Jacques Maritain Center : The Very Rich Hours of Jacques Maritain / by Ralph McInerny




1906 July 6. Confirmation at Grenoble after a short retreat at LaSalette. December 11. Vera, Raïssa's sister, comes to live with the Maritains in Heidelberg. She will live with the Maritains for the rest of her life, Martha to Raïssa's Mary, secretary, research assistant, nurse....
1907January. Raïssa, seriously ill, receives last Sacraments. Recovers after intercession to Our Lady of LaSalette. August 24. Jacques visits on behalf of Péguy the latter's old friend, Louis Baillet, monk in the exiled community of Solesmes on the Isle of Wight. Meets Dom Delatte, the abbot. Péguy advised to have his children baptized. Maritain carries the message. Return to Germany. Bergson's Creative Evolution. December 8. Pope Pius X issues Pascendi, condemnation of Modernism.
1908Spring. Decision to break with Bergsonism.
June. Return from Germany; Péguy still waffling. Maritain adopts "dogmatic manner, naively and unbearably arrogant" in effort to move Péguy.
October. Apartment in Paris. Hack work.
November. First visit to Père Clérissac.
1909Early in year Raïssa begins to read Thomas Aquinas at suggestion of Père Clérissac.
June 22. Unfortunate and unsuccessful visit to Péguy's wife in effort to persuade her to have children baptized.
October 14. Move to Versailles to be near Clérissac.
1910June. Jacques's first publication. "Modern Science and Religion," appears in the Revue de Philosophie.
Sept. 15. Begins reading the Summa theologiae.
December. Refuses offer from Henri de Gaulle (father of Charles) to succeed him as professor at Ecole Sainte-Geneviève.
1911Both Raïssa and Vera ill. Jacques suffers severe temptations against faith.
1912February 21. Under pseudonym Jacques Favelle, at the painter's request, Maritain writes preface to the catalog of Georges Rouault's first exhibition.
September 29. Jacques, Raïssa, and Vera become oblates of Saint Benedict.
October 2. Vow by Jac ques and Raïssa to live as brother and sister.
1913February. Conversion of Ernest Psichari, grandson of Ernest Renan. Bergsonian Philosophy, Jacques's first book, published.
Meets Louis Massignon, Henri Massis. Dreams of a Catholic publication.
1914Spring. Remarkable lectures on the spirit of modern philosophy at the Institut Catholique, to whose faculty Jacques is appointed in June.
August 3. World War I begins. The Maritains vacation on Isle of Wight. Geneviève Favre urges her son to recognize his duty to the fatherland. Jacques demurs, says he is a prisoner on the Isle where "democracy has exiled the monks for the crime of prayer." His mother tells him to stay in England. "In 1914, just as twenty-five years later in the context of annother war, the Maritains were conscious of spiritual responsibilities demanded by their circumstances." (Jean-Luc Barré)
August 22. Pschari killed in action.
September 5. Péguy killed in action.
October. Jacques returns to France, his exemption confirmed, considered unfit for service.
November 6. Resumes teaching, lecturing on German philosophy.
November 15/16. Père Clérissac dies.
Père Dehau becomes their spiritual director.
1916Jacques begins teaching a course at the Petit Seminaire of Versailles.
1917Temporary mobilization.
April 16. First letter from Pierre Villard.
November 3. Death of Léon Bloy.
1918March 26-April 10. Visit to Rome. Audience with Benedict XV.
Jacques decides against publishing his manuscript on LaSalette.
June 30. Death of Pierre Villard. Jacques named joint heir with Charles Maurras, founder of Action Française.
Jacques goes on leave.
November 11. Armistice.



In 1905, Jacques Maritain passed his agrégation en philosophie, and was thus qualified to teach in a lycée. The following year was the decisive one of their conversion. Then, thanks to a fellowship he had received, still not having informed their parents of their conversion, Jacques and Raïssa left for Heidelberg where they would spend the next two years, soon joined by Vera, who had also become a Catholic. There would be periodic visits to France.

Jacques and Raïssa had learned from their godfather their overriding purpose of life, to become holy even as their heavenly father was holy, to become saints. It was to this exalted goal that they committed themselves. Jacques tells us how their days in Heidelberg were regulated.

7:15Mass and Holy Communion. On return from Church, read a bit while their breakfast was prepared. Then, until 11:30 Jacques worked.
1:30-12:15Prayer and then lunch.
After lunchWork, Latin, Gerrman, various readings.
5:00Visit to the Blessed Sacrament.
6:30 or 7:00Chatting, reading a conference of Father Faber or another spiritual writer.
8:00Compline, Rosary. Finally, Jacques read dogmatic literature in the kitchen after the two sisters had gone to bed.

I have taken this from a passage in which Jacques mixes up Raïssa's and Vera's day with his own. In the mornings. Vera shopped or played the harmonium while Raïssa read. Raïssa had become a passionate devotee of the writings of the English Oratorian, Father Faber. Their prayer was the liturgy of the hours. The passage is included in his notes for 1907, but from the time of his conversion it was clear that the change was not merely a superficial one occupying a special area of attention. Jacques, his wife, and her sister had embarked on a life that would enable them to avoid the single tragedy mentioned at the end of The Woman Who Was Poor. They were in quest of sanctity. How were they to go about it?


What did they learn from Léon Bloy about the way to become one of the saints? First of all, Scripture. Bloy was a constant teacher of the Bible and derived a good deal of his literary inspiration from it. He became himself a prophetic writer who inveighed against the sins of the times with the authority of of one sent by God. In the book that all but overwhelmed Raïssa, Salvation by the Jews, Bloy announced that he spoke the truth in Christ. "I suffer a great sorrow and in my heart I have unceasing grief. For I wished to be an anathema from Christ, on behalf of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, whose is the adoption as the children and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the law and the liturgy and the promises, to whom the fathers belong, and from whom is Christ accor ding to the flesh."{1} From Bloy, they learned that Christ was the key to the link between the Old and New Testaments. That Christianity represented the fulfillment of her Jewish patrimony understandably had a great attraction for Raïssa, and just as understandably, she spent many pages defending Bloy against the charge of anti-Semitism, a charge based on certain intemperate remarks scattered through what is an all but unrestrained celebration of the role of the Jews in salvation. But the first blessing they received from Bloy was this reverence for the Word of God.

Was Bloy unique in this? What of the widespread view that Catholics eschewed the Bible? The liturgy is the main vehicle through which Scripture came to Catholics: the readings in the Mass, the ceaseless recitation of the psalms in religious houses through out the world. But for Bloy, as for Paul Claudel, the Book itself was a constant companion, an inspiration; and eventually both Bloy and Claudel wrote commentaries on parts of it.

Another factor prior to conversion was a visit to the cathedral of Chartres where they "read this great book of Christianity." For three days, they studied the architecture, the sculpture, the windows. "But in its first aspect, in its plastic language, it was for us a master-teacher of theology, of sacred history and of exegesis. It repeated for us what La Salut par les Juifs had just told us; that the two Testaments are united in the person of Christ; that the old prefigures the New and is its basis, just as the New is the fulfillment and crown of the Old."{2} For the Maritains, as it had for the illiterate of the Middle Ages, the cathedral served as a catechism in glass and stone.

Bloy did not address their intellectual doubts or fashion arguments to counter them. He would have been incapable of this in any case. Rather, he read to them from the lives of the saints. Saint Angela of Foligno, in the translation of Ernest Hello, Bloy also spoke of Ruysbroeck, citing sentences from the mystic that went to the hearts of the young couple. He also read to them from the visions of Anne Catherine Emmerich, a German nun whose visions recount the life of Christ in a detail that goes far beyond the gospels. In them Catherine speaks of what she is seeing, and the narrative functions as a kind of running commentary on and supplement to the Evangelists' accounts of the life of Jesus. Neither Jacques nor Raïssa knew anything of Catholic history, dogma, theology, liturgy, or mysticism, and Raïssa thought that if they had at the time been offered a sober catechetical account of it all, it would have been of little help. It was then they were given a copy of Father Surin's Spiritual Catechism. It was a gift of Georges Sorel who also put them onto Father Poulain's The Graces of Prayer.

