Archive for March, 2010


Beauty As A Gateway To The Divine

March 31, 2010

Leonardo DaVinci's Virgin of the Rocks 1491

Rev. Walter F. Kedjierski who is an Associate Pastor at St. Catherine of Sienna Roman Catholic Parish in Franklin Square, NY and teaches theology at St. John’s University, NY, contributed a wonderful essay on Catholic Aesthetics to the Princeton Theological Review back in 2007 titled The Beautiful As A Gateway To The Transcendent. It dealt with how the Christian tradition has come to appreciate beauty as a gateway to the divine.

The seductive and enticing nature of beauty can lead one to a fulfilling encounter with the divine beyond the initial symbol experienced, or one can become fixated upon the symbol itself so that a self-consuming and unfulfilling form of idolatry is the result. Some reading selections follow. It considers the decadent movement in Western European literature of the 19th century and the writings of the 20th century Swiss Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar.

Historical And Biblical Foundations: Augustine
Early in the history of Christianity, people came to discover God in the beautiful. When Augustine penned the story of his conversion in the 4th century, he chose to refer to God as the beautiful and to all other beauty as insignificant in comparison yet also an inspiration to seek God:

Too late have I loved you, O Beauty, ancient yet ever new. Too late have I loved you! And behold, you were within, but I was outside, searching for you there – plunging, deformed amid those fair forms which You had made. You were with me, but I was not with you. Things held me far from you, which unless they were in You did not exist at all. You called and shouted and burst my deafness. You gleamed and shone upon me, and chased away my blindness. You breathed fragrant odors on me, and I held back my breath, but now I pant for You. I tasted, and now I hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and now I yearn for your peace.
Hal M. Helms, The Confessions of St. Augustine: A Modern English Version (Orleans, MA: Paraclete Press, 1986), 210. 

Augustine’s language is a language of yearning, a language that recognizes the innate goodness of the beautiful, not in and of the beautiful itself, but as a result of the author of the beautiful, God. One might make the comparison that just as a husband is initially enamored by the physical beauty of his wife, eventually he should come to recognize that the true beauty of his wife really lies within herself. Beauty is a reality that has the capacity to take one out of oneself and into a desire for an encounter with the transcendent. There are many biblical and historical foundations for the development of this understanding about the nature and purpose of beauty.

Historical And Biblical Foundations: the Hebrew Scriptures
Through a simple examination of the Hebrew Scriptures, one can come to the realization that as it was formed, the Jewish community was not opposed to the use of the beautiful, even in its worship. The temple of Solomon was more than likely one of the most beautiful structures standing during its time. A variety of carved animals and vegetation adorned the temple, which included pomegranates, twelve oxen, panels with lions, oxen, and cherubim, as well as golden altars decorated with flowers and lamps. Even with its great opulence, this was a building that proved to be so pleasing to the LORD that He chose to confer His name upon it. This description of the temple might prove to be a bit unsettling, particularly to Christians of the Reformed tradition, because of the fear of idolatry.

The Ten Commandments specifically forbid the worship of images, idols, or anything other than the one living God. The Ten Commandments found in Exodus 20 read thus in this regard: “You shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or worship them.” In Deuteronomy 5 the Ten Commandments provide the same prohibition almost verbatim: “You shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or worship them.” Yet along with an acknowledgment of this commandment must come the recognition that later on in the very same text of Exodus God commands Moses to make the ark with “two cherubim of beaten gold.” Where does the balance lie between God’s prohibition of the creation of idols and God’s approval of the use of images of heavenly and earthly realities in worship through prayer with the ark and in the temple?

Idolatry: The Bronze Serpent
One of the first questions that needs to be answered is exactly how idolatry was practiced by those religions that surrounded the Holy Land at that time. One of the most prominent religions of the time, which the Israelites would have known very well through their experience of slavery, was the religion of the ancient Egyptian empire. Archeologists have discovered the ways in which the ancient Egyptians honored their gods and their idols: “The priests of each temple cared for the statue of the god as if it were alive.” There is evidence that these statues were clothed, fed, and worshipped. As one can observe through a reading of the Decalogue of Exodus and Deuteronomy, idolatry would have no place in the Jewish religion despite its popularity at the time of the ancient Egyptian empire. This prohibition would be carried into Christianity. Yet, as one can observe, this prohibition was not against the use of beautiful objects in worship. Rather, the prohibition was against confusing God with the objects used to aid in worshipping God.

The Bible makes it clear that images can be used not only for worship but can even become vessels through which God transmits His grace. This is clearly true of the bronze serpent from Numbers 21. In this story, the people were growing weary of their long and arduous journey and began to complain to the LORD. The LORD therefore allowed poisonous snakes to attack the people. As they were bitten they became seriously ill, some even to the point of death. Moses cast a serpent out of bronze, and when the people gazed upon the representation of the animal that caused them harm, they were healed. This artistic representation of a serpent was used by God to bring people healing. Christians would later interpret this serpent affixed on a pole as foreshadowing Christ’s redemptive sacrifice on the cross. It is there one can observe the hatred and cruelty of humanity yet also be healed by the salvific merit of Christ’s death.(12) Beauty and artistic expression clearly do have their place in Christianity.

Yet at the same time the Scriptures also indicate that it would be tragic if the artwork, or the beauty, became an end in and of itself. The pole with the bronze serpent eventually had to be destroyed by King Hezekiah because the people began worshipping the image as their god and forgot about the LORD of heaven and earth who used the image to bring about healing. An image is exactly that, an image, a representation of a greater reality, not the reality itself. Once one becomes preoccupied with beauty in and of itself, the result is idolatry that turns one away from the transcendent. The Christian use of art is not about l’art pour l’art (“art for art’s sake”) but rather it is about art as a vehicle, a gateway by which one can encounter the Transcendent One who is the author of the inner life of the particular soul that chose to create the artwork.

Artwork In The Liturgical Life Of The Church
Apart from the Bible, there are also clear precedents in the history of the Church concerning this question of idolatry versus the use of the beautiful. The Iconoclast controversy of the 8th and 9th centuries forced the Church to consider seriously the place of artwork in her liturgical life. This question was addressed first by the Second General Council of Nicaea in 787 and again at the Fourth General Council of Constantinople in 870. Notice how the Second General Council of Nicaea encouraged a legitimate use of sacred art in worship, not as an end in itself, but as a means of reaching the transcendent.

The more frequently one contemplates these pictorial representations, the more gladly will he be led to remember the original subject whom they represent, the more too will he be drawn to it and inclined to give it…a respectful veneration (proskunsis, adoratio), which, however, is not true adoration (latreia, latria) which, according to our faith, is due to God alone. But, as is done for the image of the revered and life-giving cross and the holy Gospels and other sacred objects and monuments, let an oblation of incense and light be made to give honor to those images according to the pious customs of the ancients. For “the honor given to an image goes to the original model” (St. Basil, De Spiritu Sancto, 18, 45) and he who venerates an image, venerates in it the person represented by it.
JJ. Neuner, SJ and J. Dupuis, SJ, The Christian Faith: Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church (New York: Alba House, 1990), 399-400. 15 G.A. Cevasco, J.-K. Huysmans’s A Rebours and English Literature (New York: AMS Press, 2001), 18. 

Therefore, one can observe a consistent trend in the Scripture and tradition of Christianity of a great reverence and respect for sacred images and beauty yet at the same time an understanding that contact with beauty is not in and of itself the goal. Contact with the author of that beauty is the goal.

The Futility Of L’art Pour L’art As Demonstrated In 19th Century Decadent Literature
Examples of how absorbing the beautiful devoid of its goal of reaching for the transcendent leads to a lack of fulfillment can be observed in the 19th century Decadent movement. This movement, occurring primarily in French and British art and literature, included such geniuses as Andre Raffalovich, Oscar Wilde, J.- K. Huysmans, Aubrey Beardsley, and Charles Baudelaire. These are individuals whom one can safely say chose to remain fixated upon beauty in and of itself and yet in the end found that it was just not enough for them. “The typical Decadent was someone who worshipped beauty, an individual who needed to nourish his senses, who lived for the moods and emotions of life.” Of particular interest in this context would be J.-K. Huysmans’s highly influential novel, A Rebours (translated, Against the Grain). Cyril Connolly in his study The Modern Movement labeled A Rebours as “a key book” to modern literature.

A Rebours is a plotless, seemingly meaningless cacophony of events that surround the life of the ultimate fictional decadent, Duc Jean Floressas Des Esseintes. The religious symbolism present in this novel is abundant and seems to represent Des Esseintes’s acknowledgement of the importance of the spiritual but his failure to recognize that the desire to nourish all of his senses can only be realized through a connection with the author behind all of the beauty he seeks. Ironically, Des Esseintes surrounds himself with the beauty and artwork of the Church. His rooms are adorned with stoles, dalmatics, monstrances, and the like, which are all items used in the worship of the Roman Catholic Church. Des Esseintes enjoys smelling incense, lighting candles, and listening to Gregorian chant. He even makes himself into a monk of sorts who withdraws from the world and all outside influences in order to focus upon a higher pursuit. Arthur Symons, in fact, referred to A Rebours as “the breviary of the Decadence” (a breviary is a prayer book used by clergy and religious of the Roman Catholic Church). Yet Des Esseintes does not imbue any of the items with which he has surrounded himself with their religious value. As the decadent par excellence he only uses them for the sensual experience he can receive from them.

