Chapter 10
Amour Fou: Sex, Marriage and Contemplation

The following essay deals with the important, yet delicate, topic of the relationship between married love and contemplation. In it I find myself questioning what Jacques Maritain had to say. I do it with reluctance because of the great admiration I have for his thought. The first response to this essay is by my friend, Louis Chamming's, a Maritain scholar who lives in Paris, and who questions, in turn, what I have to say. Perhaps you, the reader, can help us to come to a better understanding of the matter.

The core of the problem is that Maritain seems to be saying that the highest natural human love between spouses must be sacrificed if they are to enter more deeply into the contemplative life. My position is that this is true to the degree that this love is disordered, but in itself, and as transformed by grace, it is not only not an obstacle to growth in the contemplative life, but an aid to it. I would not want spouses to think that their deepest love for each other hinders them from drawing closer and closer to God.



Raissa Maritain died in Paris on Nov. 4, 1960. The next summer at Kolbsheim near Strasbourg Jacques Maritain was to read for the first time the intimate notes and notebooks of his wife. He edited them into Raissa’s Journal which appeared privately in 1962, and one of the footnotes in that edition he amplified that same year and published it in his own Notebooks, and called it "Love and Friendship." In this chapter he tells us that he is discussing certain journal entries of Raissa, particularly one dated April 20th, 1924. That entry reads, in part: "How can I prove my friendship to God? By keeping his commandments. How can I prove my love to him? By giving myself to him from the bottom of my heart, in such a way that no other love ever dwells in it. In this sense, God is jealous. He is not jealous of our friendships, on the contrary, he encourages them. But he is jealous of that particular gift of the heart which is love, and which is total and exclusive in its nature. Hence the value of bodily virginity as a sign of the integrity of the heart."1

In commenting, Jacques first discusses the distinction between friendship and love. In friendship, he tells us, we give to our friends what we have, and indirectly, through that gift, ourselves. In love, in contrast, we give ourselves directly. Love, in turn, has different degrees, and the highest of them is amour fou, or mad, boundless love, and this love and its relationship to contemplation is what I would like to explore here. But as soon as we begin to look at this mad, boundless love, we are faced with a paradox. Jacques insists that this love is "in the order of the ontological perfections of nature, the summit of love between Man and Woman. Then the lover truly gives himself to his beloved, and she truly gives herself to him, as to his or her Whole."2

A little later he will write that in this mad, boundless love "there is brought to its extreme an absolutely complete form the direct gift, open and naked, of the person or subjectivity in its entirety..." And so it is "the summit and the perfection of love between Man and Woman. It is, therefore, by this very fact the summit and perfection of love between spouses."3

But then we read that somehow this perfection of human love is an obstacle to our growth in the love of God: "...a human being cannot give himself at one and the same time to the very end, in an absolute manner, to two objects as each constituting his Whole; in other words if a soul has entered into mad, boundless love for God, then it is necessary for it to renounce human mad, boundless love - whether, as in the religious state, it completely renounces the flesh - or, whether, remaining in the bonds of marriage it does not renounce this unique and sacred love in which man and woman are two in a single flesh, but renounces that which, in the order of the ontological perfections of nature, is the summit and the perfection of conjugal love, namely, mad, boundless love."4

We feel the tension between these two perspectives even more acutely when Jacques goes on to talk about the contemplative life. He had long been accustomed to equate entrance into the mystical life with entering under the habitual influence of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Further, within the mystical life, itself, he felt that infused contemplation could express itself either in an open and manifest way, as found in a John of the Cross or a Teresa of Avila, or in a masked manner. But now Jacques is making a new equation. We enter the mystical state when we enter the realm of mad, boundless love of God.