They were thus given instruction in the Christian life in terms of which they would later understand the dogmatic and moral content of the faith. In this they might have been following the advice of Pascal, a favorite author at the time. In the famous passage in which Pascal commends Christian faith as a good bet, a win-win proposition (either it was true and you go to heaven or it was false, death is the end, and you were no longer around to be a loser -- not the most edifying passage in apologetic literature), Pascal goes on to say something of enormous importance. How does one set out on the path that seems open before one? How have others gone down it? "By doing everything as if they already believed, in taking holy water, in having masses said." It is the practice, the imitation of the acts of the faithful person, that can be a prelude to the gift of faith. Is the reader displeased by the Pascalian gamble? Then he should know "that it was written by a man who knelt down before and after writing it, to pray to that infinite being without parts, to whom he submits all that he is" and hopes that the reader will also so submit. As Pascal famously remarked, "Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connait point," something clear in a thousand ways. "It is the heart that knows God, not reason. That's what faith is. God sensible to the heart, not to reason."{1}

This gives us some indication of the direction Jacques and Raïssa were given for the development of their spiritual lives "We studied the Scriptures, we read the liturgy for each day, as our godfather had advised us, the lives of the saints, and the writings of the mystics."{4} But there was another feature of what Léon Bloy bequeathed them, his devotion to the Blessed Virgin.


For Bloy, Mary was "She who weeps" (Celle qui pleure), the Virgin who had appeared at LaSalette to two little shepherds on September 19, 1846, and revealed such dire predictions of what lay ahead for the world. He wrote a book on LaSalette with that title. Jacques's grandfather, Jule Favre, as a lawyer represented a woman who had been accused of deluding the young shepherds and had decided to sue her accusers. He won the case.

As for Bloy, he came to feel that he had a mission to write about the apparitions.

I was born in 1846, at the moment willed by God, seventy days before the apparition. I therefore belong to LaSalette, in a rather mysterious fashion, and you have been chosen to put me in a position to write what must be written -- at last! Each day this book is growing within me, and I marvel that after so many years of gestation it is asked of me at the very hour when the terrible threats of LaSalette seem about to be accomplished. What do I think? you ask. It is simple. Happy and blessed are those who have learned to suffer. The hour of reckoning is coming, and there is much to be paid for, infinitely more than one thinks.... The continual expectation of divine catastrophes has become my reason for being, my destiny: if you wish, my art. I have all my roots in the Secret of LaSalette, and this is doubtless why the conspiracy of Silence has tried to assassinate me. I have spent my life in indignation at not seeing the deluge." (Letter to Pierre Tempier, Dec. 21, 1906){5}

In her memoir, Raïssa made no secret of the fact that she regarded LaSalette as more extraordinary than Lourdes, despite all the cures there, and the importance lay in the apocalyptic messages given the two shepherds, Melanie Calvat and Maximin Giraud. These two children -- Melanie, 15, Maximin, 11 -- were watching cows in a remote alpine pasture above the town of LaSalette in the area of Grenoble. Having eaten their lunch, they fell asleep and, when they awoke, their cows were gone. In a panic, they began to search and soon found them peacefully grazing. Melanie's eye was caught by an extremely bright light. The children approached, and from it emerged the vision of a woman, seated, weeping. She wept throughout the time she spoke to them, giving them a message to be addressed to all the people. Her son, she said, was angry at the misdeeds of people, and grievous punishments would befall them if they did not repent. Divine mercy was promised if sinners mended their ways. Special mention was made of blasphemy and not keeping holy the Lord's day. Such was the public message. But each of the children was given a private message that the other could not hear. The Bishop of Grenoble appointed a commission to look into the claims and the commission concluded that the reality of the apparition should be acknowledged. Several miraculous cures took place.

Great opposition to LaSalette sprang up, within and without the Church, and the miracles were derided. The two secrets were communicated to Pope Piux IX in 1851 by the seers, on the advice of the bishop of Grenoble. Much of the future controvery about LaSalette would relate to these secret communications and their apocalyptic contents. Melanie was authorized by Our Lady to make known the private communication in 1858. It was when a new bishop was appointed, the former having resigned, that the accusation was made against Madame Lamerlière, which led to her successful suit against her accusers, conducted by the grandfather of Jacques Maritain. Attention has focused on the secret of Melanie, since Maximin never authorized any of the several versions of his secret that circulated. According to The Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), a question has arisen as to whether the version published in 1879 is identical to that sent to the pope in 1851. An English translation of Melanie's secret has thirty-three numbered paragraphs. It is easy to see, first why Léon Bloy took such relish in it, and, second, why it stirred up such indignant opposition. The coming chastisement in punishment for sins is described in terrifying terms. Priests are excoriated for their bad lives, irreverence, impiety in saying Mass, love of money, honor, and pleasure. "The priests have become cesspools of impurity" (#2). Prayer and penance have been neglected by the leaders of the people, with the result that the devil has darkened their minds. "Society is on the eve of the most terrible scourges and of the greatest events; one must be expected to be ruled with an iron rod and to drink the chalice of the wrath of God" (#6). The pope is urged to stand fast, to remain in Rome, and to be wary of Napoleon, who aspires to be pope as well as emperor (##7 and 8). The pope will have much to suffer, there will be persecutions of the Church, there will be a frightful crisis in the Church (#13). Religion will be set aside for materialism, atheism, spiritualism, and all kinds of vices (#17). Natural disasters, wars, earthquakes, and the coming of the Antichrist are predicted. "Rome will lose the faith and become the seat of the Antichrist"(#28).{6}

One can see that these prophesies -- with their descriptions of the world in which Jacques and Raïssa found themselves, descriptions they accepted and which had brought them to the brink of despair -- coupled with the living witness to holiness of Léon Bloy, would find ready acceptance by the Maritains. Raïssa notes that such private revelations are not, of course, binding on anyone, though she also cautions against imprudent dismissal of them. There is little doubt that Jacques and Raïssa embraced the apparitions of LaSalette and adopted their godfather's interpretation of them as well as the secret of Melanie. On June 24, 1907, returning from Heidelberg, they detoured to LaSalette, a journey that took them several days. The solitude and silence of the site captivated them. The three bronze statues of Mary, Melanie, and Maximin made vivid to them what had happened there. It was there that they prepared themselves for confirmation, which was conferred on them in Grenoble.


Marian devotion and spiritual direction would come together in a dramatic way some years later. Let us jump ahead, chronologically, to an episode Jacques Maritain considered to be important enough to receive a chapter of its own in his Carnet de notes, a chapter he calls "Our First Trip to Rome." This occurred in 1918, while World War I was on, and it concerned a manuscript Jacques had written on LaSalette. He called this the first of the Marian apparitions of modern times and one that has disturbed people for more than a century. He intended, in this chapter, to add a few items from his personal experience to the dossier. These would have, he hoped, some historical interest, however small. He added that the manuscript that occasioned his wartime trip to Rome was never published and he did not want it to be published, not even after his death, "even if, against all probability, one day circumstances have so changed as to permit its publication." After this, the reader's appetite will have been sufficiently whetted. What can be the point of a chapter devoted to a manuscript that never has been and never will be published?

Maritain mentioned the many personal reasons for his attachment to LaSalette -- his connection with Bloy, the novena at Heidelberg to Our Lady of LaSalette that seemed to have cured Raïssa, and his visit there with Raïssa prior to their confirmation. "The freshness of the impressions received up there, and, to employ a word of Ruysbroeck, 'the delicious taste of the Holy Spirit'" were unforgettable. The thought of the Mother of God weeping before those two young children over the offenses against her son, saying how much she has suffered for mankind, so much so that no amount of prayer could make up for it, overwhelmed Maritain. All the more so because the bloody reality of World War I seemed to fulfill the predictions made at LaSalette. All around him Maritain heard people cursing God for permitting such a dreadful slaughter to take place. Few Frenchmen seemed even to know about LaSalette, let alone to see its relevance to the times. Those who did were either put off by its stinging remarks on the clergy or embraced the apparition with such enthusiasm that, as Maritain put it, they seemed to regard it as a timetable of future events. This suggested a project to him.

He would take up the question of LaSalette in all its amplitude and, given the role of the "secret of Melanie," he would gather together everything bearing on the value of her testimony, driven only by a passion for the truth. The observations and memories of all who knew her must be collected while there was still time. He even linked the task to his grandfather, recalling Jules Favre's suit against those who accused his client of fraudulently tricking the young seers. Oddly, Maritain spoke of his own tendency, inherited from Jules Favre, to be a Don Quixote of lost causes. But in the case in point, Favre was a victor. (This is one of the rare references on Maritain's part to his antecedents.)

