The Man Who Loved Wisdom:
The Story of Jacques Maritain - DVD

(two video segments, plus transcript online below)

70 minutes.

DVD $30

How to Order


This is a unique documentary of one of modern Catholicism's most creative philosophers. It traces the lives and work of Jacques Maritain (1882-1973), his wife Raissa and her sister Vera through rare photos, interviews with people who knew them, and location shots.

Meet Louis Chamming's, a Parisian philosopher and disciple of Maritain, and his wife, Soizick, Olivier Lacombe, the noted Indologist and friend of Maritain, and many other friends, old and new: Anthony Simon, Cornelia Borgerhoff, Joseph and Irene Lynch, Roberto Papini, Deal Hudson, Ralph McInerny, René Mougel, and Antoinette Grunelius. And visit the Latin Quarter and Montmartre in Paris, Heidelberg, New York, Rome, Princeton and Kolbsheim to see where the Maritains lived out their lives.

This is a fine introduction for those who have not yet met Maritain, and a beautiful chance to remember for his many friends.

Using your Quicktime player
you can now see a couple of segments of the actual video below.
Just click on each picture:

Introduction

Louis Chamming's

 

How to Order

A Complete List of Books, DVDs and CDs

Up

Home

man jacques 4.gif (66694 bytes)

The Maritain Photo Gallery

Participants in the Maritain Video Photo Gallery

Maritain Organizations

Listen to:
Jacques Maritain

See a video clip of:
Jacques Maritain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Online Transcript:

Here in the Jardin des Plantes on a summer afternoon at the turn of the century strolled two young people in love. But their joy at having found each other was overshadowed by a deepening despair. Years of study among the scientists and philosophers of the Sorbonne had given them a miscellaneous collection of knowledge, but none of it answered the deeper questions about the meaning and purpose of life. They decided that living in a world filled with injustice and sorrow could only be made bearable if there were hope for answers to these kinds of questions. They would exert all their energy, and search for this wisdom, and if they could not find it – they would kill themselves.

Today we are going to meet these two young people, Jacques and Raissa Maritain, as well as some of their friends, old and new, and we are going to visit some of the places in which they lived out their lives. But all these people and places will only be a miscellaneous collection of knowledge for us if we cannot glimpse through them the road to wisdom that the Maritains walked before us.

Jacques was born in Paris and lived here on rue de Rennes with his mother and his sister Jean. His father Paul was a lawyer, and his mother Genevieve was the daughter of the French statesman, Jules Favre. As a young school boy he roamed the streets of Paris and drank in the intellectual and political life of France. Here at the Sorbonne in the Latin Quarter of Paris he studied philosophy and science, and it was here that he met Raissa Oumansoff. She and her sister Vera were the children of Russian Jewish immigrants, and her mother and father had come to Paris to give the girls the chance at a better education.

Raissa, sensitive and introspective, had looked forward with anticipation to her days at the University. There among the finest minds of France she hoped to find the answers to the meaning of life that she was searching for. Filled with these unspoken questions she attended the classes in natural science, waiting for the day when these kinds of truths were to be presented. But they never were.

Raissa and Jacques did not fare any better in the faculty of philosophy, for it was a philosophy that was taught but not lived. She wrote later that its practitioners "despaired of truth whose very name was unlovely to them and could be used only between the quotation marks of a disillusioned smile."

This led to their despairing walk in the Jardin des Plantes and their search was first rewarded by finding Henri Bergson who had been teaching across the street from the Sorbonne at the College de France. Bergson drew large crowds, for he offered an alternative to the scientific materialism of the day, and he defended the possibility of there being a genuine metaphysics by which the mind could know some sort of absolute. So it is in the distinctive world of the Parisian intellectual that we should look to see where the Maritains’ search began. To help us gain entrance to this world we are going to visit another Parisian philosopher and disciple of Maritain. Not far from the Jardin des Plantes and the rue de Juisseau where the Maritains first lived when they were married, lives Louis Chamming’s with his wife Soizick and their children. It was through the Maritains’ writings that Louis discovered his true intellectual path.

