GENERATING TRACES IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD
An Exceptional " Fact
The book by Father Giussani, Javier Prades, and Stefano Alberto presented in Milan and Turin. The words of the Editor-in-Chief of la Repubblica Mauro and the editorialist of La Stampa Battista best summarize the charism of CL. The frank and honest witness of two laymen in loyal confrontation with the contents of an experience offered
The "Encounter" of the Editor
BY LUCA DONINELLI
Many years of "intellectual" work, so to speak (I put the word in quotation marks because, in effect, there is not much of the intellectual in the writing of a novel), have persuaded me that exceptionality is always found in facts. Exceptional is something that happens. There can be exceptional ideas, of course; however, even an exceptional idea is not born by itself, but from a fact. An exceptional fact.
When I read the title Generare tracce nella storia del mondo [Generating Traces in the History of the World], the book written by Father Giussani with Father Pino (Stefano Alberto) and Javier Prades, about the way the event of Christ is reflected in human experience, this exceptionality leaped to my eyes from the very first word: the verb generare, to generate. Traces, tracks, are normally left, not generated. Normally, that is, traces are the sign of something that has been, not of something that is. Conversely, something that has been generated lives, it has a life of its own, it no longer belongs to us. My wife, when each of our children was born, thought, "Here, this is a person, a different reality from me." Something quite different, then, from a trace that was left.
On the other hand, no word defines the dignity of man and his action in history like this one: generate. What can a person desire from his or her humanity? To be a generator, to be fruitful. This is Yahweh's great promise to the heart of Abraham ("I shall make your descendants like the dust on the ground"), echoed in the evocative domestic image of the Psalms ("Your wife a fruitful vine/in the inner places of your house./Your children round your table/like shoots of an olive tree.")
Traces of Another
To be a generator is the greatest grace that can befall a person. It is a blessing, a gift. An artist who has even the slightest conscience cannot help wondering at the work of his hands, because beauty is not a property of his hands, it is a mystery that does not belong to him. Man tends to generate, but he knows that if something is generated, it was not his work. Generation coincides with wonder at the work of someone else. The expression "it is God working" describes, in terms of full awareness, this aspect of human experience.
Therefore, "generating traces" can have only one meaning: that the traces are traces of another. But, to be able to say this, it is necessary that this "other" present itself on the horizon of experience: it is not an idea that arises by itself. It has to have happened, and have happened in a way that it continues to happen.
On Thursday, June 17th, in Milan, this was talked about-partly foreseeably, and partly in a way that was unforeseeable-during the presentation, sponsored by the Centro Culturale di Milan, of the book Generare tracce nella storia del mondo (Rizzoli, Milano). Present along with one of the book's authors (Stefano Alberto) were the rector of the UniversitÓ Cattolica of Milano, Sergio Zaninelli, and the Editor-in-Chief of the daily newspaper la Repubblica. The moderator was Giancarlo Cesana.
My reporting of this very rich encounter is perforce a personal one, and I beg your indulgence for this from the outset.
Dr. Zaninelli has long been active and involved in the Catholic world (Azione Cattolica, ACLI, labor union) and for at least thirty years has been in contact with the experience of Communion and Liberation. In his talk, he reviewed the various steps in the progress of this relationship, from the assembly in 1981 between the Christian Democratic party and the so-called "externals" to his daily work at the university. "As an historian of the Movimento Cattolico (Catholic Movements) I am indebted to the people in CL who work with me for the awareness that behind the study of history there is a demand to remember, for the hypothesis that the choices made by Movimento Cattolico were not only a response to the challenges of modernity, but the expression of a well-defined, autonomous identity." We would say: the gestures of a people. Only a people recognizes another people, because only experience recognizes experience. It is difficult for an intellectual, on his own and without the experience of a people, to recognize the signs of a people. So that they usually call them "the masses"....
Zaninelli then confessed a certain amount of difficulty, as a scholar, in grasping not so much the meaning or the value, but the effectiveness, the operative-and thus historical-fruitfulness of the principle of subsidiarity. It was his encounter with the experience of CL, with the various works born out of the experience of CL, that persuaded him of this creative fruitfulness. As President of the UniversitÓ Cattolica, finally, he appreciated the value of the community "which gives meaning to work and study."
