Mysticism, Metaphysics and Maritain

Chapter 4:

In this chapter we are faced with three tasks in order to complete our understanding of the three contemplations: (1) We have to see more clearly how these contemplations interact and influence each other. (2) We need to situate Maritain's metaphysical and mystical work more precisely in his own times. (3) We need to place him in the larger panorama of the history of Thomism and try to deepen our understanding of his inner intellectual and spiritual inclinations.

(1) In the first three chapters we have concentrated principally on Maritain's comment that these three contemplations "of themselves and by essence... are totally different." But this is just one half of his lifelong project to distinguish in order to unite, or in this context: "These three types of contemplation are able, in fact, in this or that person, to give rise to different mixtures." (1) In short, if these contemplations are in themselves distinct they all can dwell within us and influence and interpenetrate each other.

The foundation for examining this interplay among the three contemplations can be found in Maritain's fundamental distinction between the essential and the existential, a distinction that is already implicit in his "to distinguish in order to unite." In the Degrees he is constantly delineating the essential characteristics of the various sciences in terms of their various epistemological types in order to map the terrain of the one mind and to trace the dynamic interrelationships that grow up between the various sciences.

This theme of the essential and the existential was to become more explicit around the time he was writing the Degrees, for it coincided with a running debate on the possibility of there being a Christian philosophy which involved Bréhier, Gilson, Jolivet, Blondel and others. Maritain's contribution to this discussion appeared in several articles in 1932 and in De la philosophie chrétienne in 1933. For Maritain, while it would be a mistake to speak of a Christian philosophy that would have a specifically Christian content - for then it would not be a philosophy, that is, a work of human reason - this does not mean there cannot be a Christian philosophy in another sense. This would be a philosophy that takes root and grows in the mind and heart of the Christian and far from being shut off from this Christian life, is nourished and guided by it. This Christian life does not supplant the work of reason, but strengthens it. In Maritain's language there is a vital distinction between the "order of specification and the order of exercise," or between "nature" and "state." "This means that we must distinguish between the nature of philosophy, or what it is in itself, and the state in which it exists in real fact, historically, in the human subject, and which pertains to its concrete conditions of existence and exercise." (2) He continues a little later: "Christian philosophy is philosophy itself in so far as it is situated in those utterly distinctive conditions of existence and exercise into which Christianity has ushered the thinking subject, and as a result of which philosophy perceives certain objects and validly demonstrates certain propositions, which in any other circumstances would to a greater and lesser extent elude it." (3)

The light of faith aids the light of reason to see its own objects more clearly. And if metaphysics can in this sense be called Christian, the situation of moral philosophy is even more acute. Moral philosophy has the task Of elucidating the goal towards which we should strive. But this end is not a purely natural one; the good that we seek is the supernatural goal of union with God. This leads Maritain to what he calls moral philosophy adequately considered. "Man is not in a state of pure nature, he is fallen and redeemed. Consequently, ethics... in so far as it takes man in his concrete state, in his existential being, is not a purely philosophic discipline." (4) If in speculative philosophy the object was natural and the light of faith aided us to attain it more fully, here in the realm of practical philosophy, the object itself is beyond the range of unaided human reason, and so reason must depend on faith for its knowledge of it.

This fundamental distinction between the essential and the existential has been emerging, as well, in our treatment of the evolution of Maritain's thought on each of the three contemplations. In Chapter I we saw him move from an analysis of the nature of being in The Degrees of Knowledge to a consideration of the subjective requirements of the intuition of being in Sept leçons. Maritain had realized that it was not enough to talk about the objective nature of being. No matter how true such an analysis is it has to be supplemented by an examination of how, in the actual circumstance in which we live, we can attain this insight. And this is all the more true because existence itself is not principally a matter of essence, but of actually existing subjects. In chapter II we saw a similar situation emerge. The world of logically manipulated concepts makes up just part of the human spirit. There is, in addition, a spiritual unconscious that plays a primordial role in the exercise of our intellects. And in chapter III Maritain's ideas on natural mysticism point the way to this same spiritual unconscious and to experiences that take place beyond concepts.

What we are faced with in this distinction between an essentialistic analysis and an existential evaluation, or as Maritain puts it, between nature and state, is another situation analogous to his intuition of being. Like the intuition of being it has to do with essence and existence and a fundamental insight that is so simple that it is difficult to grasp, and which has concrete approaches to it. We might be led to it, for example, by pondering some moral question that resists us until we realize that the complete answer cannot be found at the level of the rational nature of things, but must take into account the fallen-redeemed state of the human race. Or it might come from struggling with a problem in the spiritual life, like the call to contemplation, just as Maritain did. No matter how much infused contemplation can be demonstrated to be the normal outcome of the development of the virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, our analysis is incomplete until we look at the concrete state in which men and women strive to reach this contemplation. Then we can be led to such notions as Maritain's masked contemplation, and later his development of the idea of the spiritual unconscious.

In a similar fashion, the reason why philosophical demonstrations of the existence of God like those of St. Thomas leave so many people cold and unconvinced is not to be found principally in any weakness of his metaphysical reasoning, but rather in more existential considerations. These ways pointing to the existence of God, no matter how correctly stated, derive their intellectual force from the intuition of being, which in turn is effected by our fallen-redeemed state. And this state which is a supernatural one makes us long for a union with God that comes through grace so that our metaphysics, while being essentially complete, can be existentially unsatisfying. Human nature as human nature has no efficacious desire for divine union. Human nature in the concrete, transformed by grace, does.

If metaphysics of itself does not have to took to mystical experience for its completion, the individual metaphysician does, and inversely, the life of faith of this philosopher can nourish the metaphysical enterprise. How could someone who tried to draw close to God in faith and by beginning to enter the ways that lead to supernatural contemplation fail to be influenced by this supernatural union when they turned to metaphysical contemplation? In such a situation the metaphysician would be led - if he or she were not paralyzed by a false fear of faith conflicting with reason - to see the object of this metaphysical contemplation more clearly and be strengthened in the pursuit of it.

