Being Certain of a Few Great Things

We offer here an excerpt from the new Italian book by Luigi Giussani, Certain of a Few Great Things (1979-1981), the second volume of the “Equipe” series.
Luigi Giussani

The exceedingly beautiful commitment that most of our people–most of those present with their communities–have lived out (not all the university communities, but most of them have certainly experienced this month-and-a-half in a beautiful and vital way), this commitment itself highlights the observation we’ve made: this is what makes us restless, because we all sense the looming danger of staying here between wind and water, on the shoreline, in this suspense between commitments for CUSL or CLU [CL university students] and a life, a daily life, a personal life, that is worn out by the absence of reasons that dignify, humanize, and lend gusto to our business, the undertakings we engage in every day, our everyday affairs.
The words quoted responded with a very beautiful word. He said, “We have to become poorer,” using this word in a truly Christian way, going to the core of its value. Poorer… What does “poorer” mean? Do you remember what he said? “Being certain of a few great things.” The poor man is he who is certain of a few great things, so that–certain of a few great things–he builds the cathedral and lives in a hovel, a hundred thousand times more a man than those whose ultimate horizon is a totally comfortable apartment and then, if that desire is fulfilled, goes so far as to give an offering for the Church. Poor: certain of a few great things. Why does poverty mean being certain? Because certainty means abandoning oneself, overcoming oneself; it means that I am tiny, nothing, and that the true and great thing is an Other; this is poverty. This is the poverty that makes us full and free, that makes us active and vital, because the law of man, the stable dynamism of the natural mechanism that is called man, is love, and love is the affirmation of something else as the meaning of oneself. For this reason, it’s not easy to find people among us who are certain because there still isn’t poverty among us. Poverty, in fact, is a very adult conquest. […]
We experience a responsibility that is more critical than creative, that responds to things when they become a significant objection. When things become a significant objection to our CL position, then we become critical. But we’re not creative, because creativity is faith that takes risks in the circumstance and changes it, transforms it, creates something different. Thus, for example, in the boy-girl relationship, the critical attitude is called moralism, while the creative attitude is something that makes the relationship different. Moralism leaves you–less and less these days–a bit worried if you exceed certain limits, while a creative position is another thing: the relationship becomes another thing, the way of looking and thinking becomes another thing, and this is a piece of a different humanity. The critical attitude does not make humanity different; maybe it creates discomfort (so then the only pleasure is in quarrelling).
The “problem” is precisely the faith that takes risks in the circumstances, that mobilizes me against the circumstance inasmuch as the circumstance objects and wants me to suspend the certainty in the few great things. What’s the ideal got to do with your studies, your money, the family you have to form or that you have? What’s it got to do with these things? Here, this is a “problem;” it sets forth a problem, because these situations want me to suspend the certainty and adopt an attitude of a more banal reactivity. Then I am mobilized and battle against this objection, against this attack: I counterattack and, counterattacking, faith gives me a different conception of my relationship with the things that interest me, and mobilizes me in a different way, thus creating an experience of a different humanity, and this is the verification of faith: faith grows up and becomes big and strong.
What is it that allows “problematicism” to remain truly a problematic dynamism? What keeps us from falling into problematicism, or skepticism, which is the same thing, when things become objection, and we stay there as if handicapped, our hands incapable of moving, overcome with skepticism and confusing turmoil? What keeps us from falling into problematicism and, instead, allows us to grab the problem by the horns, and thus face it fully alive (because life is a problem, a weft and woof of problems in which the ideal in us operates, clashes, and wins, or–which is the same–makes the human rise again)? What keeps us from falling into problematicism and allows us to remain on the healthy level of a lived problem? What eliminates problematicism is “being inside the historical way in which the relationship with Christ is possible for me,” as was said. What eliminates the problematicism is being inside, staying inside the historical way in which the relationship with Christ is possible for me.
If a fetus could think, how could he avoid problematicism (“Oh my God, now how am I going to breathe; how am I going to nourish myself; how are my cells going to engage in metabolism?”)? Problematicism, which becomes objection, would make him stay there, cold and anxious, and then skeptical: “It’s impossible to live!” Instead, what would make the little fetus “aggressive,” capable of facing the problem of living? Staying within the historical way in which the relationship with life is possible for him, which is that womb, which is his mother, which is that matrix. He could have had millions of other matrices in history! But this is abstract–for him, it is that matrix. There is no other (I can’t imagine that transplants could be done easily on this level!).

