Friday, November 20, 2009

The Drama of Doctrine

This is the title of a book I am currently reading written by Kevin J Vanhoozer. It is quite a good read. At nearly 500 pages long, I have only read 150. It is written by a protestant of the Reformed tradition (eg..Presbyterians and Calvinists), but he comes to quite a few Catholic positions. Not only that, but he even uses Hans Urs Von Balthasar's "Theo-drama" books for a lot of his ideas and inspiritation.

The thing that has really impressed me with this book is the importance he attaches to correct doctrine and it's dynamic relationship with the Trinity. For him doctrine is not something static, but rather it is living relationship with the Trinity and the revelation received in Jesus Christ.

Too often in Christian (and more specifically Catholic) cirlces today, those of us who insist on authentic doctrine in the Church and the lives of the faithful are too easily branded as being rigid and even Pharisees! As opposed to all the rest who advocate and loving hippie like Jesus and a "Spirituality of the heart" without religion.

In the preface of the book Vanhoozer explains that:
" there is no more urgent a task in the church than to demonstrate faith's understanding by living truthfully with others before God...doctrine is an indispensable aid to understanding and to truthful living. Doctrine is a vital ingredient in the well-being of the church, a vital aid to its public witness. The problem is not so much with doctrine per se but with a picture of doctrine, or perhaps several pictures, that have held us captive."
I feel that his concept of truthful living is very similar to my ideas on authenticity that I posted on previously. Also for Vanhoozer he seems to believe that correct understanding of God and salvation history are prerequisites for truthful (authentic) living.

He discusses his theories of the Good News of Salvation (Gospel) in terms of communication. The Gospel which is "God's saving Word/Act wrought in the person and work of Jesus Christ-must shape theology's method, not vice versa". All theology must begin and end with God so that it will draw us all into the mystery of God as Communion.

He also defines the Gospel as drama-hence relating that the news of Salvation is dynamic and not static.
"Drama is a composite of word and deed; at time the language of action drowns out the words, at other times the words carry the action along. Yet what God was doing in Jesus Christ ultimately makes sense only according to the biblical script that places the person and work of Jesus Christ in the Old Testament context of creation and covenant. There is a cosmic stage and a covenantal plot; there is conflict; there is a climax; there is resolution. Evangelical theology deals not with disparate bits of ideas and information but with divine doings - with the all-embracing cosmic drama that displays the entrances and exoduses of God."

This point is very important for us Catholics today!! So often in the Liturgy we are trying to turn it into a "performance" or entertainment for people. But how much of a dis-service is this?! The Liturgy itself is the re-presentation of the Divine Drama. We need to stop trying to recreate feel good services that barely resemble worship, and reclaim our living heritage that we have from Jesus Himself in the Divine Liturgy (Drama) of the Eucharistic Sacrifice!

This is what was called for by the Second Vatican Council in the the often quoted (but highly misunderstood)concept of "active participation". When we are DRAWN into the Drama of the Mass that is when we are truly participating-we are no longer spectators but participants. Drama does not imply mere idle observation, but rather an action that dynamically draws the viewers into the action itself so that it becomes their own!-they experience the drama for themselves.

Liturgy and doctrine in Catholicism and Orthodoxy are so closely connected that it could be said that they are two sides of the same coin. In the Liturgy our doctrine (theory) is put into practice (experience) and is manifested for all to see. We begin the service with the sign of the Cross and in the Name of the Trinity-a good priest should be able to give a homily on this alone!

What needs to be reclaimed is Mystagogy as has been so wonderfully demonstrated by our Pope Benedict the Magnificent (as some have called him). We need to be able to understand how the symbolic actions that we see in the Liturgy have a much deeper lived reality behind them. It is all a process of revelation. The person and work of Jesus (what we would call the Paschal Mystery) is the revelation of God, the liturgy in turn is the revelation of Jesus so that we may learn to see him in the "Breaking of the bread". This Divine Drama enacted in the Liturgy is the communication (Gospel) of God that we might be drawn up and into the Mystery of the Trinity so that with this lived experience we can then go out and communicate (evagelise) this with others to further the Kingdom of God. In the words of St Thomas Aquinas "Contemplare et contemplata aliis tradere"-To contemplate and to hand on the fruit of contemplation to others.

Once we understand this we will see exactly how important doctrine is for us today as Christians.

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