Maritain had been most impressed by Dom Delatte, the abbot of Solesmes, when he met the leader of the exiled Benedictine community on the Isle of Wight. Delatte had been sent there by Charles Péguy, as we shall see shortly. Jacques and Raïssa regarded the abbot as God's envoy to them during their early years in the Church. Consulted by Maritain about the LaSalette project, Delatte was completely opposed. In 1912, when Maritain had sent him a copy of Bloy's edition of the life of Melanie written by herself, he had been cautioned by the abbot against any mysticism not solidly grounded in the conceptual and doctrinal teaching of the Magisterium. Maritain replied with a long letter in which he sought to show the coincidence between what Melanie had written and Catholic teaching. Delatte, who was a burly virile fellow, replies with an expression of distaste for "the feminine path to the supernatural" (April 4, 1912). Say what you will, the Church has no need of such a supernatural which has done so much harm. Did Delatte perhaps think of the "little flock of three," with Jacques bracketed by two sisters?

Jacques said that he consulted his confessor, the Vicar General of Versailles, who approved and encouraged the project. And he again consulted Delatte. "In his reply, dated August 29 [1915], he condemned my project (which he said would ruin all the service Jacques would be able to give Truth and the Church and place him in discredit), but the condemnation was put in terms so violent that it had more the effect of annoying me than influencing my judgment."{7} Jacques says that, although Delatte occupied a pedestal for him, this disagreement did not change his plans. There were to be future storms that led to the estrangement between the two men. Another Benedictine, the abbot at Oosterhout, was favorable to Jacques's project when he was consulted.

The sketch of the project Jacques gives in the course of these memories is as follows: the apparition; the two witnesses; the public message; the secret of Melanie. Maritain consulted two priests who had known Melanie, one of whom had been her confessor. After praising the virtues of these priests, Maritain added that one had a passion for Nostradamus and the other had a tendency to want to "chronologize the Apocalypse." No matter, there were most fervent champions of Melanie in Italy "who were more interested in the depths of her soul than extraordinary supernatural things." Presumably there was no question in wartime of consulting the several Italian bishops mentioned, but Maritain felt that the two French priests cited gave him a solid sense of the character and virtues of the shepherdess of LaSalette, although he was relying on earlier visits to them.

Just when he was making good progress on his memoir, a group of LaSalette devotees launched an attack on the bishops of France that compromised the whole question of the apparition. On January 12, 1916, the Holy Office issued a decree forbidding any sort of treatment or discussion of the Secret of LaSalette under any pretext or in any form, such as books, pamphlets, signed or anonymous articles . So here was Jacques Maritain, with his memoir well under way, more than ever convinced that he had been right to undertake it, but stymied now by an official prohibition. What to do? In these circumstances he felt that he must himself go to Rome with his memoir to see if an exception to the ban might be made for it.

Two years passed between the initial thought of the expedition and its execution. Many complicating factors arose. Europe was engulfed in war. Could Raïssa undertake so fatiguing a voyage? It never seemed to occur to Jacques that he might go without her. He characterized himself as naive (and adds that he hopes to remain so all his life) but not unaware of what he might face. Here he was, a convert, a godson of Léon Bloy, one who had become a Thomist and received a doctorate from Rome, now squandering his prestige on the cause of a seer who was little loved by the French clergy and whose prophetic message was, to say the least, a cause of controversy. All the objections seemed to counsel prudence in the modern sense of the term, grounded in the way this trip might harm him.

While valuable, these reasons were not decisive for one who, if he had been moved by comparable reasons, would never have sought baptism. Hadn't he thought that he would have to renounce philosophy in order to become a Christian? That earlier experience of letting truth trump every other consideration influenced him now. And he cited the persuasiveness of Raïssa. One day she felt it was time to make the trip to Rome. Jacques had undertaken his memoir for the sake of the truth and in the hope of serving the wishes of the Blessed Virgin. If it came to that, he was ready to obey a negative decision in Rome if his memoir were judged to come under interdiction of the Holy Office. Men might run the Church, but Jacques had confidence in it. His later experience as an ambassador confirmed his lifelong conviction that those who sought to proceed by intrigue and calculation invariably failed in their purpose, whereas those who gambled on candor and grace always in the end won through -- though not always, he mordantly added, this side of the grave.{8}

So off to Rome on March 26, 1918, went Jacques Maritain and his frail wife. His plan was to consult immediately with his Dominican friend and mentor, Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange. The Maritains were met in Rome by the future Carmelite, Bruno of Jesus and Mary, who was studying at the Angelicum, the Dominican university in Rome. Bruno became their guide a round the city, and they made pilgrimages to all the basilicas, to the catacombs, to the room in which Saint Benedict Labre died, and many other places as well. More apropos, Garrigou-Lagrange read and liked Jacques's memoir. "The Blessed Virgin indeed loves you," the saintly Dominican said. "You will suffer much." Jacques was advised to go see the pope. On the morning of April 2 the Maritains were received by Benedict XV who addressed Jacques as Monsieur le docteur, asked after the bishop of Versailles and went on to Big Bertha, the cannon with which Paris was being bombarded. And finally to the reason for the visit. The pope was quick to reveal his sentiments toward LaSalette. "The apparition itself is beyond doubt, but the words of the Blessed Virgin to Melanie, especially the severe judgment of the clergy, can they be certain?" It is not that there could not be a general complaint about the clergy, but the exaggerated claims attributed to her by Melanie were fantastic, no matter the girl's sincerity and good intentions. The papal judgment on the secret message: "Quoad substantiam concedo, quoad singula verba nego: As to the substance, I agree, but as to the particular words, no." The Holy Office wanted to avoid unnecessary scandal. The pope than asked Jacques whether he himself thought the Blessed Virgin had spoken thus.

"What to do? Contradict the pope? All I could see is that in any case I was going to displease someone, either the pope or the Blessed Virgin. So, without hesitation, it would be better to displease the pope. So I answered like a great nincompoop -- but it is one of the rare moments in my life that I had the impression of performing an act with which I could be truly satisfied."

Jacques told the pope Melanie was a saint and that what she had reported was true. Soon Raïssa broke in to add her own arguments.

The upshot was that the pope referred Jacques to Cardinal Billot, suggesting that he first talk about philosophy with him, then bring up LaSalette. The pope went on to give detailed advice on how to approach the cardinal. Jacques refused, saying he had resolved to speak to the pope alone about his memoir and he did not want to compromise himself as a philosopher by bringing it up with Billot.

This is a remarkable account. And it is of fundamental importance for showing how profound was the influence of Léon Bloy on Maritain's spirituality. On the margin of the account, other important factors come to the fore. The reference to Jacques's confessor tells us that, apart from daily Mass and communion, he frequently availed himself of the Sacrament of Penance. Moreover, he had a number of spiritual directors, not least Dom Delatte, the abbot of Solesmes. Nor should we overlook his relative independence of his advisors. Dom Delatte strongly advised against the path he was on with respect to LaSalette, and Jacques contested him at length. Other give him the go-ahead, but we are not told on what their assurances were based. In Rome, Garrigou-Lagrange set up the meeting for him, doubtless desirous that a man he could rightly think of as his protegé in things Thomistic have an audience with the pope. (It was from the Angelicum, where Garrigou-Lagrange taught, that Maritain received his Roman doctorate in 1917.) The account, whether reconstructed at the time of the Carnet de notes or a contemporaneous account, shows us the young convert in his mid-thirties unintimidated by the pope, telling the Holy Father that he regards Melanie as a saint and her words true. But the two priests Maritain himself has met are scarcely disinterested -- one is a Nostradamus enthusiast -- and the Italian bishops Maritain had not consulted were presumably known to the Vatican.

All this is to be remembered when Maritain's swing to the right is considered. Some have sought to explain this by Maritain's susceptibility to the advice of his spiritual advisors. Everything points in the opposite direction.

But let us return to Heidelberg and those first days in the Church.


The three -- Jacques, Raïssa , and Vera -- had been baptized on June 11, 1906, in the church of St. John the Evangelist in Montmartre. Jacques and Raïssa arrived on August 27 in Heidelberg, where Jacques would study the current state of biology in Germany, thanks to a fellowship that had been granted him by the Michonis Fund. The original plan had been to visit all the chief German universities, but Raïssa's illness prevented this. In the summer of 1904, an abcess her throat almost choked her, and in the country she submitted to an operation that saved her life but left her open to recurrences of the same problem. When they were married on November 26, 1904, Jacques perhaps already realized that he had taken a semi-invalid for his wife. Thus it was that their German plans had to be altered, and they settled in Heidelberg, where Jacques followed the work of Hans Dreisch.

But while ordinary academic pursuits continued. the young converts were trying to find a modus vivendi between those pursuits and the quest for holiness. Jacques records on October 28 that he had embarked on an Introduction to the Life of Raïssa, written only for the three of them, the introduction of which he had completed. He indicates that he was influenced by Léon Bloy's fascination with Raïssa's Jewish background as well as by the novelist's style. Although he sounds sheepish, he includes some pages of this project in the Carnet de notes.

