|In the previous chapter we traced the trajectory
of Maritain's metaphysical thought from his first intuition of being to his final
reflections on metaphysical contemplation. In this chapter we will follow a parallel path
that explores his thoughts on mystical or supernatural or infused contemplation.
Our journey will look at some of the same events in the Maritains' lives, but this time from the contemplative perspective, and we start once again with Raissa's primordial metaphysical experiences, for they had mystical overtones. She writes, for example, about Plotinus, whom she had studied in the seminar with Bergson, that he expresses himself "as much in the character of a mystic as in that of a metaphysician." (1) And could this not have been the very reason that attracted her and Jacques to him, not to mention Bergson himself? And she speaks, as well, of her forest which has become a forest of symbols pointing to their creator, and such a vivid sense of God's existence could not have but awakened in her heart a desire, still hidden and unconscious, for a loving union with that God.
But it was through Leon Bloy that the Maritains gained their first conscious awareness of the inner contemplative experience of the saints. We have seen them reading his La Femme Pauvre, and they considered it providential that he did not speak to them in the language of apologetics and rational arguments but rather out of his inner convictions about the Catholic faith that he nurtured in poverty and suffering. "He placed before us the fact of sanctity. Simply, and because he loved them, because their experience was so near to his own - so much that he could not read them without weeping - he brought us to know the saints and mystics." (2) So he would read to them from Angela of Foligno or Ruysbroeck and have them read the life and visions of Anna Catherine Emmerich, a 19th century German nun.
Around this same time one of their friends gave them the Catéchisme spirituel of Father Surin to read in which "the scattered notions regarding contemplation which we had found in Plotinus, in Pascal and in Léon Bloy here had their centre of fullness and efficacy." (3) Although, clearly, this doctrine of contemplation could not have been fully in focus before their baptism and their years of prayer, their months with Bloy and the reading of the mystics had given them "a burning desire for the happiness and holiness of the saints." (4)
But still this glimpse did not take away all difficulties for it seemed to them that to accept faith was to abandon philosophy, and a long struggle preceded their baptism in June of 1906. Significantly, however, the next day Raissa went off to rest carrying with her the autobiography of Teresa of Avila with its story of the central importance of prayer and the contemplative journey.
At the end of the summer Jacques and Raissa left for Heidelberg, and their home on Gaisbergstrasse was to become a novitiate where they had set times of prayer, spiritual reading and even chapter of faults. We saw Jacques struggling here with his philosophical vocation, but at the same time Raissa was searching for her own interior path. If the beauty of the contemplative life helped draw her to faith, it was understandable that she would conceive her own practice of the faith as a life dedicated to prayer. Joined by Vera they immersed themselves in the classic and modern masters of the spiritual life. They read Francis de Sales and Father Faber, La Vie Spirituelle of the Abbesse de Sainte-Cécile, and Ignatius Loyola. (5)
In 1907 Raissa's interior life begins to undergo a deep change. She is taken sick and receives the anointing of the sick in January and it brings with it a "grace of total abandonment to God and of the joy of suffering." (6) She writes to Jacques' sister Jeanne: "My soul overflows with joy, with peace, with hope and with love. This has been like another baptism. My soul felt truly liberated from sin, wholly united to the will of God." (7)
By the fall of 1907 Raissa feels that she is "the guardian of a Kingdom which I do not see."(8) This is the Kingdom of God in the soul but "what is in my soul, I do not see. I am seated at the door." (9) One day in November the door begins to open. She is at Mass and she begins to be drawn inside this Kingdom. Jacques notes in his diary for November 26: "On returning from church Raissa sits down without saying anything; I question her; she answers me with difficulty the she 'cannot Speak,' that I am not to be frightened.. She felt like this immediately after Holy Communion, she had time to recite the Magnificat, and to think: In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum; then impossible to think or to say a single prayer, to make any voluntary movement... In the morning, after having spoken a little, she had taken the Gospel and again became absorbed. She then had a very peaceful silent prayer in which she understood the absolute gratuitousness of divine mercy, and the pardon which God grants to us is a real abandonment of Himself, a gift of Himself to us." (10)
While we are not going to be examining in detail the evolution of Raissa's interior life, it is important to realize that everything that Jacques is going to write on the subject of mystical contemplation is organically linked to her experiences and must be read against this background.
Jacques' experience of his own conversion, as well as that of his companions, was to become another starting point for his reflection on the nature of contemplation, for it gave him an insight into faith and how contemplation is rooted in it. Even before baptism, Jacques and Raissa had looked at faith as "a higher gift of intuition" and had asked themselves "how could we adhere to dogmatic propositions which presuppose a rational inquiry, and the content of which, we were told, although superior to reason, is supremely reasonable, but to which one adheres only when motivated and illumined by faith - an adhesion of a unique kind, foreign to any form of adhesion known to us, whether philosophical, scientific, or Simply of opinion." (11) In short, if the assent of faith is not brought about by reason, then just how does it happen? They were to reflect on their own conversions and those of their friends which slowly prepared them to grasp the answer to this vital question. One of the most striking and informative conversions in this regard was that of Ernest Psichari, Jacques' boyhood friend. Psichari had been baptized a Catholic but had not practiced his faith. As a young man he had fallen into despair due to his unrequited love for Jacques' sister and had attempted suicide. In an effort to bring purpose and discipline into his life he joined the French army and was posted to North Africa. Jacques and Raissa kept him informed about their own conversions and made no secret of their prayers for his own. As early as January 1907 Jacques ha( written to him: "I hope that you will come back from those solitudes believing in God." And slowly, in the sands of Sahara, Psichari began to come to faith. In his Les Voix qui crient dans le Désert Psichari describes both his travels through Mauretania and his inner journey to faith: "To every argument can be opposed an argument, and thus appears the futility of all arguments. So if there is no desire to enlarge one's heart, if this instinct for God does not exist, no proof can be usefully furnished, and no argument is efficacious." (12) In a tribute to his friend written after his death in World War 1, Jacques writes: "It is a magnificent testimony rendered to the reality and efficacy of grace and to the supernatural essence of faith." (13)
Maritain's ideas on faith expressed in this essay are vital for us if we are to gain an insight into the nature of supernatural contemplation which mirrors the structure of the act of faith. Jacques is struck how in Psichari's case faith is the work of "God alone." "God spoke to the soul in the center of the soul where the mystical look alone penetrates and the soul listens and responds." (14) And Maritain comments more at length: "Doubtless a preparation of prudence and a valid foundation of apologetics are necessary for the theological act of faith. But the formal motive of faith does not rest upon human argument; faith is not a scientifically or rationally acquired conclusion on which a supernatural mode meritorious for salvation is superimposed 'like gold plating over copper,' faith is essentially supernatural quoad substantiam, and it has its root principles not in the human truth of apologetic demonstrations, but in the very revelation of the first Truth which is, at the same time, that which we believe and that by which we believe, just as light is at the same time that which is seen and that by which one sees; and this faith rests formally on a supernatural illumination and inspiration, on a grace infused from on high which causes us to receive within us the testimony of God." (15) Here Maritain cites St. Thomas at length on how we believe because of the first Truth itself, and part of Maritain's citation of St. Thomas comes from question 14 of his De Veritate which is a cryptic hint to Maritain's distinctive way of proceeding. These theological reflections on the act of faith are no mere speculations on the part of Maritain that he has rescued from the past out of some antiquarian interest, but they are once again formulations of St. Thomas that Maritain has discovered in all their freshness because of conversions like Psichari's and his own.
