The Gushing Of Obedience

Notes from a talk of Luigi Giussani to a group of Memores Domini Salsomaggiore, February 21, 1999.
Luigi Giussani

What I am asking the Lord in this moment is that he help us, or that he help me to help you, to understand the truest meaning of what we are confiding to each other in these days. Why have we stressed certain things in our argument? It's true, it's not easy to accept in simplicity, how can an old man like me accept, the truth, that nonetheless is unmistakable and irresistible, of the words that we say and we have said, especially on the last two occasions.

"The new man." What are we saying, what do we mean to say, what do we claim to say with the words "the new man?" These words could be synonymous with "the true man." But this could seem to make the proposition less clear. Why? Because many may feel that they are "true men," while, in the Lord's eyes they may be objectively far from being "true." The new man, the true man-this is the particular point of view that the Lord injected into us-is the beginning of eternity in the experience of the everyday man in this world; it's the experience of a man who cultivates the eternal in himself, who understands that in his existence eternal truth or complete and eternal happiness are tangible, are really contained in his experience.

This is why I have stressed strongly the importance of the hymn Prima che sorga l'alba1 "Before the dawn rises, we keep vigil in expectation": there is an expectation in man, the more he is simple and transparent, there is an expectation that overflows every limit reached, every object of his own desire that he has reached, every companion he has reached, every satisfaction he has reached.

There can be a pagan, a pagan poet, the most pagan of the poets that literary history has made known to us, who has an intuition at a certain moment that broadly describes this impression that man has, that man can have, of the non-eternal: the non-eternal-the ephemeral, what passes away, as a proof, by contrast, of the eternal, of the eternal for man, of an eternal truth for man, of an eternal happiness for man; because the fact that things, all things, persons or things, all things-in moments or periods or throughout life-are not, can be expressed in these terms. "They are not": they are not sufficient to say and to define. "Medio de fronte leporum surgit amari aliquid quod in ipsis floribus angat,"2 says Titus Lucretius Caro, who is the most determined materialist of antiquity: precisely in the abundance of satisfaction there is the trace of a bitter spring that stifles and strangles man in the midst of pleasure.

The eternal, however, has a beginning in time. Man's time is not like the time of the jackdaw, of the cat or of the kitten: it has something of the truth in it, something that is true (otherwise we couldn't even talk of it.) It has truth in it. It's the eternal that has its beginning in time. If the eternal is love and happiness, truth and happiness, then the eternal is present in time as truth and as happiness, as satisfaction and fulfillment, as experience of fulfillment. What God is asking you, what Christ has asked you through us is a difference in your life. He has asked you and therefore he asks, because the Lord cannot come into the world and into your life and make the mistake (for him it would be to go against his own nature) of asking you "for a moment": the Lord, that is to say God made man, the man who is Jesus Christ does not move except in eternity.

I thought as I reflected over this, that it is a perpetual platform, even without believing in God, of the insufficiency of the form of our life, of the "earthly" form of our life.

I wanted to have you understand the value, the real value of the theme on work. What did we tackle before turning to work? What theme did we have for the Exercises before work?

We spoke about memory, that is to say about Christ. About Christ and then about man. And, speaking to you of man after having spoken of Christ, we repeated that man is man if he imitates Christ, as we had said at the Fraternity Retreat two years ago and then last year, too.3 God is all in all, this is the supreme observation that, whether we like it or not, follows us every day, every time, it is on our heels without missing a minute; and then we said that man is man only in as much as he is memory of Christ, "Christ is everything in everyone." "God is all in all," but "Christ is everything in everyone," in other words Christ-his conception of God and of man-must be imitated, in other words reflected in everyone's awareness: "Christ everything in everyone."

What this tentative identification or sequela implies in so far as it is aware and heartfelt, seems to carry within it a suggestion highly anomalous for our normal experiences (so much so that the devout soul stays there waiting, full of curiosity and then of desire, but the soul-how can I put it?-that is not reflective, that doesn't care for itself, that never thinks of itself, refuses the things with the same instinctivity as that with which they are offered to him, he refuses them with the same instinctivity): "Factus Oboediens usque ad mortem."4 St. Paul, speaking of Jesus has this terrible expression, clear and terrible: terrible to man in his smallness; but to a man who is like a child or to a mature man with a great awareness of himself, it becomes a solace and a source of peace. Jesus-remember the important piece of the letter to the Philippians?: "Made obedient up to death, death on a cross." Made obedient.