Louis Chamming’s: I was one of the leaders of the movement during ’68, and after a while we discovered the need for wisdom and we had no wisdom, and I tried many things to find it. I read books and I tried many experiences, and progressively I discovered some texts of Jacques Maritain. It took many years and I discovered that some of Maritain’s ideas were decisive to solve the civilization crisis we were in. The people who know Jacques Maritain are academic people, or historians, but it is not living, and the most important point for me is to make the Maritain thinking live, and I tried to set up groups in places where young people or other people can discover the Maritain thinking as living. Not an academic system, not history, but a real living possibility for access to wisdom, the question for our civilization is a way of wisdom for individuals and for the collectivity, and I think Maritain is the best representative to find this possibility of wisdom through the being philosophy, the philosophy of being.

I came back to Paris when I was a student, and I discovered in the Latin Quarter what was the intellectual life. For me the rediscovering of Paris was the rediscovering of intellectual life. Many kinds of preoccupations only can arrive, I think, in Paris, in the center of Paris, in the left bank of Paris, in the Boulevard San Michel. It was the most important place during the years ’68. When I was a student during May and June, ’68 I was walking along the pavement. I could say I know each stone of the pavement by name. There was a familiarity with the physical consistence, the bridge, the sight from the bridge, the Pont Neuf, for instance, or the Pont Notre Dame, or the Notre Dame cathedral, are rich of meaning, its aesthetic meaning, its beauty, beauty leads from the centuries and history, and civilization. What is civilization? It is the long work of many generations to build up a common way of life, a common, human way of life, and we find it into the stones, the stones of Notre Dame, the cathedral, the stones of the bridge, the stones of the pavement, the road, the smell.

When I was a student we made some foolish things, and once at midnight we took a bath in the Seine. It was very dirty, but it was very pleasant the idea to bathe there. It was a good memory for me.

For the first time I fell in love, and I was sorry because it was not lucky. I walked all over Paris. I walked along the Seine from Notre Dame and Saint Michel and walked down following the Seine all the day long about 40 kilometers, I think. All the day long I followed the Seine along the left bank up to Genevieve, or something like that. All those things involve me in Paris, and I can say I am in love with Paris because of that.

It is one of the reasons I am very close to the Maritain spirit because I think he is a Parisian, too. He is a Frenchman, first, and I am, too, but he is a Parisian. He is a Parisian intellectual, and I agree when he writes anything. I agree with the background, with the character, with the feeling which constitute the background of what he expresses on the logical, on the rational, on the philosophical form. There is a smelling, a particular smelling, in his writing, you can have when you are a Parisian. I could say I am married with Paris. I could say. It is not wrong. (aside to wife: you are jealous) And maybe it was the same for Jacques and Raissa Maritain. She expresses something like that in the book We Have Been Friends Together. Maybe it is a way… Paris is a way to understand Maritain, but maybe for an American person Jacques Maritain is not such a bad way to understand Paris.

 

 

Jim: Here at the College de France Bergson had given them hope. Jacques and Raissa married in 1904 and continued their studies. The second stage of their journey was something they had never anticipated. They read a novel by Leon Bloy that gave them a fleeting glimpse of the inner meaning of Christianity, that there was only one sadness, and that was not to be among the saints. Long after, Thomas Merton described Bloy as living like a "desolate and compassionate tiger in Montmartre in utter destitution and prophetic holiness."

Soon Jacques and Raissa were trudging up the long staircases to Montmartre to visit Bloy on rue Chevallier de la Barre in the shadow of Sacre Coeur. Bloy didn’t argue with them about the truth of his Catholic faith, but he read to them from the saints and mystics. Slowly and painfully they were drawn towards baptism, but wouldn’t baptism be the very negation of the science and philosophy they had followed up until now? This struggle to harmoniously bring together science, philosophy and religion was to become their lifelong work, but its first phase ended at the church of St. John the Evangelist in Montmartre where they were baptized, with Raissa’s sister Vera on June 11, 1906. Soon after they made their First Communion at Sacre Coeur. Now they needed time to grow in their newfound faith, and to confront this faith with their Bergsonian philosophy.

