|Our detailed examination of Maritain's thoughts
on the three contemplations has led us to an unexpected discovery of great significance.
The deeper we probed, the more we saw how seemingly disparate strands of Maritain's work
converged towards the idea of the spiritual unconscious. It is out of the rich and
mysterious depths of this unconscious that the intuition of being, mystical contemplation,
and the mysticism of the self all emerge, each in its distinctive way.
But it is clear that if Maritain's pioneering efforts have opened up the door to this interior universe, it still remains to be seen whether we will have the initiative and energy to enter in and explore it. If previously we searched for the origins of this idea in Maritain's thought, now we have to take a closer look at the state of development it reached in his final works, that is, in The Peasant of the Garonne, On the Grace and Humanity of Jesus, and Approches sans entraves. Once we have done this, we will be in a position to see what paths the idea of the spiritual unconscious opens up for the future.
In Maritain's 1966 The Peasant of the Garonne we find not only the incidental use of phrases like, "the heaven of the soul" (1) or "be it in the unconscious" (2), but several occasions where the idea of the spiritual unconscious is strongly developed.
The intellect, for example, "is helped and prodded, in order to work well much more often than philosophers and scientists are willing to admit, by "intuition," or flashes of the imagination - they come to it unexpectedly, with the luck of the road, from the vigilance of sense and poetic instinct, or are born in the night of the unconscious (let us say rather, of the preconscious or supra-conscious of the spirit)." (3)
This kind of intuition, connected with the imagination, is not yet the intuition of being, which is an "intellectual intuition" which comes to "whoever manages to enter into that alert and watchful silence of the mind where, consenting to the simplicity of the true, the intellect becomes sufficiently available, and vacant, and open, to hear what all things murmur, and to listen, instead of fashioning answers. Many have actually had this intuition who were too distracted by everyday life or their own reasonings to become aware of it. And many more among the common people experience it in this way than among "cultured" people. And it is enough to look at the gaze of certain children to realize that, without their having in them any of the reflectiveness of adults, their gaze is directed more at being than at the toys with which one amuses them, or even at the world whose riches they constantly discover simply by taking the trouble to receive them." (4)
It is important to grasp the import of this passage. The intellect must become available, vacant and open to depths that go beyond the normal conceptual working of the mind, which Maritain calls fashioning answers. If this were not true, there would be no way to understand how the central insights of Thomism could be obscure to so many people who have been subjected to it in countless classrooms. Maritain will continue this passage by saying, "I will not try and describe what escapes any restraint and is beyond any word.. nor to lead someone where access is given only in pure solitude of soul." (5) Then he goes on to cite the now familiar passages from A Preface to Metaphysics - "it is nothing for me to crush a fly" - and Raissa's "a powerful intuition whose violence sometimes frightened me."
It is easy to see that Maritain is one small step from locating the site of this intuition of being in the spiritual unconscious, and two steps away from dealing with the issue that he here turns away from when he says, "nor to lead someone where access is given only in purest solitude of soul."
The step, in regards to the spiritual unconscious, comes in the next chapter in a passage I have already cited without comment in Chapter 1. It is a place of such importance that it demands to be cited in its entirety:
"There is nothing simpler than to think I am, I exist , this blade of grass exists; this gesture of the hand, this captivating smile that the next instant will hurry away, exist; the world exists. The all-important thing is for such a perception to sink deeply enough within me that my awareness of it will strike me some day sharply enough (at times, violently) to stir and move my intellect up to that very world of preconscious activity, beyond any word or formula, and with no assignable boundaries, which nourishes everything within it. Such a descent to the very depths of the soul is doubtless something given, not worked out - given by the natural grace of the intellectual nature.
And then, if luck should take a hand, and if the eye of consciousness, sufficiently accustomed to the half-light, should penetrate a little, like a thief, this limbo of the preconscious, it can come about that this simple I am will seem like a revelation in the night - a secret revelation which will awaken echoes and surprises on all sides and give a hint of the inexhaustible ampleness it permits one to attain.
