Giovanni Bellini, Virgin and Child with Saints, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Moved by the infinite

On the feast of the Annunciation and on the national day dedicated to Dante, we repropose Giussani's letter on the "Hymn to the Virgin". Here are his words and what they aroused in others (from "The Life of Luigi Giussani").
Alberto Savorana

A great and simple revolution
On 22 June 2003, after the pilgrimage to Loreto, Giussani wrote a long letter to the CL Fraternity. The thought of the crowds gathered around the Holy House, together with his daily recitation of Dante’s Hymn to the Virgin had inspired him to reflect deeply, and he wished to communicate his thoughts to everyone. He spent several days writing them down, in a constant flurry of additions, corrections, and revision. The resulting letter is among the most intense and profound of his writings. For this reason it is reproduced here in its entirety.

Dear friends,

The personality of the Mother of Christ has played a role, and now, after the pilgrimage to Loreto, I understand how decisive that role is, how much it clarifies the charism that the Church has recognized as the origin of our journey. I send you the text of some reflections of mine, requesting humbly that you ask the Holy Spirit every day to give us the necessary help, as he did to the first Apostles. I assure you that I will try to offer companionship for any question, doubt or uncertainty so that our heart may remain faithful.

Virgin Mother, daughter of your Son, humbler and higher than any creature,
 fixed term of the eternal counsel.

1) Dante’s Hymn to the Virgin coincides with the exaltation of being, with the ultimate tension on the part of the awareness of man in the presence of “reality”, that is not born of itself, but is made by an ineffable focus: for reality is, in fact, created.
 The supreme drama is that the Being should ask to be acknowledged by man. This is the drama of the freedom that the “I” must live: adherence to the fact that the “I” must be continually exalted by reality’s re-birth, by a re-creation which in the figure of Our Lady is moved by the Infinite. The figure of Our Lady establishes the Christian personality.

The fundamental principle of Christianity is freedom, which is the only translation of man’s infiniteness, and this infiniteness is discovered in the finiteness that man experiences.
 Man’s freedom is man’s salvation. Salvation, therefore, is the Mystery of God communicating himself to man. Our Lady totally respected God’s freedom. She saved God’s freedom. She obeyed God because she respected His freedom. She did not oppose it with her own method. Here is God’s first revelation.

The Being “coextends Itself” to Its total self-communication. The Being comes to touch all that surrounds It and for which It was made, and it is precisely in Its total self-communication that this (coextension) happens, is realized and reaches you. For this reason virginity – “Virgin mother” – coincides with the nature of real being in the formula of the totality of its revelation. Virginity is real being. “Virgin mother”: virgin because eternal. “In your womb was rekindled the love/ for whose warmth in the eternal peace...” For whose warmth: but who is that poet who uses such a concrete term? It is from eternal Virginity that the virginity of motherhood arises. Thus “Virgin mother” indicates the eternal mode through which God communicates His nature. Virgin comes before mother. Virgin is according to the nature of the Being, the splendor of the Being. Mother is the instrument used by the Being to communicate Itself.

Virgin: there is nothing more peremptorily and definitively aroused by God as the creator of all things – it will be nice to go and read the passages of Exodus, of Deuteronomy, of Sirach, of Isaiah – of virginity. The highest value of an “I”, of created being, of anything created, the absolute, is virginity. The first characteristic in which the Being communicates itself is virginity. It is the concept of absolute purity, which has as its consequence an absolute vortex, namely motherhood. Virginity is maternal, it is mother of the creation. Virginity is motherhood. This is the consistence expressed and reached by the Being: perfection that has virginity as its bright spot, the warmth of virginity, the wealth of motherhood.

Our Lady is the method we need for familiarity with Christ. She is the instrument that God used in order to enter into man’s heart. Dante, the greatest poet of our lineage, creates a Marian theology unlike anyone else has ever done. Either you feel Dante’s first three lines growing in your heart or else these become a rock that crushes you. The Mystery from which creation proceeds, is sustained, and is brought to completion, is Our Lady. “Virgin mother, daughter of your Son”: this verse indicates the total meaning of creation as acceptable to man, that is, offered to man. Thus in Mary’s womb, the creator Spirit, the evidence of the Spirit, surfaced.
Fixed term of the eternal counsel”: this is the word that defines the nature of the things that are. In its definitiveness it is the expression of God’s creative power. That “fixed” is not a block to Mary’s freedom, because the fixed term is a suggestion that comes from the Eternal that confirms God’s work. Thus the first part of Dante’s hymn is the exaltation of the Eternal. What has to be rekindled in our hearts and in the hearts of believers is love for Christ, for Christ who is the eternal counsel. Everything belongs to the Eternal. Fixed term of the eternal counsel: this is the final plan, the first and final plan of creation. It is an eternal counsel. It is something that resonates. It is something that is called eternity.

