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




1948 Resigns as ambassador and accepts appointment to Princeton.
January. Raison et raisons.
June. Jacques, Raïssa, and Vera embark for the United States.
October. Begins teaching moral philosophy at Princeton. Lectures at Notre Dame, Chicago, and Hunter College.
Special issue of Revue Thomiste – Jacques Maritain, son oeuvre philosophique.
1949 Spring. Trip to France.
May 8. Conference on “The Significance of Contemporary Atheism.”
September. Maritain’s move into 26 Linden Lane, Princeton, N.J., where they will live until 1960.
1950 August. Sojourn in France.
1951 Man and the State.
Neuf leçons sur les notions premières de la philosophie morale.
1952 Introduction to Raïssa’s book on Georges Rouault.
1953 Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry.
Approaches to God.
1954 Coronary thrombosis attack. Begins editing his Carnet de notes.
1955 February. Death of Paul Claudel.
Summer. Vacation in France.
1956 September. In Civiltà Cattolica, Father Messineo criticizes Maritain in “L’umanesimo integrale.” Reply by Charles Journet in Nova et vetera.
December 10. Public homage to Maritain in Paris by Centre Catholique des Intellectuels Français.
1957 On the Philosophy of History.
Reflection on America.
1958 Jacques Maritain Center founded at University of Notre Dame, with Maritain in attendance.
1959 November. Liturgy and Contemplation by Jacques and Raïssa.
December 31. Death of Vera.
1960 January. Le philosophe dans la cité.
Responsibility of the Artist.
June 30. Jacques and Raïssa return to France.
November 4. Death of Raïssa.
December. Moral Philosophy.



The next twelve years would be triumphant ones for Jacques Maritain, not quite proving the adage about prophets and their own country – in France a memorial volume of the Revue Thomiste would be dedicated to his work, and his achievement would be celebrated at a conference put on by the Institut Catholique. But in the New World he was feted and honored everywhere. He began teaching moral philosophy at Princeton in the fall of 1948, and there would emerge from this effort one of his largest books, Moral Philosophy. The Maritains moved into their Princeton home at 26 Linden Lane: it was a house they would never sell, bequeathing it to the University of Notre Dame.{1} From the house, they could walk the short distance to St. Paul’s on Nassau Street to attend daily Mass. The campus was equally close. Jacques had reached retirement age when he began his Princeton career, but he would teach for five years. It was during this period that time began to take its inexorable toll. Jacques suffered a coronary in 1954; but it was Vera, the youngest of the three, who would succumb first, contracting breast cancer, having a mastectomy, and dying on the last day of 1959, December 31. A year later, Raïssa too was dead, and Jacques would enter the final period of his life.

        But these years – call them the American Period – had to be among the most satisfying of Jacques’s life. They came to love the United States – Jacques’s Reflections on America is a veritable billet doux ­– but they remained thoroughly French and spent summers in their native land. Princeton let Jacques finish his class in April so the three could get away to Europe. The Institut Catholique held a special conference honoring Jacques. The Jacques Maritain Center at the University of Notre Dame was founded in 1958, and Jacques was there for the ceremony. His knack for making new friends and keeping old one had not deserted him, and such friendships as that with Thomas Merton and, far more surprisingly, Saul Alinsky, can stand for many, many more with the less renowned. His intellectual work continued to exhibit its characteristic range and depth. His appointment at Princeton did not prevent him from lecturing at other institutions, and he became a regular presence at the universities of Chicago, Notre Dame, and Toronto. And there were prestigious lecture series that grew into books.



Jacques delivered the Walgreen Lectures at the University of Chicago in December 1949; they appeared as Man and the State in 1951 and can be seen as the culmination of his political philosophy. Criticism of Jacques’s political views had never gone away; and toward the end of his ambassadorship to the Vatican, it flared up again when Julio de Meinvielle of Argentina published some letters he had received from Garrigou-Lagrange, commenting on Meinvielle’s accusation that Maritain held many thoughts that had been condemned as heretical in the case of Lamennais. Long before, in 1937, Maritain had written a letter to the editor of Criterio, objecting to the manner as well as the substance of Meinvielle’s criticism of him. The Argentine priest had called Maritain an “advocate of the Spanish Reds” and “suavely in favor of Communist Spain.”{2} After the war, Meinvielle returned to the attack, publishing From Lamennais to Maritain.{3} Garrigou-Lagrange wrote to the author, objecting to the sensational title of his book, “since the deviation of which you speak is far from having the proportions of Lamennais’, who became more and more mistaken about the very end of the Church….that was his chief error and Jacques Maritain manifestly reproves that error.”{4} Garrigou-Lagrange had added that Maritain did not, however, see where some of his “concessions” could logically lead, but “that many current events should increasingly show him the danger of these concessions.”{5} On July 26, 1946, Meinvielle published this letter, along with two articles of his own in which he “examines the opinion of the Reverend Father Garrigou-Lagrange that Maritain’s views do not coincide with Lamennais’.” These led to an exchange of letters between Jacques and Garrigou-Lagrange, letters that Maritain published under the title “On a Form of Caesero-religious Fanaticism” in Raison et raisons.{6} When Garrigou-Lagrange was sent a copy of the book by Maritain, along with a copy of Existence and the Existent, the old controversy was reignited. Garrigou-Lagrange addressed Maritain as “Eminence,” appropriate enough given the latter’s ambassadorial status, but a little frosty between old friends. He wrote that he had a quibble about something Maritain had said about the permission of evil, in which he attributed Molina’s position to Maritain; and on the Meinvielle matter, the Dominican held his ground. Indeed, he said he had consulted with Michael Browne, the Irish Dominican who was rector of the Angelicum. The theologians agreed that while Maritain did not deserve to be equated with Lamennais, his views were open to criticism. Maritain was no more inclined to concede a point than his friendly Dominican critic. There is no doubt that Garrigou-Lagrange wrote Maritain in the manner of one calling him to order, a teacher correcting a pupil. Maritain, at one point, suggested that his old friend had added loyalty to Franco to the Creed, repeating his view that it was a difference in politics, between the man of the Right that Garrigou-Lagrange was and the man of the Left that he was, and not a difference in theology. Read from the vantage point of the post-Vatican II Church, quarreling about religious liberty seems unreal in the light of Dignitatis Humanae.{7} One thing is clear: concepts and language that were once roundly condemned as false have been taken up by the Church. This is nowhere more obvious than in the case of human rights.



The Walgreen Lectures gave Maritain the opportunity to have another say on the matters that had so incited his critics. Maritain had been involved in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights issued by the United Nations in 1948; and at the UNESCO meeting in Mexico City, the question had arisen as to how there could be cooperation between societies based on radically different political theories. The prospect of overcoming such differences was bleak and, even if accomplished, such theoretical positions are insufficient. Historically, the conception of human rights would seem to have an intellectual provenance quite opposed to Christian faith. If the human individual is regarded as absolutely autonomous, if, in Rousseau’s phrase, he can obey only himself, the Christian understanding of man and his destiny are rejected. In the postwar world, opposed ideologies were entrenched in societies and were backed up with power. How could communists and democrats agree on human rights?