And there can be instances, as I noted in the foregoing chapter, where this experience is genuinely present in someone who takes no notice of it, either because it remains involved in the more or less superficial layers of consciousness, or because, as with children, it takes place only the preconscious of the spirit.
It is in a judgment (or in a preconscious act equivalent to an unformulated judgment), and in a judgment of existence, that the intellectual intuition of being occurs. The philosophical concept of the actus essendi, of the act of existence, will only come later." (6)
Maritain has recalled his remarks in the previous chapter and pushed them to their logical conclusion. The intuition of being takes place in "that very world of preconscious activity," "the depths of the soul," "this limbo of the preconscious." All this is the ultimate Corrective to the faults of "notionalism and a fixation upon abstract essences" (7) which, again and again, have reared their heads during the course of the history of Thomism. If the experience of the intuition of being takes place in the spiritual unconscious, then this will have revolutionary consequences for the whole future of Thomistic metaphysics where it will be a question of whether it is possible "to lead someone where access is given only in purest solitude of soul." This is the first of the themes that make up the future of Maritain's thought, which we will have to pursue later in the chapter.
The other principal place in The Peasant of the Garonne where Maritain talks about the spiritual unconscious we have already looked at in some detail. It is the question of praying always that Maritain addresses in the context of living a life of mystical contemplation "in the very midst of the world."
"The prayer that Father Osende calls the prayer of the heart and that he describes as unconscious (it pertains to that "supra-conscious 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 mind on two objects at the same time nor continue to think always, whereas we can love always" (at least in the supra-conscious of the spirit - only there, in effect, can love be in act continuously). We are then 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 supra-conscious of the spirit." (8)
As you will remember, it was here that Maritain accused himself of a "serious error" for previously imagining that such a prayer should be equated with his masked contemplation when, in fact, it is a "typical form of contemplation, and one of the most precious." (9) He finds the antecedents of this idea beginning very early in the history of spirituality with St. Anthony the Hermit's "there is no perfect prayer if the religious is, himself, aware that he is praying." This is a remark reported by Cassian, and thus introduced quite early in the development of Western monasticism.
What we are faced with is Maritain definitively placing the site of mystical contemplation in the spiritual unconscious. If such a perspective were taken seriously, it would provide a new perspective from which to try to deal with some of the most difficult and intractable problems in the contemplative life. If all of us are called to contemplation in the remote sense, and the more immediate call coincides with John of the Cross' three signs, and a transition to being "habitually aided by the gifts of the Holy Spirit," and if this transition can take place, according to Maritain, "in a manner inaccessible to consciousness (in the depths of the supra-conscious of the spirit,)" (10) then we have a new way to examine questions about our conscious awareness and perception of the contemplative experience.
Again within the context of contemplation on the roads of the world, Maritain sees that mystical contemplation in its open form can be experienced in such a way that "the great signs that St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila have described do not appear..." (11) This kind of contemplation he identifies with St. Therese of Lisieux's little way "where all the great things described by St. John of the Cross can be found divinely simplified and reduced to the pure essentials..." (12)
"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." (13) This contemplation is sometimes given to those in the world in such a way that "this treasure is hidden from the souls themselves that possess it." (14) This kind of prayer can be pursued "in relationship with men" and in this dimension, as well, it can take place in the "spiritual preconscious more than the conscious..." (15) But in this case "it is an arid love-prayer, almost too pure for our feeble heart, because, being much more unconscious than conscious, it comes about in the tiredness of our members and of our conscious faculties, rather than in the repose where we can taste 'how sweet the Lord is."' (16)
Maritain's De la grâce et de lhumanité de Jésus appeared in 1967 after The Peasant of the Garonne, but "as regards the essential point" (17) it had been written before it. This little book is a remarkable achievement in Christology, and one of the reasons that motivated Maritain to undertake this difficult task of formulating a research hypothesis on the soul of Jesus was "the central importance of the humanity of Jesus in contemplation and the contemplative life." (18) As he did in the case of Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry, he again took the idea of the psychological unconscious and used it as an inspiration to fashion a philosophical instrument in terms of the spiritual unconscious, which could be applied to some of the intractable problems in theology about the humanity of Jesus. Both the infraconscious, as well as in the preconscious or supra-conscious of the spirit, "there are many dwelling-places, in other words spheres typically different indeed, and which have sometimes between them only a purely analogical community." (19) And even the supra-conscious in the sense of the natural depths of the human spirit must be clearly distinguished from the divinized supra-consciousness of Christ, which is a "transcendent consciousness of self." (20) This divinized supra-consciousness in Christ is the dimension of His soul divinized by the Beatific Vision. Another way of putting it is to say that in Christ we can distinguish a "world of consciousness" (21) that embraces normal self-awareness and the natural infra and supra-consciousness from this divinized supra-consciousness caused by the Beatific Vision and "absolutely proper to the soul of Christ alone." (22) This divinized supra-conscious, unlike our own natural supra-conscious, was a consciousness of self in which Jesus knew Himself in perfect clarity as the Word of God.