Jacques had fought a long fight before his baptism in 1906 and we should not imagine that baptism freed him once and for all from all doubts. After the novitiate of Heidelberg and the graces of conversion that carried him along he once again had to struggle: "Perhaps in 1911 or was it in 1912, 1 was suddenly assailed by violent temptations against the faith. Till then the graces of baptism had been such that what I believed I seemed to see, it was certainty itself. Now it was necessary for me to learn what the night of faith is. No longer carried in arms, I was brutally dropped to the ground. I remember long hours of interior torture, rue de l'Orangerie, alone in the room on the fourth floor which I had made a kind of retreat for work. I took care not to speak of it. I emerged from this trial, by the grace of God, very strengthened; but I had lost my childhood. I consoled myself by thinking that this had doubtless been necessary, if I was to be of some service to others." (16)
It was during this time that Psichari was making his own way to faith, and this meaningful coincidence is something that Jacques would not have overlooked. Further, his reference to St. Thomas' De Veritate when commenting on Psichari's conversion may be a reflection of his own struggles to understand the assent of faith better. At the Jacques Maritain Center at the University of Notre Dame is Maritain's own annotated copy of De Veritate. This is the Marietti edition of 1914, so it is conceivable that it is the text that aided his reflections on his own difficulties and path that Psichari followed which had ended in his conversion with the help of Humbert C1érissac in February of 1913. These pages show an intensive reading of question 14, De Fide, with phrase like the following underlined: "faith assents to the first truth because of itself (primae veritati propter seipsam assentit) (Art. 1, 6); and a passage on the assent of faith engages Maritain's special attention: "Non enim assensus ex cogitatione causatur, sed ex voluntate... Sed quia intellectus non hoc modo terminatur ad unum ut ad proprium terminum perducatur, qui est visio alicujus intelligibilis; inde est quod ejus motus nondum est quietatus, sed adhuc habet cogitationem et inquisitionem de his quae credit, quamvis firmissime assentiat..." (For assent is not caused by thinking but by the will... But since the intellect in this way does not arrive at one thing as being brought to its proper term which is the vision of some intelligible object; therefore its motion is not yet at rest but still has thought and seeking about the things that it believes, no matter how firmly it assents to them.) (Art. 1, 9)
It is the role of the will in the act of faith that is going to be an important clue when Maritain tries to understand the nature of mystical contemplation. It is around 1912, as well, that the Maritains are discussing contemplation with Charles Henrion who will appear later in our story, and all three of them are questioning Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange on contemplative matters. (17)
If the Maritains were struggling to understand the nature of faith, they were also hard pressed to see how to live out a contemplative vocation. During the years that followed Raissa's first experiences of the contemplative life in Heidelberg, she continued to be inclined toward these ways of interior prayer. When they returned to Paris in May 1908, they soon sought spiritual direction from Fr. Clérissac. This led them to the great gift of St. Thomas, but it -also was the occasion of serious difficulties in Raissa's life of prayer. Jacques writes in his notebook for Dec. 11, 1909: "Visit of Father Clérissac after lunch. Long talk afterwards with Raissa. She regrets not having a good old Father who would guide her in understanding her heart." Another more telling entry appears on September 17, 1910: "Raissa tells Father C16rissac that when her half-hour of prayer is finished, she cannot apply herself to anything, is for some time unable to read or to speak; once or twice this state continued the whole day. Father replies that it is absolutely necessary to reject this interior absorption and to struggle against it (except during the time reserved for prayer), and as soon as this time is finished to adapt oneself to one's ordinary occupations." (18) Jacques later comments: "Example of a certain lack of comprehension from which Raissa suffered a great deal. In his adversion for the 'reflex spirit' Father Clérissac precipitated matters, and did not recognize authentic demands of her spiritual life."
In 1913, as part of his systematic confrontation of Bergson with St. Thomas, Jacques wrote an essay entitled Lintuition. Au sens de connaissance instinctive ou d'inclination" (Intuition. In the sense of instinctive knowledge or by inclination) which appeared in the Revue de Philosophie and the next year in his La Philosophie Bergsonienne. Here intuition is no longer the intuition that is properly philosophical but takes another sense: "to divine, to know without reasoning, to form a just idea or correct judgment without any discursive preparation." (19)
Once again Maritain is moved by the use that contemporary philosophy makes of "this divination-intuition" to rediscover what to his mind is a deeper and more correct view in St. Thomas. He insists that this knowledge is not something apart from the intellect but "a spontaneous exercise of the intelligence." (20) The intellect ought not to be conceived apart from the other faculties of the soul. This knowledge by inclination in the wide sense is above all intellectual, but it is the intellect working in a wholistic sense through the senses and the imagination, and through the cogitative faculty, which is a kind of sense instinct. These faculties can create "a certain sympathy or connaturality... in virtue of which the intellect will be spontaneously inclined toward this or that judgment." (21) In addition the will can interact with the intellect in an analogous fashion: "...as soon as there is love the imprint of what is loved is in some way in the Will of the one who loves, not as image or likeness, but as impetus or impulsion... And.. if love is habitual that which is loved will be constantly in him who loves, in the manner of an impetus or an impulsion which will ceaselessly urge him on. Then, at the least relaxation, on the slightest propitious occasion, the soul will be invaded by the thought of what is loved; and where reason could not have recognized it, love will do so... it is a question of recognizing and not of knowing, truth surges up in intelligence under the stimulus of love, and thus it can be said that the mind is taught by the heart." (22)
Here we reach one of the proximate foundations of Maritain's understanding of mystical contemplation. He will return again and again to the theme of connaturality and become the leading spokesperson for it in the 20th century Thomistic renaissance. Love plays an essential role in contemplative knowledge and Maritain goes on to cite the classic passage of pseudo-Dionysius: "Hierotheus was instructed in divine things, less for having learned them than for having lived them or suffered them (non solum discens, sed patiens divina)." (23) And he concludes: "Thus it is that the seventh gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift of Wisdom, makes us judge in an experimental way of divine things and conveys their savour to us, - sapida sapientia - thereby crowning the habitus of charity which introduces the soul into divine familiarity, gives it a genuine congeniality, a connaturality, compassio sive connaturalitas, with the things of God..." (24) Maritain, driven by his own spiritual thirst and those of the people around him, is making the mystical tradition of the Church his own and penetrating it in a living way always in tension with contemporary spiritual problems.
In November of 1914, Humbert Clérissac died and a year later the Maritains met the man who was to become their new director, Père Dehau, whose advice to Raissa immediately put her at ease: "When you feel an interior call to recollection, never resist. Let yourself be led at the very instant. And remain with God as long as it pleases Him, without yourself interrupting (unless you are obliged to do so by a duty of charity or some other necessity)." (25) Raissa's life of prayer around this time became increasingly devoted to what she calls silent prayer or oraison which began with a period of quiet absorption or recueillement. Much later Jacques commented more precisely on the meaning to be given to these terms. Oraison as Raissa used it meant "not meditation in which the soul is occupied in considering ideas, concepts and images, but a wordless, intuitive and quite simple prayer, a loving attention to God in which the soul is primarily occupied in letting God have its way with it, and in which, as St. Thomas expresses it, it suffers divine things, in a silence void of words, concepts and images." And recueillement meant "an inner state which far from being 'concentration' due to voluntary effort, is rather a gift received, a quiet absorption of the soul which, far from being enertia, is a secret and unifying activity too deep to be perceived." (26)
Now Raissa's life of prayer goes forward more quickly. She notes in her journal for June 27, 1916: "Between 9 and 12, almost uninterrupted oraison... obliged to absorb myself, my mind arrested on the Person of the Father... Suddenly, keen sense of his nearness, of his tenderness, of his incomprehensible love..." (27)
In the spring of 1921 the Maritains consulted with Garrigou-Lagrange about the creation of a Thomistic study circle. The following year found them composing its guidelines in the form of a directory which later became De la vie d'oraison. It was accompanied by the statutes of the Thomist circle under the motto 0 Sapientia which recommended the study of St. Thomas and his commentators and a private vow of prayer. De la vie d'oraison, translated into English as Prayer and Intelligence gave guidance for this life of prayer and allows us to see Jacques' views on contemplation. "Christian contemplation is the fruit of the gift of Wisdom; and this gift although a habitus of the intelligence... depends essentially on charity, and consequently on sanctifying grace, and causes us to know God by a sort of connaturality - in an affective, experimental and obscure manner, because superior to every concept and image." (28)
Then he cites his favorite commentator on mystical matters, John of St. Thomas: "It is in virtue of the gift which God makes of himself and of the experimental union of love that mystical wisdom attains the knowledge Of divine things, which are united more closely to us, more immediately felt and tasted by us by means of love, and make us perceive that what is thus felt in the affection is higher and more excellent than all considerations based on the knowing faculties alone." (29)
Among the appendices to this little book are to be found Note II on the three signs that John of the Cross gives for discerning the time when to pass from meditation to contemplation and a significantly important note IV, Sur lappel a la vie mystique et a la contemplation (On the call to the mystical life and to contemplation). This note had first appeared in the form of a letter received by the Vie Spirituelle on January 23, 1923 and then printed in their March issue, and should be situated as part of the on-going discussions between Maritain and Garrigou-Lagrange, who comments on Maritain's initiative in the same issue, and in the wider context of the impassioned debates taking place at this time about the normalcy of the call to infused contemplation and the question of acquired contemplation. More than De la vie doraison as a whole, it gives us a sense of the maturing of Maritain's contemplative thought. He has mastered the basic elements of the tradition and now is venturing onto new ground. The article addresses the much debated thesis of Garrigou-Lagrange according to which all Christians are called to mystical contemplation as a normal culmination of the development of the virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Maritain wants to avoid two misconceptions: "that the perfection of charity... is reserved to those souls alone who enjoy infused contemplation in its typical and normal form and that if a soul does not arrive at that which one could thus call manifest contemplation (in its forms luminous or obscure) it is always by its own fault." (30) His contribution to clarifying this question is to make some careful distinctions. First, there are those souls that have not entered into the mystical order and who are still under the regime of the virtues; they experience a kind of contemplation, but it is the "term of a discursive activity and the natural activity of the faculties -comparable to the 'contemplation of the philosophers."' This is similar to the contemplation we examined in Chapter 1. But here in the context of faith and prayer it is a contemplation connected to the theological virtues, as well, and ordered to the affective activity of the will. In regards to mystical contemplation, such a contemplation is only a "distant predisposition".