The novel ends abruptly in a rather unfulfilling manner to the reader. By chapter fifteen of the novel, Des Esseintes is enduring overwhelming suffering as a result of “nervous dyspepsia.” Huysmans also mentions that Des Esseintes suffers from “nightmares, hallucinations of smell, pains in the eye and deep coughing which recurred with clock-like regularity, after the pounding of his heart and arteries and cold perspiration.” Perhaps the use of his “mouth organ” (a machine that dispensed alcohol)—along with other decadent pursuits—was a detriment to his good health. At the conclusion of the novel Huysmans makes Des Esseintes’s physician’s opinion clear:

His verdict, (confirmed besides by consultation with all the experts on neurosis) was that distraction, amusement, pleasure alone might make an impression on this malady whose spiritual side eluded all remedy; and made impatient by the recriminations of his patient, he for the last time declared that he would refuse to continue treating him if he did not consent to a change of air, and live under new hygienic conditions.

Therefore Des Esseintes’s singular pursuit of sensual pleasure came to an abrupt, unsuccessful end. Des Esseintes never succeeded in finding what he longed to achieve. He became fixed upon the vehicle that was supposed to lead to something (or, more properly, someone) far greater than the sensual pleasure in and of itself.

Upon a brief examination of J.K. Huysmans’ life, one can recognize that he eventually came to the personal conclusion that immersion in the arts and the sensual is meant to lead one to an encounter with the Transcendent One. When Huysmans wrote A Rebours in 1884, he indicated that he did not have any Christian inclinations. In fact, he even explored “Satanic mysticism.” In 1891 he entered into a personal conversion, which led him to the Catholic Church as he wrote in his autobiography En Route. He chose to spend time in contemplation at a Trappist monastery. He was first attracted to the Church through curiosity about its hierarchy, then its arts, and later its mystery, and it was this curiosity which brought him to the faith. After his conversion, Huysmans became a Benedictine Oblate, meaning that he chose to live the life of a Benedictine monk while remaining in the world as a lay person.

As previously mentioned, A Rebours was a highly influential text for the Decadent movement of the 19th century, and its popularity would cross the English Channel.

Following its publication Whistler rushed to congratulate Huysmans on his “marvelous book,” Paul Valéry acclaimed it as his “Bible and bedside book” and Paul Bourget, a close friend at the time of both Huysmans and Wilde, professed himself a great admirer. Yet there were few greater admirers of A Rebours than Wilde himself. In an interview with the Morning Post he stated that “this last book of Huysmans is one of the best that I have ever seen.”
Joseph Pearce, Literary Converts (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000)

One of the first British writers to discover A Rebours was George Moore. He wrote, “Huysmans goes to my soul like a gold ornament of Byzantine worksmanship: there is in his style the yearning charm of arches, a sense of ritual, the passion of the Gothic, of the window.”(22) A number of Moore’s novels reflect the style of A Rebours, particularly a novel he wrote in 1889 entitled Mike Fletcher (London: Ward & Downey, 1889). George Cevasco provides a fine summary of this novel:

Bequeathed a small fortune by a former mistress, Mike finds every indulgence open to him. He obtains everything he goes after, but remains unsatisfied, always uneasy. Satiation brings with it despair. Ultimately, all he wants is rest and relief from the wariness of his life. “For now I know,” he concludes, “that man cannot live without wife, without child, without God.” Resigned to taste the dark fruit of oblivion, one evening he blows his brains out. “And who,” Moore demands of the reader, “knowing of Mike’s torment is fortunate enough to say: ‘I know nothing of what is written here.’”
G.A. Cevasco, J.K. Huysmans’s A Rebours and English Literature (New York: AMS Press, 2001),

Unlike Huysmans, Moore never went through a religious conversion. One can observe his dissatisfaction with the appeasement of the appetite of the senses alone and his recognition that with nothing more, life brings with it despair and weariness.

This brief exploration of 19th century Decadent literature indicates that absorption with the beautiful in and of itself does not satisfy the initial attraction the beautiful sends forth. The worship of anything other than the living God will not bring with it peace or satisfaction. Art and beauty are special tools designed by God to bring one out of oneself and into a special connection with God.

Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s Theological Aesthetics
The Glory of the Lord is a seven-volume work written by the 20th century Swiss Jesuit theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar that exhaustively explains his theology. The subtitle of his work is “A Theological Aesthetics,” and he makes it clear from the very beginning of his writing that the beautiful is a key element to understanding his theology. In fact, it is his starting point.

Beauty is the word that shall be our first. Beauty is the last thing which the thinking intellect dares to approach since only it dances, as an uncontained splendor, around the double constellation of the true and the good and their inseparable relation to one another. . . . No longer loved or fostered by religion, beauty is lifted from its face as a mask, and its absence exposes features on that face which threaten to become incomprehensible to man.
Hans Urs Von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics (San Francisco: Ignatius Press/New York: Crossroad Publications, 1982) Vol. I: Seeing the Form, 18.

As one can observe, Balthasar firmly believed that the sole purpose of beauty is in some way to connect one to the transcendent. When robbed of its purpose, beauty becomes deformed. But beauty, when it is imbued with an excellence that contains goodness and truth beyond human language, brings to its observer a sense of wonder and awe which can lead one to a sense of God’s utter transcendence and a desire for adoration and prayer. Yet the beauty that surrounds this sense of wonder and awe, like a frame surrounds a picture, must not be ignored.

The privileged moment will always exist when a person falls to his knees to adore the One who says to him: “I who am speaking with you – I am He!” But the Good news cannot be reduced to such moments, since these would readily absorb all else into themselves. There are also the surfaces, time and space, and all these human factors disseminated within them and which essentially belongs to what John calls “remaining,” the commerce and familiarity with habits and opinions, reaching to what cannot be weighed or measured: a real life form.(25)
Hans Urs Von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics (San Francisco: Ignatius Press/New York: Crossroad Publications, 1982) Vol. I: Seeing the Form, 30.

Balthasar used Platonic ideas about matter and form to develop his theological aesthetics. Even the most elementary of philosophy courses would not be complete without an exploration of how Plato understood that all matter is simply an imperfect image of the perfect, the form upon which it is based. This understanding of the material – and material beauty in particular – will aid one in developing a clear distinction between the use of beauty as an idol or as a gateway to the transcendent. For the purposes of this article, one might consider the following observations of Balthasar as a reflection upon the problem of the idolatrous use of the beautiful.

When beauty becomes a form which is no longer understood as being identical with Being, spirit, and freedom, we have again entered an age of aestheticism, and realists will then be right in objecting to this kind of beauty. They go about demolishing what has rotted from within, but they cannot replace the power of Being which resides in the conferring of form.

To understand that there is a form – the ultimate form, Beauty itself – behind all beauty is to be delivered from the temptation of idolatry. Such an understanding actually transforms all beauty, and in fact all of creation, into a gateway through which one can perceive the very presence of God. The 19th century Jesuit poet Gerard Manly Hopkins expressed this sentiment perfectly in his poem, “God’s Grandeur:”

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
  It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
  It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
  And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
  And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
  There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
  Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
  World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

 The Second Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church identifies that which is beautiful in creation as one of the ways in which God has chosen to manifest Himself to humanity. “God, who creates and conserves all things by His Word, provides constant evidence of Himself in created realities.”
Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents,
“Dei Verbum: The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation” (Collegeville, In.: 1988), paragraph 3.  
Scripture also makes this sentiment clear in Paul’s letter to the Romans: “Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made.”

Romans 1:20

All of the above considerations have simply been an elaboration of one of the very first sentiments expressed in Scripture. God evaluated His creation by looking upon “everything He had made, and He found it very good.” (Genesis 1:31) An outright refusal to use beauty or any created realities as vehicles through which one can encounter the Transcendent One could possibly lead one to a denial of this basic foundation of the Judeo-Christian tradition. It could very well even lead to a denial of the innate goodness of the material and a development of Gnostic tendencies in Christianity.

The Goal For All That Is Beautiful
God has provided to human beings an appreciation for beauty. Beauty is a reality that can take the individual outside of himself or herself and into a deeper appreciation of the form behind the beauty, which ultimately is the LORD God. Yet there is also the danger of falling into absorption with the means to God and forgetting about the end. This danger can lead one into a personal spiritual disaster. As Hans Urs von Balthasar would contend, a deeper reverence for the beautiful, with personal wonder and awe intact, would help one to understand that beauty can deepen and enliven one’s relationship with the author of all that is beautiful. This should be the goal for the use of all that is beautiful, in church buildings and in all created realities that surround humankind.


The Human Person – Jacques Maritain

March 30, 2010

The subject treated here, the human person,  is, truly speaking, the fundamental subject of all social and political philosophy. But, at the same time, I must admit that it is an extremely difficult subject, and one which, in the beginning at least, is unavoidably arid.

