Luigi Giussani

The "Encounter" of the Editor

" 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."
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 Università 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 a 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 Università 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."

Concentric circles
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 experience, 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.