Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Summary of risk

This is a summary of the first 38 pages of The Risk of Education, by Monsignor Luigi Giussani:


1) "...for behind the diversity of different cultures, customs, and expressions, the human heart is one and the same: my heart is your heart, and it is the same heart... The first concern of a genuine and appropriate educational method is the education of the heart of man just as God made it..."

2) Three essential points laid out by Giussani:

  1. "In order to educate, we must present the past in a suitable form... For tradition is like a working hypothesis with which nature throws man into comparison with all things."
  2. "We should present the past to our youth only from within the context of a life experience that highlights a correspondence with the heart's deepest needs."
  3. "True education must be an education in criticism... 'to criticize' means to take hold of things; it does not necessarily have a negative meaning... The ultimate, innter standard of judgment is identical for all of us: it is a need for the true, the beautiful, and the good.
"We insist: an education must be critical. The student must be exposed to the past through a life experience that can propose that past to him and justify it. He must take this past and these reasons, look at them critically, compare them with the contents of his heart, and say, 'This is true,' or 'This is not true,' or 'I'm not sure.'"

3) "I believe it is a crime to conceive, propose, and live one's faith as if it were a premise that is not followed through, a premise that has nothing to do with life. By life I mean life today... Life is the here and now.

4) "What is clear to me is that the event faith speaks of must be lived through, not read about or discussed... The event in question is that God took on our human flesh -- he became human and is present among us... He is truly present every day! ... We must give ourselves up to this presence and live our life within it and under its influence, being judged, illuminated, and sustained by it."

5) "We ... are used to looking for whatever sliver of goodness is in each and every thing; we exalt it, feel it close to us, as a companion on our journey. Thus Christian faith is a universal embrace."


1) A Problem of Method: "It was thus clear that the problem [in 1950's Italy] lay in the method of transmitting and developing the contents of the Christian tradition."

2) Risk as Verification: "We also run a risk hen we say that a conviction can be born out of an experience, for we are not talking about a feeling to be evoked or a pietistic emotion to be called forth, but of a commitment that cannot be faked. In short, we are at the mercy of the quicksands of freedom."

3) The Common Path of Educator and Student: The First Step: "To say ... that in God is the ultimate identity or the 'definitiveness' of the human being means that the definition of the human being and of his or her destiny is a mystery..."

4) Recognizing the Mystery: The Root of Moral Tension: "In order to follow the mystery, we are always called upon to come out of ourselves, to go beyond our modes of perception... If morality simply meant to 'perform' something, there would be no tension, no urgency, for we usually try to do what is required of us. To say that morality is a state of tension means that we are in a position that is continually directed toward something that is Other."

5) Our Security is Housed in the Mystery: "We tend to identify even Christ with a mental image or fantasy, which in the end is sentimental, while Christ is this Man who is mystery. Not a distant mystery confined to the heavens but a mystery that appears in the minutiae of our everyday lives such as eating, drinking, resting, and even dealing with everyday annoyances... The educator and the student are called upon to travel together, and it is on this path together, defined by the ultimate goal of destiny, that they learn what the path is. This is the explicit risk involved in accepting the call and the challenge of that definition of humanity, of that mystery Who urges us to recognize that he has created us."

6) A Movement Born of a Method: "Our mind finds it impossible to grasp what is truly meant when we say, 'Christ is my salvation,' just as it cannot 'naturally' understand that we are defined by another being. Even less can we conceive that we change, that we move closer to truth through the mercy and compassion of an Other... In summary, we could say that the educational method of a movement such as that born of these insights and observations consists in contributing toward the creation of conditions of life that smooth the path toward this understanding."

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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."