This leads Maritain to distinguish in Jesus' human nature two different states. In the soul of Jesus there is a comprehensor state in which He enjoys this divinized supra-conscious, but there is also a viator, or wayfarer state in which He had a human consciousness that grew and developed like our own. And what of the relationship between the two states? Jesus' lower consciousness was, in some sense, "unconscious" (23) of his higher consciousness, or put in another way, there was a certain communication between the two states, but also "a certain incommunicability." (24) There was a "translucid partition" between the two states which "opened when Jesus wished to cross it." (25)
Far from all this being remote from the Christian contemplative life, it is the very source and model for it. "Through His infused prayer He experienced this world; He entered with His consciousness, in order to experience it in an ineffable manner, into this world where He was alone with His Father and the Trinity... And at the moment of the Agony and of the Passion He can no longer enter there, He is barred from it by uncrossable barriers, this is why He feels himself abandoned. That has been the supreme exemplar of the night of the spirit of the mystics, the absolutely complete night. The whole world of the Vision and of the divinized supraconscious was there, but He no longer experienced it at all through His infused contemplation. And likewise the radiance and the influx of this world on the entire soul were more powerful than ever, but were no longer seized at all by the consciousness, nor experienced." (26)
Here we are face-to-face with the foundation for Maritain's remarks on the spiritual unconscious and contemplative prayer, which we saw in The Peasant of the Garonne, remarks which, as I noted, preceded the writing of The Peasant.
Toward the end of this work on the humanity of Jesus Maritain returns briefly to the question of Jesus' own contemplative prayer. If there was a translucid partition between the supra-conscious and the world of consciousness, then "nothing could descend in order to specify the conscious activities; it is only general comfortings and a participated light, in particular the light communicated to the infused science, which descended into the world of consciousness.
But with regard to the inverse movement, the movement of ascent or of ascension, the translucid partition was penetrable. As I said at the beginning, through His infused contemplation Jesus entered, in order to take there His repose and His joy, into the supraconscious paradise of His soul, where enraptured in union with God His consciousness of viator approached almost His Vision as comprehensor, and where He experienced the divine things according to that savory experience of love which the gifts of the Holy Spirit give, and which in Christ-viator was incomparably higher than in any other man, quite near, and more and more near, without however attaining it, the point of unsurpassable perfection (asymptotic) proper to Christ-comprehensor." (27)
By making this distinction between the two states of Jesus' soul, Maritain opens a new way in which to see Jesus not only as the model of complete and definitive contemplation in terms of his supra-conscious, but also a model for the contemplative life as it is actually experienced by Christians in this life in light and darkness.
The third and final book we have to Approches sans entraves, the proofs of which were on their way to Maritain when he died. Again, our question is what scope did he give to the notion of the spiritual unconscious, and we find two important places where he made use of this idea, demonstrating how it had become a permanent part of his way of thinking.
