The Roman Christian Church - It Spectacular Elements
( Originally Published 1935 )
Oh infatuated men, what is this blindness, or rather madness, which possesses you? How is it that while, as we hear, even the Eastern nations are bewailing your ruin, and while powerful states in the most remote parts of the earth are mourning your fall as a public calamity, ye yourselves, should be crowding to the theatres, should be pouring into them and filling them; and, in short, be playing a madder part now than ever before? This was the foul plague spot, this the wreck of virtue and honor that Scipio sought to preserve you from, when he prohibited the construction of theaters; this was his reason for desiring that you might still have an enemy to fear, seeing as he did how easily prosperity would corrupt and destroy you.
Thus, not more than fifteen years after Alaric had sacked Rome, Saint Augustine tried to reason with the City and Empire of Rome proposing a new empire, The City of God.
For Rome was falling and falling fast, and still the arenas were full and churches were not. Hell's mouth yawned. The late Romans drugged them-selves with games. Three thousand dancing-girls were allowed to remain in the starving city, while scholars were driven away. Although invaders infested the once invincible town, its people still flocked to the games. And Augustine, with that insight which would make his monument an encyclopedia for the Dark Ages and the one philosophy of history the Middle Ages knew, concentrated all his energy on denunciations of the shows. It was not as a Puritan that he had felt in his youth the attractions of the theater. He admits, the scenic spectacles enraptured me. In my time I had a violent passion for them, which were full of the images of my miseries and of the amorous flames of fire which devoured me.
He had seen his agreeable young friend Alypius, suddenly transformed from a sensitive student of Roman law into a sadist, at the gladiatorial combats.
For so soon as he saw the blood, he at the very instant drunk down a kind of savageness; nor did he turn away his head, but fixed his eyes upon it, drinking up unawares the very Furies themselves; being much taken with the barbarousness of the sword-fight, and was drunk again with that blood-thirsty joy.
Just as many historians today insist the nature of our capitalist crisis is purely economic, so Augustine, but with greater reason for his limits, believed Rome was crumbling from wholly moral poison. Games, shows, dances, were visible gangrene in the Imperial body. And he, and following him his church, though not for three hundred years would the ban be complete, anathematized, without exception, the symptoms, the obvious stench of Roman virulence, among them, dance. There would be no more theatrical dancing for nearly a thousand years, a long time for the cessation of a form which through the cultures of Greece and Rome had achieved such a high degree of formal development. We shall see how the instinct towards dancing ex-pressed itself in other channels. This is fascinating history and remarkable testimony to the sturdiness of its prompting human necessity. But as far as any actual innovation, technical development, or even conservation of tradition, the period from the years 300 to 1300 A.D. is a virtual blank, should we limit ourselves strictly to facts relevant to the dance in theaters, which we cannot possibly afford to do.
Rome fell for innumerable reasons inherent in her instinctive philosophy of property acquisition. In the wide swamps of a policy of imperial sadism there are many parallels to terrify even people today, who presume dancing is some special sanctuary where politics cannot intrude. To understand the nature of theatrical dancing we must know enough of conditions surrounding it, shedding upon it those colors to which it of all the arts, except possibly music, is most susceptible. Rome perished because she had overextended herself; the organization of communications and arms for which she is so famous was superimposed rather than organic. Satisfactorily tense enough when her conquering drive was on its long crushing rise, Imperium Romanum was no plan for maintenance, for consolidating far-flung positions once they had been violently achieved. The scenic games, under the Republic a real power for centralized placation,'became with the Empire a huge, dangerous and necessary adjunct to the throne, whose monstrous abuses were in direct proportion to their unwieldy influence, and by which the Emperors came to be governed as much as they governed. Their expense exhausted provinces not only of money but of animal-life. Their actual sights had a moral effect which has only been possible to hint at here. The scenic games surely contributed to Rome's catastrophe, but to a far less degree than the religion held by their first frank opponents. In the games, the Christians seized an immediate vicious example of all they opposed. The general situation was too livid to make us marvel much that they did not stop to pick out of the welter that part of theatrical-dancing which might have been worth saving, even if lilies actually existed on such a dung-heap. Besides, Christians had seen their friends and fathers martyred in amphitheaters where their agony was merely a prelude to, or an incident in, the shows.
That the church Fathers would honestly have denied any desire to employ consciously a trace of taint from Roman spectacle we have no reason to doubt. But what they could in all good faith damn on one plane of consciousness, they absorbed, for future use, on another. Church history is full of the courageous and violent denunciations that the early Fathers launched against the shows, At first their complaints were pure rhetoric, but with the advent of Christian Emperors, they began to carry weight. As early as 300 a council at Elvira decided no person in any way connected with circus or pantomime could be baptized. In 398 at the council of Carthage a rule was established excommunicating anyone who attended the theater on holy days. As Alardyce Nicoll writes, in his exhaustive work on the period, had this been actually enforced half of Christendom, including a section of the clergy, would have been out of communion with the church.... From East to West, in Constantinople, in Antiocha, in Alexandria, in Rome, the mimic drama flourished, uniting together old pagans and new Christians in the one common enjoyment of pure secularism.*
It was, as we can well understand, necessary for Holy Church to compete with the mimes on their own ground. This could be done without endangering her conscience, as long as her own priests were quick to suspect each other of imperial practice, and condemn creators of forms which seemed either too near pagan wickedness or too entertaining for their own sake. Such quarrels were part of the famous controversy between the Arians and the Athanasians. Athanasius charged Arius with willfully copying an infamous Alexandrian playwright, in his work on Liturgy called after the Greek comic muse, 'Thalia.' He alleged that his 'Thalia' not only included dramatic hymns but also an actual program of pantomimic dances commemorating the crucifixion. Unfortunately little remains of Arian documents to enable us to determine the degree of their corruption. The triumphant Athanasians not only issued an 'Anti-Thalia' but destroyed whatever Arian manuscripts they found. The 'Thalia' was so popular that even its opponents recognized the attractions inherent in the liturgical embellishments it proposed, and from the fourth century, particularly in the Eastern Empire, possibilities for a frankly religious theater were considered.
