[02] Christ-event as Dramatic Center of the Theo-dulâ

As suggested earlier, the Theo-dulâ revolves around the event of Christ: his life, death and resurrection. This is the Theo-dulâ’s central act around which the actions of all dramatis personae must converge and be harmonized. Jesus Christ is the appearing of God’s glory. But this glory appears not simply as a beautiful work of art that calls the beholder to contemplation. Rather, it reveals its splendor as an exciting and gripping drama, the salvation drama that unravels on the world-stage, engaging the world-audience to participate. Jesus Christ is the Theo-dulâ’s dramatic center and God’s glory in action. In his life and mission, God’s Trinitarian action – particularly God’s free and loving involvement with the human tragic existence – is dramatized, i.e., “played out to be seen.”

Christ’s life is marked by a profound awareness – initially hidden awareness which gradually becomes apparent – that he is the “one sent by God” to reconcile the world with God.[1] His mission-awareness, however, also implies his intuition concerning his truest identity, for it is from this awareness of his mission that Jesus comes to know himself as the Son of the Father.[2] He is the one through whom God’s kingdom will come. In his person, the kingdom has already come indeed.[3] Jesus is aware of an element of the divine in his person and mission.[4] Like a character in a play created by the playwright, Jesus is aware of “being sent by”, thus, “having come from” the Father-author to step into the world-stage in order to play the role-mission that only he and no other can play. It bespeaks of a special mutual knowledge and, therefore, relationship of love and freedom between the Father as author and the Son as main actor, such that only the Son can truly be the Father’s credible self-expression for he alone can truthfully embody the Father-author’s mind, heart, and passion in the Theo-dulâ.

It is an exclusive case in the world stage where the person (identity) of the actor absolutely coincides with his role-mission (character).[5] For the mission of Christ (being sent by and coming from the Father in the Spirit) is but the “economic” continuation in the world stage of the eternal procession of the divine Son (generated by and proceeding from the Father in the Spirit).[6] Nevertheless, Jesus’ knowledge of his mission and his identity does not necessarily imply that he knows the details of how his mission is going to be fulfilled in historical space and time. According to von Balthasar, Jesus is aware of the general scope of his mission but as regards its details and specifics, Jesus is “theologically naïve”.[7] Thus, like a director in the play, the Spirit guides Jesus’ action, scene by scene, act by act, towards the fulfillment of his mission in the Theo-dulâ.

Therefore, in fulfilling his mission, Jesus Christ reveals himself as the self-expression of the Father-author, the Son of God who stepped onto the world stage to perform the drama of salvation under the guidance of the director Spirit. In other words, Jesus represents or makes present the Father-Author, the Spirit-Director and the Son-Actor in the Theo-dulâ, where he portrays God’s Trinitarian action that is always ‘economically’ good (for us).[8] By representing God’s economic action, he reveals God’s disposition toward humanity, giving us then an insight into the immanent action that ‘happens’ in God’s inner life.[9]

Moreover, as chief actor among other players on the world stage, Jesus Christ also represents the whole of humanity and creation. Stepping onto the world stage, Jesus reveals the truth of man “as he ought to be, as he is and as he is once to become,” simultaneously as he reveals the truth of God.[10] The truth of man is this: even before Jesus stepped into the drama of the world and human existence, the whole creation, particularly the whole of humanity, has been freely called (sent) by God to play in God’s drama, a drama of freedom and love. Creation which came from God’s infinite freedom and love has been invited to reciprocate God’s love with its own finite freedom and love. Humans however decided to run a drama of their own, that is, apart from God’s intended drama. Failing to reciprocate God’s freedom and love, they failed to actualize and therefore embody God’s play. Thus, humans have turned the drama of creation, the world drama, into a tragedy.

Stepping onto the stage of the world and human existence, and becoming one with the world-audience, Jesus comes to lead the world drama, which has turned tragic, back to the Theo-dulâ intended by the Father-playwright. By reciprocating the Father’s freedom and love, and playing well his role-mission in a total act of self-surrender to the Father-playwright, Jesus actualizes the Father’s script in the most credible way. By making-present God’s drama in the world stage, Jesus transforms the world’s tragedy from within, performing the intended divine drama, the Theo-dulâ, for the good of the world audience. Jesus’ pattern of life, in freedom and love, becomes then the pattern that all characters on the world stage, under the guidance of the Spirit-director, must follow. His mission becomes that one mission which recapitulates all other role-missions in the Theo-dulâ, and in which all must participate. Therefore, by playing his role-mission well, Jesus represents (i.e., acts on behalf of and for the good of) the whole of humanity and creation – those who stepped onto the stage of existence prior to Jesus’ appearing in the Theo-dulâ and those who entered after. In fact, the Theo-dulâ, having culminated in the event of Jesus Christ, nonetheless must continue till the consummation of the world.

[1] TD III, 166, 175.

[2] Ibid., 509.

[3] Ibid., 97-99.

[4] As von Balthasar puts it, “we can say that Jesus is aware of an element of the divine in his innermost, indivisible self-consciousness; it is intuitive insofar as it is inseparable from the intuition of his mission-consciousness, but it is defined and limited by this same mission-consciousness.” Ibid., 166. [Italics, mine]

[5] Ibid., 153, 509. To make his case regarding the coincidence of identity and role (mission) in the God-man Jesus Christ, von Balthasar, TD I, 645-46, cites Theodor Haecker, Was is der Mench? 2nd ed. (Hegner: Leipzig, 1934), 128-29.

[6] “The point of identity is his mission from God (missio), which is identical with the Person in God and as God (processio).” TD III, 533.

[7] TD IV, 234; Ben Quash, commenting on von Balthasar’s thought, writes: “Jesus is aware of the formal scope of his mission, but uncertain of its content. Instead, he utterly abandons himself to the Father who guides him by the Spirit and in whom he has complete trust. He acts in a certain ‘economic ignorance’.” Ben Quash, “The Theo-drama”, in The Cambridge Companion to Hans Urs von Balthasar, edited by Edward Oakes and David Moss (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 150.

[8] TD I, 319-20.

[9] In his life and mission, Jesus reveals not only God’s mercy and compassion but also God’s anger, weariness, grief, and tears. He even reveals how God is forsaken by sinners. See TD III, 224-5. In the preface to Mysterium Paschale, 2nd ed., von Balthasar writes: “God as the ‘gulf’… of absolute Love (that) contains in advance, eternally, all the modalities of love, of compassion, and even of a ‘separation’ motivated by love and founded on the infinite distinction between the hypostases – modalities which may manifest themselves in the course of a history of salvation involving sinful humankind.” Von Balthasar, preface to the second edition of Mysterium Paschale, 2nd ed., translated and introduced by Aidan Nichols, O.P. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990), viii-ix.

[10] Von Balthasar clarifies that the revelation of the truth of man takes place concomitantly to the more important purpose of his coming: to fulfill the will of the Father. See TD III, 225.

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