But if someone has entered into the mystical way, which for Maritain means that they have entered under the habitual rule of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, there is still an important point to be raised. These mystics might be under the influence of either the active or the passive gifts of the Holy Spirit. If it is a question of the active gifts allied to an active temperament and vocation, they could still experience contemplation, not in its classical form, but in one in which the gift of wisdom only finds a "tempered exercise (un exercice attempéré)." (31) The recollection that these people experienced formerly as the end of a discursive process would reflect the action of the gifts and "a certain participation" of mystical contemplation and be like a proximate disposition to this contemplation. Further, if this kind of recollection were now aided by the gifts of wisdom and knowledge in a more manifest way, it would become an anticipation or "inchoation" of the properly mystical prayer of quietude "without being quietude itself where the initiative comes from the Holy Spirit." (32) This would be the "ultimate disposition" to infused contemplation.
So Maritain, while affirming Garrigou-Lagrange's thesis, nuances it and sees the possibility of people receiving contemplation in a masked form under the regime of the active gifts of the Holy Spirit. He also comes to the conclusion that while contemplation is theoretically the normal goal of the spiritual life, due to circumstances beyond the control of the individual, like temperament, he or she might not arrive at contemplation without it necessarily being their own fault. If this article begins to show Maritain as a master of mystical theology, it does so by taking the objective principles governing the study of contemplation and beginning to relate them to vital subjective considerations. This process will become stronger as Maritain's contemplative thought develops.
Along with Garrigou-Lagrange, Charles Henrion was an important influence on Maritain's thinking in this area. Henrion, a man of deeply contemplative inclinations, had known the Maritains from before the War and eventually through the urging of his friends had become a priest and gone to live in the deserts of North Africa. Unfortunately, his correspondence with the Maritains was apparently destroyed at his request and all that remains is one letter from Raissa to him. It is dated August 29-31, 1922 and was occasioned by Raissa sending him De la vie doraison and deals with the issue of the clarity or obscurity of mystical prayer, and it is much more like a short treatise than a normal letter, which might account for its preservation. In the realm of the mystical Raissa distinguishes an ontological level from a psychological one:
"Ontologically, the essence of mystical contemplation is, it seems to me, that it is produced in virtue of union and thus in a passive fashion, by a special will of God which leads him to give us, in some manner, knowledge of his love for us.
"Psychologically, the essence of mystical contemplation appears to me to be an experimental knowledge of God, 'God ineffably perceived."' (33)
She continues a little later: "...in the mystical life God acts by a very special infusion of his grace which leads him sometimes to enlighten our mind, sometimes to kindle our will, sometimes to strengthen our heart, or to give us simultaneously supernatural light, ardour and strength, or to let us be aware only of the destruction of our human mode of acting, or our impotence, our nothingness." (34)
Ontologically it is the Holy Spirit who acts on the soul through his gifts. Psychologically "this passivity manifests itself above all by ligature, powerlessness, annihilation, because our faculties of knowing are utterly disproportionate to the object of contemplation which is God in Himself." (35) Contemplation, even as it deepens, maintains this note of obscurity. God "is perceived as someone who touches us and not as someone who is seen." (36)
1923 also saw Jacques publishing a study on Pascal as an apologist for the faith, who he felt had "affirmed magnificently the supernaturality of the faith." (37) It is this perspective, Maritain feels, that provides the key to understanding Pascal's Pens6es. In a more extensive work of the same year, Maritain turned to the thought of Maurice Blondel, and both of these articles were to be taken up in his Réflexions sur l'intelligence. Blondel had started a new trend in Catholic philosophy and theology with the publication of his L'Action in 1897. But what interests us here is not so much Maritain's evaluation of Blondel but the occasion it gives him to develop his ideas on knowledge by inclination or connaturality. While Maritain admits that the intellect by its very nature has a certain affinity or connaturality for its object, this inclination is "purely and exclusively intellectual" (38) and ought to be carefully distinguished from affective connaturality which "is not required of itself by the natural activity of the intelligence." (39) Affective connaturality finds its proper domain in the realm of practical knowledge which deals with acts to be done in contrast to speculative knowledge which aims at things to be known.
When it is a question of a connnatural knowledge of God, Maritain insists that natural knowledge of God cannot be confused with supernatural contemplation: "The natural love of God, known in his reflections, by the natural knowledge of analogy... is radically incapable of connaturalizing the soul to God, of making it attain God as living in His temple in the most intimate part of itself and giving Himself to it in order that it would enjoy him... and thus provoke a natural mystical contemplation of God, a natural knowledge of God by connaturality... A natural mystical contemplation is a contradiction in terms." (40) A little later, he cites the same passage of John of St. Thomas' Cursus Theologicus that appeared in De la vie doraison.
The Maritains' intensive examination of the western Catholic contemplative tradition continued in 1925 with Raissa editing a collection of texts of Teresa of Avila for the Vie Spirituelle under the heading, "Is it of great usefulness for us to know the graces with which we have been favored?" And the next year excerpts of her translation of John of St. Thomas' treatise on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which we have seen the Maritains so attached to, began to appear in the same revue. Later the translation appeared in book form with a preface by Garrigou-Lagrange, and it is worth sampling again the flavor of their favorite mystical commentator:
"...it must be noted that love can be considered in two ways: a) First, as it applies itself and other powers to action. This love is restricted to the executive or efficient order. It applies the agent to act. b) Secondly, as it applies and unites the object to itself, assimilating it through fruition and making itself thereby connatural and proportionate to the object. Love experiences its object with a sort of loving taste, according to the Psalmist, Taste and see... For this reason, the intellect is carried toward the object as something experienced, brought into agreement with it, as it were. In this sense, love is not considered precisely as moving, rather it belongs in the genus of objective cause, since through experience the object is diversely proportioned and made suitable to the intellect." (41)
The years 1926-1932 were the time of preparation for The Degrees of Knowledge. Toward the end of 1926, Jacques' "Mystical Experience and Philosophy" appeared in the Revue de Philosophie, as we saw in the last chapter, and various articles on John of the Cross were to come out in the years just prior to the publication of the Degrees. It is in this book that Maritain's thought on mystical contemplation, which we have been seeing in bits and pieces, as it were, finds a full and well developed exposition, but not a purely theoretical one, as several events show.