But such an institution was rendered virtually impossible, by the attitude of the mimes themselves. They were a byword for lewdness, symbol of so much, in no matter how purified a form, the church opposed. It was difficult to make allies of actors who outrageously parodied the very usages of the Christian liturgy. Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, in the fourth century, be-moaned the fact that "nothing on the stage was more pleasing to auditors and spectators than the comic Christian." In our contemporary burlesque and vaudeville we have the comic Jew, always good for a laugh by virtue of his hook-nose and derby hat. Romans had roared at broad parodies of the country lout, the provincial rustic as well as the loves of Venus and Mars or the rites of Bona Dea. Now ecclesiastical debates of solemn churchmen seemed equally preposterous, and the ceremonial of the church, amusing rigmarole. For example, in one play, a mimic-fool is made ready for baptism, undressed and robed in white. To him approach a funny priest, a slapstick bishop, exorcist and acolytes, made droll with ritual symbols turned into phalloi, reminding us of Athenian satyr-plays. The burlesque climax is where the would-be Christian is dumped into a tub of lukewarm water.
There was also the story of the mime Philemon, under Diocletian, in the year 287, who had been hired by a frightened Christian to take his place, in a disguise, and celebrate those pagan rites, which the poor deacon's conscience, if not his courage prevented his fulfilling. But when Philemon came before the inquisition he said in a loud voice: "I am a Christian; I will not sacrifice." As he affirmed this, he raised his hood so that all could see it was no timid deacon but Philemon, the popular stage-star. The court roared, and because of his reputation was prepared to let the whole thing drop as a bold joke. But Philemon said again: "I am a Christian; I will not sacrifice." The prefect, furious, realized he was facing a convert and asked the people if he should not be doomed to instant death. They unanimously cried out to save their favorite. But Philemon was unmoved. Again the officer pleaded with him. He said the audience in the theater would be miserable if he did. not recant, that their grief would be unbearable if they would have to see him crucified. But the mime was obdurate and went to his death joyfully, amid the spectators' mourning, and became a martyr and saint of the Roman Catholic Church.
There could be no truce between theater and church. After the Lombard invasion of 568 there is rare mention of shows or games in Rome. For some two or three hundred years later there are records of them in the Eastern Empire. The mimi, as individuals, existed in wandering parties, large or small—but the day of Roman spectacular entertainment was over forever.
In the year 791, the English priest Alcuin wrote warnings to a friend that "the man who brings actors and mimes and dancers to his house knows not what a bevy of unclean spirits follow them." He counseled the Bishop of Lindisfarne that it was "better to feed the poor from your table than actors," which would prove that not all clergymen were as uncharitable to artists as an English follower of Augustine.
This all may seem very far from dance, nor yet shall we find any dancing in the Church's great innovation, its Mass. Nor is it strange that this Mass, which found itself forced to exile other forms of previous ritual observance should have excluded the dance as well. But when we look into it more closely we shall discover that while not exactly strange, neither is it entirely simple or logical.
Dating from about the year 16o A.D. there exists in a Gnostic romance known as the Acts of John, a remarkable hymn, quoted in the Catholic Dictionary as being known to Augustine. It describes an incident of the last or Lord's Supper, where Christ, taking leave of his disciples, instituted the custom of Holy Communion, the symbolic basis of the Roman Christian Religion and the source of the Catholic Mass. But here, instead of the breaking of bread and sipping of wine testifying to the oneness of Christ's body and blood, we have dancing.
Before Jesus was taken by the Jews and unbelievers who hold to Satan's Law, he gathered us altogether and said: Before I am delivered over to them, let us sing a hymn to the Father. We will then go to them, together. Then he asked us to form a circle: we took each by the hand, he being in the middle and said: Amen: Follow me; and he commenced the hymn.
Jesus: Glory be to the Father! (and we who were encircling him responded): Amen.
Gods who dance are not exactly rare, as we have seen, but this Gnostic Christ, resembling far more Siva than Dionysos, is, as far as the present writer has discovered, the unique mention of Jesus as dancer. The Christian Bible is not, like the Koran, a homogeneous work, but rather a compilation or selection of many books, which were chosen through centuries of controversy, political convenience or literary taste. The so-called Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles from one of which the above service is taken, were frequently absurd, irrelevant inventions, and outlawed from an accredited place in the sacred compendium for many good reasons.
Gnosticism was close to Catholicism in many respects, but laid most of the emphasis of salvation on gnosis (knowledge), an understanding of esoteric information possessed by them alone, and compounded of conglomerate beliefs, predominantly oriental. Had its elements been sufficiently popular to have insured its expansion, dancing might not have slept so long. Inclusion in church ceremony might have revitalized dance in the lay world.
There were dozens of such groups later to be outlawed as heretical, like the eccentric Asiatics who danced with women, remembering the triumph of Israel after the Red Sea passage, and those of the Sect of the Unbended-Knee, whose members prayed standing, tossing their arms about according to pre-scribed rules for expelling evil spirits from the surrounding air. And far from Syria, in the primeval German forests, freshly converted Teuton warriors would sing battle-songs to their new hero, a Christ as blond as Balder. In some Roman churches, youths and girls partook of love-feasts; chanted love-glees called agape and were quickly suppressed.
In passing it is only fair to mention a few instances of dancing in Christian churches. The Abbot Meletius, an Englishman, upon the advice of the first Gregory, permitted dancing in his churches up to 6o4. The nature of the dancing is obscure. The existence of edicts against mixed dancing in cemeteries does not show that the dances themselves were in any way connected with the liturgy. The Jesuit father, Menestrier, whose history of dancing published in 1683, is full of valuable data about his own time, as well as of curious tales of earlier, tells of seeing in certain Paris churches the senior canon leading choir-boys in a round-dance during the singing of the psalm. The Paris Liturgy reads `Le chanoine ballera au premier psaume': `The canon will dance to the first psalm.' Such dancing could scarcely be called ritual, probably as much physical activity was involved as with the gnostics. Scaliger said the first Roman bishops were called proesuls and they led a sacred `dance' around altars at festivals. Theodosius says that Christians of Antioch `danced' in church and in front of martyrs' tombs. In some mediaeval cathedrals, awnings were hung before the west door, over a place called Rallatoria or Choraria (dancing-pavement). Without discussing the exact contemporary connotation of the verb, bailer, we may assume that the movements were sufficiently timid or restricted to preclude either their offending the celebrants, exciting the participants, or in any real sense enriching the Missal. Los Seises, the dancing youths of the Cathedral of Seville, whose annual performance on the feasts of Corpus Christi and the Immaculate Conception was connected with the ancient Mozarabic rite, are often described as ritual dancers, though their dance was really an independent votive act, peculiar to the towns of Seville and Toledo.
