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Western Civilization on Trial: The Ambiguity of Christianity Western Civilization on Trial: The Ambiguity of Christianity
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2012-09-08 07:39:26
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"Christianity is a life lived together so that we may save ourselves together."
                                                                     --Charles Pèguy

I have several agnostic and atheist friends who more often than not are ex believers. They will make a point to tell me, and anybody else who will listen, that a long time ago they walked out of the Church and any form of organized orthodox religion bitter and disappointed and have never regretted it. In fact, what they are most proud of is the non regretting. They insist that one does not need the crutch of religion to live a fully ethical and happy life.

I don’t disagree with their position, but if I determine that an honest dialogue is possible and welcome on the matter, I will at times follow-up with a confession of my own: in my college years in the sixties, when the temptation was strong to give up religion and Christianity as so much superstition and ignorance, I come very close to becoming a non-believer and leaving the Catholic Church which I had mistaken for a mere temporal institution inevitably corrupted by wealth and privilege. What persuaded me that I might eventually regret abandoning it and be the greater loser for such a decision, were three 20th century authors who were also so tempted in their lives but in the end deepened their faith and fully accepted and practiced Christianity: G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis and Diego Fabbri and their respective books The Everlasting Man, Mere Christianity, and Jesus on Trial.

Lately I have repeatedly mentioned and referred to Chesterton. In fact, when I first started contributing to the magazine I wrote a piece on all those three authors. In the light of the latest discussion on “religion-less religion” and New Age spirituality which created a tempest in a tea-cup, it may perhaps be worth-while to revisit Diego Fabbri's existential theater, a theater passionately committed to the exploration of the human condition and the spirit of the modern age. Unfortunately Fabbri is all but forgotten nowadays, and that is too bad, for the theatrical production of Diego Fabbri (especially his masterpiece "Jesus on Trial") is still vitally relevant to post-modern Man's self-knowledge, and the rediscovery of the cultural identity of Western civilization; an identity that seems more and more in danger of being forgotten. In that sense he is more relevant today than he was sixty years ago.

A few years ago I translated from the Italian into English a play by Diego Fabbri titled "Processo a Gesù" [Jesus on Trial]. This is perhaps his best known work, his masterpiece so to speak, originally performed in Milan on March 2, 1955. It might be hard to believe it, but in the 50s and 60s Fabbri became even better known than Pirandello, not only in Italy but also abroad. At that time his above mentioned play was performed in Germany, Sweden, Austria, the USA, France, England, Spain, Australia, even Japan; it was eventually made into a movie in Spain. However, despite this early popularity Fabbri and his theater simply vanished from circulation.

Fabbri is one of those rare dramatists who, like Pirandello, is concerned with philosophical-ethical issues relating to the existential human condition. Some of his other plays are "The Seducer," "The Liar," "Inquisition," "Portrait of an Unknown." The mere titles of these plays hint at Fabbri's existential concerns. He was the kind of author who in Italian goes under the name of "impegnato" [engaged].

The classical authors who greatly influenced Fabbri, as he himself revealed in his book of essays titled Christian Ambiguity (1954), are Dostoevsky, Cechov, Pirandello, Brecht, Plato, St. Augustine, Pascal, Kierkegaard, Kafka, Rilke, Berdiaev, Manzoni, as well as the contemporary French authors he was reading at the time the play made its debut: Andre Gide, Maurice Blondel, Jacques Riviere, Charles Péguy, Paul Claudel, Georges Bernanos, Francois Mauriac, Julien Green, Etienne Gilson, Jacques Maritain, Emmanuel Mounier. This list will persuade anybody that Fabbri is not an esoteric elitist intellectual, (of either the classical or the modern tradition); on the contrary, he speaks the language of everyman and is concerned with the problems of everyman.