Jacques had received a fellowship to study new developments in biology in Germany. Here in Heidelberg Jacques worked under the direction of Hans Dreisch. Joined by Vera, their home on Gaisbergstrasse was devoted to prayer and study. Raissa began to experience the first touches of contemplative prayer. Jacques writes in his diary of 1907: "Heidelberg, the 26th of November. On returning from Church Raissa sits down without saying anything. I question her. She answers me with difficulty that she cannot speak, and that I am not to be frightened."

Jacques begins to rediscover his philosophical vocation, which he calls "the restitution of reason of which metaphysics is the essential and highest operation." He goes on long walks, struggling to reconcile his Bergsonian philosophy with his Catholic faith. Sadly he comes to the conclusion that he must look elsewhere.

In 1908 Jacques, Raissa and Vera returned to Paris and were to live close to the city at Versailles and Meudon for more than 30 years. At an ever quickening tempo these Parisian years were to be filled with intellectual and spiritual adventures and friendships. Soon after their return they met the Dominican priest Humbert Clerisac who became their first spiritual director, and introduced them to the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas. It was there they found the way to philosophize truly they had been seeking. Jacques began to write what was to become an ever-increasing flood of articles and books in which he took the basic philosophical insights he found in St. Thomas and applied them to contemporary problems. In 1913 he began to lecture and later teach at the Institut Catholique.

The Maritains remained devoted to Leon Bloy and his family, and it was among the people drawn to Bloy that they found many new friends. There was Pierre Ternier, the noted geologist and fervent Christian; and George Rouault, at that time a virtually known artist, who helped them understand the inner world of painting. It was through the influence of Rouault and through Raissa’s own gifts as a poet that the Maritains began to apply the insights of St. Thomas to the world of art, and later wrote Art and Scholasticism. At Bloy’s, too, they met Pierre and Christine Van der Meer, whose own spiritual odyssey had ended in baptism. The Van der Meer’s son, Peter, was to become a Benedictine monk, and die at 30 years of age, and their daughter Anne Marie a Benedictine nun.

Jacques’ sister Jean was baptized, together with her daughter Evelyn, and Jacques’ close boyhood friend, Ernest Psichari as a soldier in North Africa discovered faith in the sands of the Sahara. Psichari was killed at the outbreak of fighting in World War I, a time which also saw Jacques’ own mobilization, and then rejection from the Army for poor health. And the death in combat of the Maritain’s friend, Pierre Villard. Villard, whom they had taken to be a poor soldier, left half of his substantial fortune to Jacques.

After the war the Maritain’s search for wisdom began to bear fruit. At their home in Meudon outside of Paris they had their own small chapel, and Raissa’s life of contemplative prayer began to deepen under the guidance of her new director Pere DeHau, but these contemplative graces were accompanied by many illnesses and times of interior suffering. Vera took care of their daily needs, and it was in this setting that Jacques worked to produce his philosophical masterpiece, The Degrees of Knowledge, and to take part in the burning social issues of the day. The Maritains created a Thomistic study circle that began to influence an ever-growing number of artists, writers, philosophers and theologians. At Meudon on Sunday afternoon and during the study circle’s yearly retreats could be found men as diverse as the contemplative Charles Henrion, and the multi-talented poet Jean Cocteau. There were novelists like Henri Gheon and Julian Green, and artists like Marc Chagall, who left us his impression of Raissa during these Meudon years, and Gino Severini, the Italian painter who captured another side of her.

And there was a whole galaxy of philosophers and theologians: Reginald Garrigou-LaGrange, the director of the Thomist retreats, the Carmelite scholar Pere Bruno, Dom Florent Miege, and Abbé Journet, Jean Pierre Altamont and Pere Lamee, and the young philosopher and Indologist, Olivier Lacombe, who questioned Maritain about the religious experience of India. Here Olivier Lacombe describes the circumstances surrounding one of Maritain’s finest achievements of these years in Meudon, his essay on natural mysticism and the void.

Olivier Lacombe: I knew him since ’27, and I had great admiration for his acumen and the vigor of his thinking, and his person, of course. That is another point. But he was very much interested in mysticism in general, and Raissa, his wife, was especially gifted in that field. So both of them were interested in the question, and when I started studying India I was struck at the same time by the importance of the natural mysticism fact, and the difference with the Christian mysticism.