But if mad, boundless love for our spouse is incompatible with mad, boundless love for God, what conclusion can we draw except that married people must renounce the highest summit of human love in order to progress in the contemplative life. The impression that is, indeed, what he is saying only grows stronger when he tells us that although there is a certain suitability between chastity in marriage and contemplation, sexual relations are "not at all an obstacle to the mystical life."5 But mad, boundless love is. A religious who takes a vow of chastity not only sacrifices sexual union, but makes a much greater one, for the religious "sacrifices all possibility for himself of attaining and of desiring that earthly paradise of nature whose dream haunts the unconscious of our race - mad, boundless love between man and woman. It is of such a renouncement that the vow of chastity or that of virginity are above all the sign."6

The marriage of Jacques and Raissa symbolized for many the compatibility between the married life and the contemplative vocation, but is Jacques really saying that to live out the contemplative life married people must renounce the highest love they can have for each other, and in this way become like religious even if they continue to have sexual relations? What we need to do is to squarely confront this issue and see if our efforts can shed some light on the relationship between contemplation and married life.

First of all, just what does Jacques mean by amour fou for another person? He calls it, as we saw, "the summit and perfection of love between the spouses." But he also insists that in it we make our beloved our whole, and we are a part "which no longer exists except through and in this Whole..."7 But these two ideas don’t perfectly fit together. It is as if in defining amour fou in this way we will be inevitably led to Jacques’ conclusion. Our spouse is a whole to us, but this needs to be immediately qualified. He or she is not an absolute whole, which is a role that only God can play. Now concretely we can certainly feel impelled by our needs and desires to act as if our spouse is our whole without qualification. He or she may play such a vital role in our lives that the absence of him or her is almost unthinkable. But there is a fundamental distinction that must be made - one that Jacques made in many other contexts - and it is a distinction between nature and state, or the essential or the existential. Essentially speaking, only God is our whole, and our spouse is a relative whole deriving his or her own very being and attractive power from God. Existentially, or in the midst of life as we live it, we can focus and fasten on our spouse with such an intensity born out of love, need and desire that we can lose sight to one degree or another of the larger context that even our deepest human relationship must be seen in. This is what, I think, Jacques is trying to say. He writes: "He who loves with mad, boundless love gives himself totally; the object of his love is a limited, fragile, and mortal creature. It would be to ignore the grandeurs of our nature to believe that this creature loved with mad, boundless love necessarily becomes an idol for the lover, and is necessarily loved by him more than God. But it would be to ignore the miseries of our nature to believe that she cannot be loved more than God by him who loves her with mad, boundless love, and cannot become an idol for him."8

The existential sense of this passage is clear. Mad, boundless love of its nature is not opposed to the love of God. But we have to notice Jacques’ use of the word "totality." It can be understood in two ways. We can totally love the limited, fragile woman who is our spouse in the sense of loving her as intensely as possible within the context of God as our ultimate whole. Or we can love our spouse totally in a way that tends to exclude from our consideration the relationship that this human love has to the love we have for God. Jacques does not make this point clear enough, and so he leaves us with the impression that there is something in the nature of this highest spousal love that is an obstacle to contemplation, while it would have been better to say the actual state of our love for our spouse can be colored by our disordered desires, and therefore become an obstacle to progress in the contemplative life.

It is in this same existential sense that we should read the following passage about someone who has boundless love for another human person:

"(H)e cannot however go to the very end of what mad, boundless love for God requires as to the integrity of the gift which he makes to God, I do not say only as regards himself, I say as regards the one whom he loves more than himself. There is something which he will give, but only up to a certain point, not as far as certain extreme instances of the divine demands, not as far as immolation: him or her precisely to whom he has absolutely given himself as to his Unique and his Whole... Mad, boundless love is mad, boundless. If a man loves a woman with mad, boundless love, he will not consent to give her so far as immolation, even to God. (He will struggle against God, he will be broken.)"9

Note that the ambiguous "totally" of the previous passage still remains as an ambiguous "absolutely." "Mad, boundless love is mad, boundless." It tends to forget all limits, and thus can become an obstacle to union with God. It has to be renounced not inasmuch as it is the summit and glory of human love, but to the degree it creates an obstacle to union with God.