Not only does the light of faith know God who is the object of metaphysical contemplation in a higher way, and thus fortify our metaphysical insight, but it also helps to heal the ravages of our intellectual insight brought about by original sin. When St. Thomas talked about the effects of original sin, he directed most of his remarks to its moral consequences. Maritain, in contrast, at the end of his life, reflecting on what he called an existential epistemology, tried to develop the thought of St. Thomas by looking at how original sin effected the intellect. In his essay, Réflexions sur la nature blessée, (Reflections on wounded nature), he tried to show how original sin dimmed our primordial intellectual insights like the intuition of being. In the state of original justice, grace in "the supra-conscious of the spirit" through the infused theological virtues "enlightened and fortified reason" not in its nature, but "in its natural exercise." (5) With the loss of original justice the equilibrium of the natural working of reason was disturbed, and to illustrate what happened Maritain created a metaphysical typology in which each of the cardinal virtues corresponds to a particular aspect of the work of doing metaphysics. Prudence is associated with a "solidité rationelle" which has to do with the organization of concepts. Justice is connected to a "justesse du verbe" which is clearly saying what is seen, while fortitude is attached to a "hardiesse de regard" by which Maritain means intuitive insight. Finally, temperance is linked with a "limpidit6 de la pens6e" in which the thoughts of the philosopher are expressed without distortion by any unconscious pressure of imagination or emotion. At first glance such a schema may appear to be rather artificial, but it takes on solidity as Maritain continues by looking at the history of metaphysical thought in this perspective. This is not some typology that Maritain dreamed up and now wants to impose on whatever material he finds at hand, but rather it has emerged for him out of his pondering the vicissitudes of the metaphysical enterprise. It is worth noting, as well, that this brief excursion into typology is another of Maritain's attempts to balance metaphysical analysis with more concrete and existential considerations. There is even a more personal note concealed here, for Maritain singles out intuitive insight and the organization of concepts for special attention and these were, in fact, two qualities that he excelled in.

In each metaphysician, with the equilibrium coming from original justice gone, one of these qualities will predominate over the others. Why? "Because the psychological temperament (attention, I don't in any way understand by this the unconscious pressure of subjectivity, I understand the native constitution of each person) is not only varied among the diverse individuals of the species, which is completely normal, but, by the loss of original justice, holds reason itself in a certain dependence in its regard, and because even among the greatest philosophers the intelligence feels the repercussion of the psychological temperament." (6)

Maritain will go on in this essay and indicate more precisely how the lower powers of the soul like the imagination impact on the intellect and effect its ability to see. But what is critical for us to note is that if the heaven of the soul is restored by grace, then these disturbances due to temperament and the excessive autonomy of the lower powers of the soul will lessen and metaphysical insight will become keener. It will be in a contemplative soul like that of St. Thomas' that the light of the intuition of being will dawn, not because it is a supernatural light in itself, but because grace has begun to restore the distorted and cramped dimensions of the soul, allowing space for this insight to germinate. In this context, Maritain, with another nod to the work of Lacombe and Gardet, adds that this same process can take place among non-Christians and give rise to a genuine perception of the intuition of being. (7)

The light of faith effects the light of metaphysical understanding, not by violence, but by "a natural and spontaneous movement like that of the tides and the seasons." (8) Here Maritain turns once again to John of St. Thomas who likens this kind of illumination to what transpires between the angels. The higher light of faith "irradiates... the object which on an inferior plane belongs to the specific field of philosophy" so that the natural light of reason is strengthened by a "real motion or impression deriving from the habitus of faith" passing into it. (9) "In the same way," writes John of St. Thomas in his Cursus Theologicus, "the light of the superior angel strengthens and perfects the intellectual potency of the inferior, proposing to it the object illuminated in a higher way... 11 (10)

If the intellect can be moved by this higher light, the will can be equally attracted by a deeper goal that grace has made known to it. Love makes the intellect more keen to Penetrate the mystery of being, and to go beyond the intuition of being in quest of that knowledge through love that is supernatural contemplation.

If Maritain as a philosopher devoted his energy primarily to examining how the light of reason could be aided by faith, theology and contemplation, he was not unaware that this process worked both ways. In St. Thomas, for example, metaphysical wisdom was perfected by dwelling in a soul given to prayer and contemplation, but this perfected metaphysics was brought into the service of theology. Maritain realized that Thomas' conception of theology was not one in which reason explored revelation, as if the light of reason were the supreme light that theology saw by, but rather the light of faith took up reason in order to try to articulate the mysteries transcending reason that it adhered to by this higher light. These two lights are so intimately connected in the theological enterprise that Maritain, after the pattern of his moral philosophy adequately considered, conceived how philosophy could become a research worker for theology. In such a situation philosophy would be awakened to problems that had arisen in theology, and explore them in a properly philosophical fashion, not to arrive at theological conclusions which would be impossible, but to open new philosophical paths which might not only enrich philosophy itself, but also be of service to theology, as well. For examples of this kind of procedure we can look to Maritain's On the Grace and Humanity of Jesus, and some of his essays in Approches sans entraves.

Philosophers and theologians have struggled over the interrelationships of reason, faith, theology and supernatural contemplation for a long time, and no doubt will continue to do so. But at least they are on familiar ground. In contrast, when we come to the mysticism of the self, relationships with the metaphysics and supernatural contemplation have just begun to be explored. Maritain, after his original essay, left the matter in the hands of Lacombe and Gardet, and we have looked at their remarks in chapter III.

The practitioners of the mysticism of the self live in the same fallen-redeemed world as Christians do and are called to the same goal. If we apply Maritain's careful analysis in the "Immanent Dialectic" to these men and women who have made heroic efforts to leave all concepts behind and join themselves to the absolute, then we can see that these efforts aimed at natural mysticism can become transformed by grace and serve to draw them to divine union. This is the conclusion that Olivier Lacombe reached and which Maritain approved by citing it in his 1956 version of his essay on natural mysticism. While it is true that any good act is capable of a similar transformation, the mysticism of the self has a privileged position, for it is a question of men and women striving to discover the ultimate meaning of life.

