On The Promise of Film as a Locus Mystagogicus
Grace sows the seeds of God's sacred word in every human life. One of theology's most important functions is to furnish people with ways of perceiving these divine intimations in their concrete lives and relationships. Orientation to transcendental mystery is the sine qua non for initiation into faith. Theology must therefore lead people more deeply into the mystery of everyday existence as a preparation for the Christian life. At the same time, theology aims at expounding Christian teaching in as clear and intelligible a manner as possible. Theology accomplishes this by adapting its modes of presenting doctrine to the needs and capabilities of its addressees. This two-fold responsibility is properly understood as theology's mystagogical task. This dissertation argues that film is a crucial reference point for mystagogy--a locus mystagogicus. Film interprets human experience in ways conceptual theology cannot. It is thus a rich source for theological reflection. Theology is also an indispensable resource for film interpretation and a natural dialogue partner since it seeks to disclose the deepest dimensions of existence. More importantly, film needs theology as the hermeneutic that formally interprets religious experience--something that many human beings only vaguely sense, often misunderstand, and can easily misrepresent. With the help of film experts, theology can turn its discerning eyes to the stories and images of film and present viewers with a unique language by which they can articulate a response to their film experience. Film thus requires theology to bear witness to its artistry when it does succeed in opening people in wonder and humility to the ever-greater God. This dissertation in Catholic systematic theology investigates the theoretical and practical conditions of possibility for film as a locus for and of mystagogy. The question that it attempts to clarify is the extent to which Karl Rahner's fundamental theology provides an apposite and needed model for the way Catholic theology relates to film. There are three basic goals: (1) to outline existing ecclesial and theological foundations for a Catholic theology of film by way of a survey of magisterial documents on cinema and the writings of individual Catholic theologians and film scholars; (2) to provide greater theological grounding for Catholic approaches to film by developing the model that film is a locus mystagogicus on the basis of Rahner's transcendental method, creative retrieval of ancient mystagogy, and theological aesthetics; and (3) to test the viability and vitality of this model by way of analysis of the film Babette's Feast.