Monday 25 April 2011

New Evangelization through Drama

The Quality of Mercy
In his Letter to Artists, Pope John Paul II spoke of art as a bridge to religious experience: “I appeal to you, artists of the written and spoken word, of the theatre and music... I wish to remind each of you that you are invited to use your creative intuition to enter into the heart of the mystery of the Incarnate God and at the same time into the mystery of man.” The late Pope himself had been a playwright and keen patron of drama, and worked with the “Rhapsodic Theatre” in Poland. Thus the beatification of John Paul II on Divine Mercy Sunday (1 May 2011) was both the occasion and the inspiration for LĂ©onie Caldecott’s play, “The Quality of Mercy”, performed over three nights preceding the beatification at Oxford’s Catholic Chaplaincy. Part Theatre of the Word and part Ballet of the Word, it was a multi-levelled theo-drama about youth and age, despair and modernity, vocations to marriage and celibacy. The play was the second from Divine Comedy Productions, set up at the Oxford Oratory last year. In London, Sarah de Nordwall’s "Bard School" is also concentrating on poetry and drama as a way of expressing and communicating faith. In the United States, Fr Peter John Cameron OP is also an accomplished playwright and director. An article by him on this theme is available online here.

Philosophy is unavoidable, of course. As Chesterton long ago noted, everyone is a philosopher; whether you unconsciously absorb your philosophy from somewhere else (such as the newspapers) or think it through for yourself. And how you think about things shapes the way you act and behave, so nothing is richer in practical implications (even for art). Do you believe in God? But what kind of “God” is being talked about? What does the word mean to you? I have tried to address that question online here, and the main Second Spring web-site contains many useful articles on philosophical topics. Nevertheless, philosophy is never going to be a very effective means of evangelization. People open their minds, or change them, for other reasons than a good argument. “Heart speaks unto heart”, not head unto head, as Newman realized. The Christian faith places us under an obligation to communicate it where possible. But effective communication involves the imagination and the spirit, not just the reason or the intelligence.

Just as we cannot separate the virtues of faith, hope, and love, so we cannot separate truth, goodness, and beauty. It is the heart where they join together. The way we live and the beauty we produce are the most eloquent expression of the truth we believe. You cannot communicate a truth that has not changed you, and we are changed only by a truth that we recognize as in some way beautiful.