        Maritain is quick to agree that their theories are in conflict, but his diplomatic experience had brought home to him the fact that delegates representing the most diverse outlooks could agree on a list of human rights. Their ways of justifying those rights would be radically different, but, for all that, there was the fact of agreement on a practical level. Maritain speaks of human rights in this context as “practical conclusions,” meaning that the theoretical justification of them will differ wildly, and yet it is the same rights that are justified. He is not suggesting that there is no true theory that alone justifies human rights. He makes it clear that, for him, the only adequate theoretical justification of human rights is the natural law theory to be found in Saint Thomas Aquinas{8} and of course in many of his predecessors. The eighteenth-century understanding of natural rights was fatally flawed. “Moreover, this philosophy of rights ended up, after Rousseau and Kant, by treating the individual as a god and making all the rights ascribed to him the absolute and unlimited rights of a god.”{9} Despite this, Maritain suggests that this theory was, in effect, a degenerate form of a rights theory based on natural law. It presupposed, no doubt, the long history of natural law evolved in ancient and mediaeval times; but it had its immediate origins in the artificial systematization and rationalist recasting to which this idea has been subjected since Grotius…”{10}

        Maritain provides a brilliantly succinct account of natural law and the way in which it grounds the rights of man. This is one account of human rights among others, but it is the true one. When this is coupled with the suggestion that modern talk of rights, modern theoretical justifications, are parasitic on classical natural law and, more importantly, on the influence of the Gospel, we begin to see what Maritain is suggesting. First, on the practical level, agreement can be reached on a list of human rights as long as we don’t look into the diverse justifications of them. Second, inadequate theoretical justifications bear the stamp of what they sought to replace: the persistence of the recognition of rights is due to the influence of the Gospel even when it has been overtly rejected. Does this mean that Maritain can reflect on modern views and see them as a way back into a medieval or classical government? Not at all. History cannot be wished away; the sacral civilization of the Middle Ages cannot be reestablished. What Maritain is describing, it emerges, is a transitional period prior to the establishment of what he calls a new Christianity.

        Man has two ultimate ends: one temporal and terrestrial, the other eternal and heavenly. The medieval system broke down when the relative autonomy of the terrestrial common good was realized. Modern political theories, preceding and following revolutionary events, have sought to pursue the terrestrial common good in total separation from man’s supernatural end. The new society that Maritain intimates is based on a recovery of Christian faith. Far from ushering in a new version of a sacral society, Maritain argues, citing Cardinal Manning, that the religious faith of the majority of the citizens is the best guarantee of tolerance and pluralism. Man and the State thus provides a later version of the argument of Integral Humanism.



The Walgreen Lectures and the book that emerged from them represent Maritain’s last major work in political philosophy. His eloquent justification of human rights by appeal to natural law and to what he calls its ontological and gnoseological aspects underscores the difficulty of the task he had set himself. By his own account, a large body of thought would reject his account. His justification of human rights is theoretically satisfying, but he does not expect universal agreement on that level. Where agreement can be had is on lists of rights. Of course a critic might say that what these rights mean – not their theoretical justification – varies so widely as to make such lists equivocal. But Maritain will continue to appeal to practical realizations common to all.{11} But the force of his argument would seem to depend on the plausible suggestion that the eighteenth-century gave us secularized forms of gospel-inspired truths about human beings. And this, in turn, would seem to be the basis for his hope for a new Christianity to follow on the secularized interval in which we still find ourselves.

        It is noteworthy that, when Maritain speaks of the way in which ordinary folk lay hold of the precepts of natural law, he speaks of knowledge by inclination. Maritain’s development of this notion animates both his moral and his aesthetic views.


Have you read Art and Scholasticism by Jacques Maritain? Flannery O’Connor


From the beginning of the meetings at Meudon, the Cercles d’études thomistes had included artists and writers and poets as well as philosophers. But then, Maritain’s understanding of the role of Thomas by no means restricted it to the saint’s influence on philosophers and theologians. Thomism provided an all-embracing cultural framework. Of course, to a great degree, Thomism in this sense is only implicit in the writings of Thomas. One might be inspired in various ways by Thomas in writing about modern science, but one could scarcely be mulling over what Thomas had to say about quantum physics. One needed first of all to assimilate Thomas’s teaching and learn from the way he handled problems and then extend and apply method into areas necessarily unknown to Thomas. When the Church recommended Thomas as our guide, it was not inviting us to become medievalists. Maritain’s reflections on art and poetry are Thomistic in origin but of course go beyond anything Thomas himself wrote.

        Written toward the end of World War I, Art and Scholasticism was a first sustained effort to show the relevance of Thomas in aesthetics. It is important to realize how original an effort this book represented. It was not so much a contribution to a genre as the creation of a genre. Of course, there were thousands of books on aesthetics, but there was nothing like Art and Scholasticism. The closest analogue to it must be sought perhaps in the books inspired by Aristotle’s Poetics - a work that had not yet been translated into Latin before Thomas died, so he had not read it. If he had, if he had commented on it, Maritain’s task would have been considerably easier. But if Thomas had not written on art and poetry, how could his thought be of interest in aesthetics?

        It bears repeating that Art and Scholasticism begins in a deceptively pedestrian way. Having disarmed the writer by insisting that the Scholastic had no theory of art, Maritain proceeds to examine a series of doctrines that provide a framework for that unwritten treatise. The speculative order must be distinguished from the practical, and it is in the latter that such things as Thomas said about art fall. Making things, like doing things, performing moral actions, involves a thinking that is ordered to those ends. In the speculative use of the mind, thinking is ordered to the perfection of the mind, that is, to truth; but the practical use of the mind is ordered to directing some making or doing. How do these differ? Maritain puts before his reader the distinction between art and prudence that Thomas found in Aristotle, and not the Aristotle of the Poetics. Aristotle and Thomas habitually illustrate the meaning of art by considering the making of a pair of shoes or a house. The distinction between art and prudence is developed by Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics when he is talking of intellectual virtues, that is, the habits that enable the mind easily and infallibly to achieve its ends. Thus, Maritain devotes a chapter to art as an intellectual virtue, a chapter almost as much concerned with prudence as it is with art.

        Prudence is an intellectual virtue that intrinsically depends on the moral virtues. Unless one’s appetite is well disposed to the good of justice, say, the mind cannot swiftly and surely find the means to be just here and now. If one’s heart is elsewhere than in justice, say in injustice, appetite will obscure and eclipse the effort to seek and choose the means to be just. But art does not depend for its excellent exercise on the moral quality of the artist. This contrast between prudence and art, faithfully reported by Maritain and never rejected by him, nonetheless inspired a host of original suggestions that have the look of trying to circumvent the distinction. But that is hardly the major problem Maritain now faces. How is he to extrapolate from texts that talk of art in terms of the carpenter and farmer in order to say things of the poet and painter and novelist?



The bridge for Maritain is a discussion of art and beauty. Bringing together asides on the nature of beauty found scattered through the writings of Thomas, Maritain develops a Thomistic theory of beauty. Beauty, Thomas had written, is that which, when seen, pleases: id quod visum placet. Maritain broods over this text and then goes on to another in which Thomas had listed the elements of beauty. “Three things are required for beauty. First of all, integrity or perfection…then right proportion or consonance. And finally clarity….” It is out of such materials as these that Maritain develops his argument. Of course he was not the first to notice such texts in Aquinas; James Joyce makes use of them in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. But Maritain finds in such texts the rationes seminales of a Thomistic aesthetic. As the little book progresses, it leaves behind the humble kind of making Aristotle and Thomas analyze when they speak of art. Maritain writes of the rules of art, of its purity, and finally of Christian art. The key concept of the Poetics – imitation – comes into play, and in subsequent editions other discussions were annexed and the notes expanded until the objective of the work was brought to full fruition.