In 1925, Charles Henrion had published a summary of the mystical doctrine of John of the Cross and in 1929 the discalced Carmelite, Bruno de Jésus-Marie came out with a life of John of the Cross to which Maritain added a preface, and both these events touched him personally. Fr. Bruno had been part of the Thomist circle before he entered the Carmelites, and Henrion's summary of St. John spoke to Jacques not only for its content and his friendship with the author, but because of the providential use he saw the book serve. He recounts in his preface to Fr. Bruno's book: "I knew a youth of twenty, haunted by the desire of deliverance, knowing not how to attain it, who, urged on by a poetry that was false and of the devil, had gone far in spiritual experiences wherein the soul, emptied and overwhelmed, but not by God, enjoyed a deceptive taste of infinite liberty and domination, an ecstasy of nothingness. A certain person, forseeing that, as the youth had reached the dark night of the depths, he could only be healed by a vision of the veritable, superhuman night, gave him an abstract of the doctrine of St. John of the Cross, consisting of the most significant passages of the saint's works. A fortnight later the boy was suddenly struck down with illness; called to his bedside, I saw him, once again, disfigured and dying; in a few hours his death agony was to begin. He had sent that morning for a priest, and questioned him about religion, for he was anxious to obtain further dogmatic teaching; he had then made his confession and received Holy Communion. 'What joy!' he said to me, 'I now know what joy means. And it has all come about through St. John of the Cross.' Henceforward, for me, the thought of the saint and his doctrine will be inseparable from the image of that predestined soul." (42)
Once again this story recalls for us how Maritain's understanding of mystical contemplation and John of the Cross is not mere academic interest, but is intertwined with his own spiritual life and those of the people around him. For the same reason he could have little sympathy for a work as genuinely erudite as Jean Baruzi's Saint Jean de la Croix et le problème de l'experiénce mystique about which he writes: "Despite my friendship for you, my dear Baruzi, I must confess that in turning a Leibnizian light on John of the Cross, you have erred. In wrenching his contemplation from that which was the life of his life (infused grace and the working of God within him), in making him some sort of giant of the metaphysics to come... you have traced out a picture of the saint which the latter would have held in abomination... This theopath does not suffer things Divine, but a disease of the Sorbonne." (43)
Part II of The Degrees of Knowledge, entitled "The Degrees of Suprarational Knowledge", starts with Chapter VI, "Mystical Experience and Philosophy" dedicated to Garrigou-Lagrange. In this chapter Maritain is aiming at answering the question: "Is there an authentic mystical experience in the natural order?" And by way of providing us the context for his answer he gives us a brilliant but very condensed summary of the nature of mystical experience which helps us situate the Maritains' previous remarks on this subject. Mystical experience is an "experimental knowledge of the deep things of God." To understand this knowledge we must distinguish natural knowledge of God in which he is known in the mirror of creatures - which we looked at in Chapter I and in the citation of Maritain's work on Blondel - from supernatural knowledge of God which knows God as He is in His own life, "in His inwardness." (44)
This supernatural knowledge can be divided further into a knowledge which is the vision we have of God in heaven and which "knows Him by and in His very essence" (45), and a knowledge by faith which knows the same object, i.e., God in His inwardness, but "without seeing it." (46) This knowledge by faith takes three distinct forms. In the act of faith God is known as He has formally revealed Himself. In theology, reason enlightened by faith draws out the implications of what has been formally revealed. Finally, there is the knowledge which is mystical contemplation in which we experience what is known in faith, and this is the knowledge that Maritain wants to deal with. This kind of knowledge, he insists, is not any sort of vision of God, but is rooted in faith. The act of faith "attains God's inner depths, His very selfhood.. without seeing it" (47), and knows God by means of formally revealed concepts. This disproportion between the object known and the means by which it is grasped is the reason why faith places in the soul "at least radically, an unconditional desire for mystical contemplation..." (48)
Mystical experience always remains rooted in faith and an understanding of this supernatural contemplation requires that we look at the indwelling of God in our souls and the special kind of connatural knowledge that comes through charity. The indwelling of the divine persons means that we live the very life of God by participation. But how is this possible? "How can a finite subject formally participate in the nature of the Infinite?" The soul is infinite by its relationship with the object which is God Himself, in His inwardness, known and loved. If this indwelling and union could be called the basic ontological foundation of mystical contemplation, then its proximate foundations are to be found in the gifts of the Holy Spirit and knowledge by connaturality. The gifts are dispositions that "make the soul thoroughly mobile under divine inspiration." (49) They are "sails set to receive the wind of heaven." (50)
It is by charity we share in God's nature and become connatured to him. Charity "loves Him in Himself and by Himself." (51) And here Maritain returns to citing John of St. Thomas in a passage where the commentator proclaims that love becomes the very medium by which we know God in an experimental way, as touched and tasted: 11 ... even though faith rules love... yet in virtue of this union in which love clings to God immediately, the intellect is, through a certain affective experience, so elevated as to judge divine things in a way higher than the darkness of faith would permit." (52) While this mystical knowledge is not immediate in the sense of a vision or intuition of God, and it knows the same object that faith proposes, it knows this object in a higher mode than through images drawn from creatures. God is known through his effects "that is by the very effects that he produces in the affections and at the very root of the powers, effects which are like a taste or touch whereby he is spiritually experienced in the darkness of faith." (53)
Maritain has structured these preliminary remarks in such a way that they lead to the answer of the question that he has proposed for himself. "Is there an authentic mystical experience in the natural order?" His answer is an emphatic no. Anything else, he feels, would compromise the distinction between nature and grace which is at stake when we speak of an experience of God's inner depths in contrast to God's presence in all things in virtue of His creation of them. Even our intellect, which strives to know all things, cannot know God in His inwardness by its own power because it is not proportionate to such a lofty object, and the natural love we have of God cannot create the kind of connaturality that would give birth to the kind of knowledge that comes from infused contemplation. It cannot give us a "felt contact with God." (54)
But what of the mystical experiences found in the non-Christian religions? Don't they demonstrate the existence of a natural mystical experience? This is a question that will occupy us in detail in Chapter III, but even in this case Maritain, while admitting the probability of genuine mystical experience among non-Christians, will assert that it comes through grace and is not a "natural experience of the depths of God." (55)
Having dealt with this central issue, he asks: "Does metaphysics of itself demand mystical experience?" (56) And again the answer is no. It is in this context that he touches on the issue of metaphysical experiences that give rise to metaphysics as a science that I commented on in Chapter 1. There we saw that since he is looking at the objective requirements of metaphysics and not its subjective demands, and because he is in the midst of talking about mystical experience as an objective completion of metaphysics, he answers that neither metaphysical experiences like Raissa's nor mystical experiences are necessary to metaphysics in itself. But this is not all that Maritain has to say about the matter. If metaphysics and mysticism are distinct in themselves, there is still "a factual dependence within the subject and by reason of the subject of metaphysics in respect to mystical experience." (57) This means that in this or that particular individual lights of a higher order coming from faith and mystical experience can strengthen metaphysical insight. Without metaphysics being dependent in itself on these other lights they can concretely aid the metaphysician to see more clearly.
Chapter VIII of the Degrees is called "St. John of the Cross; Practitioner of Contemplation", and it is Maritain's attempt to apply to St. John's doctrine what he calls the "fundamental thesis of this book: there are in the world of the mind structural differentiations and a diversity of dimensions whose recognition is of the greatest importance. Serious misunderstandings can be avoided only by assigning to each type of thought its exact situation in this sort of transcendental topography." (58) The issue at stake is just where in this transcendental topography the works of St. John should be located. Maritain's answer has given rise to some misunderstandings, for he will call St. John's work a practical science of contemplation, and some people have seen this as implying that John of the Cross was really not a genuine theologian like St. Thomas and that his writings are being relegated to the domain of pious literature. If Maritain were doing this, he would be perpetuating the very split between theology and spirituality that we are looking to him to heal, and in fact such a position is the farthest thing from his mind. What he is doing is simply carrying out his overall plan and asking how we can best understand St. John by seeing where he fits on the map of the various degrees of knowledge. The very use that he and Raissa made of St. John's writings is enough to indicate the esteem they had for him. Further, Maritain is writing his most detailed analyses of St. John after 1926 when the Spanish mystic had been declared a doctor of the Church.
What, then, does Maritain mean by a practical science of contemplation? He reasons that St. John's primary intent in his commentaries is "to know, no longer for the sake of knowing, but for the sake of acting." (59) He is not interested in telling us what holiness is, but in leading us to it, and this goal shapes the very structure and texture of his writings. In St. Thomas we can find a speculatively practical science of contemplation, "a sure and certain speculative elucidation of mystical theology" (60), but St. John creates what Maritain calls a practically practical science which follows a different style of conceptualizing, for "the question here is to prepare for action and to assign its proximate rules." (61)
Once we grasp this fundamental distinction it gives us a powerful toot with which to understand St. John's writings. Maritain finds a fundamental agreement between St. John and St. Thomas which he demonstrates by two examples. The first is the final end of human life, which both find in our transformation in God through love. The second deals with the nature of faith which, as we have seen, always fascinated Maritain. For him St. John's lines starting: "0 crystalline fount. If on thy silvered surface Thou wouldst of a sudden form the eyes desired which I bear outlined in my inmost parts!" in the Spiritual Canticle and the saint's commentary on it, proclaim a doctrine like St. Thomas'. Faith is the fount, the silvered surface, the articles of faith and the "eyes desired" are "the very substance of faith itself." (62) Maritain finds fundamentally the same doctrine in St. Thomas, especially in the Summa Theologiae II,II,1,2,c, where St. Thomas declares that faith terminates not in propositions but in God, and concepts make it proportionate to us. Thus there is a certain disproportion between the object of faith, which is God in His inwardness, and our grasp of this object through God-given yet still limited human concepts, a disproportion that caught Maritain's attention in De Veritate as well, as we saw.