But the heirs of Saint Paul had plenty of reasons for preferring a more static formula when they created Christian ritual. Although he was an oriental, or at least a Jew, Paul had been born in Tarsus, a city predominantly Greek in culture. His strong contacts with Stoic philosophy would naturally make him suspicious of the semi-oriental survival or vegetation cults which abounded in Asia Minor and from which Gnosticism unquestionably derived. Pauline Christianity was but one of the Christian parties which were then battling for mastery, but it was far more durable than the ephemeral oriental-ism of the Gnostics who soon degenerated by virtue of their very differences from his practical and popular salesmanship. In his first epistle to the Corinthians (4:9) Saint Paul established scriptural authority for all opprobrious con-notations in the words 'theaters,' and `spectacles,' to which his followers could triumphantly point, for the next thousand years.
For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels and to men.
Although Hebrew ritual dancing had only a very indirect or negative effect in creating the Christian Mass and a remote literary influence on subsequent dances in theaters which emerged from the Cathedrals, nevertheless, because of the numerous biblical references to dancing, and the vast influence of the Bible in the Middle Ages, it might be well, in passing, to mention a few.
The Jews have given rise to misconceptions about themselves by an insistence on their isolation, or uniqueness. The nation as a whole was for many centuries neither better nor worse than other tribes which lived as their friends or enemies in Palestine. Their ancient customs and tribal ceremonies were similar to those of primitive peoples whom we have already cursorily examined. Their dances fit into the same categories of the seasons of men and the calendar that were shared by Australians, Egyptians and Cretans; except that Jews were Semites, dwelling in another part of the earth. For a people who make so many references to dancing in their literature, it may seem strange that there is no provision for it in the Mosaic code, which scrupulously regulates all other ritual matters. However, dancing, unlike their religion, was not by that time, a primarily moral, hygienic, legislative or theological matter. Some Christian writers, perhaps to give precedence to the absence of dancing in their own church, suggest that Jews frowned on the practice, but this is not true. The Hebrews were reformers, insomuch as they did their best to purge from their ceremonies those elements popular among the gentiles which seemed barbarous or idolatrous, but they would not have been so vain as to attempt the suppression of dancing, that instinctive expression shared alike by both Jew and gentile, with all the other folk of the world. Although there are no early rabbinical texts fixing the postures for solemnities, or correct methods for singing, neither song nor dance is ever disparaged.
The Hebrew word roots for 'dance' suggest 'play,' 'laughter,"whirling,' 'rotation,"writhing' and 'twisting' (as in a woman's labor pains, a very Semitic ideogram) ; 'sporting,"merry-making,' and 'dancing' itself. There are associational meanings of 'skipping,' 'going-around' (in a circle), 'leaping-over' and 'celebrating-a-feast.' From the Old Testament itself, we have the sacred processional of 'King David and all the house of Israel dancing before Jehovah with all their might.' In the Hebrew he is said to 'rotate with-all-his-might,' 'to jump,' 'whirl-around' and 'skip.' In the last two Psalms of David; the prophet exhorts his people to "praise His name in the dance," "praise him with the timbrel and the dance"; Moses came down from Sinai and found the Israelites praising the golden calf with dances. The idol, not the method of its praise, was sacrilegious. There was a famous torch dance, held at the feast of Succoth or Tabernacles. On the second day of the festival, in the women's court of the temple, dances and processions took place, accompanied by hymns. Because the participants carried palm-branches, such a traveler as Plutarch would be inclined to confuse them with the thyrsi of the rites of Dionysos, and, should a careful Christian and inadequate anthropologist like Augustine read of it, it would further convince him of the evils of oriental dancing in church. After the passage of the Red Sea "Miriam, the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances." There was dancing for use in the marriage ritual:
Return, return 0 Shulammite;
This refers to a sword-dance of ancient origin; a weapon is flashed and bran-dished by the bride symbolizing her defense against all suitors but her chosen spouse. It is still customary among the Jews of the Sephardim, for mourners to walk seven times around a laid-out body, during which seven short supplications are intoned, each ending with the words, "And continually may he walk in the land of life, and may his soul rest in the land of life."
Although Paul converted among many congregations where he had recently preached as a Rabbi, orthodox Jews were not calculated to receive his new religion with open arms. Nor did they. And so, balked on the one hand by the anti-ecclesiastical satires of the late Roman mimes, and on the other by the orthodox Rabbis, Pauline Christians of the first five hundred years of their Lord's era invented a new service, based neither on the ritual esthetics of the Romans among whose descendants they were to work and triumph, nor upon the body of Jewish ideology from which they drew their arising. The creation of the form of the Mass, (here nothing need be said about ancient sources of its ideas of sacred-supper, its doctrines of mediation or transubstantiation,) was in its ultimate synthesis, if not in its component parts, the very original contribution of the Roman Catholic Church. Thus it is, almost but not quite, as if here, on the brink of investigating the source of forms for administering the Eucharist, that we commence our study of modern stage-dancing.
Just as we traced the roots of Greek tragedy from mysteries of a perennial earth-god, we see mirrored in the Mass so much that has its beginning, not in Greece which exhausted itself in Graeco-Roman games, to undergo a thou-sand years later a merely literary revival, but in Christian Rome, under the patronage of an ecclesiastical empire whose life will flow in the channels ancient Romans laid for their ruin. In this sense, but in all honesty, in only this sense, can our history be read as a continuous stream. We must not forget that like architecture, music, poetry, painting and sculpture, dancing, which had enjoyed as high a development as any of these arts, would for nearly a thousand years be virtually dormant.