        Art and Scholasticism was not content to fashion an argument that would be persuasive to philosophers. As the meetings at Meudon and the series of works Maritain edited indicate, he meant to speak to working artists. And he did. The poets and writers of his circle, the painters who became his friends, responded to the vision of art Maritain constructed out of Thomistic materials. There were gaffes, of course, such as Maritain’s intrusion into the composition of Bernanos’s first novel, an intrusion accepted at the time and resented ever after. But this perhaps imprudent act must not be taken as definitive of Maritain’s influence. It would be possible to trace the influence of Art and Scholasticism in such writers as Julian Green, Flannery O’Connor, Thomas Merton, Alan Tate, and Caroline Gordon – and doubtless in Robert Lowell as well. Flannery O’Connor found that Maritain liberated her from the notion that, as a writer, she was expressing herself. Of course what and who the artist is influences the outcome. “Maritain says that to produce a work of art requires the ‘constant attention of the purified mind’ and the business of the purified mind in this case is to see that those elements of the personality that don’t bear on the subject at hand are excluded. Stories don’t lie when left to themselves.”{12} To the same correspondent, she wrote, “I have sent you Art and Scholasticism. It’s the book I cut my aesthetic teeth on, though I think that even some of the things he says get soft at times. He is a philosopher and not an artist but he does have great understanding of the nature of art, which he gets from St. Thomas”{13} Well, Maritain would have many other things to say about art. His secone great aesthetic work, Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry, appeared in 1957.



As found in Thomas, “connatural” sometimes simply means proportioned to the nature of something, as when the essence of sensible reality is said to be the connatural object of the human mind. If ideas are formed against the background of sense experience, it is to express the nature of what is sensibly grasped. Another use of the term involves appetite as well as knowledge. The way in which sensible things are known by us differs from the way in which they exist: they exist as individuals, they are grasped universally. In being abstracted from individuating matter, things are made like the immaterial intellect. But if in our knowing, things become like the knower, desire is for things as they exist. Practical knowing is thus seen as the extension of knowing in the usual sort, theoretical knowing – beyond the realm of mere knowing to making or doing. The thing made is singular, actions too are singular. The practical use of intellect is thus drawn by a good beyond mere truth, and the desire of those goods essentially influences practical reason. Consider the implications of this in judgments of what is to be done.

        Recall that when Thomas asks whether theology is a wisdom, he notes that wisdom is a matter of judging and, since there are two relevantly different kinds of judging , there are two kinds of wisdom. Take a case: You wonder what temperance demands of you in certain circumstances. You might ask the moral theologian to give you his judgment on the matter. His response will doubtless take the form of an argument, a discursive process that will conclude with what you ought to do. You might have asked someone whom you know to be temperate. Some theologians are temperate, but not all temperate people are theologians. The man you ask is not a theologian. You want him to put himself in your shoes and tell you how things look for one who lives a temperate life. The judgment of the theologian, Thomas calls cognitive, per modum cognitionis. The judgment of the virtuous man is not just cognitive. It is per modum inclinationis. Now it is this judgment through inclination that is sometimes called a judgment per modum connaturalitatis. In Saint Thomas, this judgment is peculiar to the virtue of prudence, which is distinguished from the virtue of art as doing is distinguished from making. While the appetite of the artisan is engaged when he is making, the good in question is the good of the artifact, not the good of the artisan as moral agent. Nonetheless, what Maritain proposes to do is to transfer the notion of connaturality, affective connaturality, to the realm of art. This is a central feature of Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry.



What enables Maritain to extend connaturality to the aesthetic realm is a distinction he makes at the very outset. “Art and poetry cannot do without one another. But the two words are far from being synonymous. By Art I mean the creative or producing, work-making activity of the human mind. By Poetry I mean, not the particular art which consists in writing verses, but a process both more general and more primary: that intercommunication between the inner being of things and the inner being of the human self which is a kind of divination (as was realized in ancient times: the Latin vates was both a poet and a diviner). Poetry, in this sense, is the secret life of each and all of the arts; another name for what Plato called mousikè.”{14}

        The making that is guided by the virtue of art presupposes a knowledge so conjoined to reality and the self that it can be likened to the appetitive harmony of the virtuous person with the good of virtue. That appetitive harmony is what makes possible judgments here and now as to means of achieving the end of virtue. On an analogy with this, Maritain proposes that poetic knowledge, a cognitive/appetitive harmony of self and world is what makes possible the artist’s judgments in making. This transition has been prepared for by the analysis of beauty in Art and Scholasticism. Id quod visum placet was said to suggest both intuitive knowledge and joy. “The beautiful is that which gives joy, not every joy, but the joy of knowing; not the joy proper to the act of knowing, but a joy which goes above and beyond that act because of the object known. If a thing exalts and delights the soul by the very fact that it has been given to its intuiton, it is good to apprehend, it is beautiful.”{15} But if the beautiful is the object of understanding it also involves the senses insofar as they serve the intelligence. The senses are indispensable for us just because our intelligence is not intuitive in the manner of angelic intelligence. Discursive and abstractive, intelligence depends on sense, which possesses the intuitiveness necessary for the perception of beauty. “Thus man can no doubt enjoy purely intelligible beauty, but the beauty connatural to man is that which comes to delight intelligence by means of the senses and their intuition.” This occurrence of “connatural” in Art and Scholasticism is an adumbration of what will subsequently be developed by Maritain and reach its fruition in Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry.



In the latter work, Maritain contrasts Indian and Chinese art with western art in terms of the emergence of the self. Oriental art, he says, never says “I.” It is thanks to the influence of Christianity that the notions of person and personality are first given to the mind, out of the necessities of pondering the mystery of the Trinity, of three persons in one divine nature. This pondering brought about a new idea of man as well, the inner man.{16} Maritain suggests that a new self-consciousness took place in the artist, “a sudden beholding of the sublimity of the artist’s calling and of the new power and ambition afforded to him by science, by anatomical knowledge, mathematics, perspective, and the discovery of three-dimensional representation in painting, which intoxicated with glory the great Italians of the Rinascimento.”{17} The external form was to be interpreted, not just copied. Here is the opening to Maritain’s characteristic defense of the modern in art, particularly in painting. The primacy of poetry over art is the primacy of artistic subjectivity. Almost predictably, Maritain must speak of poetic knowledge as preconceptual or nonconceptual, yet intellectual.

        God’s creative knowledge presupposes nothing; it forms and makes its object. If human knowledge is to be called creative, it obviously cannot be so in the divine manner. Unlike God’s, human creative knowledge must receive from things in order to take place. For all that, God’s creative knowledge is the supreme analog of poetry. “And thus it implies an intellective act which is not formed by things but is, by its own essence, formative and forming. Well, it is too clear that the poet is a poor god. He does not know himself. And his creative insight miserably depends on the external world, and on the infinite heap of forms and beauties already made by men, and on the mass of things that generations have learned, and on the code of signs which is used by his fellow men and which he receives from a language he has not made. Yet, for all that, he is condemned to subdue to his own purpose all those extraneous elements and to manifest his own substance in his creation.”{18}

        At this point, it might be well to hear from the advocatus diabolis. A critic might say that Maritain is taking back, when he speaks of poetic knowledge. Modern Philosophy was said to have given an account of human knowledge that strikingly resembled the account Thomas Aquinas had given of angelic knowledge. The knowing subject had become the source and not the locus of knowledge, and knowledge was treated as something had prior to independently of experience of the world. To this was opposed the refreshing realism of Saint Thomas, for whom to know was to become one with the object known, with extramental reality. However immaterial and spiritual the mode of such knowledge, what is first known is reality other than mind. Knowing could only be a reflective object of knowledge insofar as one was knowing something other than knowing. What to make of the champion of that realism and the Maritain who is modeling human knowledge on the divine creative knowledge?