Goodness. Purity. Raïssa always goes to the end with a right intention and honest will. Her courage is incalculable and her pity defenseless. Where there is no beauty she is suffocated and cannot live. She has always lived for the truth and has never resisted it. She has never tricked her mind nor lied about her sorrow. She gives always, holding nothing back. For her heart as for her understanding it is the essential reality that matters; no accessory of it can cause her to hesitate. Her thought and genius bring her always to intuition. Being completely interior, she is completely free. Her mind can only be content with the real, her soul with the absolute.{9}
One wonders what need there was for such an introduction if it was indeed written for only the author and the subject. Raïssa's sister had not yet become a part of the household. But these pages tell us that early on, Jacques was convinced that his wife had already reached the goal for which they were striving. What effect did he imagine reading these pages would have on Raïssa? Even making allowances for the excesses of French expression, it is difficult to read these pages without some embarrassment. The writer is a man who, mere months before, had found the world he had entered by baptism uncongenial and foreign. His ambitions had been described politically and socially rather than in terms of the inner life. The famous episode in the Jardin des Plantes did not envisage a contemplative outcome, but rather a clearing away of obstacles to a life of action. Now, as it must seem abruptly, Jacques Maritain has adopted a quite different conception of the aim of life, the acquisition of holiness; and he seemed to think his wife had already attained it. He loads onto the portrait of her life every known virtue and heroic stance. Much of this is connected with Léon Bloy's singular interpretation of the relationship of Judaism to Christianity. It is as if Raïssa had inherited all the virtues of the great women of the Bible and, simply by dint of being Jewish, had entry to the higher reaches of holiness.

One might regard this as understandable excess, an enthusiastic young husband's devotion to his fragile wife; but the fact is that a note is struck that will be struck again and again, reaching its climax when Jacques published his wife's journal after her death -- having edited it and prepared it for publication himself. He first circulated a private printing among a few friends, not all of whom seem to have shared his enthusiasm for the project, and then published it in a commercial edition. Jacques Maritain wanted the world to see his wife as a mystic on the order of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.

The finished pages seem to have had an immediate therapeutic purpose. "Raïssa, when you are afflicted, remember my testimony."{10} Was this fulsome praise meant as a palliative to Raïssa when she was down with one of her numerous and somewhat mysterious illnesses, her reclusive moods that would increasingly be described as mysical episodes?

In November they received the news that Jacques's sister Jeanne intended to have her daughter Eveline baptized, and they would be the godparents. Eveline would be the first of a long line of godchildren of Jacques and Raïssa Maritain. Like their own godfather, they regarded Catholicism as a good to be shared, and they were to see Raïssa's parents relax their opposition to their daughter's conversion, which at first they had regarded as treachery, and eventually come into the Church themselves. Jacques's mother Geneviève remained adamantly outside the faith that had once been hers, and she persisted for some time in thinking that Raïssa had led her son astray. She appealed to Péguy, with whom she had become close friends. It was the case of Charles Péguy that acquainted Maritain with the perils and pitfalls of evangelizing.


Charles Péguy did not share Maritain's admiration for Léon Bloy. He claimed never to have read a page of Bloy's and seems never even to have met the man. When Bloy sent him an ingratiating letter, Péguy refused to answer. Did he perhaps see in Bloy a rival for the role of surrogate father that he had been playing for Jacques? In any case, Péguy's situation vis-à-vis the Church was complicated. His wife was violently anticlerical, and his children were not baptized. Yet when Jacques began to move toward Catholicism, Péguy intimated to him that he too considered himself a Catholic: so much so that he sent Jacques on a mission to a boyhood friend, now a Benedictine monk with the community of Solesmes, which was then exiled to the Isle of Wight. Péguy had a message for his old friend so confidential that he did not wish to entrust it to the mail. Raïssa attributed Péguy's caution to his concern lest the subscribers to his Cahiers, hearing of his return to Catholicism, should abandon him. The journal, along with a bookshop, constituted Péguy's livelihood. Apparently what he wanted Jacques Maritain to do was assure the monk that he had returned to the faith but that he intended to keep this secret.

Maritain set off for the Isle of Wight and arrived on August 24, 1907, carrying the good news to Father Baillet. It was on this occasion as well that Jacques met the abbot, Dom Delatte, a man who was to play an important role as spiritual advisor to the Maritains over the next decade and more. While Jacques was on this mission, Péguy told Geneviève Favre that he had sent her son off in order to remove him from the influence of Léon Bloy. Jacques returned with the message that Baillet thought Péguy must, above all, see to the baptism of his children. When Jacques returned from Heidelberg the following summer, he found that Péguy was still in a state of indecision. Moreover, he resented being pressed on the matter, and observed that he was senior in age to Jacques. He had devised a special status for himself, in the Church but not of it, returned to the faith but without scaring off his socialist and Dreyfusard subscribers with this alarming news. If Péguy was equivocal, Maritain was categorical.

Strange alliances were formed. Jacques's mother was the ally of Péguy against her son, and she also became close to Ernest Psichari when relations between him and Jacques threatened to break. Geneviève Favre seemed determined to prevent her son from influencing, in the direction of the faith any of his friends. Did she know that the conversions of Psichari was a constant object of Jacques's prayers?

Maritain now functioned as a rebuke to Peguy, whose conscience was obviously speaking atainst his rationalized behavior. Things came to a climax when Jacques undertook to approach Madame Péguy and explain to her the need for the children to be baptized. Péguy's wife was obviously the stronger of the two in this matter and unable to bring her with him into the faith. Péguy himself believed everything but remained non-practicing, his children unbaptized. Jeanne Maritain accused Péguy of cowardice, and he told her to go tell it to his wife. In the end it was Jacques, not his sister, who undertook the delicate and doomed commission. Both the wife and the mother-in-law of Péguy took on the visitor and sent him packing.

Bitterness and estrangement between the two old friends followed, and harsh words were written by both. We are told by Raïssa that the two men reconciled in 1914, on the eve of the war. Like Ernest Psichari, who had converted, Péguy was a friend who was killed in action early in World War I. The second volume of Raïssa Maritain's memoirs indicates how tumultuous many of Jacques Maritain's friendships were.

The Péguy episode, however maladroit Maritain's behavior, introduces what would be a lifelong characteristic of the convert. His evangelizing impulse was strong, and, over his long life, he was the occasion for many gaining the grace of faith and coming into the Church. The number of his godchildren grew correspondingly. But the maladroitness and what he himself called naiveté never went away. The instances of Jean Cocteau and Andr é Gide can be added to a list of the big fish that got away.



As the academic year 1908 drew to a close, Raïssa was in bed for a month with a sore throat -- Jacques himself had diptheria -- and when they left Germany they lived for several months with Raïssa's parents. After that, there was a month on the Normandy coast where Raïssa was constantly ill. Their first home in Paris was on the Left Bank, not far from the Sorbonne and the shop of Charles Péguy. But in that same year, they moved to Versailles. They had a house there in which they lived until 1923, when they moved to a larger house at Meudon, their residence until the outbreak of World War II when they fled France.

In the Paris home, Jacques undertook to write for the publisher Hachette a Lexique orthographique with the help of Vera Oumansov, work obtained at the suggestion of Péguy. Jacques went on to more such hack work, a Dictionnaire de la vie pratique. Raïssa explained this, somewhat unconvincingly, as a deliberate decision to retain his philosophical independence. Her own illnesses continued, but with the resolution to avoid doctors, since she had never encountered any good one. She went on a rice-and-water diet, with some vegetables included. In Paris they saw few people: Erniest Psichari, the Bloys, Péguy. And then one day they went to Versailles to meet Father Humbert Clérissac.

The trip to the Isle of Wight on Péguy's behalf had brought Jacques into contact with Benedictine spirituality. Jacques was in the first flush of his conversion, driven by the hunger for sanctity he had learned from Léon Bloy. The abbot, Dom Delatte, in response to a question, discussed with Jacques the advisability of a spiritual director. Reading the lives of the saints would have acquainted him with the advisability of such an advisor for one who sought holiness. Raïssa's account of the role of Delatte, in the second volume of her memoirs, written in 1944, could be called a species of revisionism.{11} It would be important to her treatment of Jacques's involvement in Action Française to attribute this to Jacques's alleged susceptibility to his spiritual directors. Thus, her initial description of the abbot is ambiguous. Having called him magnificent and genial, "a veritable high priest, impressive for his authority and prestige," she continues, "as also for his haughtiness and his intransigence. But it was only many years afterwards that we became aware of these defects which cast a shadow upon this great personality." It is unfortunate that we have only Raïssa's account of a conversation that took place on a channel isle while she herself was in Paris. She portrayed the abbot as trying to loosen Jacques up by telling him there were only three cases in which one needed spiritual direction: when one was uncertain over his vocation, if one were morbidly scrupulous, or if one had extraordinary experiences, visions, and revelations. He told Jacques to pray about it for a year and, if a director was indicated, he would send him to his good friend Clérissac.