But what of the relationship between this natural mysticism and metaphysical and mystical contemplation? if metaphysical contemplation is unsatisfying in an existential sense, if it can increase our thirst for the vision of God, is it not possible that if this thirst were experienced in a non-Christian context it could give rise to a natural mysticism? Then these men and women yearning for a living contact with the absolute would seize upon metaphysical insights and their radical inadequacy and conceive the bold plan of going beyond all concepts and against the natural direction of the working of the intellect in order to assuage that thirst. The result could be a mysticism of the self in which philosophy is seen as too tame and too ineffectual, and what is born is a natural mysticism, a heroic dedication to attain the absolute using every power of mind and body. It is clear that in such a situation metaphysics would no longer culminate in a philosophical contemplation, but would become a post-experience reflection on the natural mystical experience. And as Maritain indicated, such a reflection would tend to identify the existence of the soul, God as the source of existence and the existence of all things.

But this does not mean that the mysticism of the self could not serve to strengthen metaphysical insight and contemplation. The interior attitudes that Maritain describes as prerequisites for the intuition of being like an active and attentive silence or a deep immersion in the very actuality of things could be cultivated by means of eastern forms of meditation. And if the archfoe of a genuine Thomistic metaphysics is a scholasticism fixated on concepts, then here, too, non-conceptual forms of meditation could loosen the hold of this conceptualism and allow intuitive insight to take its rightful place. This is not the place to explore these kinds of possibilities; it suffices that we recognize that the light of the mysticism of the self could strengthen the light of the intuition of being in a way analogous to how the light of faith fortifies metaphysical insight. If the mysticism of the self is an actual experience of God in and through the existence of the soul, then how could it fail to quicken the instinct of metaphysics for the author of existence?

Inversely, metaphysics could help the practitioners of this natural mysticism see that there is a difference between the non-conceptual experience of the self and certain post-experience conceptualizations that have become closely attached to it. Then it would be possible for them to examine afresh the relationships among the existence of the soul, the existence of things and the One Who is existence without a limiting essence.

The relationship between mystical contemplation and natural mysticism holds equally fascinating possibilities. Mystical contemplation could illuminate in a higher way the very object that the mysticism of the self pursues in its own fashion, and confirm and strengthen it in that pursuit. The God that is the object of union in mystical contemplation is no other than the absolute that is sought through natural mysticism, although they approach different aspects of the divine mystery. It is also probable that natural mysticism could make an important contribution to our understanding of the mystical life, not only in terms of deciphering the various mixtures of the two kinds of contemplation that have appeared during the course of history, but also in helping us deal with the delicate transitional periods between meditation and contemplation. Is it possible, for example, that the techniques of natural mysticism could be taken up in the life of prayer and help someone to leave behind a certain kind of discursive activity that is no longer appropriate? Would these kinds of natural contemplative activities ease the pain of those people who can no longer meditate as they did before, and yet cannot be sure that they are called to go by the way of infused contemplation? Certainly, there are not going to be any easy answers to these kinds of questions, but Maritain's work on the three contemplations at least puts us in a position to ask them without having to fear that we will compromise the essential distinctions that exist among them, while his distinction between the essential and the existential encourages us to go forward and explore this terrain.

(2) Our second task is to examine more closely Maritain's intense involvement with his own times. First we will look at Maritain's involvement in the arts and how it influenced his development of the idea of the spiritual unconscious, and then we will try to place him more precisely in the metaphysical and mystical renewal that took place in Catholic circles in the first part of the century, as well as in the history of comparative religion of that period.

Jacques and Raissa always had a deep attraction to the arts and it was natural for them to apply the principles they found in St. Thomas to the creative process and the particular challenges that artists and poets face. We have already noted their friendship with Georges Rouault which helped them in their first formulation of these ideas that appeared in 1920 in Art and Scholasticism. This whole process would not have been possible in the same way without Raissa's own vocation as a poet, but even given this fact, which encouraged Jacques to go forward with his philosophical reflections in this area, it is still remarkable how deeply involved they were in the arts. In fact, if there have been critics that have thought that Maritain was too traditional and too aligned to the old Thomistic commentators, there have been others who have accused the Maritains of using their Thomism as an excuse to indulge their interest in the arts. Such a criticism betrays a failure to grasp how fused together in the Maritains' lives were their commitment to the essential principles of St. Thomas and to the best of artistic activity they found in their own times. It is this marriage of interests that gave rise to the range of writings that embraced the various editions of Art and Scholasticism, The Frontiers of Poetry, The Situation of Poetry, The Responsibility of the Artist, and Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry. These works were not written in the abstract, but emerged out of an ever deeper philosophical reflection and the warm friendship of many of the major artists of the times. Marc Chagal and Gino Severini, for example, both left their visual impressions of Raissa, and the Maritains were close to novelists like Henri Ghéon and Julian Greene, composers like Eric Satie, Nicolas Nabokoff and Arthur Lourie, as well as to poets like Jean Cocteau and Paul Sabon. Even in the quieter years of Princeton when Maritain was preparing his Mellon lectures on the fine arts he could draw on the help of his friends like the literary critic Francis Fergusson and the poet Allen Tate, and lest the Maritains feel homesick for France, André Girard, a student of Rouault, covered the walls of their home on Linden Lane with Parisian street scenes.

In previous chapters we have been discovering how Maritain, at decisive moments in the development of his thought, turned to the subject and its existential depths, and I think that it would be possible to trace a similar evolution in regard to his ideas on art and poetry. If such an analysis were carried out it would probably show how Art and Scholasticism concentrated on the objective nature of art by considering the difference between the speculative and practical orders and art as an intellectual virtue, but when we reach Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry the emphasis is on the subjectivity of the artist and the creative processes that take place there. Such an analysis would have to look at Maritain's 1938 essay, "The Experience of the Poet" as one of the major transitional points in this development. 1938, as you will recall, was the year that saw the appearance of Maritain's essay on natural mysticism, and it was also the time of the appearance of his essay of Freudian psychoanalysis. I would like to think that there was an inner connection between these three events that found expression in his ideas on the spiritual unconscious that appeared in the various editions of his essay on the immanent dialectic of the first act of freedom from 1945 to 1947.

