University of Notre Dame
Jacques Maritain Center   

Address at the Gallery of Living Catholic Authors

By Jacques Maritain

10 May 1952

Transcribed from a carbon copy of a typewritten manuscript
Mr. Chairman, President Shuster, Reverend Fathers, Ladies and Gentlemen:

First of all I should like to thank most cordially President Shuster, whose friendship I have treasured for so many years, for his generous words which touch me all the more deeply as I fool unworthy of them.

And I should like to express my gratitude to the Gallery of Living Catholics Authors and Its Literary Award Comittee, for the great honor they have bestowed upon me in presenting me with this illuminated scroll, which is for me a token of American courtesy, as well as of the keen interest that the Catholic intelligentsia in this country has in philosophy.

May I add that I am an old friend of the Gallery? I remember that day in 1942, on the Feast of Pentecost, when I had the pleasure of joining the Right Reverend Monsignor Peter Guilday, Father Francis Talbot, Father James Gillis, Mrs. Sigrid Undset, Mrs. Katherine Burton and Mrs. Padraic Colum in attending the celebration of the tenth anniversary of the Gallery, and of greeting its admirable founder, Sister Mary Joseph, so fervently devoted to the cause of Catholic literature.

Now the Gallery has reached its twentieth year of age. In the meantine its work has been steadily growing. I am happy to have this opportunity to tell of my appreciation for the remarkable progress and success achieved thanks to the devotion of the officials and the Friends of the Gallery.

The principal aim of the Gallery is to give encouragment to Catholic writers, I have two particular reasons personally to realize today the efficacious manner in which this aim is achieved. First: Miss Catherine Neale likes to stress the fact that the Gallery is especially pleased to give encouragement to young writers. Did not our friend Daniel Sargent write to Sister Mary Joseph: "Although all now represented in your Gallery may not be very great, they all have a great opportunity which you help to make even greater. An opportunity to gain recognition is all the young writer asks, and this is granted by your inspirational Gallery of Living Catholic Authors"?

Well, this leads me to think that I have been chosen for the annual award of the Gallery not because of any merit in my books but because of my quality as a young writer. This coniseration is of a nature to bring me back, as regards my books, to a certain humility that I was perhaps in danger of losing by reason of the award, yet at the smae time it gives so the particularly comforting encouragement of thinking that, after all, I am perhaps a young writer of twenty or twenty-two just starting to work, and, consequently, allowed to hope that he will write much better books than those I have happened in actual fact to have been writing for some years.

My second reason for realizing the efficacy of the encouragement given by the Gallery is more serious, and has to do with the reverse side of the question. My point is that white-haired philosophers are more in need of encouragement than young writers, because they are aware of all that is lacking or imperfect in a life-long effort. And nothing is more heartening for an author than to get a response of understanding and sympathy. Then the abstract and anonymous reader becomes for him a companion and a friend who participates in his very endeavor. This warm atmosphere of friendship I am feeling today in your fine and indulgent assembly. It is an invaluable recompense for which I thank each one of you.

I am expected, I was told, to say a few words about the Apostolate of the Pen. Let me confess that I would prefer not to do so, for I am afraid of big words.

Moreover any expression intended to designate some human activity should to used by those it concerns to mean the kind of task they are doing. Now, if you ask a writer what he is doing, he will probably answer: I am a novelist, or a poet, or a philosopher, or a playwright. But I hardly imagine that he will answer: Me? I am an apostle of the pen. Supposing he did answer in this way, I would have little confidence in his apostolic virtues.

Apostolate is intended to convey to men the good tidings of the Gospels and to lead souls to faith in revealed truth. It has its proper ways and means. For a writer to make a novel or a metaphysical treatise an instrument calculated on the basis of the ways to this purpose, or to any other purpose extraneous to the proper exigencies of his work, would involve some risk for the very quality of the work.