It is in the midst of this disproportion that Maritain situates mystical experience which attains the same object that faith proposes so that it is always a contemplation in faith, but attains this object in a non-conceptual, supernatural mode. And it does this by love "which inviscerates us within things divine and itself becomes the light of knowledge, in that purely and ineffable spiritual awareness given by the Holy Spirit acting through His gifts." (63)
If we fail to read John of the Cross in the practical register in which he wrote, we will misinterpret him. Maritain puts it more technically. We cannot confuse concepts fashioned by speculative or speculatively practical science with concepts fashioned by a practically practical science, even if they bear the same names. This does not mean that Maritain thinks any less of St. John's insights or fails to find formulas in his writings "big with speculative values" (64), but rather we must take the right epistemological perspective if we are to understand what St. John is actually saying. For example, if St. John calls contemplation a non-activity, is he contradicting St. Thomas who firmly says it is the highest activity? Not at all, for in St. Thomas' case he is looking at the matter ontologically, while St. John is taking a practical and psychological perspective. Again, when St. John talks of the substance of the soul in which God acts in contrast to the soul's faculties, is he violating the Thomistic thesis that contemplation , takes place by means of the intellect and will? Or when St. John speaks of pure faith, is he opposing it to charity and the gifts of the Holy Spirit? In both cases, when we find the just perspective in which to read the Carmelite saint, the difficulties disappear.
One of the places where the need for this kind of understanding is most urgent is St. John's language about the complete renunciation necessary in order to arrive at divine union, his nothing, nothing, nothing. As Maritain graphically puts it, St. John is not advocating "the slightest ontological destruction of the least vein in the wing of the smallest gnat." Rather, he is speaking of an inner moral self-surrender and a giving up of the natural working of the faculties when God is calling the soul in a proximate way to contemplation.
All these things show how intensive is Maritain's reading of John of the Cross and how much he found him in harmony with his master St. Thomas when it is a question of the "experimental knowledge of love and union" which is contemplation. (65) In fact, St. John cites St. Thomas on contemplation, and Maritain summarizes this area where the teaching of the two doctors formally intersected: "charity, as it increases, transforms us in God, whom it attains immediately in Himself, and since this increasingly perfect spiritualization cannot be achieved without its repercussions in knowledge, because spirit is interior to itself, the Holy Spirit uses this very loving transformation in God, this supernatural connaturality, as the proper means to delectable and penetrating knowledge which, in turn, renders the love of charity as possessive and fruitful as is possible here below." (66)
This teaching of St. Thomas is the teaching of St. John although, as Maritain insists, it is framed in concepts of a different texture. For St. John contemplation is "not only for love it is by love: 'God never grants mystical wisdom without love, since love itself infuses it."' (67) Maritain continues the citation of St. John at great length and his whole exposition in the Degrees is one of the most profound commentaries on the doctrine of the mystical doctor.
Maritain, with his distinguish in order to unite, resists the perennial temptation to solve a problem by allowing one kind of knowledge to devour other kinds, even when it is in the realm of wisdom. There is a variety of wisdoms. "If to know is what you want - and knowledge must be desired - study metaphysics, study theology. If divine union is what you want, and you succeed in attaining it, you will know a great deal more, but precisely in the measure that you go beyond knowledge... Beyond knowing? That is to say, in love; in love transilluminated by the Spirit, compenetrated by intelligence and wisdom." (68) And to bring this Chapter VIII to a close Maritain returns to an earlier theme: "...to ask metaphysics to lead to the highest contemplation would, therefore, only betoken a vast ignorance both of metaphysics and contemplation; to consider reason as inefficacious, of itself, in metaphysics unless it be vivified by a knowledge by mystical connaturality, is no less an offense against the essential order of things." (69)
Chapter IX is dedicated to Charles Henrion, and is entitled, following John of the Cross, Todo y Nada, All and Nothing. St. John likens the - soul experiencing divine union to a window transformed in the light of the sun, for the soul becomes God by participation: "God communicates to it His supernatural Being, in such wise that it appears to be God Himself..." (70) and Maritain insists that "Contemplation is the very experience of union." (71) But how can we ask this sublime union of the "most complex and weakest of creatures?" It is here that we encounter St. John's nights. These nights are not the nights that philosophy knows. These nights go much deeper and "such conduct would be insane were it not instigated by God." (72) These nights penetrate so deeply because the goal is so lofty, an actual transformation in God, and since this transformation takes place by love the soul must not cling to any creature or to the natural workings of the faculties of sense or imagination, intellect, memory or will, for none of these limited ways of proceeding have the capacity of reaching divine union.
Maritain comments: "I realize how rash it is to summarize in a few lines a teaching of such incomparable plenitude, transcending all philosophy, and so run the risk of falsifying." (73) And it would be even rasher for us to try to summarize Maritain's summary of St. John, especially in this chapter that will culminate with a discussion of the highest level of mystical experience. Suffice it to say that the dark night is brought about, not principally by human effort, but by infused contemplation itself, and when the purification which St. John calls the dark night of the soul has done its work it leads to what the mystics call a spiritual betrothal in which "contemplation becomes luminous" (74) and which, in its turn, is a prelude to the highest state of mystical contemplation, which is given the name of spiritual marriage.
Even in this sublime state there is no identity of being but rather one of love: "This is the order of love as love, considered not in its ontological constituents of essence and existence (for there it is considered as being) but in the absolutely proper reality of the immaterial intussusception by which the other within me becomes more me than myself." And with great delicateness Maritain begins to bring his philosophical gifts to bear on mystical contemplation. We saw in Chapter I his concern for the concept and his insistence that the concept is not what is known, but that by which the object is known. The inner mystery of knowledge is the union of knower and known by means of the concept, and this union is not an entitative union as if we became physically the thing we know, but rather an intentional existence so that we become the other as other in a spiritual existence which is the heart of the act of knowing.
But what of love? "If the immaterial activity of knowledge is to become the other as other, the immaterial activity of love is to lose oneself in the other as the self, to alienate myself in the reality of the other as other to the extent that he becomes more me than I am myself." (75) And he continues a little later: "The mystery of cognitive union and of the true compels the philosopher to conceive a 'being of knowledge' and an esse intentionale which is not entitative being or being of nature. The mystery of the union of love and of the good compels him to conceive an intentional being of love which is not entitative being either... In the spiritual marriage the created will and uncreated love remain entitatively distant to infinity, yet the soul, in its supernatural activity of love, loses or alienates itself in God who, according to the being or actuality of love, becomes her more than herself, and is the principle and agent of all her operations." (76)
Maritain is now going to make some brief remarks of the greatest significance for a deeper theology of contemplation, and he has a sense of the new ground he is trying to break and modestly states: "The great Thomists have admirably deepened and developed the questions concerning the being of knowledge; fruitful principles for a similar development concerning the intentional being of love and the spiration of love can also be found in their works." But it is Maritain, himself, who is going to try to open for us this path. The immaterial existence of love "is not an esse in virtue of which the one (knower) becomes the other (the known); it is an esse in virtue of which the other (the beloved), spiritually present in the one (the lover) as a weight or impulse, becomes him as an other self." (77) He continues in the next footnote: "...this presence is by mode of impulsion and motion, and the beloved becomes the principle of action, the 'weight' of the lover." (78)
When such highly charged remarks take place in Maritain's footnotes, they can be sometimes seen as an indication that a new insight is occurring to Maritain, for he adds to these notes: "But this development itself is. still to be made." Further, it is highly likely that this particular advance is taking place under the inspiration of reading John of the Cross, and so it is a good example of how while mystical contemplation does not enter into the ontological constitution of metaphysics, it can certainly create an atmosphere in the spirit of the metaphysician which is conducive to deep metaphysical insights.
None of this union of love would be possible - and here Maritain returns to his original question posed in Chapter VI -without sanctifying grace and God's indwelling in the soul. But in the spiritual marriage this indwelling has become manifest through a union of love and the gift of wisdom.