Zaninelli then went on to criticize CL for these things: 1) being somewhat closed; 2) a prevalence of the sense of the community over that of the institution; 3) a realism that risks becoming opportunism. He concluded, however, by urging those who belong to the CL movement to "keep always the joy of saying who you are, without pretending. As to the hostility toward CL: whoever says, as you do, that it is necessary to come to terms with reality will always, inevitably, have enemies."
Generic democratic system
Ezio Mauro, too, reiterated, in words of sincere appreciation, the "strong" identity of CL, despite the diversity, "rather, the distinct separation that exists between us." Here too, his criticism of CL contained nothing really new: 1) integralism-which is, if I understand properly, a sort of degeneration of the "strong identity" to the point of wanting to be part of society without giving up the idea of being the bearer of its overall meaning (this, Dr. Mauro, is the nature of the Christian "claim." The consequence of your position is the elimination of Christianity from the face of the earth); 2) a disconnection between a fervent spirituality and a strong dose of opportunism in political, social, and economic action, with political alliances that are often questionable.
"On the other hand," he continued, "I would always rather have to do with strong identities. Today it is thought that meeting points can occur only with a fading of identity, but this is not the case. Only a true identity, energetically affirmed, can be really known, can clarify the origin of its positions and actions. Strong identities are real, concrete. And they also strengthen my identity as a layman."
Mauro then drew an interesting parallel between the current situation of the left-which he called a "generic democratic system"-and that of a certain part of Italian Catholicism, which "reduces faith to humanism or social solidarity."
Getting to the actual discussion of the book, Mauro identified its heart as the affirmation that "Christianity is not an ideology, but an event."
Bulgakov, Pontius Pilate, and freedom
This is the first time that I have heard a layperson persuasively affirm this concept, which is also unclear to many Catholics: that Christianity is, above all, a fact. This would never have come into my father's mind, and he was a Catholic of strong convictions; when I would say it, he would get angry. In this sense, Mauro recalled a famous page, one of our favorites, from Bulgakov's The Master and Margherita, in which the devil, arguing with an atheist, invites him to refute faith, but keeping in mind that Christ really existed.
Mauro then expressed his perplexity concerning the passage from the encounter with Christ to adherence to faith. According to Mauro, the book establishes too close a connection between "knowing" (encounter) and "recognizing" (faith), one that does not take freedom sufficiently into account: one can encounter Christ without recognizing him, he said. He cited as an example Pontius Pilate-leaving aside the question of his moral ignobility.
It is bizzarre that this reproof is addressed to a thought that is based completely on freedom: "Liberty defines the 'I'," we read on page 164, "it is already completely present when man says 'I,' it is all in this saying 'I'." But the book adds, "Freedom is also what one must be educated to." We, conversely live in a time that says freedom cannot be taught, it is real to the degree that it is irrational, autonomous as far as capriciousness. The consequence of this position is the unprecedented state of slavery, the blind obedience to instinct-which in its turn obeys unceasingly whoever is strongest-which is before the eyes of all.
Many themes, evoked by a reading of this book, invite a deeper discussion. I was struck, for example, by the discrepancy between a sincere curiosity about the CL experience and the banality of the criticisms, which do not seem to arise from a direct encounter with our experience, but from a preconception that seems like something learned at school. Zaninelli praised the capacity to realize works of subsidiarity but then complained about opportunism; yet isn't it perhaps this "opportunism" that makes these works materialize?
Father Stefano Alberto, in the final summation, emphasized, in this sense, the "naive boldness of those who know that what they care about most is not something that came about by their own merit, so that they throw themselves into their relationship with everything with an unlimited desire, with a freedom of construction which could be taken for opportunism."
In the same way, the reproof for having supported, over the years, politicians of doubtful reputation seems unfair. "We do not understand," Cesana said, "how someone who has been a Stalinist and thrown Molotov cocktails can sit, revered, in Parliament and hold high government positions, while we have to be branded for our political alliances. There are those who engage in self-criticism.
I, personally, cannot repent of having supported those men, whom I have never judged for their moral integrity, but for their sensitivity to the causes that were important to me. Certainly, Hitler and Stalin were, from the moral point of view, much better." But, as said before, the discussion could go on for a long time and many pages. What remains vivid to me is the impression made by the words of the decidedly secular Ezio Mauro concerning the nature of Christianity as an event: "The entire book returns to and develops almost in a circular manner the core which Giussani affirms pedagogically from the very first lines, then develops the same reasoning in increasingly wide concentric circles, adding elements and enlarging the radius of action.