What really is at the heart of the love we have for our spouse? It is an intimate, loving openness by which we are present to the one we love, and he or she is present to us, and this is a presence not of object to object, but of subject to subject. The other is a thou for us, and so we are not alone. This spousal love is a great gift, and far from it being an obstacle to union with God, it opens and nourishes the human spirit for that union, and could even be called a human reflection of it and preparation for it. This might well be what Jacques meant when he continues this same passage and writes that mad, boundless love "in the supernatural order is much less than the unique and perfect friendship rooted in charity and the grace of the sacraments." Jacques’ mad, boundless love for another human person is not the highest human love, but rather a romantic love with all its passion and projection raised to the ultimate degree. What appears to have happened is that Jacques’ concrete sense of how this amour fou could pose an obstacle to growth in the contemplative life overshadowed his consideration of the nature of spousal love. What we need to do now is ask why this happened, and what lessons it can teach us about the relationship between marriage and contemplation.

The Maritains were married on Nov. 26, 1904, and baptized on June 11, 1906. Soon after, they moved to Heidelberg where they lived with Raissa’s sister, Vera, and they all lived together much like a religious community. On Oct. 12, 1912 Jacques and Raissa took a permanent vow of chastity. The word permanent seems to imply that they had made temporary vows for one or more times, probably for one year at a time. Their close married friends, Pierre and Christine van der Meer, were to separate after their two children were grown and had entered religious life, and they became religious, themselves. This did not work out, and they came back together again. In the chapter of Jacques’Notebooks that we have been looking at, he tells us that he and Raissa were the witnesses of the marriage of a couple who, immediately after exchanging vows, took a vow of chastity. The Maritains lived at a time in the Church when the serious practice of the life of prayer was strongly linked with religious life, and the vow of virginity was the primary symbol of that life. In that same atmosphere, marriage was looked upon by many priests, religious and married people, themselves, as somehow a lesser vocation, and an obstacle to progress in the spiritual life. Jacques, himself, while he resisted this tendency, and was almost an archetype of the Catholic layman, entered religious life at the very end of his life.

These facts give rise to certain questions. Would the Maritains have married if they had met after their baptisms? Did they ever feel the tug of religious life like their friends the van der Meers? Did they create in their marriage their own version of religious life with the vow of 1912 being one of its manifestations? Clearly, there is no easy way to answer these questions, but they set the stage for a final question that we have to look at more closely. Did they feel as if they possessed mad, boundless love for each other and were led by the deepening of Raissa’s contemplative journey to renounce it? It is reasonable to suppose that they did. How else could Jacques later argue that a vow of chastity was suitable, but not necessary, for the contemplative life while the renunciation of mad, boundless love was essential if they had taken a vow of virginity, but did not renounce amour fou, themselves?

When Raissa wrote in her journal for April 20, 1924 which was Easter Sunday, asking how she could prove her love to God, and answered that it is by giving herself so "that no other love even dwells in it," to whom is she referring to most of all if not Jacques, himself, the love of her life? And when Jacques writes in his reflections on this passage the commentary we have just seen, "there is something he will give, but only up to a certain point... not as far as immolation," what is he talking about if not the times he saw Raissa in the throes of the trials that accompanied her contemplative life, and his heart rebelled against seeing her dying an interior death? Was this a rebellion he felt he had to overcome by a faith that said that it was God’s work, and therefore he could not resist it? Isn’t this the most intimate context from which their idea of mad, boundless love sprang? Didn’t they feel that they had to sacrifice the passionate human love they had for each other so that Raissa would be free to follow her contemplative path?

There are two things that must be said about this. First, that such a decision is a decision rooted in the concrete circumstances of their lives and the way that God was calling them. Let’s say that it was an existential decision, and as such, tends to resist both analysis and imitation. Therefore, when Jacques went to talk about it, he had difficulty in explaining the nature of amour fou and its relationship to contemplation. He tries to subordinate his constant tendency towards philosophical reflection to the concrete imperative of the actual situation that he had lived through. But in doing so he does not sufficiently reflect on the nature of marriage and how even natural human love is transformed by the grace of the sacrament of matrimony into a supernatural reality. Their decision also resists imitation in the sense that we need to be sensitive to our own concrete circumstances and calling, and so their decision cannot be a substitute for our own.