I was very young at that time and did not have the capacity of doing that, but I wanted him to explain to me, you see, and that was the answer. I gave him Indian facts, elements, factual data. That I brought, of course, you see, but the paper, not the book, naturally, but the paper he did from his own without any interference on my part.

 

 

Jim: These years of light and grace in Meudon drew to a close as World War II approached, and little did the Maritains realize that they were not to live in France again for more than 20 years, and then in far different and tragic circumstances. Jacques’ work was becoming known in North America where he had already begun to lecture. When France was overrun he was in New York with Raissa and Vera. It was a painful time for them as they thought of all their friends and family, some of whom, like Manu and Babette Jacob, they were never to see again, for they were deported and killed by the Nazis.

They moved to Greenwich Village, the artistic heart of Manhattan and the home of New York University, and stayed first at the old Hotel Brevoort, and then in a furnished apartment at 30 Fifth Ave. Jacques would go off to daily Mass at St. Joseph’s, write and teach, and do what he could to aid his beloved France, where his voice was still heard through his radio broadcasts. He also helped create a French University in exile based at the New School.

Vera was soon known to the neighborhood shopkeepers, while Raissa, in sorrow over the War and uncomfortable in New York, remembered happier days and wrote the story of their earlier years in We Have Been Friends Together, and Adventures in Grace. The impact of Jacques’ philosophical work in North America grew steadily through the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s. He lectured widely at places like the University of Chicago and Marquette, and periodically came to teach at the Medieval Institute at Toronto where he saw Etienne Gilson and many other friends. And he went to lecture again and again at Notre Dame where he visited his old student and good friend, Yves Simon. Yves Simon’s son Anthony recalls one of those visits and the impression Jacques made on the people around him.

Anthony Simon: One time he came to Notre Dame and spent several days there. I had a treasured afternoon telling him all my adolescent problems. That evening he came to our house for dinner, and I remember him asking to be excused to use the phone to call his wife. I happened to be sitting in the next room and overheard his conversation, and I was very moved because he told her the events of the day and that he was at Yves Simon’s house, and said something like, "How are you?" I assume the answer was everything is fine in Princeton with Vera and I, and he said, "No, no, no, how are you?" I was very moved by that. The emotions of this man were as great as his intellectual prowess.

 

 

Jim: In the closing months of the War the Maritain’s lives in New York took another unexpected turn. Jacques was pressed by the new French government under General DeGaulle to become their ambassador to the Vatican. Torn between his desire to devote himself to his philosophical work, and service to his country, he reluctantly accepted. He arrived in Rome in April of 1945 and took up residence in the Palazzo Taverna, where Raissa and Vera joined him a few months later. Here they were immersed in the melody of visual beauty that is Rome, from the ancient temple of the Pantheon to the fountains of Bernini in the Piazza Navona, and the liveliness of the Roman people.

But as Ambassador he was called upon to deal with the difficult post-War problems of the Church in France. He told a friend, "When they made me Ambassador, they changed my identity." Jacques would walk to daily Mass at the Chiesa Nuova, and helped develop a cultural center at the French Church San Luigi, and fulfilled the social obligations arising from his diplomatic post. And in the midst of all these activities and the somewhat faded splendor of the Palazzo Taverna the Maritains tried to continue their own lives of prayer and study. Jacques wrote one of his finest metaphysical books during these years, Existence and the Existent, and the sights of Rome, like the Piazza di Espagna entered into Raissa’s heart and were expressed in her poetry.

Jacques had limited his term as ambassador to three years and now he accepted an offer to teach philosophy at Princeton University. Here in Princeton, Jacques, Raissa and Vera traded the duties and ceremonies of the Vatican and the Palazzo Taverna for a quieter and simpler existence that centered once again on Jacques’ philosophical work, Raissa’s life of prayer, and Vera’s management of the household. They bought a house on Linden Lane not far from the University and there they recreated a smaller and milder version of their life at Meudon. Jacques, at 66, was far from retirement. He gave a graduate course in ethics in the light of St. Thomas at the University and started an extensive program of writing that was to result in his massive volume on moral philosophy, and his Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry.