From the first, the Christian church was treated as a subversive movement, which in every way it was, from the point of view of the Roman State. A radical superstition, its members were likely to be thrown to lions, or to flare as torches for an Emperor's night. In more ways than one the early Christian Church resembles the Communist party in Czarist Russia. Its meetings were literally held underground, in cellars and burial-caves. In the beginning there were no cathedrals. Mass was said, the vessels were set out on tables or on the stone tombs of those martyrs whose bodies could be rescued from the Arena. Recollect that the worship of Dionysos fused with dances around ancestral tombs. The tomb-top was the mensa, on whose surface a sacred-supper (sacrament) was set. Among early ornaments were a sepulchrum, or altar-cavity, which could both hold relics of a martyr and remind congregations of Christ's deposition and resurrection after his martyrdom. The ciborium was a canopy over the altar,—the predella a platform on which the celebrants or officiating priest could stand.
When the church was strong enough to come up out of the catacombs there was no sacred Roman edifice, already erected, which could simply have its gods removed to permit the new faith to enter. Roman temples to individual gods were not, in most cases, large, and were usually smallish buildings constructed entirely to enshrine particular statues and votive gifts. But there was, however, a type of secular building, of which numerous examples existed, moderately well-adapted for holy theaters. They were the Roman Basilica, or Law Courts; long, rectangular halls, either barrel-vaulted or roofed with a coffered ceiling supported by monolithic columns in two or more long aisles down the length of the room. The very forms of the Roman law had dramatic structure in their procedure. Sir Henry Maine, in his `Ancient Law' says, "An ancient conveyance (contract) was not written but acted." By their very par-lance, lawyers or parties to agreements, enacted the priority and actual meaning of their promises. He quotes the comedian Plautus to show how "effectually the attention of the person meditating the promise must have been arrested by the question, and how ample was the opportunity for withdrawal from an improvident undertaking." Naturally the architecture of the law-courts was efficiently designed to frame the drama of its law.
The clergy would come to seat themselves in the, frequently, semi-circular apse, hooded by a mosaic half-dome where the judges had sat, in front of a table-altar-tomb facing their congregations, from whom they were separated by the cancelli, or lattice, which had been the attorneys' bar. In Eastern Greek Catholic Churches this chancel would develop into an lkonostasis, or threedoored holy picture-screen, into whose central portal priests would enter to perform the mysteries secretly from their audiences. It has been ingeniously suggested that this arises from that ancient convention of the Greeks which arranged the actual scene of tragedies off-stage, so that the Christian ikon becomes a kind of invisible deus ex machina. But the development of the Greek church is another story and has only a very indirect bearing on theatrical-dancing through ancestral connections with Russia.
In the Western Church, the high-altar was moved to the east end of the church, with space in front for deacons and sub-deacons. Between this and the nave proper was a choir, with seats banked on either side for the responding clergy. Later sanctuary and choir were known as the chancel (cancelli), and would be divided from the main body of the congregation by an arch, or steps, or pierced screen, or all three.
The development of theatra, of seeing-places is inextricably connected with dromena, things done in them. As the liturgy developed, symbolism accreted, forms amplified, and by the thirteenth century, with a special emphasis on the cult of the Virgin, cathedrals will have become the great but-tressed buildings we all know, though also by that time their influence on any dancing which interests us will have passed. Transepts on either side are laid out, and the whole fabric becomes its founder's sign,—a Cross. Many altars to His many saints displace Christ's single tomb. Aisles around nave and choir (ambulatories) permit the passage of bannered processions.
Although the altar-platform was raised to afford the congregation greater legibility, and although the Mass itself grew more and more decorative, we must not easily assume that basilicas were sacred opera-houses, or the Mass was a holy pantomime. In both architecture and act there is much of the spectacular, but let us determine exactly how much of the theatrical.
To be sure there is an officiating priest, with whom one could make false analogies, likening him to the single actors of early Greek tragedy. There is a chorus, which on occasion he addresses and which formally responds. There are definite preordained movements and postures for the participants, and those actions necessary for transferring candles, books, censers, and other ritual implements. Groups and individuals come into contact with one another and separate. There is an introduction, a climax and a finale to the ceremony. Wherein, then, is this not holy drama?
As Karl Young demonstrates in his `Drama of the Medieval Church,' one must not confuse dramatic externals with genuine drama. A play is a narrative action in which the chief factor is not forms of speech or movement, but the impersonation by actors, of characters who create a narrated situation. In the Mass there are numerous atmospheric effects achieved by the combination of sound, movement, poetry, color and even odor: But neither do the celebrants attempt to resemble or impersonate anyone but themselves, nor does architecture or accessories attempt to depict any place or quality of locale other than contained. in church precincts.
The impossibility of there being impersonation in the liturgy of the Eucharist arises from the fact that since the early Christian centuries this rite has been regarded as a true sacrifice.
That is, when the priest blesses the wine and wafer it becomes, is transubstantiated into, the very blood and body of Christ Jesus himself.
The central act is designed not to represent or portray or merely commemorate the crucifixion, but actually to repeat it. What takes place at the altar is not an esthetic picture of a happening in the past, but a genuine renewal of it. Just as Christ sacrificed himself on the Cross, so in the mass He is present invisibly, and sacrifices Himself again. The consecrated elements are Christ, and through the words and acts of the celebrant, Christ accomplishes His own immolation, being Himself, in reality, both' the victim and the priest. The celebrant remains merely the celebrant, and does not undertake to play the part of his Lord. He is only the instrument through which Christ acts. As Peter was Christ's rock, and as Pope was Christ's vicar on earth, so is the first actor of the mass only the instrument through which Christ acts.
The mass, then, has never been a drama, nor did it ever directly give rise to drama. The dramatic features of this service, along with those of the Canonical Office (the eight daily celebrations) and the symbolizing of virtually every sentence, gesture and physical accompaniment—these phenomena may have contributed suggestions as to the possibility of inventing drama, and may, indirectly, have encouraged it; but the liturgy itself, in its ordinary observances, remained always mere worship.