Raïssa's ambiguous introduction of Dom Delatte in her memoirs is difficult to reconcile with the continued closeness of Jacques with the Benedictine abbot. In 1926, for example, he urges Julien Green to visit Delatte. As for Jacques's supposed malleability, we have already mentiond that he ignored Delatte's advice in 1918 on the matter of the trip to to Rome to seek an exemption to the ban on writings about LaSalette.

When the year's wait that Delatte had advised was up, Jacques and Raïssa went to Versailles to see Father Clérissac. Now this would have put it in 1909. But the Maritains had moved to Versailles in 1908, so Raïssa's comparison of this first trip to their prospective spiritual director with the trip up the steps of Montemartre the first time they visited Léon Bloy must refer to the feelings they had. Their director: in Raïssa's account, we are given the impression that they were directed together. By contrast with her account of Delatte, Raïssa is lyrical in her praise of Clérissac. But in the case of the Dominican father, we have Jacques's own account of the man in a review he wrote for a posthumously published unfinished work of Clérissac's, Le mystière de l'eglise.{12}

Because religious orders could not maintain communities in France because of the hostility of the government to religious belief, Humbert Clérissac fulfilled his vocation as a member of the Order of Preachers by giving retreats in various countries -- Italy, notably, but also England, where he was acquainted with Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson. Among the books Clérissac recommended for reading was Benson's Lord of the World, and Maritain commented intriguingly. "I have always thought that Benson, who knew him [Clérissac] well, thought of him in describing the personage of the Pope in Lord of the World."{13} And Maritain reports Father Clérissac's enigmatic remark that he knew that Oscar Wilde had died in the faith because he was at his deathbed.{14} While somewhat hagiographic, Maritain's portrait of his first spiritual advisor is obviously an expression of filial gratitude. And it provides us with clues as to the spirituality to which the Dominican priest would have introduced Maritain.

A much repeated remark of Clérissac was: "Christian life is based on the intelligence." He was devoted to Saint Thomas Aquinas, and it was on his urging that Thomas Aquinas entered the intellectual and spiritual life of Jacques Maritain. His ideal was to live the truth. "God is above all else the Truth, go to him, love him under this aspect."{15} This was, in effect, a gloss on Saint Augustine's gaudium de veritate: rejoicing in the truth. Clérissac loved the Church and his love for the religious life was an expression of that love. The three vows of religion -- poverty, obedience, chastity -- are publicly accepted by the Church, which officially consecrates the human person somewhat as it does a chalice or an altar. A religious person is one whose life is devoted to the acquisition of perfection, of holiness. The many religious orders play different roles in the Church, but Clérissac thought of his own, the Dominicans, as especially called to fidelity to the truth. They were a race intellectuelle.

The Mass and the Divine Office were at the center of Clérissac's spiritual life, but Maritain adds that Clérissac had a horror of "ostentatious poverty."{16} He was devoted to the writings of Saint Catherine of Siena and read and reread Dante. How does Maritain describe him as a spiritual advisor? That he was inspired by two masters after his own heart, Saint Paul and Saint Thomas, as well as by Christian antiquity. He warned against preoccupation with oneself and was on the watch for individualism, meaning by it a tendency to make either sentiment or external activity dominate. Attention should always be on God, on divine truth, and the rest should be left to God. He advised prayer and contemplation over ascetic practices, seeing in them a surer way to be united with the Church. The ladder of perfection had two rungs, doctrine and liturgy. The liturgy was the life of the Church and he rejected any opposition between liturgy and private prayer. For all that, the opus Dei, the liturgy, was prayer par excellence. His devotion to the Blessed Virgin was marked, and Maritain gave an intimation of how this came out in the last series of sermons he heard Clérissac preach at Notre-Dame-de-Lorette in May 1914.

Speaking of Saint Teresa of Avila with great praise and of the concerted effort to acquire virtue, Clérissac added. "But don't forget that you are Merovingians, from a feudal society, what am I saying? Primitives. Never forget that you must let divine grace work in you and hold for nothing the products of your own activity...."{17} Maritain recalled an evening walk with Father Clérissac in front of the cathedral at Versailles when the old priest gave him very specific advice. "Jacques, it is not enough that a work be certainly useful for the good of souls in order for us to make haste to accomplish it. It is necessary that God wills it at that time -- and then, no delay. But God has time.... Do not go more quickly than God. He wants our thirst and emptiness, it is not our fullness that he wants."{18}

Raïssa tells us that for several months Jacques went every morning to see Father Clérissac on the Boulevard de la Reine where he served his Mass and afterward had long talks with him. Doubtless these provided the memories that enabled him to write the moving preface to Father Clérissac's posthumous volume. A recent biographer of Maritain, speaking of the six years when Father Clérissac was Jacques's spiritual director, notes that his influence was powerful and decisive and, "for good or ill," nothing in Maritain's long life would be unaffected by it. "Occult counselor as well as confessor, director of conscience as much as eminence grise?"{19}


Father Clérissac eventually received Ernest Psichari into the church as well as into the Third Order of Saint Dominic. Third orders are means whereby people in the world can participate to some degree in the life and works of a religious order. Certain obligations are taken on -- the daily recitation of the Little Office, other pious practices -- with an eye to fulfilling more perfectly the demands of Christian life. The whole question of spiritual direction had arisen when Jacques spoke with Dom Delatte, the Benedictine, but it was Delatte who referred him eventually to Dominican Father Clérissac. Would the abbot have done this if he were not exiled on the Isle of Wight while Clérissac was installed in Versailles? However that may be, Clérissac introduced Jacques to the spiritual life in a way that had a Dominican flavor to it. His devotion to Thomas Aquinas, which Maritain shared, would have been another link to the Order of Preachers. Nevertheless, Jacques and his wife and sister-in-law chose to become oblates of Saint Benedict, equivalent to a third order and thus to pursue a Benedictine spirituality. The Rule of the Order of Preachers was a modification of the Rule of Saint Augustine. How did this come about?

There seems to be no answer to this question. The household at Versailles and later at Meudon -- Jacques, Raïssa, and Vera -- took on the appellation of the "little flock," and we know what the schedule of their day was. Raïssa wrote extensively on her own and Jacques's spiritual life and that it was at Father Clérissac's suggestion that they became oblates. That he might have suggested they join the Third Order of Saint Dominic is clear from the fact that Clérissac installed Psichari as a member.

In the Carnet de notes, an entry of May 10, 1911, reads: "The Father Abbot Jean de Puniet just came to see us, saying that we are a little branch of Saint Paul's of Oosterhout, and that Saint Benedict loves everything small. 'You need wish to do nothing apart from your life, it is your life that is your work.' [Today begins the year of novitiate in preparation to be received as oblates of the Abbey of Oosterhout.]" Perhaps it was this minimalist description of their life as oblates by the abbot that explains the absence of reference to what would seem to have been, in the lives of these intense converts, a very important step.

Jacques tells us that his journal for 1911 after October 18 is missing. Writing in 1954, he recalled the year as an unhappy one: Raïssa always ill, money worries, hateful family discussions with his mother and his brother-in-law. But they had kept to their schedule, more or less, and their novitiate was completed and "we were in open country." Not a picture of domestic bliss. A few years before in Germany, Maritain had noted "Das Hauskreuz, c'est ainsi que les maris designent gentiment leur femme: My House Cross, that is how husbands refer gracefully to their wife."{20} Not the Kreutzer Sonata, of course, but an intimation that Jacques was human and found the constant illnesses and other domestic aggravations wearing. Then there is this later recollection (1954) of that year.

It was in 1911 or 1912 that I was suddenly assailed by violent temptations against the faith. Until then the graces of baptism had been such that it seemed to me sight, that it was evidence itself. Now I had to learn the night of the faith. No longer carried in the arms, I was put roughly on the ground. I remember long hours of interior torture on the Rue de l'Orangerie, alone in the room on the fourth floor I had turned into a kind of redoubt for work. I kept myself from speaking of it. I came through the test, by the grace of God, the stronger, but I had lost my childhood. I consoled myself with the thought that doubtless it had to be if I were to be of any service to others.{21}

The year 1911 was also when Jacques associated himself with Action Française, a decision he came to regret and that he and Raïssa and others have sought to attribute to his naive compliance with the direction of Father Clérissac.


