As I’ve thought more about the issues of comedy and tragedy, it has become clear that Christianity not only brings “deep comedy,” but also produces a deepening of tragic sensibility. In one sense, Christianity is utterly opposed to tragedy and its outlook: the religious world of much tragedy with its fickle gods or its irrevocable fate, is diametrically opposed to Christian faith; tragedy’s claim that death reigns is a contradiction of the gospel; Christianity tells the story of history as a divine comedy not a human tragedy; and so on.

But in an important sense, precisely because Christianity brings boundless hope into the world, it also intensifies the sense of loss for those who do not achieve that hope (this is a point David Hart makes). If everyone’s life necessarily and in the nature of things moves toward death, if the world is designed for tragic outcomes, or if history is a perpetual slide toward oblivion, then tragedy is not a surprise or even particularly poignant. It’s just the way things are; get used to it.

In a world where resurrection has already begun, and where resurrection power is already operative, disastrous outcomes are no longer just in the nature of things, and this means disaster comes as an avoidable surprise. Lear’s demise, as Hart points out, is sad beyond Oedipus’s precisely because we have had a glimpse of the real possibility of resurrection.

For people who know no light, darkness is not seen as darkness; it’s just the medium in which vision works (or doesn’t). Once the light has come, darkness is shown to be utterly dark.

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Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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