In his essay, "Réflections sur la nature blessée," which comes under the heading, "Pour une épistémologie existentielle (I)," given as a seminar at Kolbsheim July 21, 1967, Maritain is extending St. Thomas' thought on the effects of original sin so that it will now embrace the working of the intellect, especially in its highest quests, like the intuition of being. In the state of original justice, reason, St. Thomas says, is elevated in perfection by God, and Maritain asks how this happens. It is not because grace perfects reason in its own nature, but "grace creates in the supra-conscious of the spirit a heaven of the soul, a supernatural heaven where grace itself rules - it is from this heaven of the soul that the theological virtues pass into consciousness (at least when they are developing normally) and by their radiance enlighten and fortify reason in its natural exercise." (28)
It is no accident that this radiation of grace from the heaven of the soul follows closely the pattern of the grace in the heaven of the soul of Christ, influencing His world of consciousness. In the same essay Maritain attempts what he calls "a kind of transcendental psychology" by framing an explanation of how genuine metaphysical insight suffers from the impact of the disordered lower powers brought about by original sin. The normal and natural process of abstraction is marred by the imagination clinging to the idea so that our intelligences "unconsciously submitted to the vital pressure of the imagination." (29)
In a digression on the intuition of being he returns to some of the same thoughts he expressed in The Peasant of the Garonne on the location of the intuition of being in the spiritual unconscious. "The intellect, in the instant that the eye sees this rose and says: this rose is there, passes like a miracle - it is not a miracle, it is good fortune, a gift of nature suddenly received - to a superior level which is not only the third degree of abstraction, according to the language of the philosopher, but is also that of a moment of natural contemplation where thought is liberated from abstraction; and that is able to take place supraconsciously in the child, even before every abstractive operation, and more or less supra-consciously in the poet, as well as consciously in the apprentice philosopher or the philosopher in the process of meditation." (30)
Thus, in the course of this single essay Maritain uses the idea of the infraconscious to explain how metaphysical insights can fail to achieve their full stature, the supraconscious to explain a natural contemplation of the intuition of being, and the superconscious, this time as divinized by grace, to elucidate how the theological virtues effect reason.
In another essay, "Le Tenant-Lieu de théologie chez les simples, Pour une épistémologie existentielle (III)," given as a seminar to the Little Brothers on May 5th and 6th, 1969, Maritain is trying to clarify the process by which ordinary people receive inspirations from God. He feels that some of these inspirations come through the good offices of angels, and then he is left with the problem of just how the angels communicate with humans. St. Thomas says nothing about this question, and so Maritain, once again drawing on the modern psychological discovery of the unconscious, attempts to frame an answer. If we are open from below, as it were, to influences coming through the senses from material things - and for that matter, we could add, to influences coming from the infraconscious - why would it not be possible "to be open from on high - I mean in the supraconscious of the spirit - to the action exercised on it by a pure spirit?" (31)
Under the motion of God "the angel imprints on the supraconscious of the spirit an intellectual determination," "a simple spark of intelligibility in act, let us say an unformulated intuitive apprehension fecundating the intellect." And this seed is planted in the supraconscious "from where it passes into consciousness under the form of a mental word expressing an intuition." This is an idea that comes through "a knowledge by supraconscious instinct or connaturality." This idea is grasped by the intellect by means of a light which is "the natural intuitivity of the spirit when the flash of a knowledge by connaturality, too high and too pure to be consciously seized, springs up in the superconscious before descending into consciousness where it takes form in ideas or in images, then in words." (32)
It is amply clear by now that by the end of Maritain's life the notion of the spiritual unconscious had become a powerful tool in his hands, which he employed with great facility and good effect. But it is also an idea that has such a potential range of application that he could do no more than open the door to these depths of the soul and hope there would be Thomists in the future who would enter in and explore further. By way of conclusion, to our examination of the three contemplations in the previous chapters, we are now in a position to ask what this future might hold by looking at each contemplation in the light of the spiritual unconscious.
