No Longer Just a Hypothesis

From L. Giussani, At the Origin of the Christian Claim, translated by V. Hewitt, McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal 1998, pp. 32-33
Luigi Giussani

Let us picture the world as an immense plain where groups of human beings, under the direction of engineers and architects, are busy working on disparate projects to build bridges with thousands of arches serving as links between earth and heaven, between the ephemeral place of their existence and the “star” of destiny. With its infinite number of building sites, the plain is a hive of activity. At a certain point a man arrives on the scene, and his gaze embraces the whole frenzied workplace. Suddenly he shouts: “Stop!” Those closest to him cease working, and then gradually the others follow until they are all watching him. And he tells them: “You are great and noble. You are making a sublime effort, but it is an unhappy one because you will never manage to build a road linking your world with the ultimate mystery. Abandon your projects, lay down your tools. Destiny has taken pity on you. Follow me and I will build the bridge, for I am destiny.” Now let us try to imagine the reaction of all of those people to such a declaration. First the architects, then the work foremen, then the best of the artisans would find themselves telling their labourers instinctively: “Don’t stop working. Keep going. Can’t you see this man is crazy?” And they would echo: “Of course, he must be crazy.” Resuming their work on their bosses’ orders, others might say: “You can see he’s crazy.” There would be just a few who would not take their eyes off this man, for they have been profoundly moved. They would not obey their bosses as the masses had done, but would approach and follow him.
Within this flight of fancy is the story of what happened in history and is still happening now.
At this point, we no longer find ourselves confronting a theoretical (philosophical or moral) problem, but an historical one. The first question we must ask is not: “Is what the Christian message says reasonable or right?” but “Did it happen or not?” or “Did God really intervene in history?”
Although implied in our earlier discussion, I would like to stress that this “new” question requires a different method, which could be explained like this: man may, indeed must, arrive at the discovery of the existence of a mysterious something, of God, through his analytical perception of his own experience of reality (and we have seen how ample historical documentation demonstrates that man normally reaches this discovery in this way); the issue now, since it is a question of an historical fact, cannot be verified by analytical reflection on the structure of one’s own relationship with reality. It is a fact that either happened in history or did not: it either exists or does not, it either transpired or did not. It was either a real event which emerged in man’s existence as part of history and therefore must be recognized as an event, or it remains just a notion. Faced with this hypothesis, the method is the historical registration of an objective fact.
Then, the question: “Did God really intervene in history?” must refer, above all, to that incomparable claim which is the content of a precise message. It must necessarily become another question: “Who is Jesus?” Christianity arises as the answer to this question.