Whence this aridity? It is due to the fact that it is impossible to discuss such matters without first embarking upon rather abstract philosophical considerations concerning individuality and personality — two notions which are usually confused and whose distinction I consider to be highly important.

I will attempt to explain how man is as a whole an individual and also as a whole a person, and how at the same time the focus of individuality is quite different from that of personality.

Individuality And Personality
The person, is it not the I, the ego? Is not my person myself? Let us immediately observe the peculiar contradictions to which this word and this notion of ego give rise.

Pascal tells us that “the ego is hateful.” It is a commonplace expression of Pascalian literature. And in the current language, when it is said of someone that he has very “personal character,” this usually means a character shut up in itself, imperious, domineering, barely capable of friendship. A great contemporary artist once said: “I don’t like others.” Such an affirmation reveals a terribly “personal” character. And, considered from this angle, one might think that personality consists in realizing itself at the expense of others, and that it always implies a certain impermeability, or a certain selfishness, due to the fact that, in a man occupied with himself and with his own affairs, there is no room for anyone or anything else.

On the other hand, it sounds like a bitter reproach to say of someone: “He is a man without personality” And do not the saints and heroes appear to us as the very highest achievement of personality and at the same time of generosity? Nothing great is accomplished in the world without a heroic fidelity to a truth which a man who says “I” beholds, and to which he bears witness; a fidelity to a mission, which he, a human person, must perform — of which perhaps he alone is conscious, and to which he sacrifices his life. One need only open the Gospel to see that no personality is more magnificently affirmed than that of Christ. The theologians tell us that it is the personality of the Uncreated Word itself.

And so, as a counterpart to the words of Pascal which I have just quoted, “the ego is hateful,” we must remember the words of St. Thomas: “The person is that which is noblest in the whole of nature.”

Pascal says that “the ego is hateful.” But St. Thomas teaches that the man who loves God must also love himself for God’s sake; he must love his soul and his body in a spirit of charity.

To be wrapped in oneself — a state which contemporary psychologists call introversion — can cause much havoc. And, I believe, many people brought up in a spirit of strict Puritanism complain of the suffering and a sort of inner paralysis created by self-consciousness. But, on the other hand, the philosophers, and particularly Hegel, tell us that the faculty of becoming conscious of oneself is a privilege of the spirit and that the chief progress of humanity consists perhaps in this growing consciousness of self. Concerning art, Mr. Lionel do Fonseca, an esthetician of the East, declares that “vulgarity always says I.” But one might answer that vulgarity says “everybody” also, and that it is the same thing. In quite a different way, poetry also, and always, says “I.” Here again, if the selfish ego is hateful, the creative self is that which is noblest and most generous of all.

What do these contradictions mean? They mean that the human being is held between two poles; a material pole, which in reality does not concern authentic personality, but rather the material condition and the shadow, as it were, of personality; and a spiritual pole, which concerns personality itself.

It is this material pole, and the individual becoming the centre of all things, that the words of Pascal aim at. And it is on the contrary with the spiritual pole, and with the person, source of freedom and of goodness, that the words of St. Thomas are concerned.

Herein we face the distinction, which I mentioned at the beginning, between individuality and personality.

There is nothing new in this distinction; it is indeed a classical distinction, belonging to the intellectual heritage of humanity. And the distinction between the “ego” and the “self” in Hindu philosophy is — with other metaphysical connotations — its equivalent.

This distinction is fundamental in the doctrine of St. Thomas. The sociological problems of our day, as well as our spiritual problems, have bestowed upon it a fresh actuality. It is invoked by very different schools, by the Thomists, by certain disciples of Proudhon, by Nicholas Berdyaev, and by the so-called “existential” philosophers. Dr. Salazar declares himself attached to it. I remember that a few years ago, when I was in Lisbon with François Mauriac and Georges Duhamel, we were received by the Portuguese ruler. And Duhamel, who is a confirmed “individualist,” asked him how could a dictatorship — even of a non-totalitarian type — be combined with the free development of individual beings, which alone makes human life tolerable.

“Ah,” answered Dr. Salazar, “in order to explain this to you, I would have to speak of the distinction between the individual and the person.” Mauriac fully enjoyed this philosophical answer, addressed by a dictator to a novelist. Does this distinction find its best application in dictatorship? I greatly doubt it. As for dictators other than Dr. Salazar, who do not possess his culture, I would say that instead of distinguishing personality and individuality, they precisely confuse these two terms. I recollect that one of them, whom a member of the French Academy visited a long time ago, praised that which he believed was saintliness in the following manner. “What moral strength,” he exclaimed, “what prodigious energy, must develop in a man who, as he gets up each morning, says to himself: act well, and you will be canonized!” To install one’s ego on the altar is hardly the ideal of these heroic personalities whom one calls saints.

It is therefore extremely important to distinguish the person from the individual, and it is also extremely important to grasp the exact significance of this distinction.

Let us first speak briefly of individuality. Suffice it to recall that, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, the individuality of inanimate and animate things is rooted in matter, as far as matter has uniquely distinct determinations with respect to location in space. The word “matter” designates here, not a concept used in physics, but in philosophy; that of the materia prima, pure potentiality, able neither to be nor to be thought by itself, and from which all corporeal beings are made. Prime matter or ‘matter absolute’ is a kind of non-being, a simple power of receptivity and of substantial mutability, an avidity for being. And, in every being made of matter, this avidity bears the imprint of a metaphysical energy — ”form” or “soul” — which constitutes with matter a substantial unity, and which determines the latter to be that which it is, and which, by the simple fact that it is ordained to inform matter, is particularized to such and such a being, sharing with other beings, equally immersed in space, the same specific nature.

According to this doctrine, the human soul constitutes, with the matter which it informs, a unique substance, both spiritual and fleshly. It is not as Descartes believed: the soul is not one thing — thought — existing as a complete being; and the body another thing – extension — existing in its own way as a complete being. But soul and matter are two substantial co-principles of one and the same being, of a single and unique reality whose name is man.

It is because each soul is made to animate a particular body (which derives its matter from the germinative cells from which it springs with all their load of heredity); it is because each soul has a substantial relation, or rather is a substantial relation with a particular body; it is for these reasons that it has in its very substance individual characteristics which differentiate it from every other human soul. For man, as for all other corporeal beings — as for the atom, the molecule, the plant, the animal — individuality has its primary ontological root in matter. Such is the doctrine of St. Thomas concerning individuality.

With spiritual beings, as Angels, it is not the same; their individuality is rooted not in matter (they have no matter) hut in their form itself, that is to say their essence (which is pure form); each Angel being his own specific nature and differing from another Angel as the lion differs from man and from the oak. They are individuals, they are not individualized. God is at the summit of individuality, but He is not individualized. In Him, individuality and personality are one and the same, as all his perfections. In Angels as in man, the proper root of personality is not the essence itself, but a metaphysical achievement of the essence, thanks to which the essence is sealed in itself, and facing existence as a whole able to possess itself and give itself. In this essay, we consider only the individuality of corporeal beings (inanimate and animate), that is to say, individuality in so far as it involves individualization (individuatio).

I said that matter is an avidity for being, without determination, an avidity which receives its determination from form. One might say that in each of us, individuality, being in one that which excludes from one all that other men are, is the narrowness in being, and the ‘grasping for oneself,’ which, in a body animated by a spirit, derives from matter.

Man, in so far as he is a material individuality, has but a precarious unity, which wishes only to slip back into multiplicity; for matter as such tends to decompose itself. In so far as we are individuals, each of us is a fragment of a species, a part of this universe, a single dot in the immense network of forces and influences, cosmic, ethnic, historic, whose laws we obey. We are subject to the determinism of the physical world. But each man is also a person and, in so far as he is a person, he is not subject to the stars and atoms; for he subsists entirely with the very subsistence of his spiritual soul, and the latter is in him a principle of creative unity, of independence and of freedom.

I have spoken briefly of individuality. Now personality is an even deeper mystery, whose profound significance it is still more difficult to discover. In order to embark upon the philosophical discovery of personality, the best way is to consider the relation bctween personality and love.

Pascal said: “On n’aime jarnais personne, mais seulement des qualités. One never loves anybody, one only loves qualities.” This is a false assertion. It reveals in Pascal himself the traces of that very rationalism which he fought against. Love does not aim at qualities, one does not love qualities. What I love is the deepest reality, the most substantial, hidden, existing reality in the beloved — a metaphysical center, deeper than all qualifies and essences which I can discover and enumerate in the beloved. That is why such enumerations pour endlessly from the lover’s mouth. Love aims at this center, without separating it from the qualities — in fact, merging into one with them. This center is in some way inexhaustibly a source of existence, of goodness and of action, capable of giving and of giving itself — and capable of receiving not only this or that gift from another, but another self as gift and giver.

Thus, through considering the very law of love, we are introduced to the metaphysical problem of the person. Love does not aim at qualities, or at natures, or at essences, but at persons.