As I reasoned over the Pope’s letter for the twentieth anniversary of the Fraternity, this point became clear to me: the Holy Spirit is the eternal counsel’s ultimate providential realization. It is the fixed, definite point of the Spirit’s creation, of God’s genius.
“ Counsel” is to perceive the infinite, unreachable, invincible dimension of the Holy Spirit. This reveals the reason that justifies the method of Incarnation. Without this passage the Mother of Christ cannot be understood.

All this cannot appear to man except as the supreme method of God’s freedom. God’s freedom is the infinite power that fixes – sets firm – the Spirit’s work before man’s eyes: Veni creator Spiritus, mentes tuorum visita (Come Creator Spirit, visit the minds of your people).

You need to read these things humbly, because God destines you for eternity. He makes you eternal, because He destines you to understand who you are, and this happens in the infinite spaces of time.

2) The person, the “you” of the person, is the place of guaranteed generative nobility, through the continuous awareness (always superior to itself) of the great promise that dominates all the action of the Spirit. God creates man and represents desire’s invasiveness. It is a desire without end, for us it is like the fire of an infinite dynamism compared to a temporary source. God is the measure of desire’s invasiveness because God is the measure of desire. Only by keeping God in mind can one realize that what he has within him is a limitless source.
 This means that the Spirit arouses in man the word, the plan that defines him. This word, therefore, coincides with a missionary power. In other words, it comes back, like a ball into your own court, as a provoking challenge.

3) The totality of the person’s commitment makes “one”, a “unicum”, what would be a provisional participatory light: the final eternal formula of the loving Mystery, the vertiginous dramatic experience into which the “you” plunges, deep inside all things, in a cosmic embrace.

4) Love is, therefore, the formula for participating in what would remain purely ephemeral.
 Spiritus est Deus, The Spirit is God, but the Spirit of God is love: Deus charitas est (the essence of the Trinity are the Three who love each other). The essence of the Being is love, this is the great revelation. Thus the whole moral law is totally defined by the word charity.

5) Charity shines out therefore as the only form of morality, which appears as an ecstasy of hope, inexhaustible hope. “You are a living fountain of hope”.
Hope passes as a light into the eyes and a fire into the heart of that Being who defines the reward of human expectation. It is not a prize given because the “I” is good, but because the “I” lives the ecstasy of hope.

Hope is a lively, joyful formula and in its impetus, in the purity of its content, it dictates the image of the whole of humanity: charity as the form of morality.
 Like when Jesus met the rich young man: “Go, sell all you have and come, follow me!” Since those words were the form of morality, the boy did not have much strength and did not follow Him.
All that happens is grace, and all grace is in that “You” in which the fulfilment happens.

6) In the human heart, from mercy to forgiveness and to richness without end, joy thickens as a boundless light that ensures the intensity of creative goodness.

7) Human “music” is the stage on which everything happens: and the Mystery becomes the human people and the “choir” of the Infinite. Thus Christian personality is emphasized: you get up in the morning to go to Mass, to go to the doctor, to go to work, for your children... you get up in the morning for an explosion inside you of the fact of Christ!

Greetings to you, your families and your communities. Fr. Luigi Giussani

Luca Della Robbia, Virgin and Child, c.1470–75, Metropolitan Museum of Art New York