So as not to waste time, I say that the new man is the true man, and is a happy man, with that happiness which is gladness, with that happiness that he can have, as often we experience ourselves and see in others, in many others (many others who have not the presumption that we have.) The new man is a happy man, who has this satisfaction-satisfied-, a satisfaction that is filled with gratitude (the intellectual man like us, knowing it all too well; but more amazing is the gratitude of a calm person, at ease without too many complications like words or relationships.)

The new man is the true man; and the new (or true) man is defined by obedience (there is no affirmation more ridiculous than this for a man who believes that he is self-consistent, that he has some consistency in himself, or a space that is waiting for this presumptuous position): obedience as a rule of life, as the discernible dynamics of an individual's existence. Because Christ is the man: "Ecce homo," "This is the man." Pontius Pilate said so when he presented Christ scourged and crowned with thorns, and covered in blood: "This is the man." But that man was like that out of obedience: "I always do what my Father wants."5

Obedience is thinking and doing everything while having the motive and the criterion from an Other who is active and determinant in the present, in other words from a Presence; obedience is fulfilling this-experientially, even as regards the attitude you have taken up or that God has had you take up-obedience is attitude, behavior, behavior and attitude, because everything in us becomes a sharp improvised point (or normal sharp points in the course of the day) or becomes a placid spring, a virtue springing up, but the finest thing is when the two things happen together, when there is the simplicity of children and the eyes and the behavior of adults. The imitation of Christ, it seems to me, leads to these "narrow gorges." Obedience is the word that fills the heart in any case because of the new way of living humanity. A new man, a new life, a new attitude, has as a transparent paradigm a new way of looking at things. This new way is that looking at things increases hope, makes hope gush out more strongly, hope that cannot last if it's not true, if it's not truly felt. But hope is the whole womb of man; the womb of man (to use a metaphor that may seem more suited to a woman) is hope.

Faith, hope and charity are three virtues, we have learned them as three virtues, but they are a rough draft in which the key-point is certainty, a certitude. It's like having a certainty in every field, over the whole horizon (including the faith, it has to come to include the faith; this is why Christian terminology "isolates" this faith as the source of wisdom.)

Obedience is the word that fills the heart with the new modality of a true hope: hope as certainty that man has on his journey; a journey that is guided by the certainty of faith and that is documented, drawing life continuously from what it does, from charity.

It is precisely this obedience that arouses hope, it is precisely this obedience that establishes the womb for the new man and makes the fulfillment of the new man heard, seen and heard, lived as the first light of day or as the dawn. Because a man who seeks to follow Jesus is never in the position in which Jesus himself is, he is never continuously striving to follow him, but to the extent that he does in some way strive, he realizes that something has happened! So the gravest aspect of the life of a man like this is prayer: asking someone. Think of Peter, John and Andrew as they followed him on the paths through the fields: they followed him without letting him out of their sight even for a moment. But there came a time when Jesus eyes watching them and their own eyes watching themselves could not fail to notice something changing in them.

Whoever is outside this womb of obedience is outside everything that's going on. In order to know who is outside, let's say in what way obedience is the fount and the source of certainty, of that certainty that gives faith and charity, and the certainty that is called hope because it concerns the future, it concerns tomorrow, and one hour from now. Obeying means-just read particularly St. John: the farewell discourse of Jesus6 or the sixth and seventh chapters (the first public discussion with the big names of contemporary Judaism)-obeying means that in making judgements and decisions that are called for, man follows someone Other than himself, and bases the whole of his person, fuses his person, as regards intelligence of things, judgement of things and affectivity for things with another person: these lie in another person, in an Other, in another Presence (an Other in as much as he is above, outside and deeper within me than myself.)7