"Then the soul is in some manner the Whole, the very infinity of God's life which erupts in it as if the whole sea were to flow into a river, I mean a river of love surging with vital operations and able from its very source to become one single spirit with the sea." (79) Or in more formal language: "the espoused soul loves and gives by infinite love itself; it is by infinite love that the soul operates according to the intentional being of love, the while it operates according to the entitative being by its own finite acts." (80)
All this is to say that in some mysterious manner the soul begins to consciously participate in the inner life of God as Trinity. "Essentially supraphilosophical, because its proximate and proportioned principle is faith illumined by the gifts, mystical experience tends from the beginning to loving and fruitful knowledge of the three uncreated Persons." (81) Supernatural contemplation is always, in some fashion, an experience of the Trinity, but it is only here in its culminating stage that it is experienced as such. Therefore, Maritain will conclude: "This is the reason why we believe that, no matter how high a mystical experience springing from a merely implicit supernatural faith may rise outside the visible membership in the Church of the Incarnate Word, it never rises to this point." (82)
These chapters on mystical contemplation in the Degrees represent the high point of Maritain's systematic doctrinal elaboration of the topic. He will continue his deep interest in mysticism, but his output will shift to shorter occasional pieces that often have a more practical orientation. Nevertheless, he will continue probing the foundations of mystical experience, as we will see.
In 1938, as part of a series of nine lectures given in the United States, Maritain wrote "Action and Contemplation" which later appeared in Scholasticism and Politics in 1940. This tightly organized essay contrasts the Greeks' view of the superiority of contemplation over action - a superiority mixed with erroneous political consequences they drew from it, i.e., that most people lived to serve the few contemplatives - with the change of perspective that came with Christianity. "St. Thomas admits, like Aristotle, that considering the degrees of immanence and immateriality of the powers of the soul in themselves, intelligence is nobler than will, but he adds that considering the things we know and love, these things exist in us by knowledge according to the mode of existence and dignity of our own soul, but by love they attract us to them according to their own mode of existence and their own dignity, and therefore it must be said that to love things that are superior to man is better than to know them." (83)
Christian contemplation is not the privilege of the elite, but it is a call to women and men of every condition. This brings to his mind his earlier work on this call to contemplation and he feels that now theologians are coming to an agreement about this question: "...all souls are called, if not in a proximate manner, at least in a remote one, to mystical contemplation as being the normal blossoming of grace's virtues and gifts." (84) And in reference to his "masked" contemplation where there is a predominance of the active gifts, he goes on to say: "It appears that the forms of contemplation to which souls faithful to grace will actually attain most often, will not be the typical one, where the supernatural sweeps away everything, at the risk of breaking everything, but rather the atypical and masked forms I have just mentioned, where the superhuman condescends in some measure to the human and consorts with it." (85) Each person is called, at least remotely, "to contemplation, typical or atypical, apparent or masked, which is the multiform exercise of the gift of Wisdom, free and unseizable, and transcending all our categories, and capable of all disguises, all surprises." (86)
Finally, despite the catastrophe of World War II darkening the horizon, Maritain is optimistic that the United States, known world-wide for the "cult of action" has "great reserves and possibilities for contemplation." (87) This is a theme that will reappear several times in his writings, for example, in the preface to his old friend Pieter van de Meer's White Paradise, the story of the Carthusian Order which is given to solitude and the contemplative life. In a postscript to this preface dated June 1952, he sees his prophecy beginning to be fulfilled with the foundation of a Carthusian house in the state of Vermont. An even stronger fulfillment could be seen in the strong revival of monastic life in the United States after the war in orders like the Trappists. Maritain, a man of many friends, corresponded with Thomas Merton for 20 years starting shortly after the appearance of Merton's Seven Story Mountain. In their yet unpublished correspondence which ranges over many topics centering around the spiritual life, they touched on the question of "masked" contemplation and Maritain's natural mysticism.
In 1945, an essay by Maritain entitled "La dialectique immanente du premier acte de liberté," (The immanent dialectic of the first act of freedom), appeared in Nova et Vetera and later appeared in his book Raisons et raisons in 1947. This virtually uncommented upon essay is one of Maritain's finest works, and it provides us with a hidden key with which to delve deeper into the nature of contemplation, not because it deals formally with contemplation, but rather because it treats of the act of faith which is so intimately connected to supernatural contemplation.
Maritain takes as his starting point "any free act through which a new basic direction is imposed upon my life" (88), but for simplicity's sake restricts himself to the first free act of a child which is not necessarily remembered or even concerned with an important matter, but nevertheless expresses a deep commitment. But what is the inner dynamism of this act? In it the good is chosen (or not chosen) precisely because it is good. Therefore, this choice transcends the whole order of empirical existence and it demands the existence of a separate good. The act of choosing the good "tends all at once, beyond its immediate object, toward God as the Separate Good in which the human person in the process of acting, whether he is aware of it or not, places his happiness and his end." (89)
Thus, the child in "virtue of the internal dynamism of his choice of the good... wills and loves the Separate Good as the ultimate end of his existence" and "his intellect has of God a vital non-conceptual knowledge which is involved both in the practical notion... of the moral good as formal motive of his first act of freedom, and in the movement of the will toward this good and, all at once, toward the Good." (90) The will is going beyond this or that particular good to the ground of all good things "and it carries with itself, down to that beyond, the intellect, which at this point no longer enjoys the use of its regular instruments, and, as a result, is only actualized below the threshold of reflective consciousness, in a night without concept and without utterable knowledge." (91)
Further, if such a fundamental exercise of freedom is to be efficacious and love God above all things, it must be transformed and elevated by grace and charity. This is due not only to the wounded condition of human nature resulting from original sin, but due, as well, to the fact that the good which is the ultimate goal of all good acts, "the only true end existentially" of human life, is "God as the ultimate supernatural end," that is, God in His very own life. So the whole order of good, since it deals with what actually is, is concerned by that very fact with men and women in a fallen and redeemed state called to share in God's own life. Grace is always present it to envelop and attract" us, and "our fallen nature is exposed to grace as our tired bodies to the rays of the sun." (92)
This kind of reasoning faces Maritain with a serious dilemma. If such a first act of freedom is a supernatural act that leads to a relationship of friendship with God, then it must somehow involve faith, for as St. Paul says: "Without faith it is impossible to please God; for he that approaches God must believe that He exists, and is the rewarder of those who seek Him." So Maritain's dilemma reads: This faith, according to St. Paul's words, cannot be implicit faith, but how can it be explicit in the case of a child who "does not even know that he believes in God?" (93) He resolves this impasse by avoiding the implicit-explicit dichotomy which deals only with conscious conceptual knowledge, and by invoking a knowledge that "reaches its object within the unconscious recesses of the spirit's activity" in which "the intellect knows in a practical manner the Separate Good per conformitatem ad appetitum rectum (through conformity to the right appetite) and as the actual terminus of the will's movement." (94) Under the light of grace, the good chosen becomes the good by which I shall be saved and the separate good becomes God as savior. In short, the natural dynamism of the first act of freedom is transformed into a supernatural act and "under the light of faith, the right appetite then passes in conditionem objecti (into the sphere of objective actualization) and becomes, in the stead of any concept, the means of a knowledge which is speculative though escaping formulation and reflective consciousness... It is the movement of the will which, reaching beyond this good to the mysterious Existent it implies, makes this Existent become an object of the speculative intellect." (95)
But what has all this to do with our inquiry into Maritain's understanding of mystical contemplation? It reveals in a very striking way the kind of knowledge through connaturality that flourishes in supernatural contemplation. This knowledge coming through the first act of freedom "remains preconscious, or else hardly reaches the most obscure limits of consciousness, because, for one thing, it possesses no conceptual sign, and, for another, the movement of the will which brings it about is itself neither felt nor experienced, nor illumined and highly conscious as is love in the exercise of the gift of wisdom." (96) The knowledge coming through the gift of wisdom becomes conscious and experimental without being conceptual.
