Abraham: The Birth of the I, the Birth of a People

  • Hammerstein Ballroom 311 W 34th St New York, NY 10001

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A Jewish and Catholic perspective on the relationship between belonging and individual identity, with David FLATTO, Associate Professor of Law, Religion, and History at Penn State Law, and Fr. Rich VERAS, Pastor of the Church of Saint Rita, New York.

We live in times where the word “belonging” often has a negative connotation, namely diminishment or alienation of one’s own individuality and freedom. And yet, in real life, we feel the need to be part of something greater that can enter into the definition of who we are and differentiate us from others (e.g.,, social networking, political parties, social or religious groups). The sense of pride in “belonging” to the American people is also another undeniable fact. Why is that? Is belonging a real existential need? In the Jewish and Catholic traditions the word belonging is not viewed with suspicion but just the opposite, it is connected with personal salvation.

“Without Abraham, if Abraham had never been, then we would not be here now. Hebrew Psalm-writing or Hebrew prophesying, Jewish commitment or the Jewish manner of living in the world, are not like clothes on a figure, but are the origin of the figure, the figure in its origin. So that we cannot understand what the “I” is, the “I” who weeps, laughs, commits himself, the “I” who lives or dies, a man cannot understand himself, nor can he love others as himself, except through God of whom he is born. Otherwise the shape of the event falls apart, blurring its sharpness. Most Christians–especially those who have studied theology–have not yet realized the value of the history of the Hebrew people for themselves. Because all the moves God makes with man pass through that history, those names: Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah […] the history of a preference, the expression of God. This is the essence of Jewish thought, and this is our first move. We cannot understand the “I” if we do not start from Abraham. God called Abraham. What does this story teach us? That the “I” is vocation, a choice as preference. So that, from the day of that call onwards, the “I” is understood as an event within history. An event of dependence on God and of belonging to God. History is the “I” revealing itself in this vocation, which becomes belonging and dependence. The “I” is understood in time, in this relationship with God that is a history: the Covenant. Jesus is understood in the unfolding procession of men starting with Abraham, Moses, David […] . Only from within this history is the Christian conception of the “I” and of reality developed – a revolution in the way of looking at the world.”

(Luigi Giussani, Notes from a dialogue with some CL members in January 2001 published in Traces, February 2001)