Maritain has made it clear that it is the intuition of being that makes the metaphysician, and it is in striving to penetrate into this mystery of being more vehemently and profoundly that we can arrive at metaphysical contemplation. He was the herald of the intuition of being by not only grasping the primacy of esse, but taking the next decisive step, as we have often seen in the course of our analysis, of reflecting on the subjective requirements of such an intuition. With his usual modesty he refers to this remarkable achievement obliquely in another of his break-through footnotes, this one coming in his "Reflections on Wounded Nature."
"The intuition of being has been lived and practiced by St. Thomas and the Thomists (the good Thomists), but I do not know (perhaps due to my ignorance) of a treatise or disquisitio where it has been explicitly studied by them." (33)
But once we have grasped this revolutionary step that Maritain has taken, we are carried by the very force of his arguments to the brink of another vital break-through. If the intuition of being is of such critical importance for the whole metaphysical enterprise, then how can we obtain it? How can we cultivate metaphysical contemplation? Maritain has insisted that the arch-sin of a Thomism of the manuals and the classroom has been a notionalism that stopped at essences and failed to see how they are the very faces and facets of esse. Essences can be transmitted in routine academic fashion, but how can an intuition, centered on existence, be passed on? Is this not on why the history of Thomism is the story of the discovery of the primacy of esse by St. Thomas and its loss by many Thomists over the ages? In the twentieth century this history has repeated itself again. With great effort the best minds of the Thomistic renaissance have rediscovered the central role of esse in Thomas' thought, but once again Thomism is in eclipse, and we have to ask whether this decline is related to its failure to discover ways in which to pass on its most important insight.
The whole trajectory of Maritain's metaphysical thought leads us to the question of how to obtain and transmit the intuition of being. But was Maritain, himself, aware of these implications? I think that he began to be towards the end of his life as he pondered his discovery that the intuition of being took place in the spiritual unconscious. In an open letter dated August 20, 1965 to two Polish lay Thomists, Jersy Kalinowsky and Stefan Swiezawski, he reflects on their book, La Philosophie à lheure du concile:
"The misfortune of ordinary scholastic teaching, especially that of the manuals, has been to neglect in a practical way this essential intuitive element and replace it from the beginning by a pseudo-dialectic of concepts and formulas. There is nothing to do as long as the intellect has not seen - as long as the philosopher or apprentice philosopher has not had the intellectual intuition of being. It could be noted from this point of view the great pedagogical interest of a year of initiation to philosophy entirely centered on the need to lead spirits to the intuition of being and to the other fundamental intuitions by which Thomistic philosophy lives." (34)
We have traced the long road that Maritain followed in discovering the subjective requirements of the intuition of being, a road that finally ended at the spiritual unconscious, but if the spiritual unconscious is the very matrix in which the intuition of being is born, what conclusion must we draw from this? The intuition of being can never be simply a matter of words, for words have to do with the conceptual working of consciousness. We are called not to some knowledge about, some theoretical appreciation of the mystery of being, but to enter into it and to say, as Maritain approvingly quotes from the authors of La Philosophie à l'heure du concile, "Je suis, à l'instar de saint Thomas, le contemplatif de lêtre!" (35) 1 am, following the example of St. Thomas, a contemplative of being!
If we are to be contemplatives of being, this will involve not only recognizing that the philosophy of St. Thomas, which grew up within his theology, has to discover its own distinctive philosophical way of proceeding - as Maritain and other modern Thomists tried to do - but that it cannot follow the patterns of many modern philosophies that thrive for a moment with facile words, but wither rapidly away because they have not fully come to grips with the mystery of being. Such an attraction to the latest philosophical fashions would be fatal to a contemplation of being that demands a stillness of the mind, an active attentive listening, as Maritain puts it, that will allow us to hear the mystery of being that all things utter.
