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Volume 7, Issue 3: The Puritan Eye

A Holy Stage

Martin Bucer (1491 - 1551)

Comedies and tragedies, and by such means a useful form of entertainment, honorable and contributing toward an increase in piety, may be staged for the people; but it will be necessary that devout and wise men experienced in the Kingdom of Christ compose these comedies and tragedies, in which there may be presented on the stage the plans, actions, and events of mankind, whether common and ordinary as it occurs in comedies or unique and eliciting admiration as it is characteristic of tragedies. All this will contribute toward a correction of morals and a pious orientation to life. . . .

Although the Scriptures contain very many stories from which holy comedies befitting Christians can be portrayed, apt and pious poets can nevertheless produce many such things from other stories and from occurrences in daily life.
The Scriptures everywhere offer an abundant supply of material for tragedies, in almost all the stories of the holy patriarchs, kings, prophets, and apostles, from the time of Adam, the first parent of mankind. For these stories are filled with divine and heroic personages, emotions, customs, actions, and also events which turned out contrary to what was expected, which Aristotle calls a reversal. Since all such things have so wonderful a power of confirming faith in God and enkindling a desire and love for God and likewise an admiration of piety and righteousness, and of engendering and increasing the horror of impiety and all perversity, how much more does it befit Christians to derive their poems from these things, in which they can represent the great and illustrious plans, efforts, characters, emotions, and events of mankind, rather than from the godless fables and stories of the pagans.
It must be observed, however, that when in both kinds of poetic material, comic and tragic, the activities and sins of men are described and actively presented to be seen with the eyes, it should be done in such a way that although the crimes of reprobate men are related, yet a certain terror of divine judgment and horror of sin should appear in these things, and a shameless daring and an exultant delight in crimes should not be expressed. . . .
But when pious and good actions are shown, they should express as clearly as possible a happy, secure, and confident sense of the divine mercy, but moderate and diffident as regards the self, and a joyful trust in God and his promises, with holy and spiritual pleasure in doing good. This is the way by which one can present most skillfully the saints' character, way of life, and emotion for the establishment of all piety and virtue among the people.
In order that the people of Christ may receive this enjoyment from holy comedy and tragedy, men must be put in charge also of this matter who have a singular understanding of poetry as well as a known and constant zeal for the Kingdom of Christ so that no comedy or tragedy is enacted which these persons have not seen and decreed fit for performance. These will also take care that nothing shallow, or histrionic is admitted in the acting, but that everything is shown by means of a holy and grave, though agreeable action, for the saints alone, in which there are represented not so much the actualities and activities of men and their feelings and troubles, but rather their morals and character; these should be presented in such a way that what has been piously planned and rightly done arouses the spectators to an eager imitation, but what has been wrongly designed and done, strengthens them in their detestation of it and stimulates them to a vigilant avoidance of it.
When these precautions are observed, much material for the diversion of youth can certainly be presented which is indeed useful for nourishing and promoting virtue, especially when a desire and an interest have been aroused for this sort of comedies and tragedies, both in the vernacular and in Latin and Greek. There are now available some of these comedies and tragedies with which one cannot be displeased. Although in the comedies of our time the scholars miss the acumen and wit and pleasantness of speech which people admire in Aristophanes, Terence, and the tales of Plautus, and in the tragedies, the gravity, cleverness, and elegance of dialogue of Sophocles, Euripides, and Seneca, yet those who want to know the Kingdom of Christ and who desire to learn the wisdom of living unto God do not miss, in this poetry of our people, heavenly doctrine, emotions, behavior, speech, and adventures worthy of the sons of God. It is desirable, however, that those to whom God has given more of a talent for this sort of thing will prefer to use it for his glory rather than to retard the pious enthusiasms of others by their untimely criticisms, seeing that it is more satisfactory to stage comedies and tragedies in which, even if they lack poetic art, the knowledge of eternal life is excellently exhibited, rather than those in which for the sake of some contribution to the cultivation of genius and language, spirit and behavior are dirtied by filthy and scurrilous imitation.

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