At the center of everything is the question of the Event, that is, at the center of Christian reasoning, at the center of Christinity there is not a philosophy, not an ideology, but something that really happened, an event, an occurrence, something that occurred. Thus a fact, as Giussani says at one point, 'a given.' What does this mean? A given of reality.
Thus a given of perceptible reality, thus a given of experience. Again: a given of human experience, something that we can encounter because it happened in time and space. It is located in history, then-says Father Giussani-it changed history, the rest of history. It serves for working in relationship with what happened in that moment. But in any case this is the point, from the standpoint of Father Giussani's reasoning and doctrine, which interests us here: it is an event, it is an occurrence, it is a fact, it is a given, it is a reality, it is an experience, it is a human experience, thus it is an experience that can be checked because it happened in time and space.
"Was made flesh," that is, it is something recognizable and recognized; it is something that can be dealt with. Thus follows this synonym, this second key for reading: "It is an encounter," says Father Giussani at a certain point. It is an encounter of knowledge, because encounters and events can be... must be intercepted and interpreted through knowledge. Then Giussani says: it is up to man to take the next step, which is that of recognizing. Through an encounter we know what happened (it is a given of exper ience, and this-says Giussani-is an objective given). Then it is up to us to enter into relationship with that fact and to adhere to what has happened, and thus pass from knowing to recognizing. And here Giussani distinguishes between the religious sense that is, according to him, according to his theory, the need to give a meaning to the world, and faith: faith is the recognition that we have of the knowledge we have gained through the encounter, through the event, and thus the choice, using reason, to adhere." In that moment all the responsibility that our company has toward society and the tenacious, untiring contribution that we are asked to make to the whole world was clarified for me. It is a responsibility that is a step forward also for the hatred that our faith arouses in many.
Against a Return of Neo-Jacobism
BY GIANMARIO VENEZIANO
Thursday, May 27th, in the Teatro Nuovo in Turin, organized by the Centro Culturale Pier Giorgio Frassati, the presentation of the book by Giussani, Alberto, and Prades, Generare tracce nella storia del mondo, published by Rizzoli was held. Invited were Dr. Stefano Alberto, a professor at the UniversitÓ Cattolica di Milano and co-author of the book, and La Stampa journalist Pier Luigi Battista. The President of the Centro Culturale, Paolo Gardino, yielded the floor immediately to Father Pino (the name by which the audience in Turin knows Stefano Alberto). The book is the result of dialogues between Giussani and movement leaders. "Father Giussani's thought is always born out of actual experience and is always born as a dialogue."
Father Pino brought into focus two negative aspects of the way the faith is present in the world and culture of today, typical of the influence of the prevailing mentality: on one hand, the increasingly rare experience of faith, its diminished impact on the real life of those who nonetheless call themselves Christian; on the other, its translation into rigid schemes and formulas, especially of a moral nature. But this fact of retreating into rigid rules and moralism is, for Father Pino, also characteristic of the current neo-Jacobin ideology [the summary-justice attitude that arose during the French Revolution] that seems to prevail in the world. So what can save contemporary man who is so confused? The event of a different human presence, that of Christ, documented by the beginning of the Gospel of John.
Not for hegemony
An event, then, an encounter that changes one's life, because it finally offers the real possibility for a true correspondence between the needs of the heart and reality. But where, for today's man, is the possibility for this encounter? "In those whom He has chosen," replies Father Pino. Christianity is a unity of men, a human companionship, brought together by the fact that Christ is alive.
"What is the reason for which this people exists? Father Giussani says it clearly: not for hegemony, not in order to affirm a social, cultural, or political program, but to discover together with all other men the dramatic nature of what it means to live for something, what it means to have something, or better, have someone, for whom it is worth living." And the final thrust is extremely clear and evocative: "This people has a law: 'the One for whom one lives,' and an ultimate goal, which is not only the goal of those who have the ultimate responsibility, but of each one of us: whether I live, or whether I die, like Enzo yesterday, I live for Christ."
