[05] Theo-dulâ: On-going Divine-Human Drama of Love in Freedom

The Theo-dulâ is the “economic” representation on the world stage of the Primal Dulâ.[1] It is the eternal drama, an event of love in freedom that has been “happening” and continues to “happen” in God’s inner tri-personal life. It involves the “action among” the three divine persons, each one absolutely free, totally distinct from each other and selflessly giving oneself to the other in perfect love. Absolute freedom, total self-giving love, interaction among distinct persons within the triune God are the stuff that makes the inner life of God inherently dramatic and never wanting of eventfulness and surprise.[2] This inherently dramatic interaction in God’s inner life is disclosed in the dramatic “acting together” and involvement of the Father-author, Son-actor and the Holy Spirit-director in the world and their dealings with the human tragic existence. For it is this triune event of love in freedom, the divine Primal Dulâ, which grounds the Theo-dulâ’s saving event of the tri-personal God acting in absolute freedom and in total self-giving love for the good of all creation. This Trinitarian drama, which is an eternal event in God’s inner life, takes place – thus, is revealed – in the creaturely realm as a saving action to be engaged in rather than a mere spectacle to be looked at.

Originating in the freedom and self-giving love of the triune God, and performed “for us and for our salvation,” God’s saving action benefits the whole of creation and all humanity. For this, it is simply good. Furthermore, God’s action reveals the goodness of God’s total self-giving love, and thus the splendor of God’s glory as well as the truth of God’s word. Yet, in the words of von Balthasar, “the good which God does to us can only be experienced as the truth if we share in performing it.”[3] He further adds that:

…we must ‘‘do the truth in love” (aletheuein en agape [Eph 4:15] ) not only in order to perceive the truth of the good but, equally, in order to embody it increasingly in the world, thus leading the ambiguities of world theatre beyond themselves to a singleness of meaning that can come only from God.[4]

Hence, in the Theo-dulâ, our proper response to God’s good and saving act is action, i.e., our participation in God’s action, not simply our contemplation of it. For God’s self-disclosure is God’s action in and upon the world, and the world can only respond through action on its part.[5]

Indeed, the Theo-dulâ deals with God’s action, i.e., God’s dramatic engagement with the world. It is the divine drama performed on the world stage, so that the human drama may play in God’s drama and thus be led according to God’s script towards God’s intended conclusion. In the Theo-dulâ, every human drama in the realm of creation is assumed in God’s drama. It is the interplay of the divine saving action and the human participation in God’s saving, good action. In this sense, there are truly no mere spectators in the Theo-dulâ, for all are in fact dramatis personae, co-players in God’s play. Such participation implies that the human creatures, players in God’s drama, are “grasped” by God’s good action and compelled to play their parts, their roles, in synergy with the role-mission of Jesus Christ. For God’s good and saving action is embodied in the life and mission of the chief dramatis persona, Jesus Christ. In his dying on the cross, his descending into hell and his rising to life, the glory of God’s self-emptying and self-giving love shines out. Such a good act inspires as it surprises; it grasps us as it compels us to respond or, at least, react. Grasped by it, we either surrender ourselves freely and totally to it or not.[6] Truly, the Theo-dulâ can be described as the “live performance in solidarity with others of Christ’s all-encompassing mission to the world.”[7]

Hence, our decision to play in God’s drama entails our association with the person Jesus Christ and his mission to embody God’s self-emptying and self-giving love. As persons associated with Christ, we are drawn into the relationship between the Father-author and the Son-actor in the Spirit-director. We then participate in the Trinitarian event of love in freedom which eternally happens in the Primal Dulâ yet takes place and is rehearsed on the world stage in the Theo-dulâ. So that in our willing availability (obedience) and loving self-giving to others – above all, to the divine Other – we in fact continue Christ’s giving-of-self-to-the-Father and his total availability to his Father-given mission in the Holy Spirit. In this way, we embody and make-present in our human dramatic existence God’s self-emptying and self-giving love which shines out in Christ’s death and resurrection. It is God’s infinite love that constitutes the possibility for our human, finite love; and our finite love, in association with Christ’s personal love, represents God’s love in the realm of creation for the good of all.[8] Theo-dulâ is a drama of love; in it, the divine and human loves meet.