"The Experience of the Poet," which had been occasioned by a series of articles by Marcel de Corte, which appeared in the Revue Thomiste and elsewhere between 1936 and early 1938 on the ontology of poetry, finds Maritain repeating his earlier themes that poetic knowledge is not aimed at knowing but making. But now he goes on and asks himself why this is so, and looks to subjectivity for the answer: "Subjectivity is intimately concerned with the privileges of spirituality and of the immanence proper to the personality itself. A subjectivity is a spiritual subsistence and existence, which are radically active, sources of the superexistence of knowledge and the superexistence of love." (11) Subjectivity is "a universe of productive vitality and spiritual emanation." (12) '

Then Maritain goes on, in a passage that prefigures many of the themes that were to appear later in his Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry to write: "But if an experience of the self by the self grasps the subject as subject... then such an experience will be by that very fact a fecundation, as it were, of that very productivity. And such a grasp of the substance of the subject can only take place in a non-conceptual or non-logical mode, hence in an essentially obscure manner, at the very instant when some reality from the universe outside is grasped by the mode of affective connaturality, in an intuitive emotion in which the universe and the subject are revealed together to the subject, as if by a beam of darkness." (13)

And much to our point he characterizes this poetic knowledge as "unconscious" and later as "hidden in the spiritual unconscious." (14) This poetic knowledge is one of several "experiences of existence" which include "the Hindu contemplation of the Self." (15) The soul of the poet remains "available to itself." It "keeps as it were a reserve of spirituality" which is "like a sleep of the soul; being of the spirit... it is itself in act, I say virtually, by way of a tension and a virtual reversion of the spirit on itself and on all that is in it. The soul sleeps but its heart is awake, let it sleep... " (16)

These lines are the forerunners of Maritain's later remarks on Fr. Osende's unconscious prayer of the heart, and this whole essay as a culmination of his ideas on the creative process becomes one of the foundations for his development of the theme of the spiritual unconscious.

Another source for this same development is be found in Maritain's only essay devoted entirely to Freudian psychoanalysis. During the Meudon years Maritain would listen to his friend Roland Dalbiez read passages from what was to become Dalbiez's extensive La méthode psychoanalytique et la doctrine freudienne, which appeared in 1936. Despite Maritain's reservations about Freudian philosophy which he feels has marred Freud's psychology, he considers Freud's "technique for the exploration of the geological depths of the soul" to be "a discovery of the highest importance." (17) And once Maritain became conversant with Freud's work, how could he fail to be struck by the fact that the idea of the unconscious is latent in St. Thomas' view of the soul:

"For St. Thomas Aquinas, not only is the human soul obscure to itself, - knowing its own concrete existence only by reflection on its acts, - not only are its basic tendencies, called powers or faculties, among the realities whose intimate nature escapes introspection, but, in addition, the instincts, the inclinations, the acquired tendencies, the habitus or internal improvements of the faculties, the virtues and the vices, the deep mechanisms of the life of the spirit - all these constitute a world of reality whose effects alone reach consciousness." (18)

Once this insight has sprung forth, then he has a vantage point from which to criticize Freud's work: "Freud invented a powerful instrument for exploring the unconscious, and beheld with deepest insight this fearful world, the interior inferno, full of all the monsters repressed in the unconscious. But he mixed up the unconscious itself with this inferno, which is only part of it. He separated it from the life of reason and of the spirit." (19) When we read these two passages we see that it would be only another step to distinguish the Freudian unconscious from the spiritual unconscious already implied in Christian metaphysical and mystical traditions, but not yet brought to conscious realization.

This essay, therefore, becomes the second pillar after "The Experience of the Poet" in the development of the idea of the spiritual unconscious. The third and fourth can be found in his essay on natural mysticism and his thoughts on mystical contemplation which we have already examined, and a fifth, largely undeveloped, in his reflections on the intuition of being. Previously we had traced the genesis of Maritain's spiritual unconscious to his essay on the immanent dialectic, and now we can see its roots are in the works of 1938 which sum up long researches in these different areas, and which in this year flow closer together to form the matrix from which the idea of the spiritual unconscious will later be born.

The pattern of involvement of Maritain in the arts that we have just briefly reviewed exists, as well, in his metaphysical and mystical work which can be situated in relationship to the Thomistic rediscovery of esse, the renewal of mystical theology, and the development of a Catholic comparative mysticism.

Maritain's philosophical thought, though it owed most to his reading of St. Thomas and his commentators, profited from his relationship to three Dominican priests, Humbert C1érissac, Père Dehau and Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange who have already made their appearance in the previous chapters. Père Clérissac was their first spiritual director and introduced Raissa to the Summa. Jacques used to go off in the morning and serve his Mass and then have long conversations on philosophical and theological matters, and it was Fr. Clérissac who helped him prepare his first philosophical article in 1910. Of Père Dehau, their second director, Jacques writes in his Notebooks: "As for me, I passed hours - priceless hours - reading John of St. Thomas to Father Dehau, and listening to his commentaries. What keys he gave me, what enlightenments I received from his brilliant intelligence! (It went more quickly with the affairs of my 'interior,' which moreover did not offer much that was remarkable. Is not a philosopher, moreover, intended for the common good of the republic of minds? Sometimes I bore a little grudge against this common good.) (20) And before the war it was to Garrigou-Lagrange that they turned, together with Charles Henrion, to pose questions about the mystical life. It was to Garrigou-Lagrange, long-time professor at the Angelicum in Rome, that they went in 1918, when they came to Rome for the first time, bearing Jacques' massive manuscript on the apparitions of Our Lady at La Salette, and it was to him they looked when they sought a spiritual director for the Thomist circle and its retreats. Jacques called his theological teaching "a light of grace and a blessing for our intelligence." (21)