The immediate task and purpose of a writer is either to produce an artifact in beauty or to solve some problem according to the truth of the matter. Of course he can and must have further aims, dealing with his life and destiny an a man, but they are distant aims, which are not the operative rule and measure of the work. Of course it is impossible for a writer who believes in God not to be concerned with the spreading of divine truth, say, with the very ends of apostolate. But this is a matter of inner inspiration which is all the more efficacious as it dwells in the secret recesses of the soul, and, while quickening creative activity, maintains it in its native and genuine disinterestedness. We would risk spoiling many precious things if we let any kind of utilitarianism, even for the noblest purposes, enter the sphere of art or of speculative knowledge.

What is to be hoped for with respect to a Catholic writer is that he might be an artist fully dedicated to the requirements of his art and the beauty of his work, or a thinker fully dedicated to the requirements of knowledge and the progress of the intellect in truth, and that he might be inspired in his task by something of the feeling which prompted Léon Bloy to say: "my secret for writing books which please you is to be ready to give my life for the unknown reader who will some day read them."

Then he will have a good chance of being an apostle of the pen, but without having any desire to inscribe his name in Who's-Who under this heading, or to subordinate the search for truth or beauty to practical success or facility in acting on the souls of his contemporaries.

Before finishing I should like briefly to touch upon another point, which deals with semantics. Catholic means universal. To the extent to which he is true to his type, a Catholic writer speaks to all men. As a result a Catholic writer should endeavor to offer his thoughts in a vocabulary apt to touch not only his fellow-Catholics, but every man. I do not say that he will succeed in doing so, I say that he should try to. I do not mean that what he says should be of a nature to please everybody. I mean that the manner in which he says it should be of a nature to appeal rather to the reason or the aesthetic feeling of any man, assuming he has the needed intellectual preparation. This very effort to universalize the expression, and to purify it of the facilities due to a particular common lexicon, helps a Catholic writer to keep more profoundly faithful to the exacting purity of Catholic truth.

In order to make my point clearer, let me quote a remark of T.S. Eliot about Dante. No poem is more purely and integrally Catholic than the Divine Comedy. Moreover, Dante, as he puts it in a famous letter to Can Grande, considered that the final end of the Comedy was "to remove those living in this life from the state of misery and lead them to the state of felicity." Now what did Eliot observe in his essay on Dante? He observed that a reader who does not share in Dante's faith feels no opposition to what Dante believes because he feels no imposition upon himself of one man's individual belief. The way in which Dante expresses his faith is so universal that any man who is sensitive to poetry is prompted to listen to him -- not, I mean, to be convinced or converted by him, but at least to be introduced by his into a world of beauty which is the very world of Dante's faith, and to feel there the delight of beauty. The house of Dante was a Catholic house open to all men, at least to all poetry lovers. This Catholicity of Dante's approach seems to me to illustrate what I have just tried to suggest.

It is not easy to be a Catholic, and it is not easy to be a writer. To be a Catholic writer in doubly difficult. There is on the one hand the danger of yielding to the spell of art or human knowledge so as to fail in the requirements of the supreme truth. And there is on the other hand the danger of using the divine truth to which we and our follow-believers adhere in common to compensate for the possible lacks in our fidelity to the requirements of art or human knowledge. I do not believe there is any other way to overcome these risks than a good deal of humility, and some kind of appreciation, or yearning, for the ways of spiritual life.

We are confronted now with energies of error -- to use St. Paul's expression -- which claim to transform man and the world for the sake of a materialistic ideal. Our struggle against these energies of error can be victorious only if we confront then with the integrity of the intellectual and spiritual power embodied in our Christian heritage.

It is an urgent need of the world today that Christians firmly attached to their faith dedicate themselves to the labor of intelligence in all fields of human knowledge and creative activity, while realizing that the keys provided to us by a sound philosophy and theology are intended to open doors, not to close them; and that spiritual experience born in charity is the most profound and fecund inspiration to do creative works -- each one in his own special field and according to the requirements of this field, but in having his work animated from within by a motion which comes from a higher source, and which is able to attain the souls of men as no human contrivance can do.

And this is, I am afraid -- in actual fact and in its true sense -- that Apostolate of the Pen of which I did not want to speak.