Jacques Maritain Center : Readings

Jacques Maritain's Notebooks



Chapters I and II of these Notebooks were written, Chapter IV begun, in 1954. Then came a long interruption due to the resumption of my philosophical work, to the trials of health which visited us, and to the death of our little sister Vera, the 31st of December, 1959.

Now all things have been shattered or dislocated in me, since the thunderbolt which began the last illness of Raissa (precisely at the moment when, arriving from America, we were passing through the door of the hotel room, in Paris, the 7th of July, 1960). At the end of four months of suffering, the 4th of November, 1960, God took her with Him, and I am henceforth alone here on earth, at least according to the appearances of this visible world.

The old broken tree, which still has a few roots in the earth, some others already delivered to the winds of Heaven, is it perhaps going for a short time still to continue to bear a little fruit on half-detached branches which incline towards the ground? I thought of these things while passing, in the garden of Kolbsheim, before an old cherry tree ill-treated by the storm -- it was during the summer of 1961 -- without suspecting that a few days later I was going to read the intimate notes and notebooks of Raissa, and that it would be granted to me to be able to transcribe them and to publish them: which is the greatest blessing in all my life's work for which I have to give thanks.

Why have I returned after this to my own notes, which beside those of Raissa are nothing? It is because at their level they can, I believe, have some utility, as indicated in the Preface; and it is because it was fitting in any case to complete this first volume (it has much chance of also being the last). Originally, it was a posthumous work that I had in view. The publication of Raissa's Journal (private edition, 1962; commercial edition the following year) caused me to change my mind, for the things of which it is a question in this first volume form as it were an external framework in which certain pages of the Journal situate themselves; I prefer therefore that it appear at this time.

The publication of Raissa's Journal has also led me to modify the composition of this volume in question, by completing it with three chapters (Chapters VI, VII and VIII) which matter to me much more than the chronological order of my notes: one is devoted to the memory of our sweet Vera; the other touches on some fundamental themes for Christian life, on which the Journal has cast a great light for me. The last one treats of the Church of Heaven.

Chapter III was written in 1964; Chapter IV, part in 1954 and part in 1961; Chapter V in 1963 (and, for the last pages, in 1964), Chapter VI in 1964; Chapter VII in 1962; Chapter VIII in 1963.

I leave, without changing anything in it, the Preface which I had written in 1954, at a time when they were both there, and when the word "happiness" still had a meaning for me.

Kolbsheim, 12th of September, 1964


Preface (1954)

These Notebooks are not a Journal. Of the things which composed the substance of our life, Raissa has spoken in Les Grandes Amitiés as she alone could do; a certain limpidity of memory, limpidity in depth, is the privilege of very pure souls. I hope that it will be granted to her to continue her memoirs, interrupted, alas, by a long series of trials of health. If I happen to touch in these notes on some of the subjects of a purely personal order which she will have to evoke in them, this will be in an extrinsic and merely documentary manner. I shall note however in the first fragments many of the memories which are dear to us and which happen to fit into what she has written or prepare for what she intends to say. Apart from these exceptions, my aim is above all to deposit in the dossier of the history of our time some data concerning external facts and external debates with which the events of our life found themselves intermingled. Even if it concerns secondary points, I thought that a testimony of this kind could have its utility.

The idea of writing these notebooks came to me during the long days of immobility which a coronary thrombosis suffered at the end of March 1954 made necessary. In thinking of it beforehand, my imagination enveloped it with the airy wings of dream, I filled it with details and with reflections to which the life of dream lent an illusory interest. At the instant of executing my purpose, all of this becomes very cold and very dry.

What am I, I asked myself then. A professor? I think not; I taught by necessity. A writer? Perhaps. A philosopher? I hope so. But also a kind of romantic of justice too prompt to imagine to himself, at each combat entered into, that justice and truth will have their day among men. And also perhaps a kind of spring-finder who presses his ear to the ground in order to hear the sound of hidden springs, and of invisible germinations. And also perhaps, like every Christian, despite and in the midst of the miseries and the failures and all the graces betrayed of which I am becoming conscious in the evening of my life, a beggar of Heaven disguised as a man of the world, a kind of secret agent of the King of Kings in the territories of the prince of this world, taking his risks like Kipling's cat, who walked by himself.

As a child I detested the idea of resembling, as the friends of the family used to delight in kindly pointing out, the bust of my grandfather which adorned the mantlepiece of my mother's drawingroom. It was not solely pride, nor revolt at not being "only myself." I had the presentiment of a kind of fatal element, and of what there was of violence and of bitterness, mingled with much grandeur and much generosity, in my hereditary line. If all of this was able to find itself pacified and softened in me, and did not disturb too much the progress of the so marvelously united little flock of our three souls, I think, without speaking of Christian grace, which is clearly the essential, that it was due to the meeting of the traditions of spiritual refinement, of innocence and of nostalgia for the absolute, present in the ancestral line of Raissa and of Vera. I feel myself thus a debtor to Israel. I do not like, moreover, the grossness of the Gentiles, I would like to be as little as possible a goïsche kop, I would like to be a Jew by adoption, since I have been introduced by baptism into the dignity of the children of Israel.

The aid and the inspiration of my beloved Raissa have penetrated all my life and all my work. If there is something good in what I have done, it is to her, after God, that I owe it. The radiance of her love and the pure fervor of her wisdom, her force of soul, her exquisite sense of the true and of the just, the blessing of God on her prayer and her sufferings, have illumined my days. Our sister Vera has given both of us total devotion, the treasures of charity of an admirably magnanimous heart, and the incomparable support of the assistance which she receives from her intimacy with Jesus. I wish that my gratitude to both of them be inscribed at the front of this collection of remembrances.

Princeton, N.J., 1st of August, 1954

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