In 1922 Maritain met Yves Simon who was one of his students at the Institut Catholique, and went on to become Maritain's life-long friend and a distinguished philosopher in his own right. Their extensive correspondence is being prepared for publication. In 1923, Etienne Gilson sent Maritain a revised edition of his Le Thomisme, a gesture that began their long friendship. It is interesting to note in connection with the role that this book was to play in the rediscovery of esse that even at this early date Maritain made a number of suggestions that Gilson took advantage of in later editions. In a 1924 letter Maritain touched on the theme of the essential and the existential when he wrote to Gilson: "The man to whom St. Thomas addresses his moral doctrine is not Aristotle's man; it is not human nature in the abstract state, but human nature taken in its fallen and concrete redeemed condition." (22) Their friendship gradually deepened and took a decisive turn at a meeting at the home of the Russian philosopher Berdiaeff in January, 1931, where Jacques spoke on St. Thomas and philosophy in the faith at a time when the debate on Christian philosophy was growing. "Berdiaeff turns towards Gilson, counting on him to contradict me and reminding him what he wrote in his book on Thomism apropos of St. Thomas as a precursor of the philosophy of pure reason. To the great surprise of all, Gilson declares that if he spoke thus he erred, and that he is entirely in agreement with me. (He, in fact, considerably changed his positions in the later editions of Le Thomisme.) Raissa and I are very touched by the attitude of Gilson and by his honesty in correcting himself. From this day dates our ties of friendship with him." (23) A little while later Gilson was instrumental in inviting Maritain to lecture for the first time in North America at the Institute of Medieval Studies in Toronto. These particular episodes are just symbolic of Maritain's philosophical and theological style, and as the publication of his enormous correspondence proceeds this picture of deep reflection joined to personal relationships will become clearer.

Maritain also took part in the tremendous revival of Catholic mystical theology during the first decades of this century. Mystical theology, battered by the crisis of Quietism at the end of the 17th century, had fallen silent, and grown isolated from theology. At the turn of the century, Abbé Saudreau had begun to breathe life back into it with works like Les degrées de la vie spirituelle in 1896 and L'etat mystique in 1903. He soon came into conflict with Auguste Poulain whose Les grâces d'oraison had appeared in 1901. They differed over the existence of an acquired contemplation in the writings of the Carmelite saints, a controversy that had disturbed the 17th century as well, and allied with this problem were differing conceptions of the mystical life and thus the call to it. The following years saw an outpouring of books and articles on these themes, as well as the whole of the spiritual life. There was Père Louis de Besse's, La science de la prière, Dom Vital Lehodey's, Les voies de l’oraison mentale (1908), and Père Laballe's La contemplation (1912). Later came Bremond's, Histoire littéraire de sentiment religieux en France (1916-1922), and work of men like Juan Arintero and Garrigou-Lagrange whose Perfection chrétienne et contemplation appeared in 1923, and many others.

One of the major currents of this renewal was a fresh look at the work of John of the Cross by Carmelite authors like Crisógono de Jesús, Claudio de Jesús Crucificado, and Gabriel de Sainte Marie-Magdeleine. In 1926 St. John was declared a doctor of the Church, and in 1929-31 Silverio de Santa Teresa published the first critical edition of his works. 1920 saw the publication of La vie spirituelle under the direction of M.V. Bernadot and La revue d'ascétique et de mystique edited by J. de Guibert.

Maritain was very much a part of this world. He read the classic works like John of St. Thomas on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the Carmelite Joseph of the Holy Spirit, and he admired the modern classics as well: Fr. Gardeil's, La structure de l'ame, and Garrigou-Lagrange's, Christian Perfection and Contemplation and The Love of God and Cross of Jesus. His own 1923 letter to La vie spirituelle echoes the debates raging at the time, as well as his relationship with Fr. Lagrange. He regretted the interpretation that Jean Baruzi gave to John of the Cross and wrote a preface to his friend Bruno de Jesus-Marie's life of the mystical doctor. In short, he drank in the best of this mystical revival and made a major contribution to it himself.

And it was his mastery of the Catholic metaphysical and mystical traditions that allowed him to contribute to a third current of these times, the birth of a Catholic comparative mysticism. Henri de Lubac, in his preface to a later milestone in this field, La mystique et les mystiques, suggests that the revival of Catholic mystical studies that we have just seen was to join the study of comparative religions to give birth to a distinctive Catholic comparative mysticism. (23a)

The Catholic study of comparative religions had taken a new turn in 1911 and 1912 with the publication of two collaborative efforts: Où en est l'histoire des religions edited by Abbé Bricout, and Christus, manuel d'historie des religions directed by Joseph Huby. These developments had had their forerunners in traditional Catholic theology with the debates on implicit and explicit faith, and the salvation of unbelievers that we saw Maritain refer to in his essay on the immanent dialectic.

The whole project of a Catholic comparative mysticism received a boost later from Joseph Marechal's Studies in the Psychology of the Mystics, and began to find more definitive expression when philosophers and theologians were joined by Catholic specialists in other mystical traditions. In the front ranks of these scholars was Louis Massingrion who wrote his thesis at the Sorbonne on the Islamic mystic Al Hâllaj. Jacques and Charles Henrion had met him before the war, and Jacques had kept in touch with him over the years; Charles de Foucauld, who undoubtedly influenced this whole movement by his life among the Tuareg in North Africa, was another link among these three men. When Jacques wrote his chapter VI in The Degrees of Knowledge on mystical experience and philosophy he cites Massingnon at the head of a list of authors that included Miguel Asin Palacios, Martin Buber, W. Schmidt, W. Wallace on Hindu spirituality and Olivier Lacombe's, "Orient et Occident" which appeared in the Etudes Carmélitaines in April 1931. Massingrion was to influence George Anawati and Louis Gardet, and we have already seen how Maritain's philosophical reflections were to join with the expertise of Lacombe and Gardet to give rise to a distinctive theory of comparative mysticism.