Perhaps it may seem here that a great deal of attention has been devoted to forms remotely connected with stage-dancing, that it would have been better simply to proclaim the absence of any dancing in the thousand years between Roman pantomime and Renaissance ballet. But dancing, particularly theatrical dancing, is not an isolated phenomenon. It depends, as does its name, on theater, and in order to understand forms it will take when it again emerges as dance, we must be content to follow theatrical history wherever, no matter how far afield, it may lead us. There are veins of that ore in the Missal which will be used later as links in forging our final chain. Then we shall need not only each of several elements but all elements in their correct proportions and relations to each other.
It is, to be sure, the indirect contribution of the Mass with which we are occupied, but even so, we must at least be familiar with its outline to under-stand the principles of regularized. metaphor, its orderly ranks of references, symbols powerfully to affect poetry, music, costume, architecture and their combination towards a real theater which will raise its stages outside cathedrals. The element of gesture, as such, is slighter because it was not until the thirteenth century elaboration of the Mass that the Host was more decoratively elevated with the amplification of arm motions. By that time mimes would have returned again, fools as dancing devils, accompanied by dancing acrobats and dancing-masters.
The Mass is based on Christ's passion. It is called Eucharist or Thanks-giving, since its celebration gives thanks for bread and wine. The word Mass (Latin—Missa) comes from that part of the older service when the children and unbaptized (catchumens) are dismissed. It is a communion (Greek—Kommonia) to show the fellowship between Christ and his faithful. It is called the `Lord's Supper' because he instituted it. It is a sacrament, or holy meal, because those material elements comprising it are consecrated. It is a mystery since only those who are rightfully initiated into it, may partake of it. It is a true sacrifice, as we have been told above, since it is a rehearsal of Christ's passion.
Saint Paul intended that all faithful should regularly hold religious meetings to partake of the Lord's Supper, but some came early and ate all the provender. The poor were left hungry and the rich got drunk. There was more factionalism than brotherhood. So he directed when they came together they should wait for one another, that their meal should not be the private dinner-party of rich Dives, but a communal meal shared by the whole flock.
Instead of presenting a skeleton or norm of that Mass, which from the ninth century has been only slightly changed, it is perhaps better to outline the first recorded ordinance of a Roman Mass. It may have less splendor of celebration than those at Chartres or Paris four hundred years later, but its five main parts are the same, and in this more stripped condition subsequent spectacular adornments can be more easily applied.
At this time (ca. 730) Rome had seven ecclesiastical districts, each with deacon, sub-deacon and acolytes, each with its own week day for the rotational celebration of high ecclesiastical ceremonies. There are minute regulations for the assemblage and marshalling of the procession which meets a pontiff, which robes him and escorts him to his throne.
Once at the sacristy, he does not leave it until the introit (entrance) is heard from the choir already in the church. He goes in to stand at the altar before the gloria (to the Father, Son and Holy Ghost). After the kyrie eleison (a Greek survival—"God have mercy") has been sung as many times as he indicates, he himself begins gloria in excelsis, in which the choir joins him. During the singing he faces east: at its finish, he turns for a moment to bless, and proceeds to the oratio (or collect; i.e., the faithful are gathered "Quam collcctum dicunt"). This finished all seat themselves in order while the sub-deacon ascends the ambo to read the day's Epistle. After he has done, the cantor with his book ascends and gives out the responsum. The deacon then silently kisses the pontiff's feet, and is blessed. Preceded by acolytes with lit tapers and sub-deacons burning incense, he ascends the ambo where he reads the gospel. At the close, with the words "Pax tibi" (may you have peace), the pontiff after another oratio, descends to the senatorium (an imperial Roman survival) accompanied by certain of the inferior clergy, and receives in order the oblations, or offerings (of wine) from the nobles. The arch-deacon who follows takes the liquor from each separate vessel and pours all into one. Similar oblations are received from the other ranks and classes present, including women. This done, the celebrants wash their hands, the offerings in the meanwhile being set out by the sub-deacons on the altar, and water, supplied by the choir-leader, is mixed with the wine, while the choir (schola cantorum) has been singing the offertorium. When all is ready, the pontiff stops them, and enters upon the preface, the sub-deacons responding. At the Angel's Hymn (Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus) all kneel, and continue kneeling, except the pontiff, who rises alone and begins the canon, or consecration. At the words "Per quern haec omnia" the arch-deacon lifts the cup with the offerings, and at "Pax domini sit semper vobiscum" he gives the peace (pax tibi) to the clergy in their order, and to the laity. The pontiff then breaks a particle from consecrated bread and lays it upon the altar; the rest he puts on a plate held by the deacon. It is then distributed while the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God who takest away the world's sin) is sung. The pontiff, in communicating, puts the particle into the cup, making the mixture of bread and wine which is Christ's body and blood, and those present communicate in their order. As the pontiff descends into the senatorium to give the communion, the choir begins the antiphon, continues with the Psalm until all have finished. The sign is given for the gloria. They cease, and the celebrant, facing east, offers the oratio ad complendum, which being terminated, the arch-deacon says to the congregation: "Ite, missa est"—"go, you are dismissed," and they answer, "To God, the thanks."
In time the Mass would be altered, until in its present form it supports an astonishing exuberance of minute detail, each tiny point related to a central truth of the religion.
The bishop, clad in his sacred vestments, at the end of the procession, emerging from the sacristy and advancing to the altar, represents Christ, the expected of the nations, emerging from the virgin's womb and entering the world even as the Spouse from His secret chamber. The seven lights borne before him on the chief festivals are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit descending upon the head of Christ. The two acolytes preceding him signify the law and the prophets, shown in Moses and Elias who appeared with Christ on Mount Tabor. The four who bear the canopy are the four evangelists, declaring the Gospel. The bishop takes his seat and lays aside his mitre. He is silent, as was Christ during His early years.
In the cathedral the font is placed near the west door to signify by the gate of baptism one enters Christ's fold. The raised choir, separated from the church by a screen, will show the body of the fabric as church militant; the choir, the church, triumphant in heaven. The altar is east, for Christ is the Sun of Righteousness and rose in Easter dawn. In the ninth century when the papacy had assumed the power of the Caesars, they also saw fit to robe them-selves in a manner fitting their dominion. They took from Roman civil dress the ordinary cut of tunic and mantle and adapted it to their use. To a large extent, with later additions, the dress, like the Mass itself, remains the same. There were five liturgical colors—white being most common, signifying the Lamb's pure fleece, appropriate for all feasts except the Passion; red was for martyr's blood and Christ's agony; green was the special verdant Sundays between Epiphany and Septuagesima; violet, the Advent, Intercession, penitential Masses, and a purple stole, or scarf, was worn at extreme unction; black is the mortal hue of death and Good Friday.