The protagonists of his drama are mostly ordinary people who struggle with the great issues, "prosecuting charges," indictments, and ultimate problems of the human condition and destiny as lived today by post-modern Man, especially in Europe, who the more he distances himself from God and religion, the more he feels Her/His absence and the more he searches for Her/Him through the labyrinthine byways of the spirit.

And what is this play all about? It is really a modern trial, an in absentia trial of Jesus and to a certain extent of the ancient Jewish people by modern Jews. Paradoxically, as the trial progresses, we come to realize that it is in reality the trial of a decadent technological rationalistic positivistic civilization examining itself; that is to say, the trial of a civilization steeped in nihilism devoid of the ability to hope in the future and to conceive salvation and redemption of any kind, a civilization, stuck in the horizontal (the immanent), forgetfulness of the vertical (the transcendent), and unable to conceive the two together as "both-and," often given to apocalyptic scenarios of a dark future destiny. Frankly, the play had that powerful effect on me personally as I translated it.

Important to point out here that behind this bleak assessment by Fabbri of the modern social phenomenon, there is Charles Péguy, an author who perhaps influenced Fabbri more than any other, and who had written that  "Christianity is a life lived together so that we may save ourselves together." In a true Judeo-Christian tradition Pèguy had grasped the notion that salvation is not an individual affair but is achieved with and through the people and the common good.

After reading the play one realizes that indeed while Pirandello is Fabbri's artistic inspiration, Charles Péguy is Fabbri's spiritual inspiration for the conception of an authentic Christian society: a society that finds its "raison d'etre" in communion and solidarity and is thus alone able to free Man from that deep solitude of spirit described by Vico as "the barbarism of the intellect," a kind of barbarism afflicting post-modern Man within the third historical rationalistic cycle of Vico’s ideal eternal history.

As far as dramatic techniques are concerned Pirandello is undoubtedly present, behind the curtain, so to speak. He is there for the fundamental emotions and conflicts which are explored, for the conception of dialogue as a search for identity and truth, and for the stage returned to its original classical function of authentic place of drama, almost another protagonist. It was in fact this Pirandellian inspiration and conception of the drama as advertised by Fabbri that led to the rediscovery of Pirandello in Italy and abroad.

Fabbri's theater flows naturally into film. In the 60s and 70s he wrote manuscripts for the RAI Television which include among others novels by Silone's among which "Il Segreto di Luca," Greene's "The End of the Affair," Dostoievky's "The Brothers Karamozov" and "The Devils." However Fabbri is no Dostoievsky, he remains uniquely himself hard to subsume under any other director. If one were to search for a kindred spirit to Fabbri among modern film directors, it would not be Fellini of "Satyricon," but Bergman of "The Seventh Seal."

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the man in the street2012-09-08 21:33:37
"Christianity is a life lived together so that we may save ourselves together."?

Not Christianity, but Marxism.

blue2012-09-10 06:11:48
re: the man in the street - i don't see how you make the jump from Christianity to Marxism - it sounds like "baseball has a round ball, so it must be that they're playing tennis."

Your comment is too reductionist and simplistic.

bluein2012-09-10 06:13:53
"man in the street" - the jump from Christianity to Marxism is simply too reductionist and simplistic.

James Woodbury2012-09-12 08:46:59
I like and find very intersting your essay on Fabbri, previously unknown to me, and I intend to reread it.
I would note that a certain famous Russian playwright and shot-story writer's name is correctly spelt Anton Chekhov.
James W.

the man in the street2012-09-12 16:20:35
Mr. Blue, the point is that in Christianity you do not save *yourself*; even less does the community of faithful save itself! That is Marxism: Christian eschatology without the saving God.

the man in the street2012-09-15 01:49:32
Mr. Blue, the point is that in Christianity you do not save *yourself*; even less does the community of faithful save itself! That is Marxism: Christian eschatology without the saving God.

the man in the street2012-09-16 18:42:45
Mr. Blue, the point is that in Christianity you do not save *yourself*; even less does the community of faithful save itself! That is Marxism: Christian eschatology without the saving God.

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