Andrzej Dąbrówka

Mediewistyka, �redniowiecze

Teatr i sacrum w średniowieczu, review in Speculum PDF Drukuj E-mail
Teatr i sacrum w średniowieczu: Religia - cywilizacja - estetyka.
Wrocław 2001
Review: Rob Sulewski, „Speculum” (2/2005, pp. 557-559) Normal 0 21 false false false PL X-NONE X-NONE MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } Andrzej Dąbrówka, Teatr i sacrum w Średniowieczu: Religia-cywilizacja-estetyka. (Monografie FNP, Seria Humanistyczna.) Wrocław: Funna, 2001. Pp. 672 plus 1 foldout table.

This book is of extraordinary range, reflecting its ambitious goal of explaining the rise of religious drama in the late Middle Ages via religious elements alone. Dąbrówka's dense, theoretical argument encompasses about four-fifths of this volume before we see its application to drama specifically.
Dąbrówka's argument hinges primarily on two premises borrowed from cultural anthropology and cognitive psychology. Of prime interest here is Clifford Geertz's 1966 essay, "Religion as a Cultural System," which argues that religion can be conceived as a system of symbols acting to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting "moods and motivations" in people and thereby formulating a specific view of existence, giving it such an "aura of factuality" that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.
Dąbrówka argues that as the secular and ecclesiastical realms divided during the late Middle Ages into separate spheres, the power of the church in the secular arena became /558/ more limited, as did secular power in ecclesiastical matters (e.g., investiture). With the decline of religious symbology in secular life by the end of the thirteenth century, Geertz's "aura of factuality" could be maintained only by a more extensive system of symbols in the religious sphere. The goal of religious symbols is therefore proselytization and re-inforcement, and there are several symbols in the system that became predominant during this period. Relics, of course, are one such type of symbol of the sacred, particularly potent because they are physical elements that could and did enjoy a ubiquitous commerce. Some symbols were also appropriated ones, exemplified in the Christian interpretation of ancient myths, in which the gods of Greece and Rome were appropriated for Christian ideology and interpreted as fallen angels or allegorized.
That Dąbrówka views the Eucharist as a prime symbol functioning in this regard should occasion little surprise, but not only because of the institution of the feast of Corpus Christi during this period. Rather, Dąbrówka valorizes the Eucharist largely because of its link with recapitulation, a concept based on Ireneus's reading of several passages from the Pauline Epistles. Here Christ is seen as the image of an invisible God (1 Col. 1.15) and the head of the Church (Eph. 1.10 and 22) who "recapitulates" (creates anew) all things in himself. If Christ is the head of the Church, the physical manifestation of the Eucharist makes its appearance at Mass a "prototypical public experience from the point of view of the idea of recapitulation" (p. 309) because it emphasizes the presence of Christ, a true sacrum commercium, sacred exchange, a dialogue between God and people. This is a particularly potent instantiation of the sacred, assembling by its rich symbolism the "most important mystery of the Catholic faith" (p. 322). Dąbrówka argues that this opens up a transcendental perspective uniting the sacred time of the liturgy with secular time and space. Though he does not say so, this conclusion sounds a great deal like that of Clifford Flanigan in his essays on the Roman rite from 1974. The historical contexts are separate by a few hundred years, of course, but it is interesting that both find this kind of transcendentalism in what are clearly dramatic contexts.
How should these diverse symbols function to provide Geertz's "aura of factuality"? It is not only by their sheer number. Dąbrówka instead posits an "aesthetics of recapitulation" governing "the stream of social communication intended to confirm the reality of religion, the possibility and necessity of the attainment of the goal [namely, salvation via communion in the Church], and the correctness of the way being shown" (p. 363). This aesthetics thus seeks to establish consistency within the symbolic system and by that consistency to confirm the reality that system seeks to convey. The goal of recapitulation is to build the Church (or at the very least to maintain it) with Christ as the head (theologically). But to be effective, this kind of aesthetics must encompass the entire sphere of human creativity, including ceremonies and the various practices of religion and even everyday behavior. "It unites all religious forms and behaviors" in such a way that each person's mind can have a picture of Christ or such an example of behavior—as Dąbrówka puts it—that guarantees the salvation of the soul.
For Dąbrówka, the key comes from his second major borrowing, cognitive psychology. In this view, one may consider reality as simply a set of propositions that are mutually consistent. New propositions are verified by their consistency with the amassed set of previous propositions (p. 39). But there is also a cognitive aspect to reception of, say, a particular literary work of art. In this case "the writer collects and organizes predicates in the text" (p. 312), and the reader then recognizes the words and subjects that encode some reality. That is, it is recognized as a system of credible propositions, which in turn generate certain interpretations that eventually appear as universal truths. This is also the way that symbology works when governed by consistency and the aesthetics of recapitulation. There is also a behavioral component grounded in medieval Christianity in that as in-/559/dividuals come to accept the truthfulness of the religious system, they are also thereby prepared to "demonstrate [their] will to salvation and aspiration to moral rectitude" (p. 311). That demonstration involves, above all, behavior, rather than the possession of abstract knowledge or intellect. Here we are discussing piety, which for Dąbrówka encompasses even the simplest behavior of the simplest people, making an appropriate response to the aesthetic of recapitulation available to anyone. Dąbrówka quotes Thomas a Kempis's Imitation, "On the day of Judgment we will not be asked what we have read, but what we have done, not how well we have discoursed, but how religiously we have lived" (1.3.5). Dąbrówka's last chapter is devoted to the application of this system to medieval religious plays using the traditional classification. On that basis he assesses each genre according to the ways in which it participates in both the reality of the religious system by his aesthetics of recapitulation and in the associated forms of piety, especially as they relate to the changing face of piety as the role of the church becomes progressively more circumscribed. Hence, mystery plays emphasize the centrality of the Incarnation, and miracle plays the "interaction" between the world of the sacred and the profane, as manifested in the miraculous. Moralities symbolize the importance and legitimacy of the individual's striving for salvation within the norms of the medieval church; farces (and those elements related to farce in the other genres), the wretchedness of impiety (Dąbrówka is clearly not a Bakhtinian).
The book is a strong argument for looking exclusively at religious considerations in the rise of medieval religious drama, though Dąbrówka's borrowings from other disciplines make for some uphill going for those not as familiar with them. Dąbrówka's Polish is also not as felicitous as two of his more recent peers in the field, namely, Julian Lewański and even Jerzy Krzyżanowski. Even the brief English summary that ends the book contains much that could be far better expressed. Yet this work is an important one for its unusual look at otherwise well-trodden material.
Rob Sulewski, University of Michigan

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