More and more the church would become a splendid court and an imperial household. Its magnificent ministers, champions of Christ, capped with amice or helmet (sign also of the tongue's discipline), and armored in a pure white alb, breastplate for spiritual warriors, created a fitting frame for their celebrations. And there was the cultivation of Gregorian singing, which, in its way, was as functional as the building, color, or action, since its specific purpose was to set off the meaning of the verses. Once, Augustine had said, "Yea, very fierce am I sometimes, in the desire of having the melody of all pleasant music, to which David's Psalter is so often sung, banished both from mine own ears, and out of the whole church too—and the safer way it seems unto me, which I remember to have been often told me of Athanasius a Bishop of Alexandria, who caused the reader of the Psalm to sound it forth with so little warbling of the voice, as that it was nearer to speaking, than to singing. Notwithstanding, so often as I call to mind the tears I shed at the hearing of thy church songs, in the beginning of my recovered faith, yea, and at this very time, whenas I am moved not with the singing, but with the thing sung (when namely they are set off with a clear voice and suitable modulation), I then acknowledge the great good use of this institution."
Every contributing factor was arranged so that the people could share audibly, visibly, in a voluntary ritual. The process of amplifying the Mass would grow so quickly into a florid gloss on a simple skeleton that an Augustinian tone will have to be taken by such a one of his successors as Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (died 1153). He castigates the celebrants of the mass rather than the splendor of its celebration, but the theatricalization of the one affected the manners of the other.
Woe unto this generation, for its leaven of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy! ...today, foul rottenness crawls through the whole body of the church... ministers of Christ, they serve anti-Christ. They go clothed in good things of the Lord and render him no honor. Hence that eclat of the courtesan which you daily see, that theatric garb, that regal state.
But however free we decide the church may be from strictly defined theatricals, and it will take more study than has been summarily placed here to convince one of it with any ultimate understanding, the theater, not inside but outside the church—the theater exhausted, outlawed, weak and dispersed, . was, nevertheless, still alive. These surviving remnants would shortly benefit from the lively inner splendors of the cathedral, after which the dance-drama we once knew would reemerge. Closest to church were the plays performed from an early date with its sanction, plays which would become famous as the mystery and miracle plays of the twelfth century.
Although Christmas is perhaps to us the most attractive.of Christian festivals, and will later serve French and English courtiers with many occasions for balls which are relevant to this history, the celebration of Easter is a much more profound dramatization of fundamental religious tenets. The under-lying reason for its ability continually to touch the hearts and minds of believers is familiar to anyone.who has heard of Osiris. For Jesus, like the Egyptian, had a mortal existence, contested the world's authority for evil, was sacrificed to redeem His people and came again, like Osiris, to balance souls in the eternal shadow, though Christ sits not alone, but on His Father's right, to judge the quick and the dead. At Abydos so it was at Jerusalem, and after Jerusalem, at Rome. The acts of Christ—being taken down (deposed) from the Cross of His agony, His being placed in a mortal's tomb, the tomb watched by His friends and enemies and found to be, miraculously, void—these are the vital symbols of a church whose whole sovereignty depends on the doctrine of mortal death and immortal resurrection. Hence, for the Easter service certain special ceremonial offices were devised as amplifications of ordinary liturgy, to emphasize at the year's climacteric, the God who made the year clean.
Starting as a simple processional, even as early as the seventh century, the service came to involve not only the ordinary altar as tomb, but to have special ornamental tombs constructed for this purpose. Host and Cross were symbolically wrapped in winding-vestments, buried or covered, and night watched the relics. Then, with due observance, the symbol would be elevated and the resurrection was made a fact, accomplished as vivid reminder for those who kept vigil in the churches, as the Maries had waited before the Saviour's sepulcher. In some places there were carved stone sepulchra, a dummy for burial, grave-sheets for wrapping it, and a slab to seal the tomb. But all that was spoken or sung was the Mass or office of the particular day of the year. There is still no impersonation, but dramatic factors in the symbolism are considerably intensified.
Step by step, ritual facts prompt liturgical practice into elastic and more decorative forms. Within the church, engendered by accumulations of its religious energy, symbols teem and must have more and more channels for expression. Still inside the liturgy, a swelling body of poetry, song and accomplished deeds will interact until suddenly, almost as if it were spontaneously, we have liturgical drama.
We are told that after Christ had died and been buried, after He had risen, He then descended into hell, to choose from those already in limbo, which should be released into heaven, or which consigned forever to a lower hell. In medieval literature this was known as the "Harrowing of Hell," and in the pictorial and plastic arts we often see a gaping monster's mouth, barbed with teeth, from which Christ leads His chosen. The realization of this symbolic myth found its place in natural chronological order following Deposition and Elevation. Only here, the words, used themselves, though a familiar psalm of the Jewish church, had a peculiarly dramatic, or rather operatic, significance.
Before the beginning of the observance the lay congregation is allowed to gather at the sepulcher, there to be joined by a procession of the clergy from the sacristy. After the reciting of two psalms and of several familiar liturgical forms, the sepulcher is opened, and the Host and Cross are tensed, sprinkled and elevated into general view. Then both objects are carried through the cemetery outside the church, the chorus singing the antiphon Cum Rex Gloria. When the procession reaches the first portal of the church, two priests, carrying an especially large crucifix, strike the door with the shaft three times, singing Tollite Portas.
"Lift up your heads, 0 ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of Glory shall come in."
And a person, inside the church with only the voice of Satan asks, "Who is this King of Glory?"
Chorus (outside) : "The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle."
However, the portals remain shut, the procession continues, and repeats the dialogue at the second door, and again at the third.
"Lift up your heads, 0 ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of Glory shall come in."
"Who is this King of Glory?"
"The Lord of hosts, He is the King of Glory."
Against such a King, the King of Hell must bow; the doors yield. The procession enters the building, marching towards the choir. Even now, we have not seen an impersonated Devil. We have only heard his voice.