The fifth passage leads us to the second; it forces us to look the word “faith” in the eyes. “Staying inside the historical way that has made the relationship with Christ possible for you” is a succinct and definitive formulation.
Faith. What are those “few great things?”
First: the presence among us of the Mystery that makes all things, in human form: He became man, and this reality is among us (“I am with you always, until the end of the age”1) and nothing can ever uproot this Presence from the flesh of history, from the flesh of time and space, no betrayal or obliteration that any of us might commit.
I said some time ago, after the news of the Referendum, “Well, this is a moment when it would be beautiful to be just twelve of us alone in the whole world.” It is precisely a moment when you have to start all over, because never before has it been demonstrated so clearly that the mentality is no longer Christian. Christianity as a stable, consistent presence, and thus capable of tradere, of tradition, of communication, of creating tradition, now no longer exists; it has to be reborn. It has to be reborn so that it engages with the issues of daily life, life. I want to dwell upon this, because the word “life” is equivocal, and can be understood in a vitalistic sense, and then living life is a reactivity, and this is subhuman. Human life is made of intelligence and freedom, that is, made of judgments, choices, and affective energy: this is life as problematicity; it is life as problem. What is the passage from childhood to the beginning of a personal awareness? The age is between twelve and fifteen, but let’s not worry about the precise moment; it’s not something you can fix mathematically. What characterizes the beginning of a personal consciousness, and thus a sense of your own identity, is the passage from having because you receive, that is, from the traditional given, tràdito, to problematicity, that is, to criticality and choice where, in the face of what you have been given, you say, “Why?” and, “Test everything; retain what is good,” 2 as Saint Paul said to those of Salonika.
Now, the stimulus for making life a “problem,” that is, a “war,” living life like a war, is one alone: Christ, this presence in the world. And this is the point: faith is the recognition of this Presence, and that’s that. This is “those few great things” in which our poverty is rich, our truth. Faith is recognizing Christ.
But what’s the point? The point of the question lies in the fact that we all say “Christ,” but it’s as if this Christ didn’t exist. Christ is the answer, the meaning; Christ is the form, the meaning of living, and therefore He is the meaning and the form of the affective relationship, or the use of things, or the way of looking at nature, time, space, your plans for the future, or your past. Christ becomes the form of this, the active and proactive inspiration of this, the criterion for this. As Romano Guardini said, and I’ve quoted so many times, in this beautiful sentence (the most beautiful I’ve ever heard in this sense, and the most succinct): “In the experience of the great love, the entire world is collected into the I-you relation, and all that happens becomes an event within this relation.”3 The great thing for which everything becomes an event in its sphere (that is, it determines everything) is faith. Justice is faith. “The just man, because of his faith, shall live.” 4 What is justice in the relationship with your father and mother? Faith. And what is justice in your relationship with your beloved? Faith. And what is justice in your way of studying? Faith. And what is justice in your way of working? Faith. And what is justice in your way of relating to all the forms of solidarity among workers that are called labor unions? Faith. And what is the modality with which you look at society, the way of facing society and reality? Faith. Justice is faith, and faith is the recognition of that Presence: Christ is the content of faith.
Here are two items for our attention, noted this morning in such a useful way.

1) First, a negative thing: this morning, someone affirmed that the ideal is the person of Christ, but lamented the difference between what we see inside and outside ourselves, and the ideal. “I don’t feel Him;” “He’s abstract for me;” or, “I’m different from how I should be; I’m ashamed. His words are far from what I do.” The difference. This is the first, tremendous thing that needs to happen. Actually, before any attempt at coherence, this is the supreme coherence. What is the supreme coherence with Christ, in acknowledging Christ? That even if you’re a pile of manure, Christ is greater than your pile of manure; He’s more capable, stronger than the deep well of your miserableness. For this reason, faith is a certainty that can never lose its gladness, because the reason for the gladness is a certainty that is greater than any reflection I make about myself. This is love; this is the affirmation of something else. I always make the comparison with the child, because it’s the most perfect comparison. I could make the comparison with a person who truly loves, who is profoundly in love with another, but this happens very rarely and not without mixing in many errors (as Saint Thomas of Aquinas5 said, speaking of the man who attains the idea of the existence of God); instead, in the child, nature does this directly. The child is glad by nature– glad by nature!–when he is in natural conditions, and his natural conditions are his father and his mother. Even if he had been bad, even if he had done who knows what one instant before, if his mother swoops him up in her arms, he’s glad; nothing’s wrong because the consistence of himself is the affirmation of that woman holding him. The child’s face shows this unmistakably and spectacularly, for those watching with intelligent eyes.
Therefore, the difference of any kind (“I don’t feel Him;” “He’s abstract;” “He’s a word”), any difference is not an objection to the certainty that is called “faith” and to the energy–that this certainty engages–of freedom. This is the point of departure that gives a characteristic capacity for gladness, absolutely inconceivable outside the experience of the Christian faith: in fact, there is nothing stranger than a real joy within an individual who is conscious of what he is, of his misery. This is really a thing from another world–it’s a thing from another world, a thing you live, impossible outside the terms of our faith.