Let’s take a look at the vow of chastity. As Jacques says, there is a certain suitability - we could call it an existential link - between chastity and the contemplative life. But there is no intrinsic or essential link. Otherwise, every contemplative or would-be contemplative would have to refrain from sexual relations. But an existential link means that one person might be called in that way and another not. The case of amour fou is much more difficult to unravel. There can, perhaps, be an existential link between the need to renounce a human love as it is concretely expressing itself, and a person’s contemplative vocation. But we cannot say there is some kind of intrinsic or essential link between giving up the highest spousal love and advancing in the contemplative life. Spousal love has to be given up only to the degree that it is disordered.

But what about giving up the love between the spouses insofar as it is a natural good with the hope of better pursuing some supernatural calling? Human love between a married couple is both natural and supernatural, and it is difficult to conceive how these two aspects could be separated. And even if this were attempted, we can wonder about the possible adverse psychological repercussions of such a decision. Just what did it mean to Jacques and Raissa to give up mad, boundless love? Did Raissa feel, then, that she could no longer tell Jacques about what was happening in her spiritual life? Was this why she did not share her journals with him? Did she feel that she had to operate under a certain code of silence that could only be relaxed if Jacques someone discovered her sufferings on his own? In short, what role did this amour fou play in the kind of intimate communication that is at the heart of married love? Let’s hope that in their case it did not hinder it, but it is easy enough to imagine how such a decision could weigh upon a marriage.

God is not jealous of the love we have for our spouse. It is a reflection of the love that God has for us, and it is so precious that we should cherish it and strive to do whatever we can to make it grow stronger. The dark nights that are so intimately connected to the contemplative journey can strike a person so that they feel like they are entering some form of living death. But there are other dark nights of a physical and psychological kind that can accompany these spiritual dark nights and need to be carefully distinguished from them. Even in a case like Raissa’s where she seems to have received genuine contemplative graces, no clear picture emerges of how they might have been mingled with physical and psychological dark nights. What, in fact, happened in those many years for which nothing was recorded in her journals? Did her contemplative experiences cease at one point, and yet her sufferings go on? But if she had given up amour fou in regard to Jacques, and yet a part, even a large part, of her sufferings were due to physical and psychological causes, could she not have been giving up the chance to address these sufferings by sharing them with him? Jacques on his part, seeing her sufferings, but having renounced intervening into her intimate affairs under the guise of not interfering with the action of God in her soul, would have no way to help her sort out just where these sufferings were coming from and how she should deal with them.

Clearly, there is no way to know what happened in the depths of the relationship between Jacques and Raissa, but it is easy enough to imagine the kinds of difficulties that could befall married people if they were somehow under the impression that their human love was an obstacle in advancing towards a deeper union with God.10



  1. Raissa Maritain. Raissa’s Journal, Albany, NY: Magi Books. 1974. p. 163
  2. Jacques Maritain. Notebooks, Albany, NY: Magi Books, 1984. p. 223-224
  3. Ibid., p. 244
  4. Ibid., p. 228
  5. Ibid., p. 248
  6. Ibid., p. 254
  7. Ibid., p. 224
  8. Ibid., p. 224
  9. Ibid., p. 250-251
  10. See the response to this paper by Louis Chamming’s and others at



A Response from Louis Chamming's -

Jim, I have read your article about "Amour et amitiť " with great attention. Though I can't discuss in detail the whole article, I still want to tackle here the key points of the question. Sorry Jim, but to put it bluntly, I can't agree with you. I feel you have somewhat misunderstood at least two things : 1/ Jacques' philosophical distinction between le bel amour and l'amour fou ; 2/ the theological distinction (which is not separation) between natural order and supernatural order.

In bel amour, you give yourself totally, but indirectly, giving yourself in giving everything you have, so far as giving your own life ; thus you stay yourself as a separate whole, moving toward the other and totally open to the other. In amour fou, you give yourself totally and directly in giving what you are, not only giving your life, but even giving your Self, so far as to become only one whole with the other.

That is the precise metaphysical reason why you cannot love d'amour fou two different persons at the same time, even if God is one of them, because you cannot become two different wholes at the same time. On the other hand, as far as you stay your own whole, you can love de bel amour, metaphysically speaking, more than one person ; moreover, you can love at the same time one person de bel amour, and another one d'amour fou.