If we return to the passage in The Peasant of the Garonne where Maritain links the intuition of being with the spiritual unconscious, we will see that it leads us to the same conclusion. We must be receptive in our very depths to the I am, I exist, that each thing whispers. This means going beyond the level of concepts where essences are treated as essences and nothing more, and contacting the mystery of being that wells up from the very depths of the soul. The very existence of things, Maritain tells us, must sink into us so that "my awareness of it will strike me some day sharply enough (at times, violently) to stir and move my intellect up to that very world of preconscious activity, beyond any word or formula..." (36) Then once we have received this intuition in the depths of the spiritual unconscious, "if luck should take a hand, and if the eye of consciousness, sufficiently accustomed to the half-light, should penetrate a little, like a thief, this limbo of the preconscious, it can come about that this simple I am will seem like a revelation in the night..." (37) And those who are called to be metaphysicians can then reflect on this natural revelation of being and build their conceptual formulations firmly upon it, and finally ponder it within themselves and arrive at a penetrating metaphysical contemplation. If the actual goal of metaphysics is this contemplation of being, then the Thomism of the future must radically change its way of proceeding in order to insure that the actual transmission of metaphysical knowledge is centered on this goal. This is not the place to try to indicate just how such a transformed Thomistic metaphysics could accomplish this purpose. It is enough, for now, to see that if we are faithful to the inner direction of Maritain's work we are led to seriously consider such a possibility, and see that it may be the only thing that could break the circle of discovery and decline that has plagued Thomism from its beginnings.
We will arrive at an equally revolutionary perspective if we ponder the implications of Maritain's placing of mystical contemplation in the spiritual unconscious. Certainly, as we have seen, he was aware that this idea had its historical antecedents, but even though there was much talk in the past about the center of the soul, the idea of a non-conscious dimension of the soul remained implicit and in the background. So here is Maritain, again opening up another door, this time for the future of mystical theology.
One of the most intractable problems in the modern history of spirituality has centered around the actual experience and perceptibility of infused contemplation. It was John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila who made this problem much more acute and inescapable by describing in detail the nature of contemplation and, in St. John's case, the transitional stage from meditation to contemplation. People after that time were compelled to think about contemplation in a new way and ask themselves whether or not they were called to a life of infused contemplation. We have seen how Maritain, himself, was an assiduous reader of John of the Cross, and how this reading might have influenced his thoughts on a metaphysics of love. It would not be at all surprising if it effected his formulation of the notion of the spiritual unconscious, as well. (38)
It would be possible to go through the writings of St. John of the Cross and find many, many passages that imply the existence of the spiritual unconscious, much in the same fashion that St. Thomas, talking about the agent intellect, implies it, as well. For example, in a powerful passage in The Ascent of Mount Carmel, he describes how it is possible for someone to receive a very pure and strong infused contemplation without being aware of it, just as a ray of light can penetrate a dark room and be invisible unless it strikes the dust floating in the air. The dust stands for the working of our conscious conceptual understanding, while the air represents the depths of the soul, or in Maritain's language, the supraconscious of the spirit divinized by grace. One way to look at the controversies that sprang up in the wake of the writings of the great Carmelite founders is to say that they had to do with the question: Was it possible for someone to actually be a contemplative and not consciously realize the experience of contemplation?
These debates about the nature of contemplation filled the 17th Century and did not subside until the crisis of Quietism ushered in a decline in mystical studies that, in some ways, lasted until the beginning of the 20th Century. As soon as mystical theology came to life again at the turn of the century, these same kinds of difficulties sprang up, and were being very much debated when Maritain began his writings on mysticism in the 1920s.
