Only when we have mentioned what is common can we start differentiating. In the face of death, the gesture of renouncing all that is past can have different meanings. It can be an act of homage to what is passing away, under the eye of the God who abides forever – the gesture of the departing characters in Calderon’s Theatre of the World… On the other hand, it can be the mere recognition that the minus sign of nothingness before the brackets that contain finitude robs everything within those brackets of all value. And yet there are mysterious transitions between two extremes, particularly where the Absolute hovers, indefinably, between Nothing and Everything, as in the concept of Nirvana. Where the latter’s whole negativity is interpreted positively, the nothingness of the world’s being also acquired a twofold accent: all individual forms are leveled and extinguished as such; but between the vanishing forms a path can be found, implying something positive in the face of Absolute: a “path of instruction” leading out of the meanders and arabesques of mortal existence. Yet this path too, which already inscribes itself in the living forms, is only recognized by its negativity; it can be traced where finite form is negated and where we see through it to the Absolute that lies beyond. That is an essentially anti-dramatic principle, however, which is why no drama has arisen in India and the Islamic world comparable to Greek or Christian drama. There the epic holds pride of place. And since the Absolute does not come to meet the transitory world on its pilgrim path (for, at most, the latter is governed by the eternal law promulgated by the former), this path lies under the aegis of a “providence” that appears preeminently in the form of “fate”…
From this point on the periphery, we can go on to ask about the center: what kind of relationship must there between the world and Absolute, between humanity and God, if the leveling produced by transitoriness and death is not to cripple the dramatic dimension of existence from within? Or, in other words, if the dramatic is not to become a mere defective mode of the epic – a kind of still photograph of existence, cut out of the film which, in showing the ultimate demise of all the characters, will also relativize everything that has passed between them? Humanity cannot come up with an answer itself; it cannot do it by violently amputating all the factors which extend beyond the framework of the dramatic action – nor by pointing to the exemplary identity which would be required if a significant action were to be elevated into a manifestation and “deciphering” of the Absolute. At this point the Baroque theatre is right: all human drama contains the element of collapse, implying the leveling of all differences and paying homage to the indifference, impartiality, of the One God. Nonetheless, it is genuine theatre; consequently, for this to be possible, there must be some further factor in the concept of the Absolute…
But if the Greeks also had genuine theatre (leaving aside the somewhat analogous Japanese Noh plays), surely this other factor must have been present in their concept of God too? It must have been an idea of God which allowed him to take part – an inner, divine, absolute part – in the drama of mortal existence without threatening his absolute nature. Such an idea provides a link between early, mythic thought and Christian faith. But the former does not pass without a break into the latter: separating them lies philosophy, which opposes the notion that God can be moved and affected by the human drama. Even the Covenant God of the Old Testament cannot be interpreted as a direct mediation between mythos and Christian revelation; even the foreseeing, judging and compassionate God, the God who accompanies his people through history, is impassive vis-à-vis all human tragedy. Christianity alone provides a new approach: God has become human without ceasing to be God. (pp. 44-5)
Now the question must be addressed to Christianity: Can it legitimately claim to have found the trail that was lost ever since the demise of ancient tragedy? And can it really follow to the end, with its eyes open, this path along which ancient tragedy tried blindly to feel its way? For that is what it really claims to do. The tragic dimension of personal existence is not softened; in fact, it is wrenched apart to the very limit: in the Cross. In Christianity, this tragic dimension actually touches the sphere of the Divine, yet without swallowing it up (as mythology does) in the tragic destiny: Christian dogma has always rejected “Patripassionism”, that is, the idea that God the Father suffered in the same sense as the Son, even if – in the mystery of the Trinity – it directs its attention with hair’s-breadth precision to the point of contact between the suffering of the God-man and the nonsuffering of God. Finally Christianity sees it in a Catholic light, because, as an individual and personal tragic dimension – not “typical” or “symbolic” – it brings to light the significance and change of meaning of all intramundane tragedy. Thus the dramatic level becomes ultimate, not to be surpassed; it does not point to some prior “wisdom” or “teaching” or “gnosis” or “theology” that could then be recounted in the epic mode: it remains at the center, as drama, as the action that takes place between God and man, undiminished in its contemporary relevance. Herein, too, lies the meaning of the Catholic sacraments, which continually make the one event present; herein, in a more all-embracing sense, the meaning of the Church insofar as she is the re-presentation of the “drama of salvation” once for all on each particular occasion…
Within the drama of Christ, every human fate is deprivatized so that its personal range may extend to the whole universe, depending on how far it is prepared to cooperate in being inserted in to the normative drama of Christ’s life, death and Resurrection. Not only does this gather the unimaginable plurality of human destinies into a concrete, universal point of unity: it actually maintains their plurality within the unity, but as a function of this unity… (pp. 49-50)
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