Sunday, August 17, 2008

Giussani on melancholy

In the Assembly at the end of chapter two of Is It Possible to Live This Way?, Giussani talks about the need to begin from what he calls "a positive hypothesis" (pg. 110). After explaining this by using an example of his own early struggles as a young student with mathematics, he is asked how his insistence on the need to approach living with a positive hypothesis coheres with his praise of a melancholy disposition in School of Community. Given my own predisposition, which, as I get older, becomes more my intentional disposition, I understood his reply because it rings true in my experience, particularly of my inward state, my I.
St. Augustine

"The melancholy temperament is defined as positive in as much as it is predisposed to intuit more easily the limits that exist in what seems obvious in all things. All things are limited" (pg. 111).
I think a good exemplar of this so-called melancholy disposition that arises from the realization that all things are limited, keeping in mind that God is not a thing, a mere existent, is St. Augustine. This characteristic, which he expresses so well in all his writings, in my view, is what makes the late, great bishop of Hippo Regius perennially so contemporary.

Giussanni goes on to explore melancholy a bit more extensively, positing a different kind of melancholy, in addition to the one he praises.
"There is a melancholy that makes one understand the limits of things, and that, therefore, makes you understand that things are made and sustained by another and it thrusts you into the search for something else" (ibid).
This "something else," which turns out to be some One else, is, again, not a thing bound by the limits of the world. He is Christ.

Then, there is a melancholy, best described as depression, which seems to be a pandemic in western society,
"that says 'Everything is nothing.' Like certain people who afterwards, give you a stomach ache, because they come to be consoled by you, and you tell them: 'But no, there are also good things,' they say: 'No, everything is nothing, nothing is worth anything'; 'Then get out and go home!'" (pgs. 111-112)
In reading this I became fully aware that it is Christ who prevents my melancholy, which arises from my realization that the world is limited, as are both my perception and intuition, from becoming depression. Christ grants me victory in my struggle. Indeed, "the victory that conquers the world is our faith" (1 Jn 5,3b). He makes me whole because in Him I find the Other that my I seeks, an Other that is not subject to limitations of mere things and who shows me that my destiny also lies beyond the limitations of things.


  1. I like your perspective. Have you ever read Burton's "Anatomy of

  2. one melancholy looks, while the other one refuses to look because it knows better...

  3. No, I haven't read Burton's book.

    Fred, I think your summary is spot on.

  4. Wait... There is a book called School of Community? (I'm still very green about all these texts...)


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