The Maritains spent more than 10 years here at their home on Linden Lane with its walls that had been decorated with murals by their friend Andre Girard, a student of Rouault, who had recreated the sights of Paris as a surprise to assuage any homesickness for France they may have felt. The best of Girard’s work has been carefully preserved by the present owners, the Melvin Silberman family.

Cornelia Borgerhoff, who was Jacques’ secretary and friend, remembers those years.

Cornelia Borgerhoff: I just feel enormously lucky to have known such a whole human being. That’s one of the things I think about when I think of him, that all the things you think about when you think about a human being, including, of course, his ability to be exasperated and irritated, and all those things that are part of being human. He certainly had that, too. And also an enormous drive. I remember when he was working on the Hegel chapter when he was working on his book on moral philosophy, he had been upstairs when I came in the door, and he came down the stairs rather slowly, and put his hands on the newel post and just bent his head on his hands and said, "I’m so exhausted. I just feel as if I had been climbing up a mountain and I am just struggling to get to the top." You know the Hegel chapter, I think in the end there were two chapters on Hegel. It just showed what a battle he had had with that part of the book. But it was just such a completely natural kind of response that he should have said that to me like that. It was very moving. What I am trying to say is that although he was often very exhausted, I know he was, he just simply persisted. He had this kind of drive that made it possible for him to just push right up to the top no matter what it was he was doing.

 

 

Jim: The outer tranquillity of these Princeton years was punctuated by serious illnesses. Raissa spent much of her time confined to her bedroom, and Jacques in 1954 was struck down by a serious heart attack. And faithful Vera, their companion of so many years, suffered a long illness that led to her death in December of 1959. She is buried not far away at St. Paul’s Church.

Six months after Vera’s death Jacques and Raissa returned to Paris for one of their summer visits, but Raissa, weakened by the death of her lifelong companion, was struck down by a stroke as she entered her hotel room. She was moved to the apartment of her friends and Godchildren, Alexander and Antoinette Grunelius on rue de Varennes, and there she lay for months and died on November 4, 1960.

With his little community gone, Jacques was weighed down by sorrow and fatigue, but amazingly at 78 he was about to begin a whole new stage of his life. The Little Brothers of Jesus, devoted to prayer and a life among the poor, invited him to Toulouse to become their advisor for philosophical studies. Here in Toulouse he had a little cabin and continued to carry out a heavy program of study and writing, to which we owe many fine works like Raissa’s Journal, and his Grace and Humanity of Jesus. And despite his inclination for a more secluded life, he still enjoyed time with his friends like John Howard Griffin, and spoke his mind on the issues of the day in his Peasant of the Garonne. And on occasion he traveled.

In 1965 he was invited to Rome for the closing of the Second Vatican Council, and Pope Paul VI, who considered himself a student of Maritain, presented him with the conciliar message to the intellectuals.

Jacques was not forgotten by his friends in the United States. The French architect Jean Labateau, for example, designed the Stuart Country Day School in Princeton, and dedicated its library to Raissa. Jacques was unable to attend the dedication ceremony, but sent this message.

Jacques on tape: Reverend Mothers, Reverend Fathers, ladies and gentlemen, my dear friends in Princeton, as the time approaches for the dedication of the Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart my heart is burdened by the fact that my doctor finds it really unwise for reasons of health for me to take the long journey. In all humility I endeavor to express how deeply honored my beloved wife Raissa would have been to have her inspired writings in your library which shall bear her name, a quiet place for study and learning where youth may capture a sensitive awareness of the strength of silence. May I add that this assigning of Raissa’s name to the library has an especially moving signification for me, and appears to me a memorable response to the dedicated love she had for your great country and for our dear Princeton.

 

 

Jim: On his visits to the United States Jacques would come to Princeton. Joseph Lynch, his lawyer, and his wife, Irene, remember those times.

Joseph Lynch: Well, he was very kind, considerate, but also as a client he knew exactly what he wanted to do. We would make an appointment and when I went to see him he took out a piece of paper, and he had a long list of things he wanted me to do for him and accomplish for him, and it was drawn up with great metaphysical rigor. (laughs) I was always very impressed at how he had figured everything out down to subdivisions and subsubdivisions and everything else. Then he would want to know how fast I could do this because he wanted to leave the United States as soon as possible. He wanted to settle everything up because it was painful for him to stay there because Raissa was dead and Vera was dead, and he wanted to go to France and the Little Brothers. And so he was of great determination to get these things accomplished, and great will power. I was impressed with two things: his great logical power, and his great will power. He was very kind. He was very gentle. But on the other hand, he was also extremely determined that these things would get done, and I got them done for him in record time. Absolutely the fastest estate that I can remember that was done. I got 8 or 9 month’s work compressed into 2 months. He left on time.