What we are seeing here is much more than the first free act of the child, for this first act of freedom is at once a supernatural act of faith and the beginning of the mystical life that is rooted in faith. The difficult theological issues that surround the nature of the act of faith can be best approached when we look at them from the perspective of knowledge through connaturality which links together this first act with its higher and more developed expressions. So while this knowledge coming through the choice of the good is not in itself mystical knowledge it "appears as an obscure preparation for and call to that experimental knowledge of God which is supernatural in its very mode of operation, and which reaches its highest degree in mystical contemplation." (97)
This essay affords us another intimate glimpse into Maritain's intellectual life. His great admiration for John of St. Thomas does not prevent him from seeing his limitations. Since faith demands a knowledge that God exists and that he rewards those who do good, then John of St. Thomas reasons that if someone like an uninstructed child is to have faith, God must send an angel or a preacher to them. Maritain observes: "The reason for this is that the great seventeenth-century theologian was, like all the scholastic doctors, interested in analyzing the objective requisites of the act of faith in themselves and in theologically elucidated terms rather than in looking for the psychological modalities in which they are realized in the experience of the subject. He consequently limited his study to the sphere of conscious thought and of conceptual or notionally expressed knowledge." (98)
We have arrived at a parallel situation to the one we saw in Chapter I in which Maritain moved from an objective consideration of the intuition of being to its subjective requirements. Now he realizes that the modern advance in psychological knowledge of the unconscious allows a more nuanced approach to the problem he is treating. Therefore, "at the moment when the concept Of moral good is transfigured into that of the good by means of which I shall be saved, a mysterious reality pertaining to the supernatural order is actually revealed... A new objective content is thus presented to the mind.. a knowledge in which the appetite 'passes into the sphere of objective actualization' as John of Saint Thomas said with reference to mystical knowledge... Under the light of faith the Savior-God toward Whom the 6lan of the will moves has become the object of a nonconceptual speculative knowledge which comes about through the instrumentality of this very 61an of the will." (99) There is no need to demand explicit conceptual knowledge in order for someone to come to faith because there is another kind of knowledge that is "formal and actual although it is preconscious." (100)
We are faced here with the fruit of Maritain's long meditation on St. Thomas. He footnotes this page with a passage from De Veritate, Question XIV, article 11, in which St. Thomas is considering the possibility of someone coming to faith who has grown up "in the forest or among the animals" and so is without instruction. St. Thomas reasons that this lack of explicit knowledge about the content of faith could be supplied by God sending a preacher or "through internal inspiration by which God reveals these things which are necessary for believing." Maritain, building on this comment, is explaining the mode of this interior inspiration by a turn to the subject. But this turn to the subject is not at all what many modern philosophers understand by that phrase, but it is a consideration of subjective requirements by someone who is rooted as deeply as possible in the objective metaphysical and theological demands of the question he is dealing with. Maritain does not advance by overthrowing St. Thomas or John of St. Thomas, but by situating himself in the very heart of their doctrine and grasping as firmly as possible the principles upon which it rests, and then, ever so carefully, trying to make a new branch appear on the old vine.
This attempt at a genuine development of the Thomistic tradition demanded that the subjective flow smoothly from the objective and that Maritain deal first with the tradition formulated as it was in objective terms and then reflect on the subjective requirements of the issues at stake. We saw in Chapter I that his detailed treatment of the metaphysics in The Degrees of Knowledge led shortly thereafter to the breakthrough that appeared in Sept Leçons. In this essay we can trace a similar process at work. Maritain's remarks on John of St. Thomas which appear in Raisons et raisons in 1947 in a subsection entitled "Theological Parenthesis" are absent in the original manuscript and in the 1945 Nova et Vetera article. Maritain wrote the original draft (preserved at the Jacques Maritain Center at Notre Dame) and then was inspired to break new ground by turning to the subjective demands.
The insertion of this theological parenthesis is one of the forerunners of a major shift in Maritain's thought. When he talks here of "the progress of psychological research with regard to the unconscious or preconscious life of the mind" (101), he is signaling a development that is going to become increasingly important in his study of mystical contemplation in the light of what he called the preconscious or unconscious of the spirit, or in regard to the supernatural order, the superconscious. Much later in a note on this essay in his Church of Christ he was to comment: "When I wrote this essay, I had not yet disengaged the notion of superconscious, so that the essay requires to be completed and corrected in this respect." (102)
Just what these terms preconscious and unconscious of the spirit mean for Maritain is to be found in his 1952 Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry and in On the Grace and Humanity of Jesus. In Creative Intuition he takes as his point of departure the modern psychological development of the unconscious, which means for him primarily the work of Freud. But for Maritain the Freudian unconscious is a deaf or automatic unconscious; it is "deaf to the intellect" and he conceives of the possibility of there being a spiritual unconscious or preconscious.
In a passage reminiscent of his preface to the 2nd edition of La Philosophie Bergsonienne he writes: "Reason does not only consist of its logical tools and manifestations, nor does the will consist only of its deliberate conscious determinations. Far beneath the sunlit surface thronged with explicit concepts and judgments, words and expressed resolutions or movements of the will, are the sources of knowledge and creativity, of love and suprasenuous desires, hidden in the primordial translucid night of the intimate vitality of the soul." (103)
It is not logic that rules in these depths below the surface of consciousness. In these deep reaches of the spirit are born insights, intuitions and the beginning of "intellectual knowledge... still unformulated, a kind of many-eyed cloud which is born from the impact of the light of the Illuminating Intellect on the world of images, and which is but a humble and trembling inchoation, yet invaluable, tending toward an intelligible content to be grasped." (104) But not all this stirring in the depths is meant to lead to discursive thought. There is "another kind of germ, which does not tend toward a concept to be formed, and which is already an intellective form or act fully determined though enveloped in the night of the spiritual unconscious." (105) This is the knowledge that expresses itself through the many pathways of connaturality, and we have seen one form of it surface in Maritain's essay, "The Immanent Dialectic." In this particular case Maritain has in mind poetic knowledge about which we must ask: "How can emotion be thus raised to the level of the intellect and, as it were, take the place of the concept in becoming for the intellect a determining means or instrumental vehicle through which reality is grasped?" (106)
In answer Maritain finds inspiration once again in John of St. Thomas', "Amor transit in conditionem objecti," which must find its analogous application to poetry. But if John of St. Thomas' doctrine on knowledge through connaturality can be applied to the origins of poetry, then conversely, the notion of the spiritual unconscious that Maritain is developing here can be applied to mystical contemplation. And the movement of Maritain's thought toward this application will dominate our attention for most of the rest of this chapter. Just how Maritain develops the theme of creative intuition in art and poetry will occupy us again.
In 1960, Jacques and Raissa's little book, Liturgy and Contemplation, appeared and though its principle aim was to examine the interrelationship of liturgy and contemplation, it treated once again of the typical and masked forms of contemplation. After quoting at length from their note IV in De la vie doraison on masked contemplation they go on: "We have just insisted on the diffuse or disguised forms of infused contemplation. There is nothing more secret - nor more important - than what Father Osende, in a remarkable page of his book Contemplata, calls the prayer of the heart. It is through this sort of prayer or contemplation, so silent and so rooted in the depths of the spirit that he describes it as 'unconscious,' that we can truly put into practice the precept to pray always. And is it not to it that Saint Anthony the hermit alluded when he said that 'there is not perfect prayer if the religious perceives that he is praying"?" (107)
They continue by quoting Fr. Osende to the effect that while prayer of the mind requires our attention and the "actual exercise of the faculties" and so cannot be continuous, prayer of the heart, or 'unconscious' prayer, can be continuous since it is a matter of love rather than knowledge.
Later in 1966 with the appearance of The Peasant of the Garonne, Maritain accused himself of having made a "serious error" (108) in his treatment of masked contemplation in Liturgy and Contemplation. Once again in the Peasant he asks himself how we can pray always and he cites Fr. Osende on prayer of the heart, and this time comments: "The prayer that Fr. Osende calls prayer of the heart and that he describes as unconscious (it pertains to that 'supraconscious of the spirit' of which I have said a great deal elsewhere) can and must, he says, be continuous in the contemplative soul.' For we cannot fix our minds on two objects at the same time nor continue to think always, whereas we can love always.' (at least in the supraconscious of the spirit - only there, in effect, can love be in act continuously). We are no longer dealing simply with the vital impulse of prayer always present virtually in consciousness; the prayer of the heart itself remains in act - in the supraconscious of the spirit." (109) We can see how the locus of contemplative act is sinking down to what Maritain is calling the supraconscious of the spirit.
But what was the serious error that Maritain accused himself of? "The prayer of the heart springs from the supra-conscious of the spirit, but it is not at all 'masked' contemplation; it is a typical form of contemplation, and one of the most precious." (110) If Fr. Osende's description of prayer of the heart as 'unconscious' led Maritain to equate it with masked contemplation, he now sees that a typical form of contemplation can take place in the unconscious, or better, supraconscious of the spirit. What is at stake -here is much more than a subtle refinement of a minor point of mystical theology. It is a question of Maritain's whole conception of the nature of contemplation which is undergoing a transformation as it is being brought into relationship with the notion of the preconscious of the spirit, which in this case is elevated by grace to become a supraconsciousness.
