Father Luigi Giussani

The Primacy of Reality and the Experience of Risk

Excerpts from the talk (delivered via videoconference) by Archbishop Angelo Scola, Patriarch of Venice, at the conference on education held in Washington, DC.
Angelo Scola

In Giussani's vision, the affirmation of the primacy of reality does not exhaust itself in a simple re-proposal of classical realism. The realism of Giussanian thought, which leads to the affirmation of the existence and knowability of the truthful foundation of the real, takes into account the key concepts that characterize modernity. In addition to the category of experience, I am referring to those of freedom, of truth as event, of knowledge as structurally connected to affection, of being as gift (it would be better to say: of the real as sign-symbol), place of the revelation of natural being, and, through grace, of the very face of the Triune God (foundation). We do not need to remind ourselves of the weight that these categories possess in contemporary philosophical theological debates.

In particular, this perception of the positivity of the real is revealed in the category (central in Giussani) of event. The mystery of Being gives itself in the real. Each manifestation of the real (real sign, in fact!) presents itself as event (from the Latin e-venio, come out) that calls our freedom into account by “pro-voking” (ie, calling forth, arousing) it to adhere.

The “pro-vocative” strength of the event thus understood consists in recognizing that "there is also a mysterious yet real phenomenon that we can experience: a reality which is a sign of another reality as we reach the top of the ladder in our examination of something either analytical or sentimental, our human nature tells us there is something else beyond. This step also defines the concept of ‘sign’.… It is the vanishing point which lies in every human experience, ie, a point that does not close, but leads further.”

In this sense, education, which seeks to introduce the student into an integral experience of reality, leads him progressively to grasp its proper nature, that of being a sign of the mystery, whose face as Father has been revealed to us by Jesus....

On the basis of a well-articulated hierarchy of factors recalled up until now, Fr Giussani's concept of education proceeds toward a summit. I am referring to freedom. Significantly, from the very first observations in the book, Giussani affirms that "we are at the mercy of the quicksand of freedom.” This affirmation could at first sight seem completely obvious. Instead, the development it assumes in Giussani's reflection makes it absolutely singular and, to my knowledge, unique. Giussani, in fact, does not identify the peak of the educative proposal with an abstractly conceived freedom understood as the dynamic synthesis of intelligence and will; nor with freedom as an inevitably necessary decision, but rather with the experience of risk that is intrinsic to freedom. The centrality of the theme is set by the author's choice of the book's title–a true and real best-seller–The Risk of Education....

The experience of risk that passes through the educator's and the student's freedom makes it clear that "the first condition inherent in education is a sense of detachment and respect. It is a sense of fear and trembling in front of the mystery that wells up in the student.” Being an educator turns out to have some dramatic aspects: the temptation to possess, that of not allowing the person to be a student and at the bottom to be “other,” free, continually threatens the educator's task. Accepting the risk of the other person's freedom, in effect, constitutes the most radical test in the lives of educators: one would always want to spare the other pain, whatever evil. How can this experience of risk be surmounted without letting freedom fall into a frustration that leads to skepticism and despair? For Giussani, the communitarian phenomenon is the soil that, without replacing personal decision, transforms the experience of risk into a true and proper exaltation of freedom.