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Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Religious Sense: A Concise Summary

Below is a summary of Luigi Giussani's book “The Religious Sense”, in the form of extracts from the book (one sentence per chapter). With all of its digressions, excerpts from poems, and technical language, it can be hard to see the forest for the trees. So it is helpful to see the structure of his argument in a few short paragraphs.


Our first premise is the need for realism, and this points to the primacy of the object: the method by which something is approached is determined by the object; it is not imagined at the subject’s whim. The second premise is reasonableness – emphasizing concern and love for rationality, and this brings to light the acting subject, and the manner of the subject’s movements. The third premise is that we must love the truth more than ourselves, we must love the truth of the object more than the image that we have formed of it, we must acquire a poverty of spirit, we must have eyes that confront reality and truth wide open, like the eyes of children.

From a methodological point of view, the starting point for an inquiry into the religious sense is one’s own experience, oneself-in-action. In addition, only the hypothesis of God, only the affirmation of the mystery as a reality existing beyond our capacity to fathom entirely, only this hypothesis corresponds to the human person’s original structure.

People assume “unreasonable” positions before the questions which constitute the religious sense; for example, they attempt to empty the questions of their content. Or they reduce it to positions that do not entirely correspond to all of the factors which experience shows to us to be in play. The consequences of these positions are contrary to nature: the individual breaks with the past, becomes incommunicative, and loses his freedom. Yet people abandon themselves to these positions because of the domination of preconception, the tyranny of prejudice.

The way reality strikes an individual awakens within him a voice which draws him towards a meaning which is further on, further up. The world in its impact with the human being functions as a sign, “demonstrates” something else, it demonstrates “God.” The sign is an event to interpret and freedom is exercised in the interpretation of the sign. The fundamental problem of the great adventure of this “sign” which is the world, is education in freedom because only through this education, this adventure, can destiny become evident.

Reason, in order to be faithful to its nature and to the nature of the calling of reality, is forced to admit the existence of something else underpinning and explaining everything, of the Beyond. This hypothesis of revelation must respect two conditions: it must be a word that is comprehensible to man, and it must not reduce mystery but rather deepen it.

A Shorter Summary, from Chapter 14

The world is a sign. Reality calls us on to another reality. By nature, the human being intuits the Beyond. Reality awakens his religious sense. But it is a suggestion that is misinterpreted. Existentially, the human being is driven to interpret it prematurely, with impatience. The intuition of our relationship with mystery becomes degraded into presumption. Thus, as Aquinas says, it was “necessary to teach men this divine truth with a divine revelation.”


  • I don't like the idea from the last paragraph that an all-powerful God accidentally made human beings that can't intuit his existence properly and he later realized they needed to be taught through revelation. I guess the God of that paragraph is NOT omnipotent or all-seeing but rather just bigger and better than us but still with failings. That seems to contradict a lot of religious teaching but seems more likely than a perfect God given the state of the world.

    By Blogger Thomas David Baker, at 1/23/2011 10:01 AM  

  • @Tom - Interesting point about the God of the last paragraph here. I could have worded things inaccurately, as I was rushing a bit to summarize this book.

    We can get a more accurate picture of the mind of the Church from this excerpt from the Catechism: "Man stands in need of being enlightened by God's revelation, not only about those things that exceed his understanding, but also 'about those religious and moral truths which of themselves are not beyond the grasp of human reason, so that even in the present condition of the human race, they can be known by all men with ease, with firm certainty and with no admixture of error.'"

    So there is much religious and moral truth that man can grasp by human reason, but God assists us with revelation that we would know it "with ease, with firm certainty and with no admixture of error." Which sounds good to me - I like easy.

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 7/21/2011 7:50 PM  

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