The Bible itself, even with its treasure of Hebrew poetry and Christian narrative, was not, if strictly quoted, very full of many such fortunate questions and answers. Instinctively, the priests widened the dramatic possibilities of a given legend, yet preserved the semblance of strict holding to the given word. Tropes were invented. Tropus (Greek: tropos) refers to the melody to which a verse is sung, but it came to signify the words themselves, words which were embellishments, or interpolations in sacred texts. We have heard the words of the priest, he, missa est; go, you are dismissed; the people respond : To God, the thanks.
Into these two brief and adequate utterances, a zealous monk of St. Gall inter. polated some sixteen words of his own, in the form of the following trope: Priest: Ite nunc in pace, spiritus sanctus super vos sit, iam missa est. People: Deo sem per laudes agite, in corde gloriam et gratias.
A path is now free for comparatively liberal decoration, soon adaptation and even rearrangement of set old texts. Not only is the sense of praise emphasized by baroque figuration, but the increased number of syllables gives a chance for amplified musical vocalization.
From the same remarkable monastery of Saint Gall has been preserved a prose trope of the tenth century, whose last word introduces the word: resurrexi—"He is risen," of the Easter Mass.
Interrogatio: Question—Quem queritis in sepulchro, Christicole? Whom do you seek in the sepulcher, 0 Christian women?
Responsio: Answer—lesum Nazereum cruci fixum, 0 caelicolae. Jesus of Nazareth, crucified, 0 heavenly ones.
Non est hic: Surrexit sicut praedixerat. He is not here: He has arisen even as he foretold. he, nuntiate quia surrexit de sepulchro. Go, announce that He is arisen from the sepulcher.
And we still can hear the choir of women and angels, shouting HE IS RISEN!
Although the embellishment does not in any way offend or dilute the text, nevertheless, in germ, we have drama. The angels are not nuns, but angelic messengers: the women are not "lay-sisters" but Maries at the tomb. With freedom permitted by the insertion of tropes, with an increasingly frank realization by the clergy that the more theatrical the exposition of their religion the stronger its attraction and hold on members, real drama at last arrived in the medieval church. One might almost echo its resurrection chorus, applying it not only to its god, but to the spirit of theatrical-dancing, which has also been in limbo.
Around the eternal recrudescence of spring, ritual and art ceaselessly polarize, and at Easter-tide the Catholic Church recradles all her ancient composite traditions to garland the festival in her own way. Certain portions of the New Testament almost shine out in self-illuminated script, demanding a repetition, a re-creation of the story.
Now there stood by the Cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw His mother, 'and the disciple (John) standing by, whom He loved, He saith unto His mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith He to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.
It is Jesus alone here who speaks. Mary, in stoic silence, merely stands. "Stabat Mater," and as a woman and as a mother, she must have wept to see her son where he was. By the twelfth century a great cult of the Virgin Mother would have grown, and for this cult splendid cathedrals with their glass, cut-stone and ritual glory would be raised.
No need to say that the gospel of Jesus was addressed to the heart as well as to the mind; and for times to come the Saviour on the Cross and at its foot the weeping mother were to rouse floods of tears over human sin, which caused the divine sacrifice.
We remember the tears of Isis which started the Nile to swell. Even in the fifth century Augustine expatiates in touching rhetoric on the plaining tears of Mary; and some seven hundred years later there are religious plays called Planctus Marine, or in German, Marienklage, which would not only give voice to the silent mother's grief, but also motion to actors and speech to the stage. There is one Planctus from the Italian town of Cividale del Friuli which is particularly interesting to us. On vellum, initialed in color, the black script clear and sturdy, we see between words and music on their staves, interlinear indications in red, or rubrics specifying the action.
Magdalen speaks: 0 brothers! (Here turns herself to the men arms held out)
Then speaks disciple John (here, with arms extended points to Christ); the third Mary follows, later both Mary Virgin and, Mary Magdalen speak with And sisters!
Where is my hope? Where is my consolation?
(Here beats her breast) together. The indications for movement of head and arms, of the whole body, are as plain to us in their stylized rigidity as Gothic carvings which show coarse grain in the cut wood. Brusque, the anguish angular and abrupt, stripped to an icy formula of grief, here is no extraneous decoration or pretty quaintness. It is rude but it is tragic, and the tragedy comes as much from the virgin's wrung hands, from her signing to her pendant son, from the thump of her fists on her breast, as from her chanted 0 dolor! Proh dolor! As much, but no more, for we have again, even if in an undeveloped form, that equilibrium between gesture, music, verse and meaning which creates the atmosphere most nourishing to a future for theatrical dancing. Just as the gestures were of an hieratical simplicity, of a quality whose action would remind its spectators more of the movements of the Mass than of wandering jugglers, so the color, the costumes fitted holy subjects based on holy writ. The Manes were veiled and wore such church-wear as surplice, cope, dalmatic, Orphery or alb. They were either in white or liturgical colors; Magdalen probably in red. They sometimes carried boxes or painted vases for the spice and burial ointments. Angels sat at the tomb-door, in white, gilt-crowned. In some places they held candles or lit lamps, and a palm or corn-ear symbolizing the resurrection. The actors were clergy, holy-sisters, choir-boys. The play was more chanted to music than spoken in a stage-voice. Later saints would hold symbols of their martyrdom or power—Peter his keys, Stephen his stones, Lawrence his gridiron.