This work helped to fulfill part of the promise of the future that Maritain had foreseen in his preface to Dandoy's, The Ontology of the Vedanta: "We are only at the first beginnings of a work of which Louis Massingrion, with his great book on Al Hâllaj, has been one of the pioneers in France. The work pursued in Calcutta by Fr. Dandoy and his collaborators at The Light of the East, whose French translation on the study of the Advaita is being published today, gives us the hope that it will be fruitful, and the hard labor begun 300 years ago by Fr. de Nobili will succeed in having an important philosophical and theological harvest in the 20th century." (24)

This work in India was, in fact, to be continued later by men like Jules Monchanin and Henri le Saux, and until his recent death was carried on by Bede Griffiths at his Hindu-Christian ashram, Shantivanam. A similar process has taken place in Japan through Hugo Lasalle and the other Catholic students of the Zen master Koun Yamada who have become recognized Zen teachers in their own right. While it does not appear that Maritain's work on natural mysticism had much influence on these later developments in India and Japan, he did have an important effect on his friend Thomas Merton who went on to be a major participant in the east-west dialogue, and we can only hope that the Maritain-Lacombe-Gardet current of natural mysticism will go on and enrich the efforts of today's participants in the Church's encounter with Hinduism and Buddhism.


(3) Maritain thought of himself as a philosopher, and it would be possible to refine our brief portrait of his place in his times by situating him in the 20th century history of Thomism. Then he would find his place between the Thomism of his two friends Fr. Lagrange and Etienne Gilson, and this whole current of the Thomistic renaissance could be contrasted, in turn, with the transcendental Thomism springing from the work of Rousselot and Maréchal. But this is a task that has been carried out in a number of different ways (25), and I think it will be more revealing to look at Maritain within a larger framework, for then we might get a glimpse of how the future might see him, as one of Thomism's greatest figures. And then we can ask, as well, just what qualities contributed to this greatness.

The idea of Christian philosophy was no abstraction for Maritain; it was a natural state of being, as it were. We have seen how he did not find his definitive philosophical path until after his conversion and his early spiritual formation, and once he found this road he saw that philosophy, theology and a fervent life of prayer, far from being antagonistic to each other, were meant to dwell together harmoniously.

This road as a Christian philosopher, especially as a Thomist Christian philosopher, however congenial it was to be for him personally, was not to be an easy one. He tells the story of an old lady, whom he venerated, who told his friends: "He is a Catholic, you know, but of a peculiar sect. He is also a Thomist." (26) At a more serious level, the idea of being a believing Christian and a genuine philosopher met incomprehension among the secular philosophers of France, an incomprehension Maritain understood well, but suffered from nonetheless. No matter how much the Christian philosopher may strive to do philosophy: "Even so he will scarcely manage to avoid misunderstanding. Even if he went to the length of asking pardon for being a Christian and of-assuming an air of detachment and of dehumanization and of passing for a thinker in the state of pure nature, who leaves his soul with his cloak at the university cloakroom, even though he dried up deliberately the sources of his intellectual vitality, he will not put them on the wrong scent; he will never manage to reassure people about himself entirely." (27)

The problem is even more acute when the subject is moral philosophy, which receives its object from theology, for he is "suspected by the theologians because he is a philosopher, and by the philosophers because his philosophy takes into account the things of faith." (28) He concludes in an autobiographical vein: "Is it surprising therefore that the Christian philosopher is in an uncomfortable position? He believes in a supernatural order, and as life will not permit this to be 'put into parentheses' he suffers for it." (29)

Gilson, with a fondness for a good story, recounts in his The Philosopher and Theology that Maritain was virtually ignored, in certain French philosophical circles, and when he spoke "his usual language" at a meeting of the French Society of Philosophy in 1936: "A philosopher who had come from Mars for the occasion would not have been less understood. The excellent Bouglé was the least fanatic among the representatives of secular philosophy. He was most anxious that his Catholic colleagues should feel they were trusted by him, and as a result he strove to prove it to them by courageous decisions. He came out of this meeting visibly preoccupied, even worried. 'Say,' he whispered in my ear, taking me by the arm in a friendly way, 'what is the matter with him? I think he is crazy!" (30)

It was this kind of incomprehension on the part of some of his countrymen who regarded his work as nonexistant (31), that probably played a significant role in his decision, after his ambassadorship in Rome, to go to the United States to pursue his philosophical career. Here he was well received in both Catholic and non-Catholic circles, but he was not entirely freed from the same kind of misunderstanding. On the occasion of receiving an invitation to speak at a university he remarked to his secretary Cornelia Borgerhoff: "You notice that it was the department of religion that asked me, not the department of philosophy." (32)

This is but one of a series of problems and paradoxes that surrounded Maritain's philosophical work which were masterfully summed up by the author of the unsigned pr6sentation to the Maritain volume of the Revue Thomiste. There is a striking contrast between "the most energetic and violently new thought, penetrated by passion and poetry, and the most technical armature... new thought, but springing from that of St. Thomas and even the school of St. Thomas... applied to the solution of the typical problems of our era and, even more, deepened and bettered according to its proper genius." (33)

Maritain "enters into the interior itself of that thought from which the profane current of philosophy had withdrawn three centuries ago, and which the theologians alone, when they do not fear isolation, continue to exploit for the solution of their proper problems... He pursues its progress which seems to have stopped with John of St. Thomas." (34) And the price he pays is that: "In university circles Maritain remains for many the scholastic, the Thomist..." while among Catholics he looks 11 too little conciliating, too abrupt, too Thomist, or, at least, too much a friend of the commentators. And why not say it. Too difficult... not at all the popularizer." (35)

But these paradoxes resolve themselves once we see them in the proper perspective. As we saw in chapter I, Maritain did not embrace a ready-made Thomism as a convenient philosophical appendix to his Catholic faith. it was certainly crucial that his philosophy be in harmony with his faith, as his struggles in Heidelberg over Bergson's ideas on the concept showed. But it was also vital that this philosophy meet his deepest philosophical aspirations and questions, questions he was struggling with when he was a Bergsonian. With Thomas he found a way to articulate his earlier insights like that of the intuition of being which had sprung up through the concrete approach of Bergson's duration, and while becoming a Thomist had the appearance of isolating him from the world he had grown up in, it was, in fact, a great liberation.