But this meeting of two loves involves the dialogue and diapraxis of two freedoms – divine and human – for the divine drama to run on the world stage and for the human drama to let itself be guided from within.[9] For while the staging of the Theo-dulâ and the assigning of the role-mission is God’s act of freedom, playing the given role-mission – credibly well or otherwise – depends on the players’ freedom. Infinite (divine) freedom, in setting up the world stage, determining the script and assigning the role-mission, creates the possibility for the finite (human) freedom.[10] This, however, includes the possibility of human beings not playing their role and so failing to embody God’s kenotic and self-giving love. In our own yet owed human freedom, we may play our role-mission well and thus embody on the world stage God’s drama. Or we may choose to play our own drama removed from God’s intended script, and thus create tragic or comic characters for ourselves; tragic or comic because our person and mission are divided.[11]

[1] The Primal Dulâ (i.e., Trinity ad intra, immanent Trinity) is revealed in the “economic” interaction and involvement of the Father-author, the Son-actor, and the Spirit-director in the Theo-dulâ (i.e., Trinity ad extra, economic Trinity). The sending (missio) of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son, into the world stage by the Father-director and the acceptance by Jesus of his mission and his fulfillment of the Father’s will represent and mirror the eternal begetting (processio/generatio) of Son by the Father in the Primal Dulâ. The outpouring (missio) of the Holy Spirit by the Father unto Jesus, and its breathing forth by Jesus unto his disciples represent and mirror the eternal breathing forth (processio/spiratio) of the Holy Spirit in the Primal Dulâ.

[2] “(T)he hypostases do not possess the divine nature in common like an untouchable treasure; rather, the divine nature is defined through and through by the modes of divine being (tropos tēs hyparxeos). This nature is always both what is possessed and what is given away, and we cannot say that a particular hypostasis is rich in possessing and poor in giving away, for the fullness of blessedness lies in both giving and receiving both the gift and the giver. Since these acts are eternal, there is no end to their newness, no end to being surprised and overwhelmed by what is essentially immeasurable.” TD II, 258.

[3] TD I, 20.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Thus, right at the heart of the Aesthetics, the ‘theological drama’ has already begun. ‘Catching sight’ of the glory (die Erblickung), we observed, always involves being ‘transported’ by it (die Entrückung)… For God’s revelation is not an object to be looked at: it is his action in and upon the world, and the world can only respond, and hence ‘understand’, through action on its part.” TD I, 15.

[6] Being “grasped” suggests being possessed, like an artist who, possessed by the idea inspiring him, freely surrenders himself completely to such inspiration. Edward T. Oakes, Pattern of Redemption: the Theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar (New York, London: Continuum, 1994), 219.

[7] Quash, “The Theo-drama,” 144.

[8] We represent, partake in, and continue Christ’s role-mission of representing (i.e., making-present) the heart, mind, and passion of God in the realm of creation, and of representing (i.e., acting in behalf of or and for the good of ) other human creatures.

[9] Freedom is a central theme in von Balthasar’s theology. In the theodrama, von Balthasar develops his reflection on the relationship between divine and human freedom employing the metaphor of the drama. Thus, he speaks of the economy of salvation as drama (of salvation) performed for the benefit of the world. This drama presupposes an original drama, the divine Trinitarian drama, which is the paradigm of freedom. Human freedom then must be understood within the context of the Trinitarian drama, ultimately in terms of human participation in the divine life of love in freedom. For a critical exposition of von Balthasar’s understanding of divine and human freedom in his Theo-drama, see Thomas G. Dalzell, The Dramatic Encounter of Divine and Human Freedom in the Theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar, 2nd ed., Studies in the Intercultural History of Christianity 105 (Bern: Peter Lang, 2000).

[10] Commenting on history seen from a theological perspective, von Balthasar affirms that “the only thing that makes it possible to have history… within the space thus opened up is the fact that this space is an opening within the utter freedom of God.” Consequently he asserts that history is itself “an area of freedom – the freedom of God giving space and scope to the freedom of man. Within this space man is free to make history happen.” Von Balthasar, A Theology of History (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1963), 66.

[11] In the Theo-dulâ, the mission of Christ (i.e., his role in the divine drama) contains the real meaning of his personhood. For his missio is but the prolongation in the economy of salvation of his processio in the Trinitarian inner life (Trinity ad intra). In responding freely and faithfully to his mission, Christ remains true to his personhood as the obedient Son of the Father. As human beings, we are addressed by God in Christ. Called by God, each of us is sent for a particular role (mission) to play in the divine drama of salvation. Our mission shares in Christ’s mission; it represents who we really are for God. But God leaves each of us free to play our role and be faithful to our mission or not. By striving to fulfill our mission, we become the person God called us to be. By not playing our role, we create a dichotomy between who we are (person) and who we are called to be (mission) in the divine drama. Such a dichotomy creates the tragic and comic characters in God’s drama. TD I, 646.

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