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Theater and the Sacred in the Middle Ages

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Andrzej Dąbrówka

The book presents a theory of relationships between the forms of devotion
and early drama genres. The historical background is the circumstances of the Church becoming independent of the Empire. A theological and philosophical aspect of the transformation of piety at the time was the specification of the ontological status of the sacred (spiritualization) and "shifting it to Heaven" (transcendentalization). In opposition to a theory of Western civilization as a process of increasing individual self-control, the author argues for the need to take into account purely religious conditions (the idea of recapitulation). This allows the author to develop a holistic aesthetics for the religiously inspired creativity in the period spanning the 11th-15th centuries and to propose a new typology of medieval drama.

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8. The Material Symbol and the Linguistic Sign

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If a given religious system restricts the sacred – and it must do so for its coherence and durability – it will have to limit its incarnate presence in real and pictorial symbols. This results from the susceptibility of materially motivated symbols to the appropriation by another cultural (sub)system like politics or magic. Particularist religious cults, like idolatry or iconolatry, easily emerge from the religious system, because they quickly multiply and soon sprout in different places. Newly developed, they must necessarily have a local character, because while “every natural object is liable to become a hierophany” (Eliade 1958: 460), there are few items, “birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things” (Romans 1:23) suitable for the role of an idol in every culture, climate, and economy. Finally, these cults do not last; after all, even the golden calf was not eternal, as its followers soon discovered, while acheiropoieta exist due to the constant inflow of energy from the outside.232

By transferring the presence of the sacred to the spiritual world and limiting it, the religious system must of course sustain communication with this metaphysical entity. Various signs can cope with this demand for tools of transcendence in varying degrees, among them the abstract or perfect language signs already distinguished in the same apparition. Between them, we may place gestures, which are already a separate field of research,233 and which are included in larger units of interaction in the spectrum of behaviors.

Although linguistic signs...

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