        It is just this set of questions that may be taken to guide Maritain in his efforts to give an account of poetic knowledge as creative and intuitive and as being essentially dependent on the subjectivity of the artist. But it is permitted to be surprised at what he says. Speaking of the artist, he writes, “His intuition, the creative intuition, is an obscure grasping of his own Self and of things in a knowledge through union or through connaturality which is born in the spiritual unconscious, and which fructifies only in the work.”{19} By distinguishing poetry from art, Maritain has developed a kind of complement, if not rival, of metaphysics.


Poetry is the heaven of the working reason. Poetry is a divination of the spiritual in the things of sense – which expresses itself in the things of sense, and in a delight of sense. Metaphysics also pursues a spiritual prey, but metaphysics is engaged in an abstract knowledge, while poetry quickens art. Metaphysics snatches at the spiritual in an idea, by the most abstract intellection; poetry reaches it in the flesh, by the very point of the sense sharpened through intelligence. Metaphysics enjoys its possession only in the retreats of the eternal regions, while poetry finds its own at every crossroad of the contingent and the singular….metaphysics gives chase to essences and definitions, poetry to any flash of existence glittering by the way, and any reflection of an invisible order.{20}

        Such passages seem certainly to rank poetry above metaphysics, making up for the deficiencies in the latter. Nor can one ignore the pejorative use of abstraction and the conceptual. But something had happened before this in Maritain’s understanding of metaphysics. He had begun to lay great stress on what he called the intuition of being. For this, we must now look again at the earlier work, Existence and the Existent.



The goal of the philosopher is wisdom, and wisdom consists in knowing, understaning things in terms of their ultimate causes. There are many explanations of events, proximate, middle distant, remote; but ultimately the cause that explains everything is God. After a long trek through the various aspects of natural science – in the course of which he has achieved some intimation of the fact that to be is not synonymous with to be material, that physical being is not all there is – another science opens up before him. The science of being as being: being not as changeable, being not as quantified, but being as being. This is the subject matter of the ultimate philosophical inquiry, first philosophy, wisdom, metaphysics.

        Maritain had written about, as well as engaged in, metaphysics from the beginning of his career. In the Introduction to Philosophy, he defines and locates metaphysics in the overall philosophical enterprise. In The Degrees of Knowledge, tracking the various inquiries that can lay claim to the title wisdom, he located metaphysics among sciences that are natural, that is, those that do not depend on religious belief or revelation, thus differing from wisdom in the sense of theology or the gift of the Holy Ghost. But a series of lectures he next gave provides the best point of comparison with Existence and the Existent. That work comes about a decade after A Preface to Metaphysics, Seven Lectures on Being.



Being is the subject of the highest science, and yet being would seem to be grasped in anything we know: what else is there besides being? In speaking of being as first grasped by the mind, that which no mind could fail to know since anything we know is being, Maritain invokes a phrase Cajetan uses to describe ens primum cognitum: it is being as concretized in a sensible nature ens concretum quidditati sensibili. What the mind first knows is the nature of sensible realities; that is, we form ideas of the things we have encountered with our senses. It is not that we form an abstract notion of being; being is grasped as horse, bottle, Mama, etc. These things are there, they exist, they are beings. “It is something confiscally contained in this or that particular nature, for example, in the dog, the horse, the pebble, something clothed in this or that object and diversified by it.”{21} So how does the being no one can fail to grasp differ from the subject of the ultimate philosophical science, metaphysics? It differs the way “being as being” differs from “being concretized in sensible nature.” The former is an “abstractum, being, disengaged and isolated, at least so far as being can be taken in abstraction from more particularized objects. It is being disengaged and isolated from the sensible quiddity, being viewed as such and set apart in its pure intelligible values.”{22} As a science or wisdom, metaphysics is a virtue, and Maritain likes to speak of the “metaphysical habitus” that is specified by being as being. His use invokes overtones of moral virtue as well as intellectual.{23}

        Being “presents two aspects,” essence and existence. Essence, what a thing is, is simply apprehended and expressed in a concept, ideally in a definition. There can be a concept of existence; but in the judgment, the second operation of the mind, existence is grasped as exercised; “X is.” When being is said to be the object of intellect, the statement should not be understood as restricted to the first operation of the mind. “It is to existence itself that the intellect proceeds when it formulates within itself a judgment corresponding to what a thing is or is not outside the mind.”{24} This creates a problem. Nothing is more contingent than existence as we grasp it. Things might so easily not have existed, and when they exist might so easily have existed otherwise than they do; and, alas, they will eventually cease to exist. How can a science – necessary knowledge – bear on such a contingency as existence?

Therefore, where existence is contingent, simply posited as a fact, as is the case with all created being, it must, because of this defect in its object, be directly oriented only to possible existence. Which does not mean that it is restricted to a realm of pure essences. Its goal is still existence. It considers the essences as capable of actualization, of being posited outside the mind. This is involved by the fact that the judgment is the perfection of knowledge of the act of intelligence. And this means that philosophy considers essences in so far as they require to issue forth and communicate themselves, to combine or separate in existence. In short, it considers them from the standpoint of the affluence and generosity of being. But this is not all. As the intellect “in a way leaving its proper sphere betakes itself by the instrumentality of the senses to corruptible things in which the universal is realized,” so philosophy returns by the instrumentality of the senses to the actual existence of the object of thought which it contemplates.{25}
But this return to sensible existence is not to the object of metaphysics but to its mode of existence.{26} It is just here that Maritain, for the first time, compares Thomism and existentialism, here he finds it in Kierkegaard. Thomism is an existential philosophy, speculatively, practically, and personally. In the last sense, existential means that one does not only know the truth but also lives it.{27}

        And it is here too that Maritain speaks of an “infra-scientific knowledge” that is a matter of common sense. And common sense, he writes, “is as it were, a rough sketch of metaphysics.” The being that is the concern of metaphysics has a meaning for common sense, precisely because there is a commonsense understanding of God. In any case, the path to the grasp of being as being is intuition.



There are two sides to the question, two “lights.” First, there is the mode of intellectual apprehension, the degree of immateriality of the object. This is the objective light. “At the same time proportionate to this objective light there is a subjective light perfecting the subjective activity of the intellect, by which the intellect itself is proportioned to a given object, fitted to apprehend it.”{28} This is the habitus or virtue of metaphysics, and there is a mutual causality between it and the intuition of being. The metaphysical habitus comes to birth at the same time as its proper object is disclosed to it.