No less rich and articulate was the contribution of Pier Luigi Battista, editorialist for La Stampa, called to express a layperson's reaction to Giussani's book. This role of layperson is one on which Battista was genially ironic, because of the presumptuous and vaguely intolerant pretentiousness that often marks those who, with grotesque self-importance, declare themselves to be such. This self-importance, in Battista's opinion, marks many so-called laypersons of our time, precisely because they are extremely sure of what Battista called surrogates for the ultimate meanings and foundations, which are instead those that to him seem to be the ones evoked by Giussani's thought.
In the airport coffee bar
Before getting to the heart of his talk, Battista recalled an interview he had with Father Giussani in 1996, which took place in the coffee bar of Linate airport: "The interview with Father Giussani was held in the Linate coffee bar, because I was coming from Rome and he had to go somewhere else. But what was it that struck me? The fact that this man knew how, in all that confusion, without notes, without all the rituals that usually take place between interviewer and interviewee ("Would you like coffee? Shall we sit down?" preliminary chatter, and so on), to talk about the things on which Father Giussani loves to dwell, how he had this extraordinary ability to go right to the essence of things. That is, the radical way, unhurriedly, he goes straight to the core of the matter."
Battista then quoted a passage from the book: "Christianity is the announcement that God became a man, born of a woman, in a definite place and at a definite time. The Mystery that is at the root of all things wished to make itself known to man," a passage where he found this same ability to get to the bottom of things. And he commented on it in these words: "What can be added to the passage from the book that I just read? Many things can be added, a thousand comments can be made, but it is clear that there is a hierarchy of meanings, and of the value of things, for which this is the most important thing, this is the point. And from this fundamental point, read in these three lines, derives a whole series of consequences, which are not syllogistic, philosophical, conceptual, that can be reduced to the idea: what is truly important and what is derivative, what is at the origin and what instead is secondary, not in the sense that it is second, but in the sense that it descends from."
His testimony was interesting concerning the violence that descends from a forgetting of the hierarchy of things. The examples were many, and all taken from life, both public and private. Battista recalled the neo-Jacobin fury and rage for justice that seems to dominate the scene, or the claim to be the holder of the sense of right and wrong that led to the war in Yugoslavia, or again, the demand that civil law be perforce what some feel is the only way it can be.
In this sense, he had some interesting comments on the accusation of integralism that in the past has been made concerning CL's way of living and witnessing to Christianity: "The point that I consider important is that paradoxically a theory, a movement, a way of living Christianity's relationship with history of this sort not only is not integralist, but is also more laical than many other forms of political Christianity which instead take a formally anti-integralist stance. But why is this? Because the fact of not being clear about what things are fundamental, in some way creates an anxiety for possession, which when it is an anxiety to possess history become an absolutely lethal weapon."
It was very interesting to listen to Battista's talk, especially when he passed from general reflections to practical consequences, which as a journalist he has to observe and document daily. Such as when he proposed a reflection on the revolution in the judiciary that has taken place in Italy in recent years, connecting it to the conflict going on right now: "There has been a revolution that has not been recognized as such, just as now there is a war that is not recognized as such, and so it is said that it is an international police operation. The super-Jacobin idea prevails according to which a handful of 'lay saints' is in possession of a truth that does not derive from the things we know, but from a sort of self-investiture, from self-assignment of a role, a saving mission to erase evil from history, to eliminate at the root not only pecuniary, but also mental corruption. And at the same time there prevails a distorted idea of the instruments for the civil regulation of society-which thus demand an incredibly delicate use, because they pertain to the freedom and dignity of people, which are for me the things that really matter-by which handcuffs are used and discredit is cast on a person by overexposure in the media when someone is accused and underexposure when that same person is acquitted. This element has produced consequences in our society that, if now it seems that they are only a war between a district attorney's office and a political party, have raked up things that we will find again in ten years. What has not been said about the resistance and the war of national liberation is still being borne by our society even after fifty years. And what does this have to do with it? It is pertinent because it is the idea of a power detached from its foundation, which despite this fact offers itself as the surrogate for an absolute. It is the ethical absolute.
You think that in reality an era is over, the century of the ideologies based on utopias that have brought about untold suffering, that created the lagers, the gulags; certainly, that formula is finished, we hope. What is not finished is the frightening anxiety-creating and over zealous demand for secular surrogates for the absolute, which brings only trouble and the violation of elementary principles of coexistence."