In October of 1909, the Maritains had taken up residence in Versailles on the Rue de l'Orangerie in order to be closer to Father Clérissac. They lived at that address until 1913 when they moved to a larger apartment in which they could set aside a room for Father Clérissac when he visited Versailles from Angers, where he was then living. The move became possible after Raïssa had received some relief from homeopathic medicine for her chronic illness. Nineteen thirteen was the year in which Jacques's first book appeared, La philosophie bergsonienne. From October 1912, Jacques began teaching philosophy at the College Stanislas and in June 1914 became an adjunct professor at the Institut Catholique. The remarkable courses he gave during this first year at the Institut Catholique were in the history of modern philosophy. We will be examining Jacques's philosophical achievements later. For now, we must look more deeply into the roots of his spirituality.

Nineteen fourteen was a year of both horror and consolation. World War I had begun and the Maritains were soon to lose several dear friends. Péguy and Psichari, who had returned to the faith or been converted to it, were among the first to fall in the war. War was declared on August 2. Psichari was killed in action on August 22, and Péguy on September 5. And on November 16, Father Clérissac died. He was replaced in the role of spiritual director by Father Dehau.

Faher Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, who had first become aware of Jacques at the Sorbonne, where the bearded young student had gained the reputation of being a follower of Bergson, and who was himself to play a most important part in the intellectual and spiritual life of Maritain, recommended Father Dehau to Jacques. Dehau had a soothing effect on Raïssa, and Vera too benefited from his counsel. "As for me, I passed hours, priceless hours, reading John of Saint Thomas with Father Dehau, and listening to his comments. How many keys he gave me, what light I received from that gentle intelligence."{22} Father Pierre-Thomas Dehau continued in the role of Maritain's spiritual director for twenty-five years. Recalling these matters in 1954, writing in Princeton, the aging philosopher made a list of guides, companions, and protectors. Léon Bloy occupies pride of place, then Dom Delatte, Abbot of Solesmes ("during the first years of our Christian life, after our return from Heidelberg subsequently our routes diverged and finally his attachment to Action Française caused him to break roughly with me at the time of La primauté du spirituel"), Dom Jean de Puniet, many others, then Father Garrigou-Lagrange, with a heartfelt tribute. Next Jacques adds those who had the deepest impact: Father Clérissac, Father Dehau, the eventual cardinal Journet.... He gives this portrait of Father Dehau. He was "not only wrapped in shawls and blankets but also in a secret. Half blind, he passed among souls as a friend of God charged with awakening them to the things of their Father.... I thought of him for the personage of Thomas in the book of that title, but using only surface and accessory traits which would not imperil his incognito."{23}


In September 1912, Jacques, Raïssa, and Vera went to the Abbey of Oosterhout in Holland and were received as oblates of Saint Benedict by the abbot, Dom Jean de Puniet. It was an occasion for the taking of religious names to seal the entry. Jacques took the name of Placidus, Raïssa became Agnes, and Vera, Gertrude. From that time on, the three formed the simulacrum of a religious community in their home. But there was more. On October 2, 1912, in the cathedral of Versailles, Jacques and Raïssa took a vow that profoundly altered their life together. They took a vow of chastity, renouncing sexual relations, in order the more surely to bind themselves to God. This extremely private decision was of course kept secret throughout their marriage, but as an old man, Jacques decided to reveal it in the privately circulated Journal of Raïssa. The reaction of friends prompted him to remove it from the public edition, but in his Carnet de notes he included a long chapter, written in 1962, on love and friendship.

Jacques was thirty years old at the time. Raïssa even younger, and they took this step only after long counsel with Father Clérissac. By common agreement, "they had decided to renounce that which in marriage not only satisfies a profound need of the human being, flesh as well as spirit, but is legitimate and a good in itself...." Thus they also renounced the possibility of sons or daughters. The vow was not based on any contempt for nature, Jacques adds, but in their course toward the absolute and their desire to follow at any price, while remaining in the world, one of the counsels of the perfect life in order to clear the way for contemplation and union with God. A temporary vow of one year preceded the definitive vow. "Now she and I," he wrote in old age, " in one way or another, have finished with the earth, and I no longer feel bound by the silence we always maintained on these matters."


Cette vie n'est pas nôtre oeuvre, mais celle de Dieu en nous.


On April 18, 1917, Jacques Maritain received a letter from a soldier who had once taken his course on German philosophy at the Institut Catholique, one Pierre Villard. It seems possible that Maritain had little if any memory of the man who, in a lengthy and heartfelt letter, poured out the current state of his soul. In following Maritain's lectures he had discerned, behind "the philosopher following with a clear eye the chain of causes and effects, the personality of a man for whom the difficult question of how to live well had been put in all its gravity, and who had solved it." It was this that prompted him to lay open to Maritain the emptiness of soul that oppressed him. Villard's letter was a cry for help addressed to a man he was confident could help him. But the letter seemed to shut the door on any obvious kind of response Maritain might have made. Villard, about to go on leave in Paris, asked if Maritain would see him. Maritain noted the visit in his journal.

21 April 1917 -- Visit of Pierre Villard. One discerns in this poor soldier with the meditative countenance a soul thirsting for purity and the absolute, for whom to sense the things of the spirit has become the great need and the loss of faith (if indeed he has truly lost it) has left in an irremediable vacillation: he is too perspicacious to be content with a substitute. He is in a great trouble that resembles a spiritual test sent by God.

It is noteworthy that Jacques Maritain, still in his thirties, had made such an impression on a student that years later it encouraged the student to bare his soul. The letter was not an invitation to a philosophical exchange. It was a plea for help in finding the very meaning of life. Maritain answered, and thus began a correspondence that would extend over the next fourteen months. Despite himself, Maritain was playing the role of spiritual advisor. It was a role he had played before and it was a role that he was to play for many others as the result of this correspondence with Villard.


Maritain was to see Villard several times in the course of the latter's army leaves, but it is the letters that preserve the tack he took with the young soldier. Villard had already been reading Pascal, Bergson, and Pêguy. Maritain gave him a life of Saint Catherine of Siena, which Villard found cloying, and the saint's Dialogue, which pierced the defenses he had built up. While encouraging Villard's sense of inwardness, Maritain assured him that there is a truth far more beautiful than any the soldier would find in that way.

There is a truth infinitely more beautiful than any you have guessed in that way; or rather what was given you in an unstable intuition and that doubtless you will later find troubling and all too much of the earth, is the same Truth which is completely pure in the light of Revelation and that teaches us about the all-good Father from whom we come. There is only one stable, truly divine and deifying way in which to possess it. And that is to receive it from God by the public, universal, catholic, intellectually defined teaching of the Church, Christ's mystical body, from that mysterious Society, visible as a city built on a mountain although secret in its profound life and in its spirit, which alone says: I have the deposit of the infallible Word and I am myself infallible, I give birth to divine life, I can heal souls and forgive their sins, I give them the grace of my sacraments, I ceaselessly produce saints, I distribute the Blood of God, I offer uninterruptedly a sacrifice which is neither fictive nor symbolic, but true and real, in which every sacrifice has its exemplar and its power.

This was the heart of what Maritain told Villard: the Church is a mystery; do not confuse it with its all-too-human career through history, although that is indeed part of the mystery. But the visible Church on which to keep one's eye is the Teacher and dispenser of the sacraments, conduits whereby the grace won by Christ is made available through the centuries. But it is the interior life that must complement and make one's own the life of grace. Villard wanted to be a mystic. Maritain fostered and encouraged the desire but he sent him a Catechism of the Council of Trent and a copy of Robert Hugh Benson's Christ in the Church as well as Père Clérissac's The Mystery of the Church.

Some twenty-three letters from Villard were to reach Maritain over the course of the next year. Ten of his replies, usually much longer than those the soldier found time to write from the front, have survived. The final item in the dossier is from the chaplain informing Maritain of Villard's death in combat. Villard had spoken to the chaplain of his correspondence with Maritain. The chaplain had judged Villard to have returned to the Church when he came to him and asked for the Sacrament of Penance. The request was granted.