        Maritain makes clear that he is not using intuition in the Scholastic sense of intellectus, which is the grasp of first principles. His use may seem akin to Bergson’s, but is not. Maritain’s intuition is intellectual, but he likens it to a mystical experience, since it occurs even in nonmetaphysicians. “There is a kind of sudden intuition which a soul may receive of her own existence or of ‘being’ embodied in all things, however. It may even happen that to a particular soul this intellectual perception presents the semblance of a mystical grace.”(47). He cites again a testimonial first given in The Degrees of Knowledge. “I have often experienced in a sudden intuition the reality of my being, the profound first principle which makes me exist outside nonentity. It is a powerful intuition whose violence has sometimes frightened me and which first revealed to me a metaphysical absolute.”{29}

        There are various paths to the intuition of being, and Maritain mentions three. The Bergsonian experience of duration is one; Heidegger’s anguish at the contingency of being is another; and finally there is a moral path suggested by Gabriel Marcel, in the experience of, say, fidelity. These in themselves are experiences and not yet the intuition of being. They present opportunities to take the decisive step, and if it is not taken we remain in the realm of psychology or ethics. The intuition of which Maritain speaks is confirmed by the rational analyses to be found in sober texts of Thomas Aquinas. Without the intuition of being, such analyses are barren; there must be both. By calling the intuition of being eidetic, Maritain is stressing the intelligible content at the highest degree of immateriality and it is noteworthy how Maritain describes their metaphysical inadequacy. It discovers a singular reality or presence actually existing and acting – in any case a reality which the intellect does not grasp by an eidetic visualization in the transparence of an idea or concept. And it discovers it by a kind of affective connaturality.”{30}

        In Existence and the Existent, Maritain returns to the intuition of being and discusses it in a more pronounced separation from so-called existential philosophy. Being is now presented as an amalgam of apprehension and judgment, the grasp of essence as the potential to exist. Quoting Thomas, Maritain tells us that existence is the act of acts, even of forms, and this grounds the primacy of existence in Thomistic metaphysics. This is not to say of course that existence is the subject of metaphysics. When Maritain turns to the existent, to the subject of existence, the formal measure of existence – whatever exists is something or other – he reviews rapidly a host of tenets of Thomistic metaphysics, and the reader is likely to feel overwhelmed. But what no reader can fail to discern is the way in which Maritain, prodded particularly by Kierkegaard, unites after he distinguishes. This little book ends as a kind of précis of the vision of The Degrees of Knowledge, terminating in a discussion of philosophy and spirituality. This is the mark of Maritain’s thought. He will lead the bewildered reader through almost shorthand discussions of subsistence, act, and potency – the transcendental properties of being – constantly referring to analogy in ways a tyro may find unhelpful, but in the crescendo, the reader will realize that the paths taken all lead finally to a unifying vision of the human task, to become holy.



Jacques Maritain had never been the kind of philosopher who settles into a single area and becomes expert at that, all but ignoring the other domains of philosophy. From the outset, his writings exhibit an incredible range and it becomes clear that he regards the full scope of philosophy as his responsibility. So he had written early of moral philosophy. Indeed, it will be remembered that one of the points of dispute at the famous Juvisy meeting on Christian philosophy had been Maritain’s notion of “moral philosophy adequately considered.” For all his admiration for Aristotle, he became convinced that Aristotelian ethics was not practical; it could not guide our lives because it operates with an inadequate notion of the very point of acting at all. Only as subalternated to moral theology, he reasoned, could moral philosophy become adequate.

        The book that was the fruit of his teaching at Princeton, Moral Philosophy, is in many ways atypical for Maritain. In it he undertakes an account of the history of moral philosophy, beginning with the Greeks and culminating in an account of Kantian moral philosophy. It would be an understatement to say that Maritain is not a fan of Kant, and no mere negation could describe his estimate of Hegel. They, with Marx, represent the great delusion of modern moral philosophy. The book ends with a lengthy discussion of the crisis in moral philosophy and the chances of reorientation.

        But if he was no stranger to moral philosophy, Maritain felt a little out of his depth when he began at Princeton. Given the practical nature of his recent life and the political and social themes of his writing, both pre- and post-war, this seems unnecessary diffidence. Still, there is a discussion in his letter to Charles Journet that catches the eye.



About the time that he was beginning to teach moral philosophy at Princeton, Maritain exchanged some letters with Charles Journet in which he proposes a surprising argument. The argument is prompted by the situation in which he finds himself where everyone, he tells Journet, is talking about birth control.

        He first sets down the premise that sexual intercourse cannot frustrate natural ends and be morally legitimate, but (1) nevertheless it is not required that one have the intention of procreating (the wife might have had an operation rendering her sterile or she may be beyond childbearing age). (2) What is more, the intention not to procreate can be licitly present, as in the rhythm method, which the Church does not condemn. He concludes, “Therefore it is not the intention of the agent, the intention not to procreate, that renders birth control sinful. So what is it? It must be an alteration introduced into the act itself which turns it from its finality which is the finis operis, the end of the act, and not the finis operantis, the end of the agent.” This latter is what he was referring to in the remarks about intention. The sin of Onan illustrates the frustration of the act.

        With that as background, Maritain speculates. What if some day science invented a product, some pill you could swallow or some injection, that would make the woman sterile for a given period? Would spouses who used such a product in order not to procreate, when reason judges that this would not be wise, be guilty of a moral fault? He answers No! Why? “Their reason actively intervenes there where with the Ogino (rhythm) method it calculates only to take advantage of what nature herself does: it is impossible to see of what they would be guilty.”{31} In short, there is a moral equivalence between marital acts that take place during a natural period of infertility and those that take place during a medically induced temporary infertility.

        This is of course a bad argument since it deflects attention from the act of inducing infertility to acts performed once infertility has been induced. Journet’s initial reaction to this letter of September 26, 1948, is favorable. But he mentions that all moralists would object that, if an injection renders a person sterile, this is mutilation and illicit. Journet quotes the famous moralist Merkelbach on the matter. He follows with citations from another, Catherein. But he adds that in putting the matter of such injections to his bishop, he was told that they might be legitimate. On the same day, October 6, Journet sends a long list of relevant biblical passages. That was on October 6. On October 21, he writes again, citing the encyclical Casti Connubii against seeking technical means to overcome the flesh. It is not until November 15 that Jacques replies, saying he is relieved that Journet does not think him a heretic for what he proposed. He knows that Casti Connubii sounds a different note. “But precisely if I am right (if we are right!) this question would provide one of those tragic examples where the Church defends a truth while blocking it with ways of thinking human experience has surpassed.” Apparently unaffected by the points Journet has raised, Maritain writes, “The day the Church approves the future techniques of which we speak, it will have changed its doctrine in nothing, but the souls one has mobilized against any idea whatsoever of such a technique and on behalf of procreation uncontrolled by reason will understand nothing.”{32}

        All in all, an inauspicious beginning for the Princeton Professor of Moral Philosophy. Of course, it would be absurd on the basis of these private exchanges between old friends to see an anticipation of the theological dissent that followed on the appearance of Humanae Vitae twenty years later. Maritain had made quite clear his loyalty to the Magisterium at the time of the condemnation of Action Française, and one can predict what his response to Paul VI’s encyclical would have been: total acceptance. His letters to Journet of that period have still not been made public, but no reader of The Peasant of the Garonne could imagine Jacques Maritain questioning, either privately or publicly, such a document as Humanae Vitae.



