Inversion of Method

Archbishop Carlo Caffarra and the historian Ernesto Galli della Loggia presented in the Auditorium in Milan the new edition of Fr Giussani’s book At the Origin of the Christian Claim. “The Mystery chose to enter the history of man through a life story identical to that of any other man”


“One gets tired or is incapable of repeating the things he doesn’t understand, but the things that are true are always taken up again, repeated (and “repeat” comes from the Latin re-petere, ask again–I ask continuously, always, to understand)”. With these words, Giancarlo Cesana introduced the presentation of the new revised edition of Fr Giussani’s book, At the Origin of the Christian Claim, organized by the Centro Culturale di Milano and Rizzoli Publishers and held in the Auditorium in Milan on the evening of December 4th. It was an occasion for looking more closely at the absolute originality of Christianity compared to other religions, helped by the words of the Archbishop of Ferrara Carlo Caffarra and the historian Ernesto Galli della Loggia.

“This book,” said Caffarra, “reminded me constantly of a page from Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ meeting with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. These two men know what Jesus of Nazareth has said and done; they are perfectly familiar with His life, works, and words, indeed, they are surprised that there could be someone who didn’t know these things. Nonetheless, these men, says the Gospel, have sad faces and feel hopeless. Therefore, there exists a perfect knowledge of the work and doctrine of Christ which yet leaves man a prisoner of his unhappiness and deprived of hope… . The dirtiest trick that has been played on modern man has been to make him believe that the doctrine and morality taught by Christ were worth more than His person, and that, after all, we could even do without Him.”

Fr Giussani writes, “It is the great inversion of method which marks the passage from the religious sense to faith, the surprise at a fact that occurred in the history of mankind. This is the condition–surprise at a fact–without which we cannot even talk about Jesus Christ.” Archbishop Caffarra observed, “Man does not merely discover what he already was or had, without being aware of it, when he encounters Christ; he comes up against a reality–this surprise at a fact–that is totally a gift. Zacchaeus could have expected anything (anything), except that Christ would say to him, ‘Today I am coming to your house.’”

In time and space
Galli della Loggia, editorialist for Corriere della Sera and not a believer, also emphasized the originality of the Christian event. “This books leads one to consider in all its import the very peculiar religious quality of Christianity, that is to say precisely the particular peculiarity of Christianity within a vaster and more general religious experience. This fundamental distinctive element is the fact of being founded on a fact, on an event. Christianity is memory and announcement of a specific event, of an historical man who at a certain point was born in a precise historical place and said He was the Son of God, the incarnation of transcendence.”

“I am greatly struck, also for professional reasons as an historian,” he added, “when Giussani emphasizes that Christianity is a religion which is deeply engaged in the dimension of time and space, in the dimension of history; it is the religion in which the revelation of the sacred happens in history, it becomes history, in a certain sense, in a continuity of the relationship between man and God through the incarnation of His Son… . This anchoring Christianity in an essentially historical fact, an event, the incarnation of the Son of God and His claim to be God, makes Christianity itself–as Giussani underlines–an historical fact, a topic of history–that is to say, a subject that can be investigated, in a certain sense, with the instruments of historical research: who was this man, what did he say, did he leave witnesses who left memoirs (the Gospels), is there proof that this man was telling the truth, how did those who listened to his words react? All the questions that have to do with historical facts.”

In his talk, Galli della Loggia also observed, “Another thing on which it seems to me that Giussani properly insists is the moral certainty, the certitude by intuition that this had to be the Son of God. It is a certitude that His followers surely had in an absolute manner and that Fr Giussani reproposes as a certitude available also to us: “If I cannot believe this Man, then I can no longer believe anyone.” In short, if I do not let myself be struck and won over by the force of the call and the proof that this call is given by the gestures this Man makes, then I can truly no longer let myself be convinced by anybody.” Galli della Loggia stopped on this threshold, stating, “I do not know if I believe in God. Maybe I don’t believe… I am sure I don’t believe, but if a transcendence exists, if a God exists, it is impossible for Him not to be this God; if a revelation exists, it is impossible for it not to be this revelation, i.e., for it not to be that of the Christian God.”

Against pride
Thanking the two guests of the evening, Cesana recalled, quoting Giussani, “The Mystery chose to enter the history of man through a life story identical to that of any other man. Thus, it made its entrance imperceptibly. No one was there to observe or record it. At a certain point, the mystery presented itself. And this event marked the greatest moment in the lives of those who encountered it, the greatest moment in all of history.” Cesana thus underlined that “Christian life is profoundly interwoven with the word sacrifice, because otherwise Christian life would be only presumptuousness. This exceptionality is this renouncing of self, of self as the source of truth, in order to regain oneself by encountering a truth that is not inside ourselves.”

This is a crucial point to emphasize in these times when many, even in the Catholic world, claim ideologically the “pride” and “superiority” of the Catholic faith and Western civilization compared to Islam and other religions, long for improbable “holy wars” against the infidels, and look patronizingly or with barely concealed annoyance on John Paul II’s appeals to fast and pray for peace, launching bridges toward all religions. Pride, indeed, is the farthest thing possible from the Christian experience. Whoever has received the grace of an encounter with Christ has experienced and experiences daily that faith is a wholly gratuitous gift, that nothing depends on his own cleverness. Gratitude for what we have received without deserving it and the desire that everyone may encounter this, as the Pope teaches with his gestures and his unarmed witness, makes Christians not raise barricades but recognize whatever is good and true in every religious and human experience.