2) The second point, instead, is positive. The difference, whatever it may be, is not an objection. The objection is that you give in to problematicism or embrace the objection as part of your identity. Instead, faith, that is, acknowledging You present, O Christ (“I acknowledge You present”), brings with it a task as great as the world and history; faith–acknowledging Christ as the great thing that is the wealth of my poverty–constitutes the seed of a new people. It’s the same. “Carry a task as great as the world and history” and “it is the seed of a new people” is the same: it is the abolition of the private; precisely the category of the private disappears.
The category of the private in the Christian conception doesn’t exist, so much so that the concept of merit, the value of an action, the moral value of an action–that is called “merit”–is the proportion that the action has with the design of God. The action is just when it is “in function of,” that is, opened out toward the Kingdom of Heaven, toward the world. An action is moral when it helps the world realize itself. Mark now, this action isn’t just battling for the Referendum; this action can be washing the dishes. The category of the private is nonexistent; it no longer exists, just as there can no longer be a hair of your head that is autonomous, because “even the hairs of your head have all been counted,”6 just as even a word spoken in jest has eternal weight (“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will render an account for every careless word they speak.”7). Therefore, in daily life, this greatness broadens the perception of our humanity and hence the perception of our own relationship with everything.
If faith is acknowledging Christ, the great unknown among us, the great hidden thing, truly God hidden among us, then the great censorship, by which we are complicit in “the world that is entirely set in deceit,”8 the lie is not acknowledging Christ; the liar is he who does not recognize Christ. Therefore, another of the “few great things” spoken of is our companionship, as it is stated later. If the ideal is Christ, then it mustn’t remain a “psychologism.” Psychologism is all that is operated upon and reduced to our thoughts or our sentiments; everything that remains merely thought, sentiment, or image, belongs to a purely psychological reality.
If the ideal is Christ, it’s necessary that it not remain psychologism. This morning, someone said, “This ‘idea’ I can see.” The tragedy for us would be that Christ remain an idea. He is a presence and I can see this presence; I have to acknowledge it in our companionship, in this living fact that is our companionship, even if we were to remain just twelve in the whole world–our companionship, this living fact, the meaning of which exceeds its form and its consistence. The meaning of our companionship exceeds what we are or the sum of what we are, as I already said last time. Even if we were a thousand times more petty than we are, our companionship is something sacred, great, because it is like a container, like the sign of the great thing that is the wealth of our poverty.
Thus, our consciousness kicks in, our life kicks in when the first given, the first object that interests us, is what we have encountered. What we have encountered is the content of the faith: a companionship, the meaning of which, the consistence of which is a greater thing than he who forms it; that is, the consistence is Christ. Therefore, trusting this companionship–credere se alicui, we studied in our Latin grammar, “entrusting ourselves to,” “giving ourselves to,” that is, “belonging to”–is what defines us; we are defined by a belonging, the belonging to Christ, which is an abstract idea if it is not within the historical modality in which we have encountered it. The historical modality is risible, but without it, we don’t belong to Him.
Thus, it is a companionship among us, “not as a shelter from blows” as someone said penetratingly this morning, not when it pays off, as someone else said equally sharply, but as support for my personal position, as a reminder, nourishment, and correction for my personal position, that is, for my faith, for my acknowledging Christ.
Therefore, perhaps this is the formula we should pursue in this first piece of the road that we have to develop after these new months: “Life is not greater than the ideal; life can’t be greater than the ideal but the ideal is greater than life,” in keeping with what was said this morning. Life is greater than the ideal when the many circumstances, those that maybe are most pressing individually, absent themselves from the judgment, the charge, the attack of the ideal–we reject the problem, the battle and the problem. Then life becomes greater than the ideal and the ideal curls up in a corner, like a niche where we even burn a little incense at certain moments. But the ideal is more than life: “Your love is better than life,”9 as it says in a psalm we have repeated many times. That is: “Your Presence is worth more than life.” Goodbye, and all the best!

1 Cf. Mt 28:20.
2 Cf. 1Thes 5:21.
3 Cf. R. Guardini, Das Wesen des Christentums. Wurzburg: Werkbund - Verlag, 1949, p. 12. Quotation translated from the German by T. Hoffmann.
4 Cf. Hb 2:4.
5 Cf. Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I, q. 1, art. 1.
6 Cf. Mt 10:30; Lk 12:7.
7 Mt 12:36.
8 Cf. Jn 8:44.
9 Psalm 63:4