In itself, in the same given kind (either human or divine) of love, l'amour fou is higher than le bel amour. But as love of charity (i.e. supernatural), le bel amour for God is higher than purely human amour fou, for the latter is "the summit and perfection of love between spouses" in the natural order only, and the lowest degree of supernatural love is higher than the highest degree of natural love. (It should be observed that the sacrament of marriage does not transform the bel amour in amour fou, but transform the natural human love between spouses in charity love, which comes from God through grace, and as such is absolutely higher than any human love).

That is the reason why Jacques Maritain maintain that if you are to enter in an habitual mystical life, that is to begin to usually love God d'amour fou, you have to give up human amour fou. In this case, the human bel amour, transformed by the amour fou for God which is divine, will be much higher than the human amour fou, even transformed by the charity love ! Nevertheless, according to Maritain, mere bel amour for God is compatible with holiness, even in case of human amour fou . (I would like to check it in Maritain's writings, but I would not assert that, for him, contemplative life - which is determined by the habitual influence of the gifts of the Holy Spirit - and mystical life - which begins with amour fou for God - are one and the same thing. I think this question deserves a more thorough investigation).

Let us consider now the question of sexuality. As far as sexual relations are simply the expression of the human love between the spouses, they are perfectible by love of charity, but there is no intrinsic connection between sexuality and any kind of love for God. That is the reason why there is no absolute incompatibility between sexual life and mystical life (i.e. amour fou for God), whereas there is an absolute one between human amour fou and amour fou for God, as explained above.

In my opinion, all this doctrine is clear in itself, although perhaps difficult to accept. However that may be, it is neither true nor fair to say that when "Jacques writes that mad, boundless love 'in the supernatural order is much less than the unique and perfect friendship rooted in charity and the grace of the sacraments', Jacques' mad, boundless love for another human person is not the highest human love, but rather a romantic love with all its passion and projection raised to the ultimate degrees" (p.6). You are going so far as to suggest that such a doctrine could be the unconscious result (or perhaps the cause ?) of the Maritain's giving up human amour fou, since "he tries to subordinate his constant tendency towards philosophical reflection to the concrete imperative of the actual situation he had lived through" (p.8) ; and, moreover, "we can wonder about the possible adverse psychological repercussions of such a decision" (p.9). As far as you are attempting here a wild psycho-analysis of Jacques Maritain's thought, this is not a philosophical debate any more.

Sorry if I have been straight and clumsy: those questions are intrinsically arduous, and it is mostly difficult for me to treat them in English; but I had to try it if I were to answer more or less your questions !

Best regards for the whole family, Louis

Jim's Response

This is a difficult topic, as you say, but an important one. Perhaps we can find some reading of this text that we can both agree on.

First, a secondary matter on the mystical life and contemplation. It appears that in this article, at least, Maritain is identifying the mystical state and amour fou for God with the habitual influence of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. "Ces choses etant posees, il apparait tout de suite qu'une definition de ce qu'on appelle l'etat mystique - equivalente a celle qui le decrit comme la vie sous le regime habituel des dons du Saint-Esprit, mais moins technique et plus accessible au langage courant, - est possible: on dira qu'une ame passe a l'etat mystique quand elle passe sous le regime de l'amour fou pour Dieu." (p. 316-317)

Now while he tells us that the mystical state and contemplation are not synonyms, he will still say: "Mais dans les deux cas (open and hidden contemplation) l'homme en question sera entre sous le regime de la vie mystique ou de l'amour fou de Dieu, et il tendra a la perfection de la charite prise absolument parlant et sous tous les rapports;" (p. 322)

Now the main issue. Maritain describes amour fou for another human person as the summit of natural human love between the spouses. If this is so, this love cannot be essentially disordered, and Maritain will admit this. "Ce serait meconnaitre les grandeurs de notre nature de croire que cette creature aimee d'amour fou devient pour l'aimant necessairement une idole, et est necessairement aimee par lui plus que Dieu." (p. 308). Therefore, this love can be transformed by grace. If this is so, why must it be given up?