But if we take Maritain's statement seriously that contemplation takes place in the supraconscious, then it immediately becomes evident that consciousness of contemplation cannot be the essence of contemplation, but rather, is an integral part of it. There is, of course, no guarantee that an absence of awareness of the contemplative experience is a sign that it exists in the spiritual unconscious, but what Maritain's insight does do is to give us a new way to look at these questions that have accumulated over the centuries. When Maritain writes about "contemplative prayer without apparent graces, "where all the things described by St. John of the Cross are divinely simplified" and "the soul is laid bare and its very love-prayer as well - so arid at times that it seems to fly into distraction and emptiness," we are faced with a very important contemporary issue of how people experience contemplation today that joins hands with the former debates on the nature of contemplative experience. Surely Maritain is saying something more than St. John's constant refrain that contemplation is not to be confused with visions and revelations. But what does he really mean about the great things of John of the Cross divinely simplified, or how "the great signs that St. John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila have discerned do not appear?" It app - ears that he is referring to the conscious perception and awareness of these contemplative states, so carefully described by these Carmelite saints. If this is actually what he is doing, then he is setting the stage for a major reappraisal of the contemplative life that would have to steer a careful course between a facile equation of a lack of conscious experience of contemplation with contemplation, itself, and on the other hand, an identification of infused contemplation with the conscious, manifest and integral states described by St. John and St. Teresa.
By employing the idea of the spiritual unconscious, the mystical theologians of the future might find a way to make substantial progress in deepening our understanding of infused contemplation. Such an examination would have to make clear, as well, the Christocentric nature of contemplation which - building on Maritain's On the Grace and Humanity of Jesus - would elucidate how Jesus in His world of consciousness becomes the model for our own contemplative life. He enters into His divinized supraconscious and experiences infused prayer, but in His agony He suffers a dark night of the soul when His wayfarer consciousness is cut off from His supraconscious.
When we come to the question of natural mysticism there are two tasks that face the Maritain philosophers of the future. The first, as we saw in Chapter III, is to further develop the mysticism of the self in the light of the spiritual unconscious. If the way to reach an experience of natural mysticism is the leaving aside of all concepts, then this process, itself, points to a goal in the depths of the soul. And if this goal is an experience of the very existence of the soul and in and through it, God as the source of existence, albeit in a negative fashion, then where else can this pouring forth of existence take place but the very center of the spiritual unconscious, which exists by receiving existence and exercising it as its most intimate activity?
It is a keen understanding of the nature of the mysticism of the self in the light of the spiritual unconscious which will be the instrument, par excellence, of achieving the second task that faces the students of Maritain's natural mysticism in the future. This is to try to put the Christian side of dialogue with Eastern religions on a firmer foundation. Despite exceptions, some of which we have already noted, it still remains true that the promise of Maritain's work in this area remains largely unrealized in the current dialogues with Hinduism and Buddhism. It is Maritain's doctrine of the three contemplations that can allow Christians to find a way of drawing on the metaphysical and mystical riches of their own tradition in their discussions with Eastern religions. The three contemplations would allow them to try to formulate in Christian terms what is the inner nature of Hindu mystical experience, or Buddhist awakening.
An examination of why Christians engaged in dialogue with Eastern religions have been slow to make use of the riches of the metaphysics of St. Thomas and the mystical tradition summed up so masterfully by St. John of the Cross would lead us back to our first two considerations, that is, the pedagogical sins of the Thomism of the past, and the controversy that has surrounded understanding the nature of infused contemplation ever since the time of John of the Cross.
It is in the depths of the spiritual unconscious that these three contemplations dwell, and while being distinct in nature, interpenetrate each other. It is because of this common matrix and close interrelationships that they often generate similar vocabularies and can be confused with each other. This is no more healthy than the opposite fault where, fearing confusion, we segregate each of them in different parts of the soul as if they could have nothing to do with each other. Maritain always insisted that genuine distinctions, so vital for the life of the intellect, have nothing to do with separations.
On the practical plane, his doctrine of the three contemplations is a call for us to actually try to live them out, and in this way, to see how closely and intimately connected they are, and how much they can enrich each other. All of them center upon God. In metaphysical contemplation, it is God as the source of existence that all things make known to us if only we can fathom their deepest ontological natures. In the mysticism of the self it is God experienced as the very No-thing-ness that we come to at the heart of everything, and in mystical contemplation it is God in his infinite being who is calling us to loving union with Him. The future of Christian spirituality owes it to Maritain that it will be able to go down into the spiritual unconscious and enrich itself with a deeper understanding of these three contemplations.
(1) The Peasant of the Garonne, p. 84.