By 1250 liturgical elements would have ceased to influence the form of the plays. All manner of purely secular ideas and incidents gradually crept in, making a complete separation of church and stage only a matter of time. Each biblical fact, bare enough in gospel, admitted not only a symbolic religious interpretation, but a human, every-day significance as well, creating figures, which would have been normally remote and incomprehensible, into men as touching and familiar as one's neighbor, miller, clerk or farmer. French shepherds in leathern smocks would hail a cut-out gilded star hung from a beam, and bear fresh vegetables or baby lambs to the crib of Christ. At a later date, Melchior, Caspar and Balthasar, clad like kings of Orient, brought more expensive toys. The three Maries, no longer stiff figures in a pieta, would purchase their perfumes from a stall, conveniently set up just outside the sepulcher. King Herod would roar and stamp when the news comes of an-other king in Israel. Instead of being spoken in various accents of Latin which priests derived from Roman contacts, they talked what we call old-English, old French, or medieval German. Everyday speech replaced the sacred tongue. From their initial position at the altar's east-end, the plays were moved out onto the broad west porches, hooded with great gables of carved saints in glory, and Christ showing His wounded hands, from the tympanum. Cathedrals were not empty at Matins, but their doors were packed for miracle plays. The church, in her half-conscious sanction of the rise of the vulgar theater was electioneering perhaps better than she knew. The same dangers which Augustine feared from the profane games of Rome, reared up again to plague deacons of Rouen and Winchester. However sacred their origins, plays were shows, and it was not long before the ordained clergy was prohibited from participating in them, some four centuries later. The body of Moliere was not permitted holy ground. And even in Milan today, the ballet-girls of the Scala Theater are not permitted confessional and must seek charitable nuns to shrive them. But it was too late to prohibit a lay-stage now. Not the mass itself could compete with the Corpus Christi spectacles produced by a gold-beaters' guild or a society of master-tailors. The theater, a revitalized universally popular theater, delighted itself and its spectators by closeness to the life of the world at large, based on a conveniently legible structure of church fact and fancy which everybody, in every class, everywhere, immediately recognized.
From altar to portal to church-square or market-place was the path of the plays. Stages were erected, high enough for people standing to see clearly. The seeing-place here was not localized as in Athens or even as within the church. Nor was the stage. There were numerous platforms, which, taken as a consecutive cycle, told the whole story; or there would be a single scaffolding with a composite simultaneous background on "mansions," of practicable sets ranging from yawning Hell's maw at the right, by quick steps past Limbo, Gethsemane garden, the Mount of Olives, the sepulchers and finally The Golden Gate. The placing of this scenery was regulated by the corresponding features in the church itself. The set for the Resurrection (altar) would be to the left (north) of the audience, opposite Hell to the hot South.
But dancing—what about the dancing? As we know from acquaintance with Augustine and Alcuin, dancing is the Devil's business. Appropriately enough, the Devil is the first-dancer of the middle ages. Those other social dances which in medieval times were to set the floor for renaissance court-balls will be described in another place. But as for dancing in the theater, that was the fiend's unique province. Occasionally he might permit his legitimate daughter Salome to turn a few somersaults, as shown on the porch at Rouen, and infrequently the angels, if in solemn processional, could risk an emulation of David's dancing chorus, but these are exceptions.
We have met the Devil in church once before, as deacon, or as devil-voice, when in the role of type-skeptic, he demanded "Who is the King of Glory?" The principle of pure good needs the mask of pure evil. The Devil more than filled this bill. Rapidly he became one of the liveliest, most appreciated of the personce, whether he prompted Adam, snatched sinners off to Limbo, or sulked when his offer of the cities of the world failed. The Devil's antics and dances were proverbial. In a Cain-and-Abel playlet, Cain, a grasping, miserly farmer, will give no tithes to his god: he says,
Ya; Daunce in ye devil way, dresse ye downe, For I wille wyrke euen as I will.
In the Bible itself, the Devil as a person, in the rare instances when he is described, is treated as a serious menace. But on the medieval stage he was always a horrid comic, frequently introduced again and again not only as comic-relief, but for the sake of his own buffoonery and tricks. The Devil, or Lucifer, Beelzebub, Satan, with such lackeys and hell-fellows as Amon, Baal, Mammon, Moloch, and some German devils called Hellhound, Womansrage, Vicebag, Looking-glass and Goatbeard not only betrayed Adam and urged Judas to do the same for his master, but were on hand to urge him to hang himself, to give Herod the notion of massacring the Innocents, to turn Magdalen into a loose woman.
The Devil wore a furry skin, not unlike a satyr's. His wiry snake's tail was barbed, his face was blackened, horned or masked. In the Garden of Eden he is an adder with the fair face of a virgin.
Then the Figure (God) must depart to the church and Adam and Eve walk about in Paradise in honest delight. Meanwhile the demons are to run about the stage, with suitable gestures, approaching the Paradise from time to time and pointing out the forbidden fruit to Eve, as though persuading her to eat it. Then the Devil is to come and address Adam.... In the last scene.... Then shall come the Devil and three or four devils with him, carrying in their hands chains and iron fetters, which they shall put on the necks of Adam and Eve. And some shall push and others pull them to Hell; and hard by Hell shall be other devils ready to meet them, who shall hold high revel (tripudium: Latin for triple-step of Sallic priests) at their fall. And certain other devils shall point them out as they come, and shall snatch them up and carry them into Hell; and there shall make a great smoke arise, and call aloud to each other with glee in their Hell, and clash their pots and kettles, that they may be heard without. And after a little delay the devils shall come out and run about the stage; but some shall remain in Hell.*
Interludes in the plays were relieved by minstrel music and as many as forty musicians at a time were employed at Bristol. There were also dances by "vyces" (vices or devils) who amused the spectators before and after the show itself. Belial is, in a morality play, to have gunpowder burning in pipes in his hands, ears and other convenient parts of his body. Anima, the soul, in a play called `Mind, Will and Understanding' has small demons chasing in and out from underneath her petticoats.
In the Domesday scene at Coventry the `savyd' and `dampnyd' souls were distinguished by their white or black color. The hell mouth was provided with fire, a windlass, and a barrel for the earthquake—Lucifer goes down to Hell `apareled fowle with Eyre about him' and the plain is filled with 'every degre of devylls of lether and spirytis on Cordis." Lucifer becomes "a fyre serpent made with a virgyn face & yolowe heare upon her head."
This Devil is by no means an isolated phenomenon. We shall meet him again, under a form with which we have already a cursory acquaintance, that mischievous fool of the Roman comedy, the stupidus or stultus, whose Greek cousins had goat-hoofs. Neither Punch nor Harlequin will remember that their lineal great-grandfathers roared down the aisles of Notre Dame on the Feast of Fools, or that their great-grand uncles, spitting flannel flames, dashed among the burghers of German market towns, seizing their terrified children to be delivered to King Herod, who massacred them with a brushful of red paint.