You summarize Maritain's position as follows: "You cannot love d'amour fou two different persons at the same time, even if God is one of them, because you cannot become two different wholes at the same time." But why not? The whole that is God is in a different order than the whole that is the human person whom we love. Love is an intentional superexistence in which we become one with the person we love, but it is a spiritual union, and the love of a human person does not exclude the love of God.

But maybe the problem is not here, but in how I understand amour fou for another human person. There is, of course, a powerful human love that sweeps us along, and centers us on another human person as a whole for us, a destiny for us, without whom we cannot imagine living. That person becomes an absolute for us, and not just in the human order, but absolutely. Therefore, it effects negatively our relationship with God. If this is what Maritain meant, then this love is not compatible with the mystical state. But then, he should not call it the natural summit of human love. It is a disordered love, and not very spiritual, at that.

When he expresses himself this way, he leaves the impression with his readers that the heart of married love must be given up in order to lead the contemplative life.

So either there are philosophical and theological problems with what he says, or something else caused him to speak in this way. Therefore, I think it is fair - although a difficult and delicate matter! - to ask why he expressed himself like this. Was there, for example, something in his relationship with Raissa that led him to do this? Sincerely, Jim

Louis answers:

I agree that human amour fou can be transformed by grace ; but even so, it is the summit of human love ONLY IN THE NATURAL ORDER. It must be given up IF, AND ONLY IF, you want to love God by amour fou, which is the summit of love in the supernatural order and absolutely speaking. In this question, let us remember that, according to the Gospel, the ultimate aim of human life is not a natural perfection, even though restored and perfected by grace, but a supernatural one : participation in God's life, which is absolute Love. Best regards, Louis

Jim answers:

I agree with you that the perfection of human love is a natural perfection, and that some people like vowed religious might be called to give up that love in order to pursue their journey to union with God. But isn't this a case where we can apply the distinction between the existential and the essential? In other words, while it is true that this or that person in a concrete situation may be called to give up this kind of human love, we cannot turn that into a universal principle which says that everyone is called to give up that human love. In this way, it would be analogous to the case of virginity, itself. Sincerely, Jim

Louis answers:

There are two different possible kinds of perfection : natural, and  supernatural. I would say that the natural perfection of human love is amour   fou, whereas the supernatural perfection of human love is love of charity, not   necessarily including (nor excluding) amour fou. A natural perfection as such (e.g. to have a gift for mathematics) is not a moral one : as to speak theologically, it is not meritorious. When it happens, human amour fou is given by nature, not by grace, just like the ability for mathematics ; whereas divine amour fou necessarily proceeds from grace.

The incompatibility of habitual amour fou for two different persons at the same time is not a matter of choice, but a matter of fact ; it is a mere impossibility : so it is essential rather than existential. But the choice between the natural perfection of human amour fou (which is not meritorious by itself) and the supernatural perfection of amour fou for God is of course existential. Best regards, Louis

Another Response from a Married Contemplative:

I don't think one renounces the highest summit of human love; I don't think (I can only speak from my own experience) that one's love for one's spouse is in any way lessened. On the contrary, it seems to me that I love my husband even more - with greater understanding and affection, greater freedom - than before. Rather, I have been given the ability to love God in a new way, which does not conflict at all with my love for him. It does, however, in a sense relativize it - if it were ever to happen that I would have to choose between my husband and God, it would break my heart, but I would not hesitate, even for a moment, to choose God. I am fortunate that my husband respects my hunger for a deeper relationship with God, and is not threatened by it. Nor am I sure that mad, boundless love as Jacques describes it is the highest summit of human love, at least for a Christian. I think "that earthly paradise of nature" is no longer an option for us, though for sincere and unreflective agnostics it may be. (I think I know a few.) Even for sincere, unreflective Christians, it may be - in the first years of our marriage, before God got so real, though I never wanted to exclude God, my whole life was centered on my husband. Rather hard on him, I think now; my love for him is far more generous than it was in those days when I expected him to fill my hunger for love and happiness completely. No human being can do that, and with that recognition has come the ability to delight in the joy he does give me, not finding it "not enough" or wishing for a different sort of joy...