“Thou art thyself though,” says Juliet to Romeo, “not a Montague….Romeo, doff thy name; and for that name, which is no part of thee, take all myself.”

In order to be able to give oneself, one must first exist, and not only as the sound which passes in the air, or this idea which crosses my mind, but as a thing which subsists and which by itself exercises existence. And one must not only exist as other things, one must exist in an eminent way, by possessing oneself, by holding oneself in hand and by disposing of oneself; that is, one must exist through a spiritual existence, capable of enveloping itself by intelligence and freedom, and of super-existing in knowledge and free love.

That is why the Western metaphysical tradition defines the person by independence: the person is a reality, which, subsisting spiritually, constitutes a universe by itself and an independent whole (relatively independent), in the great whole of the universe and facing the transcendent Whole, which is God. And that is why this philosophical tradition sees in God the sovereign personality, since God’s existence consists itself in a pure and absolute super-existence of intellection and love. The notion of personality does not refer to matter, as does the notion of individuality applied to corporeal things. It refers to the highest and deepest dimensions of being; personality is rooted in the spirit, in so far as the latter stands by itself in existence and super-abounds in it. Metaphysically considered, personality, being in one’s substance a signature or a seal enabling one freely to perfect and freely to give this substance, evidences in each of us that expansiveness of being which, in a corporeal-spiritual being, is linked to the spirit, and which constitutes, in the secret depths of our ontologieal structure, a source of dynamic unity arid of inner unification.

Thus, personality means interiority to oneself. But precisely because it is the spirit which — in a manner unknown to the plant and animal—makes man cross the threshold of independence, properly speaking, and of interiority to oneself, consequently the subjectivity of the person has nothing in common with the unity without doors and windows of the Leibnitzian monad; it demands the communications of intelligence and love. Because of the very fact that I am a person and that I express myself to myself, I seek to communicate with that which is other and with others, in the order of knowledge and love.

It is essential to personality to ask for a dialogue, and for a dialogue wherein I really give myself, and wherein I am really received. Is such a dialogue actually possible? That is why personality seems to be linked in man to the experience of suffering even more deeply than to that of creative conflict. The entire person is relative to the absolute, in which alone it can find its fulfillment. Its spiritual fatherland is the whole order of goods having an absolute value, and which serve as an introduction to the absolute Whole, which transcends the world. Finally, the human person not only bears to God the common resemblance borne by other creatures; it resembles Him in a proper and peculiar fashion. It is the image of God. For God is spirit, and the person proceeds from Him, having as its principle of life a spiritual soul, a spirit capable of knowing and loving, and of being elevated by grace to participate in the very life of God, so as to finally love Him and know Him even as He knows and loves Himself.

Such are, if I have succeeded in describing them correctly, the two metaphysical aspects of the human being: individuality and personality, each with its own ontological physiognomy. Let us note that we do not represent two separate things. There is not in me one reality called my individuality and another called my personality. It is the same entire being which, in one sense, is an individual and, in another sense, a person. I am wholly an individual, by reason of what I receive from matter, and I am wholly a person, by reason of what I receive from spirit: just as a painting is in its entirety a physico-chemical complex, by reason of the coloring materials out of which it is made, and a work of beauty, by reason of the painter’s art.

Let us note, moreover, that material individuality is not something bad in itself. No, it is something good, since it is the very condition of our existence. But it is precisely in relation to personality that individuality is good; what is bad, is to let this aspect of our being predominate in our actions. No doubt, each of my acts is an act of myself-the-individual, and an act of myself-the-person. But even as it is free and engages my whole self, each of my acts is drawn either into the movement which tends to the supreme center toward which personality strives, or into the movement which tends towards dispersion, to which, if left to itself, material individuality is bound to fall back.

Now it is important to observe that man must complete, through his own will, what is sketched in his nature, According to a commonplace expression, which is a very profound one, man must become what he is. In the moral order, he must win, by himself, his freedom and his personality. In other words, his action can follow either the slope of personality or the slope of individuality. If the development of the human being follows the direction of material individuality, he will be carried in the direction of the “hateful ego,” whose law is to snatch, to absorb for oneself. In this case, personality as such will tend to adulterate, to dissolve. If, on the contrary, the development follows the direction of spiritual personality, then it will be in the direction of the generous self of saints and heroes that than will be carried. Man will really be a person, in so far as the life of spirit and of freedom will dominate in him that of passion and of the senses.

Here we stand before the crucial problem of the education of the human being. Certain educators confuse person and individual; in order to grant personality the development and the freedom of expansion to which it aspires, they refuse all asceticism, they want man to yield fruit without being pruned. They think that the happiness of man consists in that joyous smile which is seen, in the advertisements, on the faces of boys and girls relishing a good cigarette or a glass of Coca-Cola. Instead of fulfilling himself, man disperses and disassociates himself. The heart atrophies itself and the senses are exasperated. Or, in other cases, what is most human in man falls back into a kind of vacuity, which is covered by frivolity.

And there are other educators and rulers who misunderstand the distinction of person and individual. They mistake it for a separation. They think that we bear in ourselves two separate beings, that of the individual and that of the person. And, according to these educators: Death to the individual! Long live the person! Unfortunately, when one kills the individual, one also kills the person. The despotic conception of the progress of the human being is no better than the anarchic one. The ideal of this despotic conception is first to take out our heart, with anaesthetics if possible, and next to replace it by the heart of an angel. The second operation is more difficult than the first one, and is but rarely successful. Instead of the authentic person, imprinted with the mysterious face of the Creator, there appears a mask, the austere mask of the Pharisee.

In reality, what is especially important for the education and the progress of the human being, in the moral and spiritual order (as well as in the order of organic growth), is the interior principle, that is to say, nature and grace. The right educational means are but auxiliaries; the art, a co-operating art, at the service of this interior principle. And the entire art consists in cutting off and in pruning — both in the case of the person, and of the individual — so that, in the intimacy of our being, the weight of individuality should diminish, and that of real personality and of its generosity, should increase. And this, indeed, is far from easy.


THE APPROACH OF THE PRACTICAL INTELLECT TO GOD: A Reading Selection from Approaches to God by Jacques Maritain

March 29, 2010

Elsewhere on Paying Attention To The Sky, I have featured the topic of “Approaches to God” as opposed to the commonly argued “proofs of God’s existence:” The biblical materials for a concept of God do not organize themselves. They do not automatically arrange themselves into a satisfactory form. They achieve that form only when the human mind, seeking to understand its own faith, begins to work on them and to set them out in more intelligible ways.

To organize the biblical materials, we soon find that we need to draw on such philosophical categories as good and evil, freedom and necessity, person and nature, mind and will, essence and existence, being and knowing. Of course, the application of these notions to God is an attempt to speak of what lies beyond the world within terms drawn from this world, and so is only justified if we always add a postscript to that effect.

Here Jacques Maritain discusses the existential and “pre-philosophic” categories of the human mind approaching God – an analogy he describes as “the poetic knowledge of the mirrors of God.” He further considers the philosophical reflection on moral life and experience which he shows generates its own “ proofs of the existence of God.” This is a slow but immensely satisfying read for those who have experienced this internal path — unfortunately not something for the contentious atheist but for those already seeking to understand their own faith. Maritain closes with a wonderful salute to his former instructor, Henri Bergson, elucidating a way which he offered to affirm the existence of God.

Poetic Experience and Creation in Beauty
The diverse ways of which we have so far spoken are ways of the speculative intellect. The practical intellect also has its ways of approach towards God — which are not demonstrations at all but belong to an existential and pre-philosophic order. I shall give here some brief indications concerning them.

There is first, in the line of artistic creation, what one might call the analogy of the approach to God in poetic experience, or the poetic knowledge of the mirrors of God.

The artist is held in the grip of a twofold absolute, which is not the Absolute, but which draws the soul toward it. The demands of that beauty which must pass into his work, and the demands of that poetry which incites him to create, claim him so entirely that, in a certain way, they cut him off from the rest of men.

Beauty is a transcendental, a perfection in things which transcends things and attests their kinship with the infinite, because it makes them fit to give joy to the spirit. It is a reflection in things of the Spirit from which they proceed, and it is a divine name: God is subsistent Beauty, and “the being of all things derives from the divine beauty.” Knowing this, we realize that it is impossible that the artist, devoted as he is to created beauty which is a mirror of God, should not tend at the same time — but by a more profound and more secret urge than all that he can know of himself — toward the principle of beauty.

A celebrated passage of Baudelaire, inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, reveals in this connection its full import, the import of an unimpeachable testimony: “…[I]t is this immortal instinct for the beautiful which makes us consider the earth and its various spectacles as a sketch of, as a correspondence with, heaven. The insatiable thirst for all that is beyond, and which life reveals, is the most living proof of our immortality. It is at once through poetry and across poetry, through and across music, that the soul glimpses the splendors situated beyond the grave; and when an exquisite poem brings tears to the) eyes, these tears are not proof of an excess of joy, they are rather the testimony of an irritated melancholy, a demand of the nerves, of a nature exiled in the imperfect and desiring to take possession immediately, even on this earth, of a revealed paradise.”

