Theo-dulâ: A Filipino Theological Dramatics
The use of drama and dramatic categories is not something new to religion. It has been used and is being employed in Christian liturgy and religious worship, in the Church’s ministry and evangelization, and even in formation and spirituality. Besides, the Scriptures are filled with drama and the dramatic elements. Few theologians, however, have really explored the possibility of using the dramatic categories as an instrument for theological reflection. A theologian who pioneered the use of drama and dramatic theory in the understanding of revelation is Hans Urs von Balthasar.
Von Balthasar wrote the Theo-drama, a five-volume opus where he offers us a dramatic Trinitarian soteriology. Taking inspiration from Luis Calderon’s “world-theater,” von Balthasar developed a theology of salvation that employs dramatic categories. Such theology envisions the world as a stage where human drama is being played, a drama which ought to be mirroring God’s primal drama (immanent Trinity). But the human drama has turned tragic, having moved away from God’s intended drama (original sin). God then decides to step into the world stage (incarnation) to make present God’s Trinitarian action (economic Trinity) so as to lead the human drama according to God’s original script and towards the conclusion intended by God (soteriology).
Quintessentially, this is von Balthasar’s Theo-drama. It is God’s drama being played on the stage of human existence, and human drama being invited to play in God’s drama and not be removed from it. It is the “acting together” of different characters, divine and human, playing their part (role-mission) in God’s drama of salvation. It is the interplay between divine (infinite) freedom/love and human (finite) freedom/love, a dramatic encounter indeed with its elements of surprise, unexpected twist, and ever-intensifying conflict. Alejandro Garcia-Rivera, building on von Balthasar’s Theo-drama, proposes a Theo-dramatics (a Theo-drama “from below”) as an attempt to address the human side of the Theo-drama, relating the dramatic dimension of human life to God’s drama.
I will say more about Garcia-Rivera’s Theo-dramatics later; for now let me show how the Theo-drama and the Philippine drama are related. Earlier I pointed out that during the colonial period the Philippine drama was heavily influenced by the Spanish drama of the Siglo de Oro. Moreover, I also mentioned that von Balthasar, in developing his Theo-drama, drew much from the Spanish baroque dramatic tradition and was particularly indebted to the Spanish playwright Pedro Calderon de la Barca of the Siglo de Oro. This being the case, it should be easy for us to imagine how the Theo-drama and the Philippine drama could relate. After all, both drank from the same font.
Still, in spite of the strong and long colonial influence, the Philippine dramatic tradition that has emerged through the years contains several elements of the indigenous mimetic rituals. These elements have been preserved and have supplied that native strand, which subtly interlaced with other foreign (colonial) strands, resulting into a braid that is the Philippine drama. Today, the Philippine drama is marked by the interlacing of colonial and indigenous dramatic traditions.
Therefore, if we are to approach the Filipino popular religious expressions and celebrations by way of theological dramatics, this must employ both foreign and indigenous dramatic elements. With this view in mind, let me propose a theological dramatics. I have built it on von Balthasar’s Theo-drama and Garcia-Rivera’s Theo-dramatics, while taking some insights from the Philippine drama. Such theological dramatics serves as theological framework within which the Christian faith reinterpreted and celebrated by the Filipinos in varied expressions of popular religion/religiosity may be approached and examined. Allow me to name this theological dramatics Theo-dulâ.
What then is Theo-dulâ ? Let me begin by claiming that the Theo-dulâ is of Trinitarian origin and that Christ is its dramatic center. At the very heart of the Theo-dulâ is God’s primal drama, i.e., the dramatic inner life of the Trinity. The Theo-dulâ is an on-going divine-human drama of love in freedom on the world stage, moving towards its intended conclusion: salvation. Moreover, salvation, in terms of the Theo-dulâ, takes place when the human drama plays in God’s drama, and is not extraneous to it.
To better appreciate the Theo-dulâ it is important for us to understand the notion of the “dramatic horizon” and its power to reveal and unite. Examples of thematic fragments which serve as unitive-revelatory horizons in the Theo-dulâ are death, the struggle for the good, judgment, the struggle for the role, the shamanic ritual, and lakaran (i.e., purposeful, sacred journey on foot).
 TD I, 125-31.
 Garcia-Rivera, “Do this in memory of me,” 155-71.
 Furthermore, Philippine drama has in fact been retrieving these indigenous elements and integrating them in contemporary aesthetic and dramatic works in search of the Filipino identity. See Tiongson and Obusan, Dulaan, 44-45.
 Ideally, the task of developing a Filipino theological dramatics must make use of categories – whether owed or owned – taken from the Philippine dramatic tradition. Nonetheless, this being a first attempt, I believe it is practical not to start from scratch but to allow myself to be served by works of the few theologians who have, in other occasions, employed the dramatic categories in their theology.