As for Raissa's entry on April 20th, 1924, well, my own reading of that was she was at that time experiencing a powerful "consolation." My confessor says that the response to such an experience isn't necessarily dictated by God - one responds as a specific human being. It is a pretty extreme statement as it stands, the sort of thing one might say in a powerful love experience. But not, I think, one to be taken seriously, though some hagiographies abound in such extremes and many saints practice them. Most later came to regret it - at least Francis wished he had been kinder to "Brother Ass" (his body) and Ignatius did not allow his companions to practice the bodily penances he had after his conversion. I hope Raissa didn't try to live it, for Jacques' sake, though if she did, it is no wonder he suffered. Sincerity and generosity of heart still need the virtues of prudence; wholehearted acceptance of the suffering of life brings us, it seems to me, more than enough to make saints of us, and we do not find any account of Jesus voluntarily practicing any extraordinary renunciations in the Gospels.

Still, Jacques and Raissa were truly pioneers in this area, with no models to follow except celibate ones, some of them pretty odd, like Margery Kemp. One may honor the sincerity of their commitment to the Lord and still doubt their prudential judgment in living it out...

I do wonder whether Jacques didn't, in his love for Raissa, "canonize" what may well have been suffering rooted in, even if not wholly so, physical and/or psychological factors, especially when, in his loneliness after her death, he read her journals. I don't believe God delights in our suffering, or that there is greater holiness in enduring it when it can be relieved, whether by medication, psychotherapy, or a good heart-to-heart talk with a loved one or friend...

Indeed, those who believe their human love to be an obstacle in advancing towards a deeper union with God will find themselves in all sorts of difficulties. The basic one may be that they will be fighting, with the best of intentions - being what they are - incarnate spirits. They may well end up being pretty inhuman. I am not at all sure Jacques and Raissa fully understood this, but, as I said before, they were pioneers, scouting out totally unexplored regions of the human soul with maps made for other regions altogether. Not much help! At least Jacques saw, theoretically, and stated explicitly, that marriage as such is no obstacle when almost no one else was even hinting at the possibility that married people, lay persons in general, had any other functions in the Church than "to sin and go to confession" and married people were given only the hope of barely avoiding hell and spending a very long time in purgatory.


A Response from Dr. Emile J. Piscitelli

I am surprised that there is little discussion of the experience of being in love in the essays and criticisms of Maritain's odd position on marital love and the love of God. Maritain was a traditionalist and caught in the metaphysical and conceptualist views of spirituality. That position can take you only so far. He seems never to have gotten beyond it. You have to get beyond it to understand something about the Mystery of Total Love.

I am a student of Bernard Lonergan and now a professor of philosophy. I have come to form my views over the last 30 years of teaching and writing, but I have remained faithful to my mentor.

For me being in love with God is not exclusive of loving a woman in marriage, even loving her completely because the genuine love of a woman can only be possible because God himself is in love with her. God's love in the Holy Spirit of Love is transcendent. When a man loves a woman completely, he aspires to love her the way God loves her. His complete gift of self is only possible because God loves both lover and beloved and has given Himself to us through His Son and in the Spirit of Love in His grace.

God is not a jealous lover in the sense that He wants exclusive love from His creatures. God is jealous only in the sense that He does not want us to worship false gods, idols. The true love of a married couple is not idolatry. If it is, it is not genuine love. We use terms like worship the woman we love in an analogous sense. It is our analogous worship of the woman that leads us back to God. God wants His creatures to be happy by loving Him, but that does not mean He does not want us to be happy completely loving the woman we marry.

If Maritain could have broken through the traditional concepts to the experience of being in love and the meaning of that experience, he would not have been confused by this great Mystery of Divine Love. Being in love is the ground of all meaning and existence. The existence of the world and all that is in it is the result of God's being in love. God is love straight through and His Existence is the reason for ours. Celibate love and marital love are not opposed. They are different vocations. One is not superior to the other. That would denigrate love and be unfaithful to God who is love right through.

Dr. Emile J. Piscitelli 

Now it is your turn to contribute to this discussion. Send us your questions and comments:

Up to Christian Mysticism

Up to Essays in Existential Thomism