If one is not in this position, if one is determined by what others say, if our position is not determined by Christ, by following Christ, if it is determined by something else, then it is a position of slavery (St. Paul's letters to the Romans and to the Galatians express this well).8 Non-obedience is the prevailing of a dismissal of Christ, a "sending Christ away": Christ vanishes from one's judgement and man governs himself according to his own measure, in other words he decides himself on whom to depend (since it's evident that he doesn't make himself, so he depends on something.) Man fixes himself on his "No" that takes the apple; man governs himself with this measure. And Eve's apple, though it is a hyperbolic metaphor, takes up in us men all our consciousness in a precise way, with a precision that we are not able to reach in our acts, whether public or private, however much attention we give. It is that No of Eve that expresses itself-as Eliot says-as "Usury, Lust and Power,"9 and the one most felt, and we can say more general, is power, for a possession that seems more suited to our own desire.
Obedience, then, is the final criterion of life of the new man: "Made obedient unto death" (but now I'll have to content myself with just hinting at this because we will have to take up the matter again.) Obedience is thinking and doing things while having the motive and the criterion from an Other, from someone Other than us, in other words from a Presence. Whereas disobedience, non-obedience, yields to the criteria of the other, of something other, to criteria and decisions of others, but it is slavery, because it yields to all the violence that a certain kind of relationship, that always-always!-forgets God, has.

This is why I said that obedience is the word the fills the heart, for the new way of walking that God has foreseen for man: a true hope. And after this coming about of the new man, behind this obedient subject, in a long line, many more will be confirmed in the same hope. Because it is from someone like this that a people is born; and the people is first of all a child, a little child, two little children.

Now, the problem is that the new man affirms itself on an old man. The new man is like a graft onto an old trunk. So it requires a change, everything in us should lead us to this change, but after Eve's interruption... (she trusted not in the presence but in what had never been present in her experience: Satan, the serpent, she didn't know what it was. So in the attempt to be freer she became a slave. What doesn't depend on Other makes slaves of us. For those who don't depend on Christ, on Christ's presence, slavery is inevitable.)

The new man, the obedient man, affirming himself on the old man, requires a change, a change that is like a new creation, a literally new creation: he is an other. Whoever has felt this change in his flesh says that it is like a new being (the Fathers of the Church had many expressions for it.)

The passage that this change implies is made difficult, made problematic, made an obstacle, by the fact that what is new is grafted onto what is old. So there has to be a new creation, because in order that a child be reborn in the heart of an old man means that a lot of rubbish has to be got rid of, and a lot of what covers this old man has to be put away: it is the heart that is created once again.

So this change begins always like the break of a new day, like the dawn, a reality in which the more man walks in it, in other words the more he obeys, the more he overcomes all reticence and every cloud; the sun of truth, beauty and love shines out. Thus the whole of that man is flooded by its light; for if a part of me asks for the sun, when the sun comes it lights up my whole self, not just that part, but every part of me.

This "new man" is the word that expresses the true Christian event. The Christian event entered history as the final protagonist of a new man. Only that it changes him gradually: the passage from the old to the new, the grafting of the new onto the old trunk, penetration into the trunk happens gradually. This is why I have always had that beautiful hymn sung, Prima che sorga l'alba [Before the rising of the dawn]10, because it's the physical, really perfect, description of how this change comes in a man who is called. And, one step at a time, this change is like "things that are unseen;" they are not seen by the eyes, nor as a conception, as concept, nor as a feeling. You understand what is said, or rather, you understand how much sacrifice is implied when the step is to be taken, we may even not understand it before, but the step is to be taken. The step of this change is a "tearing," it tears something from us-"To affirm this presence I must..."-the old man, when he feels a new call rising within him, has to accept this tearing in order to bring it about (just as in any kind of operation, even the cut is a tearing.)

At this point then, I hope that if one gives full attention the phrases I am saying, then he can understand: "It is in this sense that you have spoken to us about work, about man and woman and about justice!" Of course it's in this sense! This is why I spoke of these three points as documenting a change. These three things, each one of them in which the change is documented implies all the other aspects of life, because a change in the "I" (not creatively, because the capacity one is given may cover only one aspect of the question, but one implies all of both the others. There is nothing so disorganic that it can be conceived in isolation from a context. It would be abstract.)