The vast interpretative survey of moral philosophy that grew into a huge book – in size second only to The Degrees of Knowledge – was regarded by Maritain, if only in retrospect, as valedictory. “It was at a time of life when the soul turns toward higher regions, a way for me to pay my respects to, and thus take leave of, the philosophers – in particular the modern philosophers, whose historical work it was once claimed I purely and simply rejected.”{33} But the satisfaction this gave him, he characterizes as subjective. The real point of the book is to see in the historical unfolding of moral philosophy a mélange of error and acquired truth. “And many essential truths are at the same stroke gathered in along the way, in a manner that is non-systematic but perhaps more stimulating for the mind, because they emerge from the long reflection that is pursued from age to age, with its advances and failures, and from the successive occasions that it offers for discussion. I think that in a general way such a procedure, turning to account, under a resolutely critical eye, a heritage of time-honored labors and disputes, could be carried out with advantage by the disciples of the philosophia perennis in the most varied fields.”{34}

        Given the role that Aristotle plays in the philosophy of Saint Thomas and the fact that Maritain is a quintessential Thomist, the treatment of Aristotle can, for our purposes, serve as a sufficient sounding in the vast ocean of this work. Any student of Aristotle must be impressed by the succinct and thorough presentation of Aristotelian moral philosophy. How can this oral philosophy be related to that of Aquinas? In an appendix to his first book, Bergsonian Philosophy, Maritain had offered a view on the nature of Thomas’s commentaries on Aristotle and the nature of the Aristotelianism of Saint Thomas. In Science and Wisdom, he had put forward his notion of moral philosophy adequately considered. Here he returns to the inadequacy, as he sees it, of the notion of happiness Aristotle proposes and the definitive role it plays in his moral philosophy. Maritain finds in this a trace of utilitarianism.

All this amounts to saying that the equilibrium sought by Aristotle was not decisively attained. I fear, moreover, that a kind of vicious circle is implied in his procedure: the fact that virtue appears herein as essentially a means toward the good and beautiful life, the blessed life; and yet virtue is also an integral part of that blessed life, since without virtue there is no good and beautiful life – the means to the end (virtue) thus enters into the very notion and constitution of the end to which it is directed.{35}

        Assuming that this is an insoluble problem for Aristotle, Maritain alludes to the ultimate and absolute end and beatitude of which Christianity speaks. Of course, Maritain is not suggesting that it was a philosophical flaw on Aristotle’s part not to have anticipated Christianity and the supernatural order. Happiness for Aristotle is, so to speak, the subjective side of the Ultimate End – our pursuit and attainment of the end. But it is the terrestrial nature of human happiness in Aristotle, the good achievable by action in this life, that leads Maritain to object that it does not involve a reference to a transcendent common good. And this is a philosophical lack.

But what Aristotle might have known, and did not, is the fact that in the natural order itself, the “monastic,” as far as it considers the purely and simply final end of human life, identifies itself with a suprapolitical ethics. For even in the purely natural order (where there is no question of beatific vision) it is not the earthly city but God Who is the absolute end of man as of the whole universe. And even in the purely natural order there is for human persons, members of the city, a common good which is superior to that of the city, that is the common good of minds, the supra-temporal order of goods, of truths and of intangible laws which reveal themselves to the intellect – and which human life could not do without. The common good of the earthly city itself demands that the city recognize this supra-political common good, and that the persons who are members of the city direct themselves to it, thus transcending the political order of the city by what is eternal in man and in the things to which he is attached. One might say that it took the fracas of revelation and the scandal of grace coming to complete nature to make philosophy see these supreme data of the natural order, which it had been looking at all along, without realizing it.{36}

        And so Maritain returns to the theme of Christian philosophy. It is not necessary to accept every jot and tittle of what he says about Aristotelian ethics – some would argue, for example, that contemplation in Aristotle is precisely turned to what transcends the city, however much the philosopher remains a citizen{37} – in order to see that the transcendent common good can, in its way, belong to a philosophical account. If it were indeed absent from Aristotle, that would be a philosophical flaw.

        All in all, Moral Philosophy is a most impressive tour of the history of moral philosophy that is at once a narration and an appraisal. And it culminates in what could be taken as Maritain’s farewell to philosophy. From now on, the center of gravity of his thinking becomes theological.


Contemplata trader.

        The couple who had written De la vie d’oraison thirty-five years before wrote a complementary little work a year or so before the death of Raïssa on the subject of the liturgy. Written for the American review Spiritual Life, it was composed in French and appeared in Paris in 1959 with a preface by Charles Journet. Written on the eve of the Council, it adumbrated many of the points that would be made by Vatican II and was inspired by Pius XII’s encyclical on liturgy, Mediator Dei (1947). Moreover, it paid explicit tribute to Dom Virgil Michel and the liturgical movement that emanated from St. John’s Benedictine Abbey in Minnesota. The ideal is for liturgy to proceed from silence and love and to be achieved in silence and love. The many liturgical abuses, in practice and in theory, that have followed on Vatican II can claim no support from the Council. Jacques lived long enough to see a bit ot that; and, of course, in The Peasant of the Garonne, he would write one of the most incisive and prescient analyses of what came to be called “the false spirit of Vatican II.” More of that anon. For the nonce, let us read Liturgy and Contemplation as a powerful statement in old age of what had been the guiding hope of their lives.

        The little book has three parts: the first devoted to defining liturgy, the second to contemplation, and a third that addresses the supposed opposition between the Church’s liturgy and the Church’s contemplation. Obscurus fio dum brevis esse laboro, Horace lamented: brevity is the foe of clarity. Never was this thought more decisively contradicted than by this short book. Journet’s preface is equally brief and pointed. He had the inspiration to end with this passage from The Primacy of the Spiritual.

Contemplation alone discovers the prize of charity. Without it one knows only by hearsay, with it one knows by experience. By love and in love, it makes us realize that God is love. Then a man allows God to do what he will with him, allows it out of love. Whatever lacks the flavor of love has no savor for him. Because of this love which consummates our life, only contemplation makes the universal real for us, makes the soul Catholic in spirit and in truth.

        In Moral Philosophy, Maritain had made the point that, with Christianity, the inner or spiritual dimension of action takes primacy and is the soul of the external action. This inwardness is an openness to, not a turning away from, the real. Does the public worship of the Church draw us away from contemplation? It would be absurd to sacrifice contemplation to the liturgy or vice versa. Pius XII has stressed that there is neither opposition nor contradiction between the ascetic life and liturgical piety. Liturgy calls us to contemplation. As the worship of the Church – Christ’s worshiping the Father as head of the Mystical Body – the emphasis in the New Law is on inwardness; it is the internal and invisible reality that is of greater importance. The Church’s worship is external, of course, - centrally the Mass and other liturgical activities like the Divine Office – but such acts must be offered in faith, hope, and charity. “One cannot worthily honor God if the soul is not tending to perfection,” wrote Pius XII. To whatever degree, worshipers are called to a life of charity. “We do not mean that those who participate in the liturgical life of the Church must all be to some degree contemplatives and to have come under the sway of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The indifferent, ignorant, negligent and weak are called to participate in the liturgy, but the aim is to draw, incite and instruct them in the direction of a participation in spirit and truth.” For confirmation, the Maritains refer to Saint Gertrude but also to the Abbess of Solesmes’s book Prayer and the Spiritual Life.

        The liturgical cycle is based on the life of Christ, the mysteries of his abasement, redemption, and triumph. What is more, it is Christ himself who continues in the Church his “career of immense mercy.” It would be wrong to think that participating in the liturgy is communal whereas contemplation is private and individual. To take part in the llturgy is to become part of the Church worshiping; to contemplate is to become part of the Mystical Body of Christ, and this is so even when the contemplative lives a hermetic life, far from the madding crowd. As a contemplative he participates in the contemplative life of the Church.