If this were an isolated event in the life of Maritain, it would be touching, perhaps edifying, but not defining of the man. But Villard was not alone in finding in Maritain a philosopher -- that is, a professed seeker of wisdom -- who really seemed to be engaged personally and wholeheartedly in that quest. But whatever wisdom can be gained from philosophy, it is as nothing compared to a life lived in union with Jesus Christ. Perhaps Villard sensed that his old professor had pursued a path he unconsciously wished to follow. How many philosophers are likely to be asked by their students, "What must I do to be saved?" Over the course of his long life, many men and women turned to Maritain for spiritual as well as intellectual advice. The number for whom he was an instrument of conversion is even greater than the number of his literal godchildren.

Maritain reprints the correspondence with Villard in his Carnet de notes. It makes up chapter 4 and runs from page 139 to page 182 of the French original. One might well ask why Maritain drew attention to such a matter, however frequently it was repeated in his life. Villard never won through to the serenity and certainty he saw in Maritain. Of all those in whose conversions Maritain had played a role, why should this somewhat equivocal one be given such pride of place? The reason is given in the Carnet de notes.

Maritain never says that he had remembered Villard when he was a student in his class. When the young man visited the philosopher, he came wearing the uniform of his country, and that doubtless conferred a kind of anonymity on him. During the year of correspondence, Villard's mother died; and he writes that, after the war, he hoped to transfer the remains of both his parents to Nancy. The soldier had become an orphan. Sometime after Villard's death at the front, Maritain received a letter from a lawyer, informing him that he had been named joint heir with Charles Maurras of the estate of Pierre Villard. To Maritain's astonishment, the young man had extensive worldly goods. He had left land to the city of Nancy's orphanage, but the rest was to go to Maritain and Maurras. "I was astounded that someone I took for a poor student was the heir to a considerable fortune." The following letter to Maritain, dated July 12, was included with the will.

What is the living principle that will save me from both intellectualism and sentimentalism? Where get the spirit of submission necessary for a clear view of sorrowful realities and the strength to surmount them?

I open Pascal. You know, Monsieur Maritain, what light appears to me there and delights me. But you also know what are still my hesitation and unease.

I have not yet found the happiness to live the life of positive faith. Still, it seems to me that the true Christian is only a higher expression of the conscientious and obscure laborer that, in my capacity as a soldier, I train myself to become. Will loyalty to self, to the work to be done, to France, lead on to loyalty to a God I do not yet know?

I am convinced that happiness belongs to those hearts which are perpetually ready to pray, perpetually pure. I envy these limpid souls which are the living mirror of God. I hope that through them, the Church will arise from the profound abasement in which we now see her. I do not want to encourage mediocrity: I think that one single holy soul is more useful to humanity than a crowd of believers deprived of any mystical elan.

The words of this not quite unknown soldier, who gave his life for his country in a brutal war without precedent for pointless bloodshed, come to us across an interval of over eighty years. These words were written a year before his death, at the beginning of his correspondence with Maritain. But he had already determined that he wished to support what Jacques Maritain was and meant for his country.


The bequest caused some confusion in Maritain and his wife. Léon Bloy, who had been instrumental in their conversion, had lived a life of extreme poverty. Jacques and Raïssa had resolved to live their lives "par des moyens pauvres," by slender means, modestly. Suddenly they were wealthy. After prayer and consulting his confessor, Maritain decided to accept the windfall. "I will use the means given to me by Pierre Villard in the service of Christian thought and spirituality: 1. By my efforts in the philosophical and culture order; 2. By an action exercised on souls thanks to some center of spiritual influence."

Maritain was no longer dependent on the pittance then paid professors at the Institut Catholique. And he bought the house at Meudon, which was to be the center of spirituality, made possible by the generosity of a fallen hero; a house in whose chapel, by a special dispensation, the Blessed Sacrament was always reserved and where, we can be sure, prayers went up for the repose of the soul of Pierre Villard.



Jacques Maritain's long involvement with Action Française, the movement run by Charles Maurras, gave him and his wife and many others great difficulty to explain. Indeed, the tendency, first present in Raïssa's memoirs, is to portray his association with this antidemocratic movement spawned by the Dreyfus Affair as the result of his docility to his spiritual directors. That a young man who had vowed to be a revolutionary socialist should become, after his conversion to Catholicism, a subscriber to Action Française may be explained in part by the fact that his spiritual advisors were enthusiastic supporters of Maurras and saw his movement as the hope of the Church in France -- Delatte and his Benedictine community had, after all, been exiled to the English Isle of Wight by the Republic. This can scarcely be regarded as a sufficient explanation, any more than Maritain's allegiance to the tenets of Action Française can be described as half-hearted or tenuous. For all that, when the Church condemned the movement, Jacques was swift -- many thought too swift -- to embrace and defend the papal condemnation.


What was Action Française? First of all, it was a newspaper of that name and, derivatively, the movement the newspaper represented. Charles Maurras, whose paper and movement it was, although he became the darling of Catholics if not of the Church, was not himself a believer. His movement took its rise in the wake of the Dreyfus Affair, the condemnation of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer convicted on trumped-up charges of treason followed by his almost immediate pardon. The "Affair" engaged every Frenchman one way or the other, pro or con; and to be anti-Dreyfusard was almost by definition to be anti-Semitic. This only serves to underscore the anomaly of Maritain's involvement with the movement. He was married to a Jewish woman; he had paid for the reissue of his godfather's Salvation Through the Jews; throughout his long life he would meditate on what he called the "mystery of Israel"; as a boy he had been passionately enlisted on the side of the Dreyfusards. The affair produced a host of intellectuals -- on the Left, anticlericals, and on the Right, anti-anticlericals -- who found Maurras's vitriolic condemnations of democracy attractive. The political struggle was one in which society was being progressively secularized and the Church marginalized. The struggle went on in the field of education, with leftist teachers siding with freemasons, whose numbers were steadily increasing, and among the teachers in the Catholic schools. The Left was united in the desire to somehow reverse the Dreyfus verdict. The affair had become symbolic, taking on a meaning far beyond its original and quite particular elements. Historians see French society as polarized around religious faith and secularism: it was almost as if there were two nations. The roots of this can doubtless be found in the nineteenth-century critiques of the Enlightenment associated with Joseph de Maistre, according to which the supposed triumph of liberty would end in the enslavement of men. The rise of anti-Semitism in France reflected the tripling of the number of Jews there in the years prior to World War I.

Action Française was founded in 1898 in the wake of the Dreyfus Affair. Charles Maurras joined in 1899 and soon became the leader of the movement, with Jacques Bainville, historian, and Lëon Daudet, editor of the paper, in the front ranks. Maurras distinguished between the "legal" country and the "real" country. The former was the republican regime with its centralized administration, political parties, and parliamentary charades that had been superimposed on the real France, made up of those who lived and worked. The remedy was to be found in the restoration of the monarchy. Maurras had been influenced by August Comte, the positivist, and considered politics a science. He called what he advocated an integral nationalism, The Camelots du Roi was formed: a group of young men whose ostensible purpose was to sell the journal Action Française, a group with which Georges Bernanos was associated. (The Camelots du Roi was dissolved in 1936 because of incidents associated with the funeral of Jacques Bainville, when socialist Léon Blum was roughed up.){24}


Jacques Maritain was associated with Action Française for fifteen years, not breaking with the movement until it was condemned by Pope Pius XI in 1926. It seems doubtful that Maritain would have been a beneficiary of the will of Pierre Villard if he had not been associated with Action Française. The young man had followed Maritain's lectures at the Institut Catholique, but he bequeathed a million francs jointly to Charles Maurras and to Maritain. That Maritain asked Maurras not to mention his own sharing in this windfall has been interpreted as misgivings about Action Française, but surely there could have been other reasons. In any case, in 1920, at Maurras's suggestion, the two men contributed 50,000 francs each to found a review to promote the ideas of Action Française. This has been interpreted as an astute move to coopt the young philosopher -- Maritain was nearly forty -- a theory that collides with the founders' intention not to stress the connection of La Revue Universelle with Action Française. Doubtless they thought that it could reach beyond the already convinced, but it was recognized as being linked to Action Française. "In spite of his desire to remain politically detached, he was closely associated with the movement in the mind of the general public, so that at one time he was known as the official philosopher of Action Française. This impression was fostered, in particular, by his participation in the early 1920s in the founding and editing of La Revue Universelle."{25} Jacques Bainville became director of the new journal and Henri Massis editor-in-chief. Maritain was philosophy editor, since along with the ideas of Action Française, Thomistic philosophy was to be promoted by the journal.{26}


Jacques Maritain himself gave the revisionists their lead. Writing to Henri Massis in 1932, he says that he began reading Maurras at the instigation of Père Clérissac, who arged him to join Action Française. "I accepted that, along with all the rest of it, with complete docility, out of obedience and submission to my director, convinced that this decision was one with all that I had accepted when I entered the Church."{27} He likens it to the way in which he had accepted the suggestion that he give a critical course on Bergsonism although he had been a student of Bergson. Maritain then suggests that the problem is not his actions but the motivation of his director. The famous trip to Rome, against the advice of some of his spiritual advisors, does not suggest someone who responded like a robot to the obiter dicta of Père Clérissac. Nonetheless, his analysis of Clérissac's motivation is important.