A. I spoke of justice as it is lived in our age: as the place where man is the measure of things. As long as man is the measure of things, as long as man holds himself to be the measure of things, man's life in society experiences and undergoes domination, slavery-says St. Paul in his letter to the Romans-he doesn't know what freedom is. Even those who operate big business merges do so in view of a greater power-because money gives you power to do everything, to be lord of everything, deceives you into thinking this, and how many have been deluded by this! It's written in the papers!-they grab power and tend to make those around them into slaves (but this power-grabbing is not just the case with huge companies-Telecom for a recent example-!) Thus on the pretext of justice we feel the harm they do to us, the disgust they give us, this feeling of being thrown into a people in decay, because everyone lets himself be thrown in. It's a bitter document the fact that we can't identify justice with these things. But justice always implies these things when it forgets the Other for everyone and everything, in other words God, and therefore Jesus Christ and therefore every person created by God and saved by Christ.

What Nietzsche said is fantastic as a judgement, but it makes the point, the phenomenon that resolves this situation all the people are in: "I don't like your cold justice and in the eyes of your judges I always see the gleam of the executioner with his frozen sword. You say, where can I find a justice that is love and has eyes to see with? Invent for me then the love that carries on its back not only all the sorrows, but all the blame, too." This phrase is good amongst other things because it introduces the concept of a just love. It's justice that makes us understand when love is just; if love produces justice then it is just, if it does not produce justice then its not just. Now, love is affirming the destiny of the other, you don't love unless you affirm the destiny of the other, really. You may slip up a hundred times, if you are old like me or if your like a child who doesn't know the way, or are pig-headed and stubborn like adults are, but love is really an affirmation of the other, of an other: it's like obedience, the affirmation of a presence as criterion.

Obedience is love, but justice, too, implies this, because if justice is not love, what happens? What happens is that all the factors in play when a man is to be prosecuted-all the factors of the experience, responsible for that experience-are not followed up, not a step further is taken unless once the facts are found nothing can be proved; or rather, the proof comes from the "pentiti," from the criminals who call themselves "pentiti" ["grasses"].

From this point of view love is justice, not that it dissolves the judgement over evil, but because love implies the realization of a judgement that is adequate as regards the one who has done wrong: only charity can, faced with a murderer, make us understand the murderer, giving him the benefit of all the possible limitations to his responsibility. For the "I" who is not love justice is violence instead: going so far as to incriminate someone the moment he gives the slightest, unproved, suspicion of guilt, or, as I said before, supporting the charge with the witness of criminals who call themselves "pentiti." It's like in all relationships that do not have man's destiny as a background. In all relationships the man who has not love as inspiration, as a factor of his vision, in all relationships, with any company in creation whatever, a man without love is violent: for violence is the pretension that an inadequate reality can take the place of reality as a whole.

B. The man-woman relationship is the clearest indicator of the need for a company on the journey of life, as God said in Genesis: "Let us make a being to be his companion, this being I have made cannot remain alone, so I'll make a companion for him". But if she is not a companion the woman is not-is not!-a subject of love, subject or object of love! There is no love between the two, because, if they are not companions to destiny, they think of each other not according to destiny, not with love and concern for destiny.

The loving relationship between persons, whose symbol for man is the woman, is false if love, which is the affirmation of the other as destiny, is burned at the roots by the demand for a return in the giving of yourself to the other. If giving myself to the other needs, foresees, or is "played for", or expects a return from the other, it will not be a gift, but a calculation-always!-. A calculation which arises and develops determined by instinct, that is a vehicle of sentimentality, through satisfactions and usefulness; so affection is not born of a judgement of the intelligence, but of a precarious wave of emotions and decisions in which the hidden violence, unaware of itself, brings a morning with no sunshine.

I had brought some poetry with me hoping to be able to read them, I beg you instead to go and read them in the book Le mie letture in the chapter on Ada Negri: read Mia giovinezza and then the poem that says, "I was unable to tell you how much I love you," Atto d'amore. Go and read them, please, because when we insist on certain things, or repeat things it's not without a lot of reason and great intuition... it's like our joke-teller Adriano: every joke he tells we've already heard a hundred times before! They are really lively because he tells them in a new way.

