01-07-2006 - Traces, n.7

Meeting 2006

Reason Is the Need for the Infinite
and Culminates in the Sigh
and the Presentiment
that this Infinite Be Manifested

The Meeting for Friendship Among Peoples will take place in Rimini, Italy, August 20-26, 2006, entitled, “Reason is the need for the Infinite and culminates in the sigh and the presentiment that this Infinite be manifested”

by Alberto Savorana

The Meeting title goes to the crux of modernity: the enmity between reason and Mystery. In fact, rationalism is this negation of the relationship between reason and Mystery, beginning with a reason that is not perceived as openness to the totality of reality.
In contrast, saying that reason is the need for the Infinite means that it searches for an adequate response; it means affirming reason as the need to place oneself before reality, grasping and accepting what reality is.
Modern culture ends up in the nihilism of Sartre, who said, “Man is therefore a useless passion;” he is a need for something that does not exist. Dante, on the other hand, affirms that reason can reach truth, precisely as reason:

…our mind is never sated,
unless it be illumined by the Truth
outside of which no truth extends. Therein
it rests, as doth a wild beast in its lair
as soon as it attains it; and it can
attain it; else would all desires be vain.
(Paradise, IV, 127, transl. by Courtney Langdon, Harvard Univ. Press, 1921)

Reason is this inexorable openness before reality. When we become Christians, we do not void reason. Precisely because we have the true conception of reason, we can challenge the rationalists because they do not respect the nature of reason.
The fruit of the rationalistic mentality is the fact that today we can find those who, using reason, come to admit Mystery, but very few for whom the apex of reason is the presentiment that the Mystery intercepts my humanity, very few for whom reason is at the height of its exercise when it registers something that happens. In this sense, the Christian experience as the Pope describes it is the greatest appreciation of humanity tout court. The true drama of man is not whether to believe in God or not, but whether this God can manifest Himself or not. In this context, Fr. Giussani said that the great dogma of modern culture is the impossibility of revelation.

Western culture
A second dramatic theme inherent in the Meeting title is how politics and the State falsely claim to offer men happiness, almost leaving out of consideration their freedom. Instead, correctly understood, Power should help man walk his own road, be it personal or within the social structure, without taking over his role in this task.
This theme leads to one of the great topics of these years: the value of Western culture and a democracy that safeguards the “I,” because, as has been said, outside an approach that respects reason in its relationship with the Infinite, one ends in nihilism. If, instead, reason is the need for the Infinite, and if in some way its movement is objective, then a secular person can also affirm such things as the right to life, to existence, and so on. Thus, the Meeting opens out to the theme of secularism, to examining the idea of a secular State that safeguards everyone.

Defending reason
We cannot affirm reality deep down without a meaning. Nihilism is the true enemy of the human, because reason reduced to being the measure of everything is incapable of recognizing the meaning of reality, of arriving at the meaning of things. Here, the great problem of education comes into play: if education is the introduction to the totality of reality–as The Risk of Education says–without this introduction to the totality, there is no affirmation of reality. Think of young people. They become skeptical, because a society like ours is unable to propose a truth; a generation of adults no longer has anything to propose. Affection is missing; energy is missing, because the “I” never encounters a certainty. Lacking affection, the process of reason is blocked; it is stopped from developing its original nature, which is to discover the meaning of reality.
Defending reason… Herein lies the challenge of the Meeting title: in an age in which reason is weakened, because no one believes reason can reach truth, we defend and praise reason, that is, its capacity to grasp reality without stopping at momentary impressions. Modernity has reached the point of saying that reason must be weak because it has idolatrously identified truth with its product. In fact, without the totality, reason is no more. We defend reason, bringing it back to its nature, to the friendship with Mystery, to the connaturality between reason and totality, between reason and Mystery.