        A further comparison of liturgy and contemplation is drawn from the fact that the liturgy – worship – is an act of religion, a moral virtue according to Thomas Aquinas, that attends to things other than God in order to relate them to God. Contemplation, on the other hand, is the life of the three theological virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Religion is ordered to the further end of the theological virtues and the gifts. What the liturgy “asks of the soul, and to which it incites, the liturgy of itself does not suffice to give. There is need of a personal ascetic effort, the personal practice of mental prayer, aspiration to personal union with God and personal docility to the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.”{38}

        Lest it may have escaped us, the Maritains make clear that it is infused contemplation they are speaking of. Contemplation is the goal and telos of philosophy, according to Aristotle, and its object is the divine. Contemplation in the Christian dispensation depends essentially on grace, on the theological virtues and the gifts. And what is it? “Contemplation is a silent prayer which comes about in recollection in the secret of the heart and is directly ordered to union with God.”{39} Some souls that have made this ascent to God have received the further gift to write about it. Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint John of the Cross are cited, the latter writing both verse and prose about the stages of the spiritual life. Such contemplation is not an achievement; it is a gift. One can remove impediments to it, but either it is given or it is not, fueled by faith, hope, charity, and the gifts. Lallemant, a seventeenth-century spiritual writer, says that contemplation is the purest and most perfect instance of charity. Love is its beginning, its exercise, and its term.

        There are different schools of spirituality, but the Maritains are not now concerned with their differences. Rather, it is the question as to whether or not all Christians are called to contemplation that interests them. Following Saint Bonaventure and Saint Thomas Aquinas, they hold that all Christians are so called, not necessarily in a proximate but at least in a remote manner. The reason for this is that the mystical life is the normal development of the grace of the theological virtues and gifts.{40} What are the signs that one has a proximate vocation to the mystical life? Tauler gives three: meditation becomes impracticable; the soul has no desire to fix the imagination on any interior or exterior object; the soul is content to be with God, fixing its loving attention on Him.

        Contemplation may take typical or disguised forms, the latter when a person is in the active life. “Perhaps they will only be capable of reciting the rosary and mental prayer gives them a headache or puts them to sleep. Mysterious contemplation will not be in their conscious prayer, but perhaps rather in the way they regard the poor and suffering.”{41} Prayer of the heart is described as “unconscious” because it takes place without reflection and can be continual in one’s life. They quote Victorino Osende.

One who practices unconscious prayer in all its fullness, and who thus attains to the state of continual prayer knows that his understanding is almost continually recollected in God and divine things, for his spirit draws him irresistibly there where his treasure is. That is why John of the Cross says, “In one who is pure, all things, high or humble … all the activities of sense and of the faculties are directed toward divine contemplation. Such a man … finds in everything a knowledge of God that is joyful, savory, chaste, pure, spiritual, light and loving.”{42}

        The dominant note of the spiritual life is the call to perfection. “Be perfect even as your heavenly Father is perfect.” And perfection, Thomas Aquinas tells us, consists essentially in charity. “He who abides in love, abides in God, and God in him.” Love of God and love of neighbor, the two laws of the New Covenant, pertain to perfection. The two laws of love are without measure. “The measure of the love of God,” Saint Bernard writes “is to be without measure.” Christ’s life shows us the path to such perfection, advancing toward God and the beatific vision by way of faith, hope, and love. Perfection thus is a way of life, ever increasing. To have charity is already to be on this path. The Maritains quote Saint Thomas. “Just as what falls under the precept by this alone that one does not accomplish it in the best ways, it suffices for its not being transgressed that it be accomplished in one way or another.”{43} This entails the exclusion of everything that impedes the movement of love toward God, not just mortal sin but whatever impedes the soul’s desire to be carried entirely toward God. Contemplation is concerned directly and immediately with the love of God himself. “What else can we conclude from this if not that the precept of perfection as it were protects and sanctions the desire for contemplation? There is no true contemplation without progress toward perfection; on the other hand, there is nothing that better hastens the steps toward perfection and the accomplishment in us of the desire for perfection than contemplation.”{44}

        Is Christian perfection identical with the higher infused contemplation? The answer, the Maritains suggest, is simple. One never finds infused contemplation without perfection but one finds perfection without infused contemplation. For all that, in order to receive infused contemplation the soul must strive for Christian perfection; but this is to be on the way to infused contemplation, and one must conclude that such infused contemplation is to one degree or another the normal path of sanctity.

        “Saint Thomas teaches that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are necessary for salvation because we are too weak of ourselves always to use as we ought even the theological virtues and the infused moral virtues.”{45} The reference is to the question in which Thomas gives a schematic account of the gifts, Summa theologiae, IaIIae, q. 68. The acquired moral virtues are insufficient, of course, to direct us to our true and supernatural end. For this reason, there are infused moral virtues given by God so that we might achieve the beatific vision. How do the gifts differ from the virtues? Well, first of all, what are the gifts and what basis is there to speak of them at all? There are seven gifts, something taught by Scripture, Isaiah 11:2-3. “And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: the spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the spirit of counsel and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge and of godliness. And he shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge according to the sight of the eyes, nor reprove according to the hearing of the ears.” It is by means of the gifts that one crosses the threshold into infused contemplation.

        The second part of this little book concludes by invoking a veritable litany of saints to corroborate what has been said. Seeking perfection is essentially linked to contemplation and since all are called to be perfect as their heavenly Father is perfect, all are called to contemplation. This can take many forms, masked in the active life, obvious in the contemplative life. A florilegium of texts from the saints makes clear that contemplation is the normal path for the Christian, the mystical life a universal call.

By way of summary, let us say that the principle of contemplation is the constant seeking after the greater and greater perfection of the soul, and that perfection consists essentially in charity; and that it is also on the love of God that contemplation lives. The most pure desire of God is therefore essential to it. The great contemplatives of all the ages, those of this reflex age as well as of the ages before it, desire God alone.{46}

        Having put before the reader the ideal of Christian life, our authors consider certain false ideas that turn people away from contemplation. Some pit the liturgy, the public prayer of the Church, against contemplation, as if an either/or were involved. Only ignorance of what contemplation is as well as what the liturgy is can explain such a view. It manifests itself in a disdain for solitary prayer. The liturgy is said to move us spontaneously toward God, whereas mystical union is spoken of in terms of formulas and techniques. But ascetic and mystical knowledge aim at removing obstacles to the operation of the gifts of grace within us. Contemplation, especially infused contemplation, is not achieved by formula and technique. The beginner is struck by talk of technique when he begins to read the great mystics, the passage from the purgative to the unitive way. But it is the teaching of the Church and the consensus of the saints that there is no method, procedure, or rule by which mystical contemplation is acquired or which leads to it. All we can do is dispose ourselves to receive the gift it may please God to grant us.{47}

        It is sometimes objected to contemplation that all its constitutive practices turn us in upon ourselves. Under the pretense of seeking mystical union, one abandons himself to introspection and a psychological fixation on one’s own inner states. It is subjective. By contrast, liturgical spirituality is objective and disinterested, calling us and all creation to the praise of God. There is, of course, a constant danger of psychological fixation on oneself, and the masters of the ascetic and mystical life are the first to warn against it. “It is absurd to reproach mental prayer and interior recollection for the faults of a counterfeit. Given that infused contemplation only exists by the love of God sovereignly loved, and for this love, it is pure nonsense to accuse of a sort of transcendant egoism those to whom in reality it gives one supreme desire: cupio dissolve et esse cum Christo: I want to be dissolved and be in Christ.”{48} To seek one’s perfection does not imply an egoistic seeking of the self. It is for the sake of God’s love, not for himself that the Christian seeks to become perfect. Only by vanquishing oneself and purging whatever in one impedes charity can one advance in the love of God.

