Benedikt Ritzler:
Maritain's Philosophy of the Person

Maritain studies are rare in Germany, but this is not the only reason why B. Ritzler's contribution, an extensive work on Jacques Maritain's understanding of person, deserves real attention. His detailed dissertation is quite interesting because it is (still) one of the few studies which presents Maritain's thinking in its historical development. Not only are the introductions and conclusions of every chapter well structured, but also Ritzler's explanation of the steps in Maritain's evolution is well presented. In fact his subdivision of Maritain's development in three distinct periods is quite original and deserves a further presentation. The condensed biography of Maritain in chapter one well confirms these three periods. According to the author Maritain's first period (1910-1932) stands under the priority of conceptualism. The French philosopher is most interested in epistemology (due to his fight against Positivism, Relativism and Materialism) and is very close to the (neo-)thomistic understanding of person. This means that he describes the human person generally as a nature, a potency or an essence, open for acts or realizations according to certain laws or rules. It is not by chance that Maritain's masterwork from this initial period is "Les Degrés du Savoir". With this book Maritain's first period clearly comes to an end.

With "Sept leçons sur l'être" there begins a new, distinct second period (1934-1946) in Maritain's work. Here Maritain's thought becomes more dynamic, more "existential". It is human freedom which now attracts his attention. He is not longer only interested in essences, but also in explaining their metaphysical "existence". His study of natural mysticism and other kinds of connatural knowledge (for example the intuition of being/existence) motivate in part this change. From this time on Maritian produces many important studies about an integral humanism, political principles, human rights and education among other topics.

All theses studies move Maritain with increasingly greater frequency to place the person in the centre of his reflections. So he arrives in his third period (1947-1973) at a coherent Personalism which he first presents in his masterwork "Court traité de l'existence et de l'existant". Other elucidations and conclusions will follow, but the most important step has been done: on the one hand person is defined as a subject ("subjectivité") who needs to communicate in love with other persons and to know them, and on the other hand person is seen as a subsistent personality which freely exercises his own unique existence (cf. the 2nd redaction of the "Annexe IV" of "Les Degrés"). Thus Maritain can distinguish the person from his nature, describing the person as a "source of superexistence (surabondance)" whose acts always have a personal and often moral quality. These acts, moreover, are not an actualisation of potency in the classic sense, but rather result from the creative Self who expresses itself in unforeseeable events, especially in acts of love and knowledge.

Naturally Maritain adapts also his epistemology and takes more and more into consideration the process of nonconceptual intuitions and the knowledge of dynamic realities, for example poetic inspiration, the natural law, the phenomenon of love (cf. "L'Intuition créative", "La loi naturelle ou loi non écrit", "La personne et le bien commun", "Approches sans entraves" etc.).

But Ritzler does not stop here. His detailed and original research enables him to present for the first time Maritain's various additions to the complex idea of life in the spirit. The continuous mental exchange between the spiritual preconscience and the conscience of the human person, between the mental systole and diastole (introduced in "L'Intuition créatrice") receives precision by "De la grâce et de l'humanité de Jésus". Finally the author shows not only Maritain's fine distinction between person and nature and the two corresponding "freedoms", but he can also demonstrate with many citations that the centre of person is nothing else than the spiritual heart. He successfully interprets Maritain's idea that the human Self or heart (because of its "superexistence") is not only capable of spiritual union and communication with its Creator, but indeed it desires it. In other words, the person will find his highest freedom when he will deliver himself over to the embrace of the eternal Lover.

Undoubtedly this work on Maritain is not an easy project, but fortunately the concluding chapter offers a general view of the inner connectedness between Maritain's Epistemology, Metaphysics and Anthropology. Ritzler's thesis is quite new. He demonstrates not only how Maritain's understanding of the person starts with the classic analogia entis (and all its implicit problems), but also how Maritain's continuous research brings him finally to a coherent Personalism, to an analogia amoris. In fact the title of this remarkable work is not only a poetic summary, but it shows also the deep and necessary correlation between theology and philosophy.

If you are interested in this work:

Benedikt Ritzler, Freiheit in der Umarmung des ewig Liebenden. Die historische Entwicklung des Personverständnisses bei Jacques Maritain, Peter-Lang-Verlag Bern – Frankfurt 2000, ISSBN 3-906764-37-0, sFr. 99.- (

Benedikt Ritzler was born in 1967. After graduating from high school in 1987, he entered the seminary, and after two years of theological and philosophical formation in Freiburg (Germany) he continued his studies in Rome at the Pontificial Gregorian University. In 1993 he was ordained a priest. In 1995 he did his licence in Theology (Dogmatics), and in May of 1999 he finished this theological thesis on J. Maritain. At present he is a curate, working in a parish of his diocese. His e-mail address is:

Pfarrer Dr. Benedikt Ritzler / Kirchplatz 6 / D-72379 Hechingen / Germany.

Editors: What can you tell us about the actuality of Maritain in Germany today?

Benedikt Ritzler: Well, I am very glad to tell you that the exposition "Les Grandes Amitiés" in the meantime has been presented in Germany two times: Karlsruhe and Mainz, and in 2006 it will be in Trier. In collaboration with the "Centre Culturel Francais" and the Public Library all the texts of the exposition have been translated. And there is a special section about Maritain's friendships and contacts with Germans, for example Edith Stein, Dietrich von Hildebrand, Romano Guardini, Balduin Schwarz etc. Many original letters, pictures, books etc. are shown, and generally we got a large public interested, including very positive articles in the regional newspapers, and conferences on the radio. And at the end we published a new book:

Tobias Licht / Benedikt Ritzler: Jacques Maritain - Philosophie und Politik aus katholischem Glauben, G.Braun-Verlag, Karlsruhe, 2002, ISBN 3-7650-8289-9, 11,50 Euros

Talking about Maritain today is still important, especially in the context of politics. Surely, only a few persons know Maritain, and some of them still think him to be a mere neothomist. But I am very optimistic that in little steps things can change.

For further information on a German bibliography, Maritain's biography, conferences and activities in Germany just contact