Thursday, December 20, 2007

What is Christianity? What is the Church?

Okay, I am feeling a strong need to get down to basics right now. So, here is a large block of text taken from a conversation that Fr. Giussani had with a group of university students in August of 1978. For the full text, follow this link.

I think that Christianity is the event of God who became a man, and this man said He was God and chose…
Fr Giussani That’s enough. It’s enough, we’ve got there! Only this is Christianity! Christianity is this; it’s a fact! A fact. If I were to punch him in the face and break his glasses, that I have broken his glasses is a fact. In the same way, a man said He was God. God became man, and this is why this man said, “I am God.”
The essential category of an answer to the question, “What is Christianity?” is that of a fact; a fact like the existence of Moscow, or the fact that he is a priest; he has been ordained priest–it’s a fact.
It’s a fact. Look, it’s not a question of taste, of intellectual clarity, or putting things in place. It is a condition, it’s the fundamental condition for every Christian thought and every Christian action. The category of “fact” becomes the fundamental category for the Christian journey.
So what is Christianity? It is a man who said He was God; in other words, a man who said, “I am the salvation of you life. I am the meaning of your life.”
The word “experience” and all the rest are consequences of this, do you see? What is Christianity? It is this.
Since I’ve got the answer that I think is exact, I’ll stop here and I don’t want to go back, unless there is some objection, some outstanding question.
Intervention This is the elementary faith of our fathers; my father and my mother taught me this first of all, whereas we see, we look and develop…
Fr Giussani Yes. In other words, this is the danger for us, it’s a really pathetic attitude we have. We are not able to build on this (like all our answers, do you see?), taking for granted, as if we were already aware of what we are building on. Instead, what happens is that we build while leaving behind the cornerstone we need to build on. This is why our thoughts are a little crooked, and this is why our approach to things is always rather ambiguous.
I left the answer about the Church suspended, because the category of “Church” belongs to the fact. But, now, let’s go back to it, and try to come up with an answer.
The word “Church” points to a fact. What category is the Church? In what category must we include the Church? It is a fact! It is an historical fact of a gathering of people who say, “We are Christ”–that is to say, the body of Christ. So the Church must be added as a Nota Bene to the answer, “Christianity is the fact, the event, so much an event… an event happens in a certain place, in a certain moment of time.” Do you follow? It is made of time and space.
The answer to the question, “What is Christianity?” is a piece of time and space, this piece of time and space and this being, born of a girl in that place in Palestine, conceived in that faraway town of Palestine, born in that other faraway village that was Bethlehem. Christianity is this event! Only that this time and space are prolonged. My name and surname are those of a being born in a particular place and time, only it goes on, and from 1922 it has gone on up to 1978. Do you follow?
Instead of lasting from 1922 until 1978, this event has gone on for 2,000 years up to now, and is destined to last to the end of history. How and when I don’t know. It could grow bigger or it could be reduced to twelve people (as Solov’ev imagined at the end of history, with the last Pope, Peter II). This isn’t important; this is the mystery of God. But that event is an event that goes on, like a bang that begins and grows, like a clap of thunder that grows louder, and instead of getting smaller and disappearing, as thunderclaps do, it began and keeps growing. It goes on. This going on is called Church, whereas the period 1922-1978 is called a human life, my human life. It is called Church, the life of Christ. After all, St Paul used the expression, “realizing the maturity of Christ.” The Church realizes the maturity of Christ, so it is precisely the life of Christ Himself.
So it is an event, the event of a man who said, “I am God and I will go on in history in the visible reality of the people who will adhere to me and be united among themselves,” the Church. It is a fact! You can believe in it or not, but it is a fact!

From humanism onwards, Christianity has tended to be reduced to wisdom (the best way to live, the most excellent human philosophy), up to today, or to a morality (the best way to love our fellow men, the prophecy of humanity). It has been reduced like this, and reason will always try to do this, because otherwise Christianity will dominate wisdom. If, instead, reason can reduce Christianity, then it can prevail; reason will judge Christianity. Instead, Christianity is a fact. You can be angry because it’s there, because it has happened; you can blaspheme, you can skin yourself alive hysterically because you don’t want it to be, but factum infectum fieri nequit: you cannot make a fact not a fact.
It is a fact that holds an element of challenge for the future, because tomorrow is not yet here, and this fact, which has reached us over two thousand years, and in which we, too, are implicated, says, “Look, after 34,000 years, I’ll still be here, and after another 3,400,000 years I’ll still be here.”

But it is a fact! Christianity is a fact! That is why our faith, our being Christians, is first and foremost a fact that you cannot get rid of, try as you might, because it is Baptism that took hold of you; it’s a gesture that took hold of you and drew you into the fact, and you cannot get out of it.

* * *

What use is Christianity to me if it's just a beautiful idea? I want something that I can touch, something that I can see, something outside of me that will surprise me. I don't want an answer that I can come to on my own. I don't want solutions that I can devise. I want the Infinite to intervene in my life and surprise me!


Freder1ck said...

I love this talk so much, especially the first part where everybody is trying to offer some definition of Christianity and Fr. Giussani keeps saying no. It really amazed me when I first read it, and so much more so because I identified with those students so much.

Suzanne said...

I love it, too -- I always come back to it when I have a certain kind of thirst, and it's like taking a long drink of cold water. I'm sure that if I had been there with him, I would have gotten it wrong, too!

Dumbstruck by the Mystery

...our temptation is always to impose our prejudices or our measure on reality -- except when we are faced with a fact that leaves us dumbstruck, and instead of dominating the fact ourselves, we are dominated, overcome by it. If there were no moments of this kind, the Mystery could do anything, but in the end, we would reduce everything to the usual explanation. But not even a Nobel Prize winner can stop himself from being dumbstruck before an absolutely gratuitous gesture. If there were not these moments, we would find answers, explanations, and interpretations to avoid being struck by anything. It is good that some things happen that we cannot dominate, then we have to take them seriously, and this is the great question of philosophy. If the conditions for the possibility of knowledge (see Kant) impose themselves on reality or if there is something that is so powerfully disproportionate that it does not let itself be "grasped" by the conditions of possibility, then the horizon opens. If this were not the case, then we could dominate everything and be in peace, or at least without drama. Instead, not even the intelligence of a Nobel Prize winner could prevent him from coming face-to-face with a fact that made him dumbstruck -- instead of dominating, it was he who was dominated. Here begins the drama, because I am called to answer. It is the drama that unfolds between us and the Mystery, through certain facts, certain moments, in which the Mystery imposes itself with this evidence. These are facts that we cannot put in our pocket, which we cannot reduce to antecedent factors.
-- Julian Carron in "Friends, that is, Witnesses."