend their warring systems of meaning, is already a drama 'in Christ'.  Tidings of him are destined to spread from 'Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria to the ends of the earth' (Acts 1:8); this does not mean that all nations must necessarily be converted to his message, but at least they cannot escape being confronted by it."  What is the relationship between the Word and the "inner word", when the Word itself has become a character in the divine drama?  We must be sensitive to Professor Conzelmann's complaint that "the Twelve give the impression of being stage extras" (quoted in von Balthasar, Theo-Drama III:124); Christ may be the central character, but nonetheless by virtue of His humanity just one character among others, while on the other hand He is not just an individual actor, but also "the very condition that renders the play possible" (Theo-Drama III:41); "He is, as it were, the the one who creates a 'stage' in the first place so that characters can appear on it - and here 'stage' means, paradoxically, both a 'concrete area' and an 'empty area'." (ibid)

It is impossible for any character created by an author's imagination to be at once a character and the condition that renders the play possible, so theatre is incapable of realizing the supernatural religion of transcendence, but only pointing to and hinting at it, and making it present in the manner of something beyond itself.  There are characters who come close to this Christ-like status by identifying with the context of the play and making the play possible, and these characters, who usually give a vaguely demiurgic impression, are the most properly said to be the symbols of and sacraments to Christ.  Examples of such would be Chesterton's "Thursday" and Wojtyla's Jeweler, and it is to Wojtyla's enigmatic Jeweler that I shall turn in the next post.

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