Just what is this supraconscious of the spirit? This Maritain begins to work out in his 1967 De la grâce et de l'humanité de Jésus, (On the Grace and Humanity of Jesus). His starting point is another dilemma that surrounds the question of whether grace increased in the humanity of Jesus. The Gospel according to St. Luke seems to say yes when it describes Jesus growing in age and wisdom and in grace. But St. Thomas seems to say no, and Maritain attempts a reconciliation by distinguishing in the soul of Jesus a dimension in which he grew in grace, and a superconscious dimension in which he beheld the vision of God. If it was necessary for Maritain to make a distinction before between the infraconscious or Freudian unconscious and the preconscious of the spirit, now in this little book he sketches some other important distinctions. The divinized superconsciousness of Christ is a consciousness of self in which Jesus experiences the Beatific vision, while our preconscious or "natural supraconsciousness of the spirit does not constitute a transcendent consciousness of self," but it is a preconscious "secret sphere where in virtue of the supernatural gift of God is found the seat of grace, the beginning of eternal life." (111) These distinctions become more tangible when Maritain takes the example of Fr. Surin, a 17th century contemplative. Because of these different dimensions of the spirit it was possible for him to experience, in Maritain's opinion, mystical union in the supraconscious of the spirit while being sorely troubled by psychological problems in his infraconscious. And while the world of the "supraconscious divinized by the Beatific Vision could only occur in the unique case of the Word Incarnate" (112), our own unconscious of the spirit, through the grace of Christ, can become a supraconscious "that in certain souls a habitual union with God establishes itself, too profound to be perceived." (113)
The entry into the "path of contemplation" takes place "in a manner inaccessible to consciousness (in the depths of the supra-conscious of the spirit)" where the soul is "habitually aided by the gifts of the Holy Spirit." (114) And, as we saw, depending on which gifts predominate, there will be masked or typical contemplation. But the critical point for Maritain is that even if a typical form of contemplation is present in which the gift of wisdom predominates, it need not take the classic form found in John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila. Another possibility that very much interested the Maritains is what they called "contemplation on the roads", which is a contemplative call to Christians living in the world who thirst for a deeper life of prayer. In contrast to those people devoted to the active life who can partake of masked contemplation, these people are called to open contemplation. "But their path is a very humble one; it demands nothing but charity and humility, and contemplative prayer without apparent graces. This is the path of simple people; it is the 'little way' that St. Therese of Lisieux was in charge of teaching us: a kind of short cut -singularly abrupt, to tell the truth - where all the great things described by St. John of the Cross can be found divinely simplified and reduced to the pure essentials, but without losing any of their exigence. The soul is laid bare, and its very love-prayer as well - so arid at times that it seems to fly into distractions and emptiness... Sometimes, in a certain manner, this treasure is hidden from the soul themselves that possess it..." (115) Once again we see that the most difficult theological issues like the grace in the soul of Jesus is connected in Maritain's mind to the most pressing practical issues in the spiritual life, which in this case is the question of how contemplation might be given to people today.
He continues his examination of this subject by quoting at length from their Liturgy and Contemplation: "Saint Therese of Lisieux has shown that the soul can tend to the perfection of charity by a way in which the great signs that Saint John of the Cross and Saint Teresa of Avila have described do not appear... Let us add that in this contemplation on the roads whose development the future will doubtless see, it seems that constant attention to the presence of Jesus and fraternal charity are called to play a major role, as regards even the way of infused contemplative prayer." (116)
These last citations on contemplation on the roads have been from Maritain's The Peasant of the Garonne, and they are the closest he came to joining his reflections on mystical contemplation to his thought on the spiritual unconscious. Yet this encounter is of such importance that it is worthwhile for us to emphasize some of its major stages of development.
In the Maritains' 1924 De la vie doraison we: saw how they nuanced the doctrinal statement of the normalcy of the call of all Christians to contemplation by introducing a distinction between typical and masked contemplation. There they distinguished: (1) a non-mystical contemplation like the contemplation of the philosophers, which is the culmination of the natural working of the faculties of the soul and a remote disposition to infused contemplation. (2) a masked contemplation in which the active gifts of the Holy Spirit predominate with a tempered or hidden exercise of the gift of wisdom, which gives to this nonmystical contemplation a certain savour of supernatural contemplation and is a proximate disposition to this infused contemplation. (3) And a contemplation which is the fruit of these other contemplations, but now aided more openly by the gifts of wisdom and understanding. This kind of contemplation is an ultimate disposition for infused contemplation and the anticipation of it. Implicit in all of this and, for that matter, in the work of the great Carmelite mystics, is an understanding that contemplation is, as John of the Cross puts it, not something we do with the faculties, but a gift passively received in the center of the soul. In more modern terms, contemplation is not something we do with our ego or even received there, but it takes place beyond ego consciousness, and is not always perceptible to the ego.
This brings us to the other current of Maritain's thought that we have been following that surfaced in his 1945 essay, "The Immanent Dialectic of the First Act of Freedom" that saw some of his first remarks on the spiritual unconscious. In fact, without putting the matter too strongly, it may be possible to trace the birth of this idea by examining the original manuscript and the nature of the 1947 insertion of the theological parenthesis. For example, the two sections that now bracket this parenthesis show significant reworking in the original manuscript, and much of this reworking has to do with the development of this idea of the spiritual unconscious. Section V, which now precedes this parenthesis, speaks of the "unconscious (inconscient) of the spirit" and anticipates the thought of the parenthesis, but its most subtle section on how right appetite passes "in conditionem objecti", and the comparison of this knowledge with the gift of wisdom are additions made to the original manuscript. In a similar way, the section that now follows the parenthesis shows additions that indicate a refinement of Maritain's thought on how conscious this knowledge coming through the first act of freedom is. Further, while the English translation of the 1947 essay shows the use of the word preconscious in the parenthesis in the form of the "unconscious and preconscious life of the mind", and "knowledge which is formal and active although it is preconscious," it also shows the use of the word preconscious in these other sections. However, when we go to the original text we find that in one case it is given as the rendering of the more general "inconsciente," while in the other it is a paraphrase for an original rendering which simply says "elle" and refers to "unconscious (inconsciente) and existential knowledge."
What I am suggesting is that we have in these alterations and additions a privileged window through which to see Maritain begin to develop the idea of the spiritual unconscious and apply it to a kind of knowledge that is very similar to mystical contemplation. Much later, he indicates in his The Church of Christ that this essay would have to be reformulated in the light of his further development of these ideas, which remark can be taken as a confirmation that his earlier essay was, in fact, an important starting point for this line of development.
It was not until 1960 that Maritain's thoughts on contemplation began to intersect with his ideas of the spiritual unconscious with the publication of Liturgy and Contemplation. However, as we saw, he identified masked contemplation with "unconscious" prayer. This was a natural enough error, for masked contemplation evokes the idea of a contemplation outside of consciousness more readily than the typical or classical forms of contemplation that seem to be more perceptible and therefore to be associated with consciousness. Further reflection made it clear to Maritain that contemplation as such ought to be seen in the light of the spiritual unconscious, and he made his amends in The Peasant of the Garonne. In this book he went on to begin to apply this contemplation seen in the light of the spiritual unconscious, under the heading of contemplation on the roads, to the important problem of how contemplation is being experienced today, which revolves around the central point of how much Christians can expect to experience contemplation in terms of consciousness.
While Maritain finally did join the spiritual unconscious with his thought on contemplation, he was like a scout who had gone exploring in an uncharted land and left indications of some of the important landmarks without having the energy and opportunity, because of his great age, to cover the terrain in detail.
I would like to think that if Maritain had lived longer, or come to this intersection earlier, we would have another of his books, this one entitled, Contemplation on the Roads of the World, (which, in fact, is the title of a book that friends urged Raissa to write). In my hypothetical version Maritain would have reformulated his essay on the immanent dialectic, and gone on to make a thorough examination of supernatural contemplation in the light of the supraconscious of Jesus and conclude with a more extensive treatment of how people today might be experiencing contemplation.
As it is, Maritain has left us a milestone, albeit a generally unrecognized one, in the 20th century renewal of mystical theology. His work is a witness to the need to bring the theology of contemplation into relationship with the notion of the unconscious, but it also gives us an eloquent testimony to the care we should have that properly psychological notions stimulate searching philosophical reflection on themes like the spiritual unconscious or preconscious, which in turn become fitting instruments with which to explore the riches of the Church's mystical tradition.
(1) We Have Been Friends Together, p. 81.
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