Jacques Maritain Center

An Essay on Christian Philosophy


Jacques Maritain

Translated by

Edward H. Flannery

Philosophical Library
New York
Copyright 1955
by Philosophical Library, Inc., of
15 East 40th Street, New York, N.Y.
Printed in the United States of America
by the Haddon Craftsmen, Inc.,
Scranton, Pa.


Translator's Foreword


An Essay on Christian Philosophy






Glossary (by the translator)

Index of Proper Names


When the original version of An Essay on Christian Philosophy appeared in France, it was accepted in many quarters as the definitive statement of the Thomistic position on the subject. Some questions were raised, however, regarding certain theses upheld by Mr. Maritain in that study, and this led to further e1ucidations by him in another work, which was translated into English under the title Science and Wisdom (New York: Scribners). With the exception of the latter, the English reading public has never had access to a compact statement of Mr. Maritain's essential views on the nature and conditions of Christian philosophy. It is perhaps this fact more than any other which accounts for the fact that the fruitful debate on this important problem, which engaged the philosophers and theologians in Europe two decades ago, never quite managed to reach our own shores. It was in the interest of helping to reduce this "cultural lag" that the present translation was undertaken.

Although An Essay on Christian Philosophy is not ordinarily ranged among Maritain's greater works it is, in a sense, the key which unlocks the doors leading to the interior of his massive synthesis of modern Thomism, for it deals with the inner springs of his thought or, we might say, with his philosophical "founts of revelation." Its importance could not be better underlined than by this affirmation of Maritain himself: "The more I think about this problem of Christian philosophy the more it appears a central point of the history of our time since the Renaissance: and probably as the central point of the history of the age to come." (Science and Wisdom, p. 129)

Because of the purely philosophic nature of this study, the main effort in translation was for fidelity and clarity, at the cost, where necessary, of felicitous expression. For the sake of readers unacquainted with Scholastic thought I have appended a glossary of unfamiliar terms and phrases, which includes, for the most part, Scholastic or Latin terms or expressions which are undefined or untranslated when first encountered in the text. The lengthier Latin passages have also been rendered by the translator. And whenever Latin passages have appeared in the original text, they have, with the consent of the author, been relegated to footnotes and replaced by their English translation.

I wish to thank Mr. Maritain for reading the manuscript and for the corrections suggested. I should also like to express my thankfulness to Most Rev. Russell J. McVinney, D.D., of Providence, R. I., for his encouragement, and to Father John Oesterreicher of the Institute of Judaeo-Christian Studies of Seton Hall University for valuable suggestions. E.H.F.


"Does a Christian philosophy exist? Is a Christian philosophy at all conceivable?" Speculative issues of the highest importance as to the nature of philosophy and the intellectual value of faith are involved in these questions, and the answers we shall give them should have a decisive practical bearing on certain basic spiritual attitudes. For the philosopher will shape his life and thinking in a particular way if he is of the opinion that to philosophize well he has to keep his philosophic labors apart from his life of prayer (supposing that he has one). And he will shape them in an entirely different way to the extent that he believes, contrariwise, that he ought to join them in an organic and living unity, and strive in his personal activities to have the opus rationis quickened and activated by this life of prayer, and by contemplative wisdom -- while fully safeguarding its absolute rigor and special purity.

The same problem is encountered again, moreover, though in different terms, in the case of the artist, as also in the case of the historian or the exegete. The following pages, which are wholly devoted to the problem of Christian philosophy, comprized the text of a conference delivered at the University of Louvain in December, 1931, wherein I took up anew and expanded a communication I had made to the Société Française de Philosophie in March of the same year. The fact that a theologian of the stature of Father Garrigou-Lagrange and philosophers such as Étienne Gilson{1} and Gabriel Marcel saw fit to express their accord with the views I upheld on those occasions provided the necessary encouragement to have them published in their present form.

Two explanatory notes dealing with apologetics and the problem of moral philosophy adequately considered have been added as a supplement. I should like to call the attention of the specialists to the second of these. There in a style necessarily somewhat technical I have touched upon questions which affect the whole domain of practical knowledge and moral science. The answers they receive will be fraught with serious significance for the future of this science.


{1} In the second volume (p. 287-290) of his admirable book, "L'Ésprit de la Philasophie Médédvale." Mr. Gilson, referring to this study, wrote: "Let me say that this account sets forth . . . the elements of a doctrinal solution to the problem. Not only do I believe that the historical point of view does not rule out the doctrinal one, but that it requires and, in a sense, implies it. In order that revelation may enlighten reason, both must form real mutual affinities in the subject in which they collaborate.

"Consider any given philosophic system. Now ask if it is 'Christian,' and if so by what characteristics you can recognize it as such? From the observer's standpoint it is a philosophy, therefore a work of reason. The author is a Christian, and yet his Christianity, however telling its influence on his philosophy has been, remains something essentially distinct from it. The only means at our disposal for detecting this inner action is to compare the data which we can outwardly observe: the philosophy without revelation and the philosophy with revelation. This is what I have attempted to do. And since history alone is capable of performing this task, I have stated that history alone can give a meaning to the concept of Christian philosophy. This conclusion will stand or fall with its premises. However, should this formula or any other analogous that I have found of use cause confusion, by reason of their very exactness, I am quite ready to alter them.

"I may say, then, that Christian philosophy is an objectively observable reality for history alone, and that its existence is positively verifiable by history alone, but that once its existence has been thus established its notion may be analysed in itself. This ought to be done as Mr. J. Maritain has done it; I am in fact in complete agreement with him. On the other hand, if Mr. Bréhier is right in saying that Christian philosophy is not a historically observable reality, or Mr. Blondel, that the Christian character of a philosophy (supposing that it is possible) is in no wise indebted to revelation, my position must be considered false."

<< ======= >>