Knowledge, not rational and conceptual, but affective and nostalgic, the knowledge through connaturality which the artist has of beauty in his creative experience, is in itself (I do not say for him or for his own consciousness) an advance toward God, a spiritual inclination in the direction of God, an obscure and ill-assured beginning of the knowledge of God — vulnerable, indeed, on all sides because it is not disengaged in the light of intelligence and because it remains without rational support.

Poetry is the prime and pure actuation of the free creativity of the spirit. Awakened in the unconscious of the spirit, at the root of all the powers of the soul, it reveals to the poet, in the obscure knowledge which is born of an intuitive emotion, both his own subjectivity and the secret meanings of things. “The poet completes the work of creation, he cooperates in divine balancings, he moves mysteries about.” Poetic experience is a brooding repose which “acts as a bath of refreshment, rejuvenation, and purification of the mind,” and which, born of a contact with reality that is in itself ineffable, seeks liberation in song.

“It is a concentration of all the energies of the soul, but a pacific, tranquil concentration, which involves no tension. The soul enters into its repose, in this place of refreshment and of peace superior to any feeling. It dies ‘the death of the Angels,’ but only to revive in exaltation and enthusiasm, in that state which is wrongly called inspiration — wrongly, for inspiration was nothing else indeed than this very repose, in which it escaped from sight. Now the mind, invigorated and vivified, enters into a happy activity, so easy that everything seems to be given it at once and, as it were, from the outside. In reality, everything was there, kept in the shade, hidden in the spirit and in the blood; all that which will be manifested in operation was already there, but we knew it not. We knew neither how to discover nor how to use it, before having gained new forces in those tranquil depths.” (Raïssa Maritain, “Sens et Non-Sens en Poésie,” Situation de la Poésie, second edition (Paris: Desclée Do Brouwer, 1948), pp. 48-49.)

Poetic experience differs in nature from mystical experience. It is concerned with the created world and with the innumerable enigmatic relations of beings with one another, while mystical experience is concerned with the principle of beings in its unity superior to the world. The obscure knowledge through connaturality proper to poetic experience proceeds from an emotion which shakes the recesses of subjectivity, while the more obscure but more decisive and more stable knowledge through connaturality proper to mystical experience proceeds — either, in the natural mystical experience, from a purely intellectual concentration which produces a void in which the Self is ineffably touched or, in the supernatural mystical experience, from charity, which con-naturalizes the soul to God and transcends every emotion. Poetic experience is from the beginning orientated toward expression and terminates in an uttered word; mystical experience tends toward silence and terminates in an immanent fruition of the absolute.

Thus it appears that poetic experience, in its approach to created things, is an unknowing correspondence to the mystical approach to God, a lived analogy of that knowledge (not rational and conceptual, but by union of love) which the contemplative has of God. It is in a kind of connivance with this experience which differs from it essentially; it can be touched by and interlaced with it. Of itself it disposes the soul to aspire to it. Furthermore, because It detects the spiritual in things and perceives in them a something beyond them, because it is a knowledge of the mirrors of God either in the being of things or, by privation, in the hollow of their nothingness, it is an advance toward God and a spiritual inclination in the direction of God, an obscure and vulnerable beginning, not of mystical experience, but of the natural knowledge of God.

But the poet knows nothing of this, nor of the bonds which in actual existence attach poetry and beauty necessarily to God; or if he does, he knows it only in so confused a way that he can either reject, insofar as his own human choices are concerned, the élan which traverses his experience, or divert its trend and stop at the mirror by turning aside from the too real Immensity which it enigmatically reflects. Thus, many poets are convinced that all poetry is religious by essence, though they hardly believe in God or confuse Him with nature (“Robert Desnos does not believe in God, nevertheless he writes: ‘Nobody has a more religious mind than I . . .‘ (Revue Européene, mars 1924 RaIssa Maritain, Situation de Ia Poésie, p. 37)

Others, choosing atheism, commit themselves and commit poetry to the spiritual experience of the void or the search for magical powers. The call which poetic experience normally creates in the soul toward the abyss of light of uncreated Being gives way to another call — the call toward the abyss of the interior desert visited only by vultures of illusion and phantoms of miracles.

Then poetry inevitably suffers some invisible wound, but one which can stimulate it. A poet can reject God and be a great poet.

He cannot, however, free himself from every metaphysical anguish or passion. For the nostalgia for God whom he has rejected remains immanent in the poetic experience itself, whether he wills it or not. And so he is divided in his being. True, the atheism of a poet can never be completely relied upon; surprises are always possible. The same Lautréamont who declares: “I did not merit this infamous torment, thou hideous spy of my causality. If I exist I am not another… My subjectivity and the Creator, that is too much for a brain,” will soon affirm: “If one recalls the truth whence all the others flow, the absolute goodness of God and His absolute ignorance of evil, the sophisms will collapse of themselves . . . We have not the right to question the Creator on anything whatever.”

Let us acknowledge it: to confuse essences is easy for poets; it is almost normal for them (that is what Plato did not forgive them). “But if the Poet confounds everything, would it not be because in him the formative powers of the world and of the word and the divine attraction toward pacification and illumination of the spirit, toward mystical knowledge and union, are together at work? We must believe, since the poets tell us that they have discovered in their nocturnal navigations or divagations a Kingdom greater than the world, that an angel is pleased sometimes to tip their bark, so that they take a little of ‘that water’ of which the Gospel speaks, and do not get away without some inquietude, and some great and mysterious desire.”

The Choice of the Good in the First Act of Freedom
The practical intellect does not deal exclusively with artistic creation. It also, and first of all, has to do with the moral life of man. There exists in this order another approach to God, enveloped in moral experience, which one might call the moral knowledge of God.

It is not possible rationally to justify fundamental moral notions such as the notion of unconditional moral obligation, or inalienable right, or the intrinsic dignity of the human person; without rising to the uncreated Reason from which man and the world proceed and which is the subsistent Good itself. Philosophical reflection on moral life and experience has thus its own proofs of the existence of God.

But it is not of this philosophical approach that I should like to speak here. I should like to speak of a quite particular knowledge of God which is implied in the moral experience itself or in the very exercise of moral life, more precisely in the first act of choice accomplished by the will, when this act is right. I may be permitted here to draw upon the more developed study which I devoted to “the immanent dialectic of the first act of freedom.”

When a human being is awakened to moral life, his first act is to “deliberate about himself.” It is a matter of choosing his way. Psychologists speak of the “Oedipus complex”; why should moralists not speak of “Heracles’ choice”? The occasion can be futile in itself; it is the motivation that counts. A child one day refrains from telling a lie; he restrains himself from it on that day, not because he risks being punished if the lie is discovered or because this was forbidden him, but simply because it is bad. It would not be good to do that. At this moment the moral good with all its mysterious demands, and in the presence of which he is himself and all alone, is confusedly revealed to him in a flash of understanding. And in choosing the good, in deciding to act in such a way because it is good, he has in truth, in a manner proportioned to the capacity of his age, “deliberated about himself’ and chosen his way. (He has chosen his way and decided about the meaning of his life, inasmuch as an act of the human will, posited in time, enlists the future: that is to say, in a fragile fashion. He is not confirmed forever in such a decision; he will be able, all during his existence, to change the decision which bears on the meaning of his life, but it will only he done by an act of freedom and of deliberation about himself just as profound as that first decision.)

And now, “What does such an act imply? What is the immanent dialectic, the secret dynamism of the primal act of freedom? Let us unfold and make explicit, in terms of speculative knowledge and philosophical discourse, what is contained in the indivisible vitality, both volitional and intellectual, of this act.

“The soul, in this first moral choice, turns away from an evil action because it is evil. Thus, the intellect is aware of the distinction between good and evil, and knows that the good ought to be done because it is good. We are confronted, here, with a formal motive which transcends the whole order of empirical convenience and desire. This is the primary implication of the first act of freedom when it is good.

“But, because the value with which the moral object and the moral act are permeated surpasses anything given in empirical existence and concerns that which ought to be, the notion of a good action to be done for the sake of the good necessarily implies that there is an ideal and indefectible order of proper consonance between our activity and our essence, a law of human acts transcending all facts. This is the second implication of the first act of human freedom when it is good.

“Let us reflect upon this law. It transcends the whole empirical order; the act that I bring into existence must conform to it, if it is to be a good act; and the first precept of this law demands of me that my act be good. Such a law carries in the world of actual existence the requirements of an order that depends on a reality which is superior to everything and is Goodness itself — good by virtue of its very being, not by virtue of conformity with anything distinct from itself, Such a law manifests the existence of a Separate Good transcending all empirical existence and subsisting per se, and subsists primarily in this Separate Good. But how could I, in an act of total commitment, strive to achieve conformity with this transcendent law unless, by the same token and on a still more profound level, I strive toward this Separate Good and direct my life toward it because it is both the Good and my Good? The initial act which determines the direction of life and which — when it is good — chooses the good for the sake of the good, proceeds from a natural élan which is also, undividedly, an élan by which this very same act tends all at once, beyond its immediate object, toward God as the Separate Good in which the human person in the process of acting, whether he is aware of it or not, places his happiness and his end. Here we have an ordainment which is actual and formal, not virtual — but in merely lived act (in actu exercito), not in signified act — to God as ultimate end of human life. This is the third implication of the act of which I am speaking.