Irene Lynch: Well, I know that Jacques came to dinner here on one of his return visits to the United States. I’m not sure what year that was. It was in the early ‘60s. What I remember about that visit was that our children were fairly young at the time and we primed them before his arrival that a very great man was coming, and they must be very respectful, and they must call him Prof. Maritain, and so they all lined up, and we introduced them, and he said, "Call me Jacques." And I think that made a great impression on me, and certainly on the children who didn’t dare call him Jacques, but he had let them know the way he wanted it.

Joseph Lynch: At that particular time I was going to Mass at St. Paul’s at 7 o’clock during the week, and this is the custom at that kind of service. People generally go there and they sit in the same place every day. I used to sit on the center aisle in the back on the left, and Hugh Taylor would be across the aisle from me a little bit further up toward the front of the church. I remember we had gone up to Communion all of us, and I was back in the pew, and I remember as I was making my recollections after Communion that the thought occurred to me I never knew what Jesus was like when he lived, and for some reason I started praying that I would like to know what Jesus looked like when He was alive, and how He smiled. I had made that prayer, and within a few seconds after that the Mass was over, and I was aware a very old and frail figure was coming down the aisle toward the rear of the Church, and as he approached me, or us, Hugh Taylor got up across the aisle and rushed out and greeted him. I knew it was Jacques. As soon as Hugh Taylor greeted Jacques, Jacques broke into a very gentle smile, and I knew what Jesus looked like when he was alive from that smile. Very beautiful.

 

 

In 1966 Jacques came to the United States for the last time and went to the Trappist Monastery of Gethsemane in Kentucky to see his friend Thomas Merton and spend time with him in his hermitage. And Merton captured him on film.

During these last years the memory and presence of Raissa was always with him. Not long before his death he went back to the Jardin des Plantes in Paris for one last time to see the places where his journey had begun. I like to think he was remembering Raissa there, and hearing her voice in her poems, recited here by his friend, Elizabeth Manual Fourest.

Elizabeth Manual Fourest: (poem in French)

 

 

Three months after his visit to the Jardin des Plantes on April 28, 1973, at 90 years of age, Jacques Maritain died at Toulouse. His body was taken first to the chapel of the Little Brothers, and then to a funeral Mass in Toulouse, and then sent on its final journey to Kolbsheim.

Today Maritain’s work lives in, for it a way we can make living contact with the wisdom of Christianity, and apply it to contemporary problems. Here in Rome at the International Jacques Maritain Institute we talked with the Secretary General, Roberto Papini.

Roberto Papini: Welcome. Here you are in the International Jacques Maritain Institute. We have a group of intellectuals from many countries of the world, philosophers, scientists, artists, and so on. The purpose of these intellectuals is to continue the intellectual works of Jacques Maritain, philosopher of Meudon, but also Chicago and Princeton. We read Maritain in a modern sense to try to make a confrontation with modern philosophy and social sciences. We don’t use Maritain like an archive, but we want to try to take from Maritain what is useful for the life of today, and in this way I think Maritain used St. Thomas to put confrontation with modern life and modern culture.

 

 

Jim: In the United States Maritain continues to make new friends like Deal Hudson who teaches philosophy at Fordham University, and is active in the American Maritain Association.

