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:: Tuesday, May 20, 2003 ::

Church History and Liturgy: A Theatrical Analogy

"The Teacher appeared and taught The Play to a small troupe, but without a script. The actors learned The Play through hearing the Teacher repeat the lines and by observing the Teacher's movements. In learning The Play, they acquired a real understanding of the play's main character.

The troupe performed The Play for others. Repeatedly. In many places. They performed The Play so many times they all knew everyone's lines, everyone's movements. Most importantly, they all acquired a real understanding of The Play's main character. Others began to join the troupe. At first, newcomers learnt The Play the same way the original cast had learnt it: without a script. But, between a few of the original cast and some of the newcomers, most of the lines were written down and even some of the movements. But not everything was written down at first. It took more years and a few generations before that happened. Some of the experienced actors wrote notes offering insights into the play and it's main character. All the texts provided help to the newcomers -- especially the pages containing The Play's dialogue -- but they didn't replace rehearsals. The newcomers still had to learn The Play. All the lines and all the movements. And they had to acquire a real understanding of The Play's main
character in order to play the role correctly. They did this through a variety of theatrical exercises; voice training, acting lessons, etc...

Enough newcomers were added to the troupe that it was able to spin off new troupes. This meant The Play could be performed in even more places. Over the years, the number of troupes grew, but The Play remained unchanged. The actors changed, but the lines and movements of the characters did not change. The Play was translated into different languages, but the story was
not changed. All the actors in every troupe acquired a real understanding of The Play's main character. Some actors wrote notes after many years of experience which enabled them to acquire insights into The Play and its main character. These notes weren't as important as the script, but they contributed to other actors' understanding and were quite helpful for rookies.

With the passage of years and generations, there were some who wanted to make changes to The Play. The troupes accepted -- very reluctantly and quite slowly -- very small cosmetic changes such as updating the language in order for audiences to better understand. But some wanted more radical changes, even changes to The Play's main character. These were firmly rejected. Nevertheless, some of the more persistent proponents of change made changes without the approval of their troupe, right on stage. Whenever something like this happened, the rest of the troupe recognized the change immediately (of course!) -- they didn't have to refer to lines of script or other notes. The wayward actor was corrected, and if he persisted, the troupe dismissed him.

Unfortunately, sometimes dismissed actors would get together and form a group that would deviate from The Play's original version. Some of these went so far as to change The Play's main character. But the most pernicious groups were those that introduced reinterpretations and claimed these reinterpretations were just as valid because they had retained the lines of the original script. These innovating groups tried to argue that just because troupes had been performing The Play with the same interpretation
for years didn't mean they were correct. Rejecting the notes written by actors through the years and insisting that only scripts were reliable, they challenged the troupes who continued performing The Play with the original, traditional interpretation to prove why the traditional interpretation was the only correct one.

Because the troupes maintaining the original, traditional interpretation were unable to provide proof within the limitations artificially imposed by the innovators, the innovators continued to maintain the validity of their reinterpretation. But the troupes maintaining the original, traditional interpretation knew the innovating reinterpretation was wrong. They could recognize the changes. They could say, 'The way we perform The Play is the way The Play has always been performed, wherever it has been performed, regardless of who has played the various roles.' They may have lacked the type of 'proof' demanded by the innovating groups, but they knew how The Play was supposed to be performed."

This piece was posted a few years ago on the Evangelical-Orthodox Discussion Group. Where do you see the analogy begin to break down? Or does it break down at all? How could it be improved?

This also raises a more general question: How useful are analogies when discussing theological issues?

:: Karl :: 2:52:00 PM [Link] ::

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