“These implications are not disclosed to the intellect of the child. They are contained in the act by which, at the term of his first deliberation about himself, he brings himself to do a good act for the sake of the moral good, of the bonum honestum of which he has an explicit idea, no matter how confused.” (The bonum honestum is the “good as right” (contra-distinguished from the “good as useful” and the “good as pleasurable”), in other words that good which is possessed of inherent moral worth and causes conscience to be obliged, More simply — and if we are neither Utilitarians nor Epicureans—we may designate the bonum honestum by the expression the moral or ethical good.)

It is not at all necessary that in thus performing his first human act he think explicitly of God and of his ultimate end. “He thinks of what is good and of what is evil. But by the same token he knows God, without being aware of it. He knows God because, by virtue of the internal dynamism of his choice of the good for the sake of the good, he wills and loves the Separate Good as ultimate end of his existence. Thus, his intellect has of God a vital and non-conceptual knowledge which is involved both in the practical notion (confusedly and intuitively grasped, but with its full intentional energy) of the moral good as formal motive of his first act of freedom, and in the movement of his will toward this good and, all at once, toward the Good. The intellect may already have the idea of God and it may not yet have it. The non-conceptual knowledge which I am describing takes place independently of any use possibly made or not made of the idea of God, and independently of the actualization of any explicit and conscious knowledge of man’s true last End.

“In other words, the will, hiddenly, secretly, obscurely moving (when no extrinsic factor stops or deviates the process) down to the term of the immanent dialectic of the first act of freedom, goes beyond the immediate object of conscious and explicit knowledge (the moral good as such), and it carries with itself, down to that beyond, the intellect, which at this point no longer enjoys the use of its regular instruments, and, as a result, is only actualized below the threshold of reflective consciousness, in a night without concept and without utterable knowledge. The conformity of the intellect with this transcendent object, the Separate Good (attainable only by means of analogy) is then effected by the will, the rectitude of which is, in the practical order, the measure of the truth of the intellect. God is thus naturally known, of himself to the sweet will of deified Becoming; and thus moral good, duty, virtue lose their true nature.”

But let us return to the man we have described as a pseudo-atheist.. While denying a God which is not God, this man really believes in God. The fact remains that he is divided against himself, because certain obstacles to belief in God, which have arisen in him at the level of conscious thought and conceptual elaboration, form a barrier that prevents the existential knowledge which exists in the hidden, active workings of the unconscious (of both his intellect and will) from passing, along with their rational repercussions, into the sphere of consciousness. Such a situation is of itself abnormal.

Normally the unconscious and existential knowledge of God, linked to the first act of freedom when it is right, tends to pass into consciousness and it makes its way there. It creates in the soul dispositions and inclinations which assist reason in its conscious exercise to discover the truth which corresponds to them. He that doeth the truth cometh to the light. In normal Circumstances the man who has chosen the ethical good (bonum honestum) is found instinctively and unconsciously disposed to perceive, when the natural and spontaneous play of his reason is exercised on the spectacle of visible things, the existence of that invisible Good, of that Separate Good which he already knew without being aware of it by virtue of the choice of the good which he effected when he deliberated about himself in his first act of freedom. When, on the level of conscious thought — and thanks to the natural approach due to the primordial intuition of existence of which we treated at the beginning of this book; thanks also to the ways of philosophic reason — he perceives in the full light of intellectual evidence the necessity of the existence of the First Cause, he does not simply know God; he knows and recognizes Him.

The Testimony of the Friends of God
It is fitting, finally, to mention, indirect as it may be, a way of approaching God, the value of which is only auxiliary, and which can be related to the order of moral experience. This way is based on testimony and example.

Our ordinary moral life is, indeed, precarious. Many elements are mingled in its structure. Some of them come from outside ourselves: from the manners and customs of the social group projected within us, and from the opinions of the world we live in. Some of them arise from the subterranean depths of our own unconscious — masked interventions which we but dimly discern. So loose in structure, so menaced by our own weakness, so complex and obscure is our everyday moral life that we naturally turn for guidance to those who can show us the way. They have found what we so feebly seek. So to them we turn — those men whom Bergson called the “heroes” of the spiritual life and whose “appeal” he saw traversing mankind.

The quest of the superhuman is natural to man; we find it in every climate of philosophic or religious nostalgia of our species. Without speaking of mirages, illusions, or forgeries which are met in such regions, an authentic quest can get involved in impasses or in byways. But that quest may also lead to the fullness of a love superior to nature which expresses itself in a wisdom ever open and a perfect freedom. It was by such signs that Bergson recognized a supreme accomplishment of human life among Christian mystics, who, he thought, alone had crossed the ultimate barriers. (Cf. Henri Bergson, The Two Sources of Morality and Religion (New York: Henry Holt, 1935), PP. 215-16 ff)

Consequently, according to Bergson, the philosopher may question them and find in their testimony a confirmation, or rather a “reinforcement,” of that which he has himself, by means proper to a philosopher, caught sight of in the prolongation of another “line of facts.” And what is the essential indication which he will receive from the mystics, “when he compresses … mystical intuition in order to express it in terms of inte1ligence?” “God is love, and the object of love: herein lies, the whole contribution of mysticism. About this twofold love the mystic will never have done talking. His description is interminable, because what he wants to describe is ineffable. But what he does state clearly is that divine Love is not a thing of God: it is God himself.” “As a matter of fact,” Bergson added, “the mystics unanimously bear witness that God needs us, just as we need God. Why should He need us, unless it be to love us? And it is to this very conclusion that the philosopher who holds to the mystical experience must come. Creation will appear to him as God undertaking to create creators that He may have, besides Himself, beings worthy of His love.”

The movement of thought lived by Bergson is significant: the better we know the sanctity of the saints, and the moral life of those who have ventured to give all in order to enter into what they themselves describe as the divine union and the experience of the things of God, the more we feel that the truth alone can give such fruits, and that the certitude which sustains everything in these men cannot lie.

An act of true goodness, the least act of true goodness, is indeed the best proof of the existence of God. But our intellect is too busy cataloguing notions to see it. Therefore, we believe it on the testimony of those in whom true goodness shines in a way that astonishes us.

This is not a proof of the existence of God. It is an argument based only on testimony. Besides, I do not think — and neither did Bergson — that it is capable of winning the assent of the mind except when in other ways the mind –supposing some obstacle hinders it from feeling the full force with which the being of things manifests the existence of their Cause — is at least solicited by beginnings of proof, signs, and tokens whose rational value imposes itself upon the mind. Neither do I think that this argument commands rational or purely natural assent unless there be also mingled with it a belief of another order, based on the invisible testimony, in the depths of the soul, of the God of whom we hear His friends speak.

But in the end, considering it only in the order and on the level of reason, this argument has its proper value and validity; and it is possible that in fact, in concrete existence, this auxiliary way plays, for many, a more important role than pure logicians think. I wanted in any case to mention it here, for the reasons I have just given, and in memory of the great philosopher whom it helped to discover God.


Jacques Maritain: A Short Bio

March 26, 2010

Maritain and Paul VI

This is excerpted from The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Jacques Maritain was born on November 18, 1882 in Paris. The son of Paul Maritain, a prominent lawyer, and Geneviève Favre, daughter of the French statesman, Jules Favre, Jacques Maritain studied at the Lycée Henri IV (1898-99) and at the Sorbonne, where he prepared a licence in philosophy (1900-1901) and in the natural sciences (1901-1902). He was initially attracted to the philosophy of Spinoza. Largely at the suggestion of his friend, the poet (and, later, religious thinker) Charles Péguy, he attended lectures by Henri Bergson at the Collège de France (1903-1904) and was briefly influenced by Bergson’s work.

In 1901, Maritain met Raïssa Oumansoff, a fellow student at the Sorbonne and the daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants. Both were struck by the spiritual aridity of French intellectual life and made a vow to commit suicide within a year should they not find some answer to the apparent meaninglessness of life. Bergson’s challenges to the then-dominant positivism sufficed to lead them to give up their thoughts of suicide, and Jacques and Raïssa married in 1904. Soon thereafter, through the influence of the writer Léon Bloy, both Maritains sought baptism in the Roman Catholic Church (1906).

Maritain received his agrégation in philosophy in 1905 and, late in 1906, Jacques and Raïssa  left for Heidelberg, where Jacques continued his studies in the natural sciences. They returned to France in the summer of 1908, and it was at this time that the Maritains explicitly abandoned bergsonisme and Jacques began an intensive study of the writings of Thomas Aquinas.

In 1912, Maritain became professor of philosophy at the Lycée Stanislaus, though he undertook to give lectures at the Institut Catholique de Paris. He was named Assistant Professor at the Institut Catholique (attached to the Chair of the History of Modern Philosophy) in 1914. (He became full Professor in 1921 and, in 1928, was appointed to the Chair of Logic and Cosmology, which he held until 1939.)