C. Work. It is truly a discovery to be able to recognize work in the proper sense of the word, in its total horizon: work as the total horizon is the relationship of man with all other beings; but it is a relationship that, lived with any other being, illumines the awareness man has with himself in a thought, in a remembrance of the mystery of the universe whose nature is that dynamic nature of Being that must work. Thus work is human work when it comes to have incidence on the work of the Spirit; it is like the Mystery in the original aspect of creation. Every instant of work, every act of work-whether it be that of a needle that sews a button onto a shirt or a jacket-has the dignity proper to its human subject.

If this is not understood, any other expression whatsoever into which a man or a woman is forced (because he cannot have anything else to do or because he's not able to do anything else) would have no dignity: it would be the cancellation of all these individuals from the face of the earth, the cancellation of everything. So even someone who goes on the Soyuz spacecraft, up in the sky, does something that has the same value as his mother's when she washed him as a little boy. What serenity would there be in someone in the Soyuz if he thought that he was doing the will of an Other, that he was doing that great thing through the intervention of an Other, just like his mother who washed him when he was small. And it's a great thing that someone no longer able to talk,-and can no longer teach a lesson or do anything-or someone who wants to ride a bicycle and loses his balance, falls down and spends six months in hospital with a broken hip, then he no longer rides the bicycle (but gets taken by car!)

As it is in Christ: Christ, with his action recreated the world because he renewed creation. The original aspect of creation, obscured and altered by a fact-original sin-is touched by Christ, but everyone who is conformed to Christ, every one of us if we are conformed to Christ, touches God's creation and makes it different, or develops the greatest thing that the relationship with things can accomplish, with all things and all men: hope. He revives hope.

From where comes this relationship with Christ that reaches as far as these last capillaries of touch and change, up to this level of development of interest in things and a balance so much greater that all of a sudden, after twenty years of bad habits, makes us take up the proper, balanced attitude (with all that went before!)? It is Baptism. Baptism is really the visible, mysterious, but pacifying and disquieting sign of novelty, of the novelty that Christ has brought into the world. Because Christ in the world is cross and resurrection. This is why all we said before is of value: sacrifice is a tearing for the change; without a tearing there is nothing, so much so that we wonder at the fact that God himself used such a tragic way.

However, "none of you lives for himself and none of you dies for himself; for if we live we live for the Lord; if we die we die for the Lord. Whether we live or die, then, we are the Lord's."11 This phrase, that you have already heard, you just have to take seriously. Remember this phrase always; then you, too, will be able to do what Igino from Padua did on the same day on which he was almost destroyed by the explosion at Padua.12 His wife was the one who told me soon after: "Listen, he read this phrase in a book and he showed it to me, 'Whether we live or die we are the Lord's'."

So obedience is the basic clarity and realization of what we have to do. It's much more interesting if you obey than if you succeed (not do disobey but to do it!)


1. Prima che sorga l'alba, hymn of lauds Thursday in Libro delle ore, Jaca Book, Milan 1998, p. 114.
2. "Something bitter wells up from the very intimacy of every pleasure, that makes us shrink even among the flowers." (T. Lucretius Caro, De rerum natura, IV, vv. 1133-1134)
3. Cf. You, or about Friendship, Notes taken from Meditations by Luigi Giussani and Stefano Alberto, Milan 1997, pp 22-23; Cf. The Miracle of a Change, Notes taken from Meditations by Luigi Giussani and Stefano Alberto, Milan 1998, pp. 27-28.
4. Phil. 2:8.
5. Cf. Jn. 8:29; 14:31.
6. Cf. Jn. 14-17.
7. "Intimior intimo meo, superior summo meo" in St. Augustine, Confessions, III, 6.
8. Cf. Gal. 4:1-9; Rom. 8: 12-21.
9. Cf. T.S. Eliot, Choruses from "The Rock" in Collected Poems 1909-1962, Faber and Faber 1974, p. 178.
10. See note 1.
11. Rom. 14:7-8.
12. This refers to an accidental explosion at Padua on January 5, 1998, during the traditional bonfire for Epiphany. See E. Andreatta "In prediliction, the Hope of a People" in Traces-Litterae Communionis, Vol. 1, No 2, 1999, pp. 17-19.