Deal Hudson: I discovered Maritain in the midst of a Christian journey. I had been a Southern Baptist by choice in my junior year at the University of Texas, studying philosophy. I tried very hard to be a good Southern Baptist according to their standards, many of which were important for me then and important for me now. But I always thought there was an over-all lack of integration that I was allowed as a Baptist or a Christian, and although I appreciated then as I appreciate now the wonderful emphasis on Scripture’s authority, I felt something was missing, and in seminary I was exposed to the writings of Catholics like St. Augustine in particular, and I began to realize there was a whole world out there that I was missing. In fact, I was reading Augustine’s book on the Trinity that made me realize that the world of Protestant neo-orthodoxy didn’t have the last word in theology or in spiritual formation. You might say that that book opened a window for me through which I began to look – still looking – and when I went to Emmett University in Atlanta I was lucky enough to bump into a number of very vital Catholic intellectuals, Christians, who started feeding me books. Along with Maritain I was fed Mauriac, Julian Green, Bloy, some Balthazar de Lubac, Chesterton Dawson, but it was Maritain who hit me the hardest at that time, and it is Maritain that I go back to now. It has been 15 years since I first read a book by Jacques Maritain. It was Maritain’s Art and Scholasticism that seduced me into the Catholic faith because I has always been a person who had been led by what I found beautiful, that offered delectation, and I suppose I had been looking all my life for something that was both delightful and good for me, (laughs) because so many things that are delightful are not.

At the beginning, anyway, Maritain was a way for me to put the pieces of my own life back together, and along with that helped to construct a view or a way of looking that was an integrated whole the way my Protestant experience was not holding up.

Jim: What do you see as the value of Maritain today? What does Maritain have to offer people?

Deal: Let me just say first before I answer that that it is very clear to me that Maritain is not going away. It is clear to me that we have now seen basically the close of that first generation of Maritain devotion that comes on the heels of a certain person’s life and a circle of people that surround him. In the American Maritain Association, for example, it was begun by people who knew and loved Jacques and Raissa Maritain. We now have a whole influx of young men and women who discovered Maritain through reading him almost accidentally. Like myself, we have come to this Association, for one reason to meet the people who knew the Maritains, to talk to them, to hear their stories, in a way, like you are doing in this film, to get the legacy somehow in minds and books and films so it can passed on once again. So Jacques and Raissa’s work, I think, will continue after a momentary lull that is to be expected after such an incredible popularity that you saw in the ‘50s. The most basic reason for this continued popularity is that you have someone who was a great philosopher, a philosopher whose philosophical contribution, just the mere fact of his work, was rigorous, was creative, was worthy to be classed with all the other philosophers of the century, someone who did not see that as divorced from his life, his destiny, his responsibility to his community, to his country, to the world. In other words, he was a person totally engaged.

 

 

Jim: At the University of Notre Dame the Jacques Maritain Center directed by Ralph McInerny carries on Maritain’s work.

Ralph McInerny: This is the Jacques Maritain Center at the University of Notre Dame. It was founded in 1958 and Jacques Maritain was here on that occasion. I think the original idea – this is not pure conjecture, but is somewhat conjectural – was that the papers and letters and so forth of Maritain would come to this Center, that it would be, in effect, the Maritain archive. Well, that was not to be for a number of historical reasons. He lived perhaps more into an advanced age than he would have dreamt, and the center of his life returned to France. I think quite fittingly his papers and letters and so forth are at Kolbsheim. But what we have here in the Maritain Center is a collection of Maritain’s books in all of the languages in which they have appeared or been translated – fairly complete in all of those areas – we have books to which he contributed chapters or introductions, we have things about him, dissertations, books written about him, articles about him. And then we have a kind of backup library which contains the works of his friends and foes, not complete, but it is a sort of a random collection, but it is useful for people who when they are reading Maritain want to know who is this fellow. For example, Leon Bloy is here.

But I see it as a place in which and from which we can represent to the University the ideal of the Catholic intellectual that I think Maritain embodied. I have always suggested to people when they wanted to know about Maritain to read his Carnet de Notes, and particularly his discussion of the Thomistic study circles which he and his wife put together before the First World War. In the appendix of Carnet de Notes there is a constitution of these Thomistic study circles, and there you see the notion of a balance between the intellectual and the spiritual life. Their little book, jointly written, which was translated into English as Prayer and Intelligence is another indication of how they saw the intellectual life, and we in an academic atmosphere are always in danger of losing the point of doing what we are doing. Philosophy from its very beginning, with the Sophists, ran the risk of being done for the wrong reason. In a Catholic university such as this Maritain can function for us in a very special way symbolically, but beyond that what we are currently embarking upon is a collected works of Maritain in English that would be published by the University of Notre Dame Press. We have received the funding to get this started, it is something that will go well over 20 volumes, and will no doubt be completed after my lifetime. But what we want to do is to get it started, to get the various titles assigned to editors, and to get the show on the road. Maritain has never been unavailable in English, but it has been spotty, and in recent years smaller publishing houses have brought up Maritain, but sometimes it is very difficult to find the titles that they have brought up. Nevertheless they have done us a great service, and I think they have put us is all their debt, but I think the University of Notre Dame, too, should be permanently associated, beyond the Center, itself, with Jacques Maritain through this projected Collected Works.