In his early philosophical work (e.g., “La science moderne et la raison,” 1910, and La philosophie bergsonienne, 1913), Maritain sought to defend Thomistic philosophy from its Bergsonian and secular opponents. Following brief service in the first world war, Maritain returned to teaching and research. The focus of his philosophical work continued to be the defense of Catholicism and Catholic thought (e.g., Antimoderne [1922], Trois réformateurs — Luther, Descartes, Rousseau [1925], and Clairvoyance de Rome par les auteurs du ‘Pourquoi Rome a parlé’ (J. Maritain et D. Lallement) [1929]), but Maritain also prepared some introductory philosophical texts (e.g., Éléments de philosophie [2 volumes, 1920-23]) and his interests expanded to include aesthetics (e.g., Art et scholastique, 1921; 2nd ed. 1927).

By the late 1920s, Maritain’s attention began to turn to social issues. Although he had some contact with the Catholic social action movement, Action Française, he abandoned it in 1926 when it was condemned by the Catholic Church for its nationalistic and anti-democratic tendencies. Still, encouraged through his friendships with the Russian philosopher Nicholas Berdiaev (beginning in 1924) and Emmanuel Mounier (from 1928), Maritain began to develop the principles of a liberal Christian humanism and defense of natural rights.

Maritain’s philosophical work during this time was eclectic, with the publication of books on Thomas Aquinas (1930), on religion and culture (1930), on Christian philosophy (1933), on Descartes (1932), on the philosophy of science and epistemology (Distinguer pour unir ou les degrés du savoir, 1932; 8th ed., 1963) and, perhaps most importantly, on political philosophy. Beginning in 1936, he produced a number of texts, including Humanisme intégral (1936), De la justice politique (1940), Les droits de l’homme et la loi naturelle (1942), Christianisme et démocratie (1943), Principes d’une politique humaniste (1944), La personne et le bien commun (1947), Man and the State (written in 1949, but published in 1951), and the posthumously published La loi naturelle ou loi non-écrite (lectures delivered in August 1950).

Maritain’s ideas were especially influential in Latin America and, largely as a result of the ‘liberal’ character of his political philosophy, he increasingly came under attack from both the left and the right, in France and abroad. Lectures in Latin America in 1936 led to him being named as a corresponding member of the Brazilian Academy of Letters, but also to being the object of a campaign of vilification.

By the early 1930s Maritain was an established figure in Catholic thought. He was already a frequent visitor to North America and, since 1932, had come annually to the Institute of Mediaeval Studies in Toronto (Canada) to give courses of lectures. With the outbreak of war at the end of 1939, Maritain decided not to return to France. Following his lectures in Toronto at the beginning of 1940, he moved to the United States, teaching at Princeton University (1941-42) and Columbia (1941-44).

Maritain remained in the United States during the war, where he was active in the war effort (recording broadcasts destined for occupied France and contributing to the Voice of America). He also continued to lecture and publish on a wide range of subjects — not only in political philosophy, but in aesthetics (e.g., Art and Poetry, 1943), philosophy of education, and metaphysics (De Bergson à St Thomas d’Aquin, 1944). Following the liberation of France in the summer of 1944, he was named French ambassador to the Vatican, serving until 1948, but was also actively involved in drafting the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).

In the spring of 1948, Maritain returned to Princeton as Professor Emeritus, though he also lectured at a number of American universities (particularly at the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago), and frequently returned to France to give short courses in philosophy — notably at ‘L’Eau vive,’ in the town of Soisy, near Paris. During this time, in addition to his work in political philosophy (cf. above, as well as Le philosophe dans la cité, 1960), Maritain published on aesthetics (Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry, 1953), religion (Approches de Dieu, 1953), moral philosophy (Neuf leçons sur les notions premières de la philosophie morale, 1951; La philosophie morale, 1960), and the philosophy of history (On the Philosophy of History, 1957).

In 1960, Maritain and his wife returned to France. Following Raïssa’s death later that year, Maritain moved to Toulouse, where he decided to live with a religious order, the Little Brothers of Jesus. During this time he wrote a number of books, the best-known of which was Le paysan de la Garonne (a work sharply critical of post-Vatican Council reforms), published in 1967. In 1970, he petitioned to join the order, and died in Toulouse on April 28, 1973. He is buried alongside Raïssa in Kolbsheim (Alsace) France.


THE “SIXTH WAY” A Reading Selection from Approaches to God by Jacques Maritain

March 25, 2010

Thomas Merton and Jacques Maritain. Photo by John Howard Griffin, October 1966

The views which I propose here are based neither on a fact observed in the world of sense experience, nor on. the principle “One cannot rise to the infinite in the series of causes,” nor does the argument proceed with the royal simplicity of the ways of Thomas Aquinas. It may, indeed, appear too subtle, and for a long time I regarded it as belonging to the domain of research hypotheses. I have, however, come to think that it constitutes a genuine proof, a rationally valid way leading to a firmly established certitude.

Here again it is appropriate to distinguish two levels of approach — a pre-philosophic level whereon certitude bathes in an intuitive experience, and a scientific or philosophical level whereon certitude emanates from a logically elaborated demonstration and from a rationally developed metaphysical justification.

We shall first take our stand on the pre-philosophic level. Indeed it is the intuitive process that, in this case more than ever, matters first of all, although the intuition in question is of a much more peculiar sort than the primordial intuition of existing, and supposes experience of the proper life of the intellect. By feeling the impact of this intuitive experience, the mind discovers the approach to God which this experience brings along with it. Later it is led to formulate in logically conceptualized terms that which I call here a “sixth way.”

The intuition of which I speak is related to the natural spirituality of intelligence. I shall try to describe it as it is in its primitive and, so to speak, “wild” state, where it first begins to sprout. I am busy thinking. Everything in me is concentrated on a certain truth which has caught me up in its wake. This truth carries me off. All the rest is forgotten. Suddenly I come back to myself; a reflection is awakened in me which seems to me quite incongruous, altogether unreasonable, but whose evidence takes possession of me, in my very perception of my act of thought: how is it possible that I was born?

The activity of the mind develops in two quite different orders. It develops on the one hand in the order of the life which Aristotle called “life proportioned to man.” Here the activity of the mind, as it happens in our train of ordinary social or occupational pursuits, is made up of a succession of operations immersed in time and which are for the most part operations of sense and imagination sustained and illuminated by the intellect.

On the other hand it develops in the order of the life which Aristotle called “life proportioned to the intellect.” Here the activity of the mind, entirely withdrawn in thought, is centered above the sense and imagination, and is concerned with intelligible objects alone. It is when a man is thus engaged in an act of purely intellectual thought (to the extent that this is possible for a rational animal) that it happens that the intuition in question takes place: how is it possible that that which is thus in the process of thinking, in the act of intelligence, which is immersed in the fire of knowing and of intellectual grasp of what is, should once have been a pure nothing, once did not exist? Where I am now in the act of intellection and of consciousness of my thought, was there once nothing? That is impossible; it is not possible that at a certain moment what is now thinking was not at all, was a pure nothing. How could this have been born to existence?

I am not here faced with a logical contradiction, I am facing a lived contradiction, an incompatibility of fact (known in actu exercito). It is as if I were in a room and, without my having left for an instant, someone were to say to me that I just came in — I know that what he says is impossible.

Thus, I who am now in the act of thinking have always existed. This view imposes itself on me and does not seem strange to me unless I draw myself back from it in order to consider it from without. And perhaps I express it in a deficient way; we shall see about that later. For the moment I speak as I can, and I cannot speak otherwise.

Yet I know quite well that I was born. True, I know it by here-say, but I do know it with an absolute certainty, and besides, I remember my childhood. The certitude of having been born, common to all men, represses in us the blossoming forth — when the natural spirituality of intelligence is activated in us — of another certitude, that of the impossibility that our existence as thinking minds ever began or followed upon the nothingness of itself, and it prevents that other certitude from reaching our consciousness.

So here I am, in the grasp of two contrary certitudes. There is only one solution: I, who am thinking, have always existed, but not in myself or within the limits of my own personality — and not by an impersonal existence or life either (for without personality there is no thought, and there must have been thought there, since it is now in me); therefore I have always existed by a supra-personal existence or life. Where then? It must have been in a Being of transcendent personality, in whom all that there is of perfection in my thought and in all thought existed in a super-eminent manner, and who was, in His own infinite Self, before I was, and is, now while I am, more I than I myself, who is eternal, and from whom I, the self which is thinking now, proceeded one day into temporal existence. I had (but without being able to say “I”) an eternal existence in God before receiving a temporal existence in my own nature and my own personality.

What shall we say now if we transport ourselves onto the level of rational demonstration? Is it possible to justify philosophically the intuitive experience which we have just fried to describe?

What is important to consider first is that the intellect is above time, intellectus supra ternpus: because the intellect is spiritual, and time, the perseverance of movement in being, or the continuity of perpetually) vanishing existence proper to movement, is the proper duration of matter.

