University of Notre Dame
Jacques Maritain Center   

Gallery of Living Catholic Authors

Tenth Anniversary

[From an autograph manuscript.]

I should like first of all to thank the organizers of this celebration, especially Father Talbot, and to pay my tribute to the splendid work performed by Sister Mary Joseph.

It is rare that the same person sows and harvests. Such a privilege is the case of Sister Mary Joseph. When she started the Gallery of Living Catholic Authors, ten years ago, I wonder whether she expected her idea to be so warmly received and to meet with such great success. I have known of her undertaking for a long time, for my first visit to this country also took place ten years ago. Sister Mary Joseph's idea was a simple, pure and honest one, inspired by that feeling of fraternal fellowship which is very striking and highly valuable among the Catholics of America, and it is the simplicity, purity and honesty of this very feeling which explains, to my mind, the magnificent manner in which Sister Mary Joseph's idea has been answered. I take with great pleasure the present opportunity of congratulating her, and at the same time of telling her, and you, how deeply I appreciate and how moved I feel by the courtesy, confidence and generosity displayed by the Catholic public as well as by the Catholic critics of America towards their fellow writers from foreign countries. Nowhere did I so movingly experience the unity of the great Catholic family and its openness to every Christian initiative pressing through the living channels by which the souls of good will are joined together.

I suppose that the inspiring motive power of Sister Mary Joseph was a conviction of the necessity for this Catholic family to come to a better awareness of itself, and of its own energies and of its own standards.

This is the first step to be taken, the first stage in Catholic Action. Before giving something, we need to be something; before giving ourselves, we need to be ourselves; before giving divine truth we need to have divine truth and life descending into and passing through ourselves.

Well, it is chiefly by its own literature, art and poetry that any community whatever becomes conscious of itself. That is why an organization like the Gallery of Living Catholic Authors, which offers to the public a collective account of the Catholic world's intellectual activities, and which thus awakens self-awareness in Catholic opinion, is especially helpful with regard to the first step in question.

Now there is a second step to be normally taken, the step of expansion and apostolate. Catholic Action is not a stronghold walled up in itself like a medieval castle, but rather an army of pilgrims and crusaders spreading over the plains of this world, and armed with the weapons of faith and divine charity. We are bound to cause the Gospel leaven to penetrate earthly existence; may I say that the opportunity for such a work of evangelic illumination is today, it seems to me, more than ever to be put into action, because, for the time being, many non-Catholics, in this country as well as in Europe, are eager to recast their philosophy of life and to discover the genuine foundation of human freedom and dignity, and for this purpose are looking toward the church and seeking the cooperation of Catholics? Here also the Gallery of Living Catholic Authors may be especially fruitful, in helping Catholic thought and literature, which would run some risk of self-complacency if it enclosed itself within a merely denominational field of readers, helping it to enter and enlighten the common labor of the culture, art and thought of today.

In the general field of Catholic literature, I should like to emphasize the rule and importance of Catholic philosophy. There is no Christian Mathematics nor Christian Botany, yet there is indeed a Christian philosophy, for philosophy is not only knowledge or science, but wisdom too. And because wisdom deals with the roots of being and the roots of human action, speculative wisdom or speculaive philosophy -- though founded by its very essence in natural experience and rational evidence, not in faith, -- cannot grow complete and exempt from errors in its development without the guidance and inner vitalization of faith; and practical wisdom or practical philosophy, which is concerned with human deeds and human things in the existential state of human nature, both fallen and redeemed, must of necessity be backed up by faith and theology if it is to know and penetrate its subject-matter in a truly real and practical manner.

In the face of the dispersion and atomization of modern knowledge and modern life, the main task and benefit of Christian philosophy consists in making a man overcome any dichotomy, and conquer his own internal unity.

This appears first with regard to spiritual life. Human knowledge is divided today into an infinity of specialized disciplines. Each one of us is seriously learned in a given field of science or technique or practical vocation, our minds are actually adult as concerns particular fields of material nature, but they often remain in a state of childhood as concerns the knowledge of highest truths; thus for too many souls religion becomes a set of sacred formulas whose through-going reality is not intellectually grasped, or of pious practices whose transforming and quickening meaning is asleep, without any contact with our real existence. As in certain canvases by Picasso, modern man has enormously beautiful and perfect legs and arms, pink and muscled and glamorous, and the minute, timid and empty head of a bird. It is the work of philosophy to fill up the gaps between our diverse fields of training and to remedy the disparity in growth of the diverse members of our mental organism. Christian philosophy lays the natural foundations of that supernatural unity and peace which only Christ is able to give, and which flowers forth in divine contemplation.

Similar observations must be made with regard to social and political life. This life has been tuned to the requirements of matter, machine and technique, and put out of tune with that human soul for whose loss the possession of the entire universe cannot make up. Without Christian philosophy, which establishes the natural dignity of the human person, the natural rights of man, the natural and intrinsic subordination of politics and economics to ethics, the natural primacy of justice and friendship in the structure of society, even the highest teachings of theology and the most sincere enthusiasm of charity are powerless to rehumanize our culture and the life of nations.

Truth to tell, Christian philosophy has been the ugly duckling of modern knowledge. Because the normal process of historical growth, by virtue of which philosophy had to become autonomous in actual fact, has been vitiated since Descartes by the spirit of separation, a philosophy isolated from faith, or opposed to faith, pretended to burden itself with all the problems of human destiny, and which was normally to end up in the Positivist self-denial of philosophy, has been replacing in modern times what could and should have been Christian philosophy, a philosophy genuinely distinguished from faith but in vital continuity with it. Thus the immense fields of problems open to Christian philosophy have remained for the major part uncultivated. So much the better! The inheritors of our present pains will not lack work, they will be summoned to a patient, humble and magnanimous task in which may generations may be employed. Just as the theology of St. Augustine was the inspiring soul of the great cultural development of the Middle Ages, so I am convinced that the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas will be the inspiring font of the new Christendom to come. From this point of view, the interest in Thomistic philosophy and Christian humanism which may be discerned in the intellectual circles and the intellectual growth of this country of freedom and perpetual renewal, appears as a historical phenomenon still in the state of germination, but of the most remarkable importance.