Up until the last minute, Giussani was uncertain of whether to share these thoughts with everyone, as he himself said to the CL National Council in Milan on 28 June 2003. “I’d like to hear your opinion,” he told Msgr. Scola, “about whether the things I say in these pages [the letter] are communicable or not.”
The patriarch of Venice replied with a brief note: "Dear Fr. Gius, I carefully read the letter three times. I find its beauty breathtaking. It puts one immediately up against a wall; it thrills and calls for a work of identification or ascesis that cannot help but have a long and protracted journey. And so I submissively take the liberty of suggesting again what I told you yesterday: that the Memores, the members of the International Council and little by little the whole movement be accompanied in the ascetical undertaking, which is no small task.”
Reassured by these words, Giussani sent the letter. And he told the CL council members on 28 June, “As Fr. Angelo said in the note I read – it’s about a great revolution, an enormous one, but, like all true and enormous revolutions, it is simple.” He added, "Let’s try to remember each other every day in the Eucharistic mystery, which is the greatest sign of what happened and happens.” Almost apologetically, he concluded, “I took the liberty of adding my voice at the table, because it will enter in anyway, for whatever number of days or moment the Lord will give [me]." All that summer and fall, Giussani received comments on the letter, like the ones that follow.
Fr. Carron wrote, “An abstraction, something virtual does not make someone vibrate like thus. It does not change them like this, Only Being can explain the fact of this letter. Faith: recognition of a present Presence. Because of this, through you – through your flesh – the Mystery of being challenges our nothingness and overcomes it. […] Because of what we see happening in right before our eyes, we can understand what happened to the Blessed Virgin. One must always start with the present. Otherwise we succumb to our imaginations.”
Francesco Cossiga, former president of the Italian Republic, wrote telling Giussani to “continue with your intelligent, pastoral, and not abstract work of theological teaching, which speaks at once to the heart and the mind about both the transcendence and the ‘fleshiness’ of Revelation and Redemption, outside the lines of any enlightenment framework or overly pious devotion.” And Luigi Accattoli, Vatican correspondent for the Corriere della Sera, wrote that “even at his age, he does not stop thinking of the humanity of Christ and seeking familiarity with him; and every time he sets himself this task, he looks for new works to communicate what he had contemplated. [… One] has a sense of the allure and the struggle of a person reflecting on something that he had not yet completely thought through. For example, where he says that God is the measure of desire.” And Marco Politi, Vatican correspondent for la Repubblica wrote, “What is it that distinguished […] ‘the Christ event?’ What make it unique among all the rest? In my opinion it is that wondrous physicality that Fr. Giussani refers to with his awe-struck reference to the quote from Dante Alighieri. The same amazement fills us all, who are seized by the poet’s power. It is a physicality that is so real, so tangible, and so full.”
The archbishop of Utrecht and Primate of Holland, Adrianus Simonis, underscored that Giussani’s words “are a hymn to the core of faith, of Catholic faith, of which the cornerstone is the Incarnation. […] Msgr. Giussani’s role, and that of his ever-growing number of friends, seems to be confirmed: to regenerate through in light of the Christian Event. Only in this way may the Church go back to being a fact of life among and for human beings.”
John McCarthy, a philosophy professor at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., observed, “What strikes me the most is Fr. Giussani’s humble audacity, or perhaps I should say audacious humility. He is not afraid to use the pretentious language of metaphysics (‘being,’ ‘nature’). And with this certainty, he speaks to us! Even more remarkable is his bold identification of ‘being’ with ‘virginity.’ What philosopher, what theologian has ever said such a thing?”
And Paul J. Griffiths, theology professor at the University of Chicago wrote, “Everything is a gift, undeserved, limitless, and overabundant: our only purpose as Christians is to adore the Giver of all, and we can do this only by accepting the gift – of life, of intelligence, of love, of beauty – and returning it to this creator.”
Another note from the United States came from Stanley Hauerwas, a Protestant theologian and Professor of Theological Ethic at Duke University Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina, who said he was grateful for what Giussani had written: “One of the most serious problems we face as Protestants is that of having lost Mary as the firstborn of the new creation of God in Christ. […] So it was with joy that I read Fr. Giussani’s profound reflections on Mary, who, as he correctly points out, exemplified the ecstasy of hope that make a Christian Christian.”
Writing from his prison cell in Pisa, the journalist and author Adriano Sofri observed that “his thoughts run so freely that they are more like water tumbling down from a mountain peak before it collects into a streambed, rather than a channel or a river that flows over the plain. […] His final points are a greeting and a revelation of the author’s spirit: condensed joy like infinite light, an intimate explosion of the fact of Christ.”
Bruno Tolentin (1940-2007), the renowned poet from Brazil, was deeply impressed by the letter. “As Giussani’s thought deepens, grace leads him ever more in the direction of the living centre, of that exposed nerve at the very centre of the mystery of the Incarnation. It is no wonder that Giussani's meditation in recent years had turned with growing insistence to the contemplation of the abyssal womb of the Virgin Mother.”
Prof. Nikolaus Lobkowicz, chairman of the Institute for Central and Eastern European Studies, wrote that he was surprised by the letter: “A hymn, like those we know from the ancients like Plotinus, and like those familiar to us from the ‘babling’ of the Christian mystics. The magnificence of this letter is that it restores to Being its proper dimension – or, more precisely, His proper dimension.”

(from A. Savorana, The Life of Luigi Giussani, McGill-Queen's University Press, pp. 1100-1105)