Maritain was a Thomist because he penetrated its living reality and substance, so that it was no longer Thomas' philosophy or John of St. Thomas', but his own. For it was only if it was his own that he could apply it with such vigor and creativity to contemporary problems. There is a great difference between looking at a philosophy from the outside and seeing it from within. The first way can lead to a certain amount of erudition, but often becomes philosophy talking about philosophy. The second way means assimilating the very marrow of this philosophy and becoming a living part of a philosophical tradition, which in the case of Thomism stretches back through the commentators to St. Thomas and further to Albert the Great and Augustine, and to the early Greeks and the Scriptures. Maritain is not someone simply trying to understand the great Thomists at a distance and make them the foils of an intellectual exercise that has as its unspoken goal a demonstration of their limitations and his own superior insight, but rather he entered into intimate conversation with them about the living mystery of being that they all served by their work. This is quite different than either a scholasticism in which the technical apparatus and the words themselves have become a dead weight, or a contemporary philosophy alive with creative intuition, but constrained to reinvent the whole of philosophy on the ruins of previous systems.

It is worthwhile to, explore further the relationship Maritain has with Thomas and his commentators or continuers, as he would have preferred to call them. In a preface to John of St. Thomas' material logic Maritain comments: "Philosophy lives on dialogue and conversation and it is a mark of any great philosophy that it can manifest constantly new aspects in a conversation pursued through centuries on the same accepted principles and with organic consistency. A philosopher finds reason for melancholy in realizing that the conversation about his own ideas (assuming that he is worthy of it) will begin only when he is dead and no longer has the opportunity of having his search for truth profit from it. Fortunate is he, if the very meaning of his deepest intuitions is not missed by the interlocutors. To continue the conversation with congenial and clear-sighted companions of Cajetan, Bañez and John of St. Thomas is a privilege of the genius of Thomas Aquinas and of his grace-given mission." (36)

The melancholy in this passage is Maritain's own, and we will return to it later. But these words also allow us to glimpse something of the interior dialogues that Maritain kept up for so many years with the great Thomists. Maritain's deep and prolonged meditation on the classic Thomistic texts can be seen in a striking way in The Degrees of Knowledge. In appendix IV, for example, on the notion of subsistence he makes reference to Thomas' Summa Theologiae, De Potentia, De Veritate, De Spiritualibus Creaturis, Summa Contra Gentiles and so forth, and goes on to Cajetan's In de Ente et Essentia, and contemporary debates. In appendix I, which deals with the concept, he cites the logic and Cursus Theologicus of John of St. Thomas and an even wider array of St. Thomas' writings than in appendix IV. And this intensive reading of the past is not done with a primarily historical intent, but to discover the deepest root principles, and bring them to bear on vital contemporary issues.

It is in his relationship with John of St. Thomas that we can catch a glimpse of how he must have seen the ultimate import of his own work, although he was too modest to state it explicitly. For Maritain, John of St. Thomas (1589-1644) was "the guide par excellence in the exploration of the great depths of the perennial philosophy," (37) and Maritain wondered what would have happened if the world had followed John of St. Thomas rather than his contemporary Descartes. It was the vocation of John of St. Thomas to be "the last great representative of the traditions of the schools, the metaphysical and theological heritage assembled by Greek and Christian wisdom." (38) And Maritain could appreciate the irony of this carrier of wisdom of the past being on the margin of contemporary thought which could not see what he had to offer, while he, himself, hid this wisdom under the cover of a scholastic methodology that made it unassimilable by his time. "He separated metaphysics from the age and confined it in the heaven of theology." (39) The result was that he "put in reserve the most elevated goods of the philosophical and theological tradition for a future time that would know how to extract them from their scholastic matrix (gangue scolaire)." (40)

If we translate this into more personal terms, Maritain saw that he could be one of the people who received this treasure, and refined the precious ore that was imbedded in John of St. Thomas' interminable scholastic debates. We have already seen how Maritain felt isolated by being a Christian philosopher in an age that could no longer understand such a thing, but he was not going to follow John of St. Thomas' footsteps in withdrawing from the marketplace. When Maritain writes that there is to be found in John of St. Thomas "a powerful poetic 61an, a sovereign force of intuition, an acuteness of gaze of transcendent simplicity" he really could be describing himself, just as he inadvertently did in "Reflexions sur la nature blessée" when he spoke of "la hardiesse du regard." And when in regard to John of St. Thomas' treatise of the gifts of the Holy Spirit he sees prolonged in a new synthesis "the thought of St. Thomas, enlarging the frontiers of Thomism with a daring all the more great because it was founded on the powerful and vehement adhesion to the spirit and organic principles of Thomism," we have an exact description of what he, himself, attempted to do.

"Jacques had no taste for the past," wrote his niece Eveline Gardiner. "It was the future that was important to him." (41) And Jacques said of himself: "What am I, I asked myself then. A professor? I think not; I taught by necessity. A writer? Perhaps. A philosopher? I hope so. But also a kind of romantic of justice too prompt to imagine himself, at each combat entered into, that justice and truth will have their day among men. And also perhaps a kind of spring-finder who presses his ear to the ground in order to hear the sound of hidden springs, and of invisible germinations." (42)

By means of his keen intuition, Maritain never stopped listening for the sounds of these hidden springs. In the last summers of his life, he would leave Toulouse and stay with his friends the Gruneliuses in Kolbsheim near Strasbourg. But there he always devoted himself to his philosophical work, not in the sense of finding answers that could be mechanically passed on, but "to scout the trails, to open the roads for those who would continue the work of searching for the truth which he held so much to heart." (43) It was this search for truth that he considered his vocation and his way to serve, as he commented in his Notebooks, "the common good of the republic of minds." In contrast to his philosophical work, in the same passage he makes an allusion to his own interior life: "It went more quickly with the affairs of my 'interior,' which moreover did not offer much that was remarkable." Even these notebooks do not dispel the reserve that Maritain had about speaking of his own spiritual life. He saw his Notebooks as setting the stage for Raissa's journals. But there is no doubt about his dedication to the life of prayer. He would go to Mass every day, and on his visits to the University of Notre Dame, "people were astounded at the many hours that he spent kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament." (44)

