In the Beginning Was the Drama: Balthasar's Theatrical Anthropology
Sheng Yu PENG

As finite beings in a finite world, human beings lack the ability and resources to grasp the meaning of infinity. The desire to pursue the infinite predisposes human beings to become tragic actors on the stage of history, as the "infinite" is always beyond the grasp of the "finite." However, when human beings persist in their attempt to redeem themselves, they inevitably become involved in guilt, whether consciously or unconsciously. As finite beings, human beings also struggle with the tension between "self" and "role," that is, the inevitable tension between the role one represents and one's experience in reality. How can this tension and paradox in the dramatic (tragic) nature of human beings be resolved? How to find an appropriate framework for interpreting the conflict between the limited freedom of human beings and the unlimited freedom of God? What insights and enlightenment can Balthasar's theatrical anthropology offer to these questions?

The purpose of this paper is to introduce and explain the theatrical anthropology of the Swiss Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988). By reading, understanding, and sorting through Balthasar's major works, this paper attempts to sketch out the theatrical anthropology in Balthasar's rich theological thoughts. The paper explores the resources of theological anthropology in terms of the twofold metaphor of drama (human beings as actors and the world as a theater/theatrum mundi), role and freedom in God's vision, historical time structure, tragedy, and aesthetic form. It also further explains how Balthasar uses "drama" as a metaphor to illustrate God's becoming man and His action in the world and to deal with the uncertainty and paradoxical actions in human finite life in the context of theological drama. This paper finds that Balthasar's theatrical anthropology emphasizes that the central question of anthropology is "Who am I?" rather than "What is man?" For Christ Himself, He "is" the person He "should be" (a unity of being and becoming); His being is His mission. Since Christ is the concrete form of realization, finite human beings achieve their missions through Christ's freedom. We can only become "humans" by taking up our missions. In short, the realization of finite freedom within infinite freedom does not occur in the abstract "infinite," but in the "incarnate" Christ. Balthasar argues that the tragic features of human existence cannot be resolved in the realm of the finite. It is only when the suffering God steps into the theater of the world that we discover that finitude, time, and suffering are not to be abolished, but are given a new value beyond our comprehension.