Sunday, December 9, 2018

The Christian Imperative

In The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky writes: "faith is reduced to this anguished problem: can an educated man, a contemporary European believe, really believe in the divinity of the son of God, Jesus Christ?" By now the religious problem plays itself out at the level of this question. In any case and for any individual who hears it, the mere fact that even one man claims: "God was made man," presents a radical, unavoidable problem for the religious life of humanity.

Soren Kierkegaard wrote in his Journals: "The basest form of scandal in human terms is to leave the whole problem of Christ without a solution. The truth is that the Christian imperative - you must - has been completely forgotten. That Christianity has been announced to you means that you must assume a position in Christ's regard. He himself, or the fact that He exists, or the fact that He existed represents the one decision to be made in life." There are certain provocations that, because of their radical nature, man cannot eliminate or censure once he has perceived them, if he is to act as a man. Man is forced to answer yes or no. The mere fact that he has heard the news that one man declared: "I am God," means that he cannot be indifferent to it. He must arrive at his own conviction as to whether the news is true or false. [...]

The Christian imperative is that the content of its message presents itself as a fact. This cannot be stressed enough. An insidious cultural disloyalty, aided by the ambiguity and fragility of Christians as well, has facilitated the dissemination of a vague notion of Christianity as a discourse or doctrine and perhaps, therefore, a fable or moral. No. First and foremost it is a fact - a man joined the ranks of men.

But the imperative embraces another aspect of the fact: the advent of that man is an announcement transmitted down through the years to us today. To this very day, this event has been proclaimed and announced as the event of a Presence. That one man said: "I am God," and that this is passed on as a present fact, forcefully demands a personal stance. We can smile about it or decide not to bother with it: this would mean, in any case, that we decided to resolve the problem in a negative way, that we have not wanted to face up to a proposal whose dimensions are so great that they are beyond the realms of human imagination.

This is why society so often turns away from this announcement and wishes to confine it to churches and the individual conscience. What society finds most disturbing is the vastness of the dimensions of the problem: whether he did or did not exist, or rather, whether he does exist or existed; whether we can verify it or not; this is the greatest decision of our existence.

Luigi Giussani, At the Origin of the Christian Claim (pp. 33-34)

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