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Theater and the Sacred in the Middle Ages


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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13. From the Universalism of Obedience to the Pluralism of Predictability


1. Self-control. Discussing the sacraments, I raised the importance of penance for civilization. In the previous chapter (12.2), I added some remarks about the Dominican theory of one soul and the unity of soul and body. Together with the ability to say “my fault,” there appears an awareness of choice and decision; freedom (free will) is bound to responsibility for one’s actions and the world, that is to say, to one’s subjectivity which, in most general terms, can be defined as the center which makes decisions on spending energy. One may compare this to the role of a commander in a battle, who decides what happens on which flank; in both cases, the scope and effectiveness of the made decision is a measure of the center’s strength; I shall develop this view in the next subchapter (13.2).

We know from Elias that the modern personality is based on self-control. It involves building an apparatus of self-evaluation in the individual soul through the civilizational process. Le Goff describes this apparatus as the “unification of conscience” and associates it with the institution of confession and a more general shift in mentality which he defines as the “coherence of behavior” fostered by, among other things, the development of the corpus of canonical law.400 However, one cannot agree that the purpose of the entire confessional and canonical practice was to maintain the merchant’s activity within a tradition based on respect (LeGoff, ibid.).

Historians are probably wrong in ignoring...

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