But Père Clérissac's point of view was above all that of a theologian aware of the dangers then posed by Modernism to the dogmatic statement of the faith. The fact that Action Français fought these errors from outside, denouncing relentlessly the influence of Bergson, the anti-intellectualism of a Blondel or Laberthonniere, endeared it to him, and all the more because he was upset by the ravages these errors made among young priests and seminarians....{28}
As for himself, Maritain says he was so wrapped up in metaphysics and theology that this motivation of Clérissac convinced him that only Action Françis provided the political means of correcting these dangers.


In order to accept this portrait of the political naif we have to imagine that Maritain did not read Maurras, did not read Action Français, did not really participate in La Revue Universelle, and did not make in his own name any number of antidemocratic political remarks. Maritain's allegiance to the movement was not a matter of parlor room asides or vagrant responses, but a sustained and public connection that, as Doering said, earned him the reputation of being the philosopher of Action Française. Doubtless this was the basis of Pierre Villard's decision to leave his million-franc fortune to Jacques Maritain and Charles Maurras.

Many Catholics, writers, intellectuals, priests, theologians, and philosophers were seduced by Action Française by concentrating only on certain aspects of its message and ignoring others.The movement had come to seem the most promising means whereby the Church could over come the secularizing tendencies of the times.{29} On the other hand, many like François Mauriac associated themselves with liberal Catholic movements. It was scarcely Action François or nothing. Whatever the explanation, there is something astonishing in Maritain's making an 180-degree turn from the fervent socialism of his youth and student days to alliance with a monarchist antiparliamentarian movement. And, when the condemnation came, he turned another 180 degrees, embracing with enthusiasm the condemnation.

Maritain imagined himself a man of action from the time of his boyish fantasizing about the revolution with the husband of his mother's cook. His fifteen-year association with the polar opposite of those early beliefs therefore surprises, just as his putting them aside in a trice suggests that naiveté was a constant of Maritain's practical political views rather than a lapse that was overcome in 1926. A practical opacity is also present in the liberal views he adopted in the 1930s and clear as well in the later Reflections on America. This is not merely another instance of the romanticism of the intellectual, as manifested in radical chic, for instance -- although there was a good dose of that in Maritain. The deeper fact is that he was far more interested in atemporal things, and his excursions into the practical put one in mind of Plato's philospher being dragged against his bent into the political realm, something that happened again and again over Maritain's long career. If his involvement with the movement is susceptible of benign interpretation, so is that of the spiritual directors to whom he attributed his connection with it. But it must be emphasized that, along with what he himself regarded as naiveté, there was often great lucidity on the level of practical theory. Nor is this surprising since, as we shall see, Maritain developed a very calibrated theory of degrees of practical knowledge.


The Villard legacy thus proved to be an ambiguous boon. On the one hand, it provided Maritain with a financial cushion that would enable him to develop as a philosopher and to pursue at leisure the quest for holiness. He came to regret his association with Action Française, but the movement's popularity with Catholics probably had much to do with accelerating his wider influence. However unconvincing are the efforts, by the Maritains and others, to make light of his association with Action Française, his publications make clear that he moved more surely when he sought to spell out the philosophical implications of Pius X's Pascendi. Maritain's early writings make clear that he had enlisted in the fight against Modernism.{30}


{1} R. Maritain, We Have Been Friends Together, p. 99.

{2} Ibid., p. 115.

{3} Blaise Pascal. Oeuvres complètes, preface d'Henri Gouhier, presentation et notes de Louis LaFuma (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1963), pp. 550-51.

{4} Ibid., p. 143.

{5} Ibid., p. 145.

{6} See the following website: lasalettemissionarie.org.

{7} J. Maritain, Carnet de notes, p. 48.

{8} Ibid., p. 51.

{9} R. Maritain, Carnet de notes. p. 48.

{10} Ibid., p.51.

{11} R. Maritain, We Have Been Friends Together, p. 175.

{12} This can be found in OC I, pp. 1112-26.

{13} Ibid., p. 1115.

{14} Maritain notes that this role is usually assigned to the Passionist Father, Cuthbert Dunne, and so it is in Richard Ellman's biography, Oscar Wilde (London: Penguin Books, 1985), pp. 549-50. Ellman has Dunne saying the Requiem Mass as well. Apparently the visiting card of the man, Robert Ross, who came to the Passionists, has survived, but the message written on it does not close the door entirely on Clérissac. "Can I see one of the fathers about a very urgent case or can I hear of a priest elsewhere who can talk English to administer last sacraments to a dying man?" The account of Wilde's death by Ellman is graphic.

{15} OC I, p. 1115.

{16} Ibid., p. 1118.

{17} Ibid., p. 1121.

{18} Ibid., pp. 1122-23.

{19} Barré, Jacques et Raïssa Maritain (Paris: Stock, 1995), p. 131. Barré, taking his cue from Raïssa, seeks to explain elements of Maritain's life that are now politically incorrect as due to the sinister influence of his spiritual directors, in whose hands Jacques was supposedly mere putty. It is hard to imagine anyone less malleable than Jacques Maritain or a man less likely to take on another's political views against the grain. Barré's account is marred by such descriptive phrases as already mentioned, e.g., "leur austère protecteur" (p. 133). The apologia is clear when Barré, having noted the formation of Action Française and the Nouvelle Revue Française and the political and literary turmoil of the time, writes that "Jacques Maritain was a man too concentrated on his intimate route to take the least part yet in temporal debates. And only the supremacy exercised on him by Clérissac led him to enlist under a banner to which nothing destined him to rally" (p. 136).

{20} J. Maritain, Carnet de notes, p. 70.

{21} Ibid., p. 103.

{22} Ibid., pp. 110-11.

{23} Ibid., p. 112.

{24} An account of the Camelots can be found in R. L. Bruckberger, To finiras sur l'echafaud (Paris: Flammarion, 1978), pp. 245ff.

{25} Bernard Doering, Jacques Maritain and the French Catholic Intellectuals (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983), p. 17.

{26} In informing Dom Delatte of the new publication, Maritain expressed reluctance at entering into a "worldly" (mondain) project, but took comfort from the fact that, for the first time, Thomistic philosophy could be presented to a wide public. "I hope to have the means, little by little, to express there more and more clearly the Catholic point of view. Moreover, it is the intention of Bainville and of the review to be covered by me on the Catholic side, given the more and more hostile attitude toward Action Française in French Catholic (and even Roman) circles ever since the Holy Father appears to want to resuscitate everything that Pius X destroyed." Memoir of Michel Cagin (Kolbsheim); in Barré, Jacques et Raïssa Maritain, p. 216. Maritain would be associated with the journal from April 1, 1920, until February 1, 1927. The close connection that was thus established between the politics of the Right and Thomism proved an impediment for many French philosophers. One of the deleterious effects of their reaction to the connection was the demonization of such figures as Garrigou-Lagrange.

{27} Barré, Jacques et Raïssa Maritain, p. 146.

{28} Ibid., p. 147.

{29} "Clerical and lay, the leaders of the neo-Thomist revival, which was Catholicism's answer to its subversive exegetes, gravitated toward the Action Française. Unworldly men, great scholars like Billot or Father Thomas Pègues, saw only its single-minded opposition to do the worldly forces of modernism. Catholic faculties were crowded with admirers of Maurras who, like the Abbé Maisonneuve at Toulouse, tended to consider his anti-liberal political ideas infallible. Of the Dominicans in particular, like Father Georges de Pascal, Jacques Vallée and Garrigou-Lagrange -- not forgetting Dom Besse, the master of novices at Notre-Dame-de-Ligugé -- may be said what Raïssa Maritain has written about one of them. Father Humbert Clérissac: 'Father Clérissac passionately admired Maurras; in his disgust with the modern world, in his pure enthusiasm for the metaphysical notion of order, he trusted the [Action Française].'" Eugen Weber, Action Française Royalism and Reaction in Twentieth Century France (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1962), p. 220.

{30} "And by 1937 Jacques Maritain, who had once been the coming theological sage of the Action Française, could address the International Congress of Christian Workers on 'The Primacy of the Human' -- not, as he might once have done, on the primacy of politics." Ibid. p. 255.

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