 

 

Jim: Hi. I’m Jim Arraj, and our story ends here in the village of Kolbsheim in the north of France. Jacques, Raissa and Vera came here over the years to stay with their friends Alexander and Antoinette Grunelius. And it is here, perhaps, that we still feel their presence most strongly. It is here in the library that holds Jacques’ books and papers, where we met its archivist, René Mougel.

René Mougel: Welcomes us and describes the Jacques Maritain archive in French.

 

 

Jim: And we can feel their presence here in Raissa’s room that Jacques had recreated after her death. And it is here in the chateau that we almost expect Jacques to come walking in and sit down to dinner.

And their presence is here in a special way in the heart of their friend, Antoinette Grunelius, who talked with us on the terrace where Jacques first saw her garden.

Jim: So Jacques when he first came, came out on this terrace?

Antoinette Grunelius: Yes.

Jim: What did he say?

Antoinette Grunelius: He was talking to himself, and he said, "That place is really meant for the contemplative life.

Jim: When Jacques used to come after Raissa died, he spent his whole time working, didn’t he?

Antoinette Grunelius: Yes. He worked and worked, and I was afraid because he nearly died once. He was frightfully ill, and when he began to work again, once the doctor came to see him, and the doctor had the feeling that he had escaped death, you see. Jacques said to the doctor, "It is impossible. I can only work (I don’t remember) six hours at a time. It is impossible." I was very upset. I said to the doctor, "Can’t you stop him? He will kill himself." And the doctor said, "My dear, if you stop him, he won’t stand it. You must let him work until the end." All right. He worked to the end.

Jim: Somehow when I think about him, people see all the kinds of things he did and the awards he got and all the people he knew, and yet sometimes I think he was actually lonely, or surrounded by problems.

Antoinette Grunelius: Yes, yes. They don’t see that part of it at all. Naturally he never talked about himself. He never complained about anything. But after Raissa died he came every year because he was with the Little Brothers, and so he came and spent the whole summer here. But he worked so much. He really worked to the end. I think I wrote that he was sitting in the library, coming from Paris, and he said: "Oh, I am so tired. When will come the day when I take a book out I want to read." And it never came because he always had to take a book he needed, but not for his own interest, but for the work that was going on. Because also, you see, he wasn’t at all a philosopher closed up in his own search because really, several times I think, he always said, "I am not working for myself. I am trying to open ways for young people to come around and work after me, and I want to help them to go on. But I don’t want to find recipes for everything. It is not the thing to do." But to the end he did go on.

 

 

Jim: And finally, their presence is here in the little cemetery of Kolbsheim, where Jacques and Raissa are buried, and where it is possible to sit for a moment and reflect on what Jacques Maritain can mean for us. To me Jacques Maritain was a man who loved wisdom. First and foremost he loved personified wisdom, who is Jesus, Himself. And he loved wisdom in all its forms: in the mystical wisdom and contemplation of the saints, and in the theological and metaphysical wisdom he found in St. Thomas, and his commentators like John of St. Thomas. And he spent his life trying to make living contact with these treasures of wisdom and free them from the accidental forms that had clothed them in past ages, and make them available to us so we could tackle some of our most pressing problems. But for all this, Maritain was not a man lost in the past. He soared like an eagle on the currents of his powerful intuitions, and spied out paths that lead to the future, and he did this even when he realized he would not have the time or energy to follow them to their conclusion.

I think that he worked and hoped and prayed that one day he would make new friends, perhaps like you and me, who would find the treasures he had stored up in his writings, and follow those paths into the future.

 

How to Order

A Complete List of Books, DVDs and CDs



Up

Home