        Finally, there are those who say that Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross were the saints of the “reflex age” and doubtless wrote as they did because of the historical epoch that was theirs. However important they were for that past age, they are not what our age needs. We have already suffered too much from individual introspectiveness. Our need is for the social and communitarian.

        This is to forget that the substance of spiritual life does not relate to time or history but to supratemporal truths. It is the same essential doctrine we find in John of the Cross that we find in the thirteenth century and in the Fathers. They all speak of the primacy of contemplation. “By what strange blindness is misunderstood the witness given by the saints and great spiritual writers all through the Christian centuries to that same experience of the depths of God whose states and degrees Saint Teresa and Saint John of the Cross have only described in a more analytic and more explicit fashion?”{49} We find in them and in Saint Francis de Sales more explicit and reflective consciousness of what takes place in the interior of the soul that has entered onto the contemplative way and has received a special gift of God to enlighten the entire Church. We owe an incomparable gratitude to them, not a dismissal, however courteously made. Of course, our time has different needs from theirs, but these do not consist in giving primacy to the social and communitarian. What our age requires is an understanding of the great masters of the mystical life.

        The liturgy is essentially an aspiration beyond every natural communitarian fact. To divorce the liturgy from its orientation to contemplation is to rob it of its nature. The point of the liturgy is charity. We belong to a supernatural society, the principle of whose life is the blood of Christ and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Why else are leaders of the liturgical renewal fervent defenders of the mystical life and contemplation?

        The dignity of silence is opposed to the pseudoliturgical spirit. In some parishes, one is assailed by noise when he enters the church. Paradoxically, the “dialogue Mass,” where the whole congregation responds to the celebrant along with the altar boys, is a powerful inducement to the inner life. Likewise, while the solemn high Mass is the most fulsome celebration of the Holy Sacrifice, “It would be foolish to pretend to condemn on that account low Masses – those low Masses said at dawn where in silence there descends upon the soul, with an unequaled sweetness, the rosary of feasts and the commemorations of each day.”{50}

        This final remark evokes the image of Maritain leaving his house on Linden Lane and going up to Nassau Street and St. Paul’s, where each morning he attended Mass. Daily attendance at Mass, immersion in the liturgy, had characterized the lives of the “little flock” from the beginning. In this brief but profound little work that appeared toward the end of the “Princeton period,” we can detect behind the seemingly impersonal discussion of contemplation and the liturgy the lifelong quest of these godchildren of Léon Bloy. Soon after, Vera would be dead, and a year later, Raïssa, leaving Jacques the sole survivor. He would take with him into the final period of his life all the resources recalled in Liturgy and Contemplation. Such a book is not written out of the knowledge gained from books. The Maritains became increasingly well-versed in the great spiritual writers, and in their beloved Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint John of the Cross. But it could only have been from their own experience, as well, that they wrote such a book. Amor transit in conditionem objecti.


{1} The house was occupied by the Louriés until Notre Dame took possession. It then functioned as a residence for Notre Dame professors on sabbatical until, without warning or consultation, the house was sold. This dismayed and astonished many, including Maritain's Princeton lawyer. In his will, Maritain had also left his heart to Notre Dame, but the French authorities prevented the transfer of this organ to South Bend. After the sale of the house, there was a mordant joke to the effect that it was a good thing the university hadn't received Maritain's heart, as the provost might have sold that as well.

{2} See OC VI, pp. 1133-35.

{3} Julio Meinvielle, De Lamennais à Maritain, segunda edicion corregida y notablemente aumentada (Buenos Aires: Ediciones Theoria, 1967).

{4} See OC IX, pp. 1102ff.

{5} Ibid., p. 1101, n. 1.

{6} Raison et raisons is a collection of Maritain's essays put together by Charles Journet in 1948 to bring European readers up to date on Maritain's work. The text of this work appears in volume IX of the Oeuvres complètes. According to Maritain's instructions, this polemical piece is not a part of it.

{7} While the Council was still in session, Guy de Broglie, S.J., published Le droit naturel à la liberté religieuse (Paris: Beauchesne, 1964), addressing some of the controversy the document was generating. The controversy continues. See Romano Amerio, Iota Unum. Studio delle variazioni della Chiesa cattolica nel secolo XX (Milano: Riccardo Ricciardi 1985), and Claude Barthe, Quel avenir pour Vatican II? (Paris: François-Xavier de Guibert, 1998).

{8} " . . . which unfortunately was expressed in an insufficiently clarified vocabulary, so that its deepest features were soon overlooked and disregarded." Jacques Maritain, Man and the State (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), p. 85.

{9} Ibid., p. 83.

{10} Ibid., p. 82.

{11} In Fides et Ratio, n. 4, John Paul II speaks of an "implicit philosophy," common to all, which provides a set of criteria for appraising philosophical systems.

{12} Letter to 'A'. September 24, 1955. In Sally Fitzgerald, ed. The Habit of Being (New York: Farrar Straus, Giroux, 1979), p. 105.

{13} Ibid. p. 216 (April 20, 1957).

{14} Jacques Maritain, Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry (New York: Pantheon Books, 1953), p. 3.

{15} Jacques Maritain, Art and Scholasticism and The Frontiers of Poetry, trans. Joseph W. Evans (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1974), p. 36.

{16} J. Maritain, Creative Intuition, p. 21.

{17} Ibid., p. 23.

{18} Ibid., p. 113.

{19} Ibid., p. 115.

{20} Ibid., pp. 235-36.

{21} Jacques Maritain, A Preface to Metaphysics: Seven Lectures on Being (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1939), p. 18.

{22} Ibid., p. 19.

{23} One thinks of the title Sally Fitzgerald gave to her edition of the letters of Flannery O'Connor: The Habit of Being.

{24} J. Maritain, A Preface to Metaphysics, p. 21.

{25} Ibid, p. 22. The internal quote is from Cajetan's commentary on the Posterior Analytics.

{26} Ibid., p. 23.

{27} Ibid., p. 24.

{28} Ibid., p. 45.

{29} Ibid., p. 47.

{30} Ibid., p. 60.

{31} Journet-Maritain Correspondance III, 1940-1949 (edition of the Foundation du Cardinal Journet. Edition Saint-Augustin, 1998), p. 698.

{32} Ibid., p. 716.

{33} Jacques Maritain, Moral Philosophy: A Historical and Critical Survey of the Great Systems (New York: Scribner, 1964), p. 448. The French version had appeared in Paris in 1960.

{34} Ibid.

{35} Ibid., p. 36.

{36} Ibid., p. 46. This passage may be said to write closure to the controversy over the common good to which The Person and the Common Good was a first response.

{37} Maritain, on this page 46, seems to accept as good money the so called errors of Aristotle having to do with free will and God's knowledge of his effects that Thomas Aquinas had argued were misinterpretations of Aristotle.

{38} Jacques et Raïssa Maritain, Liturgie et contemplation (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1959), p. 28.

{39} Ibid., p. 33.

{40} Throughout this little book the Maritains rely on the spiritual writings of Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange.

{41} Maritain et Maritain, Liturgie et contemplation, pp. 38-39.

{42} Ibid., p. 41.

{43} Summa theologiae, IIaIIae, q. 184, a. 3, ad 2.

{44} Maritain et Maritain, Liturgie et contemplation, p. 46.

{45} Ibid., p. 53.

{46} Ibid., p. 60.

{47} Ibid., p. 65.

{48} Ibid., p. 69.

{49} Ibid., p. 70.

{50} Ibid., p. 87.

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