On one occasion he let this veil of silence slip. Wallace Fowlie, a friend of Maritain and a professor of French literature was visiting him and told him how he had been a student of T.S. Eliot at Harvard, and served Mass at the Anglican chapel where Eliot was a daily communicant. One day when he was serving Mass with Eliot as the only participant, he heard a thud and turned to see Eliot stretched out on the floor in the grips, apparently, of some sort of religious experience. "At the end of the story, tears were rolling down Jacques's cheeks. He recovered quickly, smiled at me, and said: "I am going to tell you a story about myself, a comparable story... The first year that President Hutchins invited me to give a course at the University of Chicago, I made arrangements to attend the earliest mass each morning at the Cathedral of the Holy Name. One morning I received communion, I must have had the same experience, the same need that Eliot had and that you described. I stretched out, face down, at the altar rail. There were only a few people, and they had gone back to their seats. It was dark in the church. A janitor came by and kicked me in the side, saying, 'We don't allow drunks in this church.' He forced me to get up." (45)

The reader of Raissa's journals cannot fail to notice the great deal of suffering that she underwent, and Jacques shared in those trials. Despite all the signs of outward success that his work received, he suffered from a melancholy that seemed to grow deeper as he grew older, especially when Raissa was no longer at his side. He turned to his friends like Julian Greene and Thomas Merton and wrote them of his misgivings and trials. Where others saw creativity and genius, he saw defects and limitations.

"And my own solitude? It seems to me that it was that of a kind of clumsy diver, advancing as best he could in the midst of the submarine fauna of captive truths and of the larvae of the time. One will never know to what temptations of black sadness and despair a philosopher can be exposed in proportion as he descends into the knowledge of himself and of the great pity which is in the world. His rest here on earth will finally be in the night, if in this night, which is nearer to God than the day, and more desolate too, an invisible hand which he loves leads him like a blind man." (46)

One of the secrets of Maritain's greatness resides in the fact that he was truly a Christian philosopher. His metaphysics was nourished by a soul given to prayer, and his philosophy put at the service of theology and mysticism. His doctrine of the three contemplations marks him not only as a great metaphysician, but as a pioneering spiritual writer who has opened the way to a deeper understanding of the mysticism of the self and supernatural contemplation.








(1) "Pas de savoir sans intuitivité" in Approches sans entraves, p. 412.
(2) An Essay in Christian Philosophy, New York, Philosophical Library, 1955, p. 11. Translated from De la philosophie chrétienne, Paris, Desclée de Brouwer, 1933.
(3) Ibid., p. 30.
(4) Ibid., p. 39.
(5) Approches sans entraves, p. 254.
(6) Ibid., p. 258.
(7) Ibid., p. 26 1.
(8) Science and Wisdom, New York, Scribner's Sons, 1940, p. 25. Translated from Science et Sagesse, Paris, La Bergerie, 1935.
(9) Ibid., p. 87-88.
(10) Ibid., p. 86-87, note 1.
(11) "The Experience of the Poet" in The Situation of Poetry, New York, Philosophical Library, 1955, p. 72. Translated from Situation de la poésie, Paris, Desclée de Brouwer, 1938.
(12) Ibid., p. 73.
(13) Ibid.
(14) Ibid., p. 80.
(15) Ibid., p. 74.
(16) Ibid., p. 81.
(17) "Freudianism and Psychoanalysis" in Scholasticism and Politics, Garden City, New York, Image Books, 1960, p. 145.
(18) Ibid., p. 141.
(19) Ibid., p. 157.
(20) Notebooks, p. 79.
(21) Ibid.
(22) Cited in Laurence Shook, "Maritain and Gilson: Early Relations" in Thomistic Papers II, edited by L.A. Kennedy and J.C. Marler, Houston, Center for Thomistic Studies, 1986, p. 20.
(23) Notebooks, p. 163.
(23a) La mystique et les mystiques, directed by A. Ravier, Desclée de Brouwer, 1965. See also Thomas O'Meara, "Exploring the Depths. A Theological Tradition in Viewing the World Religions" in the Fries Festschrift. For Garrigou-Lagrange's outlook: "Prémystique naturelle et mystique surnaturelle" in Etudes Carmélitaines, 2, (1933), p. 51-77.
(24) "Commentaire au livre de G. Dandoy, L'Ontologie de Vedanta" in Oeuvres Complètes, Vol. IV, p. 1058.
(25) Cf. Helen John, The Thomist Spectrum, New York, Fordham University Press, 1966, and Gerald McCool, From Unity to Pluralism, New York, Fordham University Press, 1988.
(26) Jacques Maritain. Son oeuvre philosophique, Paris, Bibliothèque de la Revue Thomiste, 1948, p. xi.
(27) Science and Wisdom, p. 94.
(28) Ibid.
(29) Ibid.
(30) Etienne Gilson, The Philosopher and Theology, New York, Random House, 1962, p. 203.
(31) Cahiers Jacques Maritain, 4-5, p. 10-11.
(32) Interview.
(33) Jacques Maritain. Son oeuvre philosophique, p. v.
(34) Ibid.
(35) Ibid., p. vi.
(36) Oeuvres Complètes, Vol. , p. 1174.
(37) Oeuvres Complètes, Vol. , p. 1017.
(38) Ibid., p. 1022.
(39) Ibid., p. 1023.
(40) Ibid., p. 1024.
(40a) Ibid., p. 1026-1027.
(41) "Souvenir sur mon oncle" in Cahiers Jacques Maritain, 2, p. 16.
(42) Notebooks, p. 3.
(43) Antoinette Grunelius, "Jacques Maritain et Kolbsbeim" in Cahiers Jacques Maritain, 4-5, p. 95.
(44) Leo R. Ward, "Meeting Jacques Maritain" in The Review of Politics, Vol. 44, October, 1982, no. 4, p. 485.
(45) Wallace Fowlie, "Remembering Jacques Maritain" in The American Scholar.
(46) Notebooks, p. 74.
(47) A careful examination of these events can be found in Bernard Doering, Jacques Maritain and the French Catholic Intellectuals. Notre Dame, IN: Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 1983.



Chapter 5