The operations of the human intellect are in time, and, indeed, subject to time, but in an extrinsic manner and only by reason of the materiality of the senses and the imagination to whose exercise they are bound. In themselves they are not subject to the flu; of impermanence. They emerge above time. They exist in a duration which is a deficient imitation of eternity, a succession of fragments of eternity, for it is the perseverance in being of spiritual acts of intellection or of contemplative gaze. Thus this duration is composed of instants superior to time, each of which may correspond to a lapse of time more or less long, but is in itself without flow or movement or succession — a flash of permanent or non-successive existence. Such is the proper duration of thought. Thought as such is not in time. The distinction between the spiritual and the temporal appears here in its primary sense. That which is spiritual is not subject to time. The proper place of the spiritual is above temporal existence.

We find a noteworthy indication of this in the fact that spiritual events are “meta-historical” events. Insofar as they are occurrences, they take place in history, but their content belongs in a region superior to history. This is why it is normal for history not to mention them. The word “event” itself is therefore ambiguous. “What happens,” in the case of spiritual events, comes on the scene for an instant in temporal existence, but comes forever in the existence of souls and of thought.

But actions or operations emanate from a subject or from a person — actiones stint sup positorum. And no operation is more personal than thought. Thought is exercised by a certain subject, a certain self, made of flesh and spirit.

This self exists in time and was born in time. But inasmuch as it exercises the spiritual operation of thought, inasmuch as it is the center of spiritual activity and capable of living or existing by the immaterial superexistence of the act of intellection, it is also superior to time, as is thought itself. It escapes the grasp of time.

This self began in time. But nothing begins absolutely. Everything which begins eiisted before itself in a certain way, to wit, in its causes. Insofar as it is material, the thinking self existed before itself in time, namely, in the ancestral cells, the physicochemical materials and energies utilized by life all along the line from which the self has sprung. Whatever of it existed before it pre-existed in time.

But as spiritual, as exercising the spiritual operations of thought, as thinking, it could not have existed before itself in time, because mind can come only from a mind, thought can come only from a thought, and therefore from an existence superior to time.

Moreover, since thought is essentially personal, when it arises in time as the operation of such and such a subject born one day into temporal existence, it cannot come from an existence superior to time unless the self which exercises it now pre-existed in a certain way beyond time.

The self is born in time. But insofar as it is thinking it is not born of time. Its birth is supra-temporal. It existed before itself in a first existence distinct from every temporal existence. It did not exist there in its proper nature (since it began to exist in its proper nature by being born in time), but everything that there is in it of being and of thought and of personality existed there better than in itself.

This, however, would not be possible unless everything that exists in temporal existence were a participation of the first existence in question. The latter then must contain all things in itself in an eminent mode and be itself — in an absolutely transcendent way — being, thought, and personality. This implies that that first existence is the infinite plenitude of being, separate by essence from all the diversity of existents. This means that it is not the act of existing of a thing which has existence, but the very act of existing itself, subsisting through itself. Thus we are necessarily led to the principle which no concept can circumscribe — Being in pure act, from which comes every being; Thought in pure act from which comes every thought; Self in pure act from which comes every self.

It is thus that the “sixth way” leads us to the existence of God. But it would remain incompletely elucidated if, after recognizing the existence of God, we should not ask ourselves how things exist in Him before being caused by Him in their own esse (Cf. Summa theologica, I, 18, 4, corp. et ad 3).

Things pre-exist in God not in their proper natures but according as they are known to God, and, therefore, by that which renders them present to the divine intellect, that is to say by the divine essence itself, of which they are participations or likenesses, and which is itself the proper object of the divine intellect. In God they are the divine essence as revealing its participability. They live there, but without existing in themselves, by a life infinitely more perfect than the existence which they have in their proper natures. They live, in God who knows them, by the very life of God. They exist in the divine thought by the very existence of God which is His act of intellection.

This is true of thinking subjects, of selves endowed with intelligence, as it is of all other creatures, Before existing in themselves they exist eternally in God by the very existence of God, as participations or likenesses of the divine essence eternally known in that Essence. Therefore I can say that I, who am now in the act of thinking, always existed — I always existed in God. Care must be taken, however, to understand this proposition correctly. It does not mean that in God the human self has always exercised the act of thinking, or that in God it collaborates eternally in the act of divine thought. That makes no sense, In God the unique Self who thinks is the divine Self. The statement signifies rather that the creature which is now I, and which thinks, existed before itself eternally in God — not as exercising in Him the act of thinking, but as thought by Him. It bathed there in the light of God; it lived there by a supra-personal (supra-personal in relation to every created personality) and divinely personal life, by that life which is the eternal act of intellection of the divine Self itself, thinking itself.

Thinking subjects, selves capable of acting beyond time, which thus pre-exist in God, as do all those other participations of the Divine Essence which are created things — infinitely deficient in relation to their principle — are the most elevated of all things in the whole order of nature, because they are either purely spiritual creatures or creatures composed of matter and spirit, which, once they exist in their proper nature, resemble the divine Self in that they think and can be called, because of this, “images of God.”

The reflections we have proposed in this chapter, as well as the intuitive experience which they presuppose, are entirely independent of any contact with Indian thought. It seems to us nevertheless that they can help to clarify in some way the meaning and the origin of the Hindu notion of the Self (Atman), and throw into relief at once the metaphysical truths to which this notion is related and the confusion which it has not succeeded in avoiding between the divine Self and the human self.

On the other hand the importance accorded to the expression non-born in many Hindu texts (Cf. Louis Cardet, Experiences mystiques en terres non-chrétiennes (Paris: Alsatia, 1953), Pp. 38-39: Let us take up in particular this passage of the Katha Tipanishad: “The inspired, the Atman, is not horn nor dies. It does not come from anywhere, and it does not become anyone. Not-born, permanent, constant, primordial, it is not destroyed when the body is destroyed.” And this passage of the Yoga-sutra: “When thought is not dissolved and ceases dispersing itself, neither unstable, nor endowed with images, it becomes then the Brahman. Free, calm, having an inexpressible beatitude, a supreme happiness, not-born with an object of knowledge itself not-born, omniscient, behold how one defines it.”) It seems to us to suggest a quite remarkable affinity with the intuition of which we have treated here, and to indicate that an intuition of the same type plays a characteristic role in the philosophic thought and the natural mysticism of India.


Reading Selections from The Rise of Western Christendom by Peter Brown

March 24, 2010

Peter Robert Lamont Brown is one of America’s major historians and certainly the dean of Late Antique studies in the American academe. Elsewhere I have reviewed and provided reading selections from his magisterial Augustine of Hippo.  This is another great read.

In 270, the year Constantine was born, Anthony (250-356) a comfortable farmer on the Egyptian Fayum, made his way out into the desert, to emerge around 310 as a famous ermites, a “man of the desert” the “model” Christian hermit of all future ages. In Syria, also, the roads had long been traveled by bands of charismatic preachers who owed nothing to the “world.”  Pointedly celibate, and filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, their traveling bands were a sight to be seen. They had to be advised not to burst into chanted psalms when passing through non-Christian villages — lest they be mistaken for traveling musicians! They were the “unique ones,” the “lonely ones.” In Egypt, the Greek word monochos, “lonely one,” from which our word “monk” derives, soon became attached to such eccentric persons. Unmarried, detached from society either by living in the desert or by their restless movement, the “wanderers” of Syria and the “men of the desert” of Egypt represented a new form of radical Christianity, henceforth associated with a new term, “monasticism” — the life of monks.

Augustine And The Pelagian Controversy
For Augustine the convert emerged as a person sheathed in the will of God “For He hath made me and not we ourselves…” indeed we had destroyed ourselves but He who made us, made us anew. Augustine never doubted this about himself or others. The grace of God worked on the heart, “as it were as speck of gold in the hands of a master craftsman, “hammering the fragile, discontinuous will into an ever firmer, finally victorious resolve. This was no abstract doctrine for Augustine. The life of the Catholic Church, as he saw it, was made up of countless small victories of grace. To those who had learned to pray with a humble heart, God would always give the grace which fired the will to follow His commands….

Not every ascetic Christian in this age of great converts was comfortable with such a view. When the Confessions were read out, in the company of Paulinus, Pelagius, a devout layman from Britain, walked out of the room. For Pelagius and his many supporters, the “grace” of God did not work in this manner. God’s “grace” consisted rather in God’s decision to create human nature in such a way that human beings could follow his commands through the exercise of their own free will.

This was grace enough. Human beings had never lost their original, good nature. Everyone was free to choose the good. Once the accretion of evil habits, contracted through contact with the “world”, had been washed away through the transformative rite of baptism, every Christian believer was both able and obliged to reach out for perfection. For Pelagius, the Christian was the master craftsman of his or her own soul.

Augustine’s Theology Of Grace
Augustine’s theology of grace embraced more believers. It had room both for acknowledged heroes and for the average Christina. Pelagius, by contrast, had little to say  to the average Christian. He insisted that all Christians were capable of being perfect and that they should become perfect. He wished  to blur the distinction between lay person and monk by making every Christian equally a convert and a devout ascetic. He seemed to leave no place for the slow and hesitant progress of the rank and file, whose “conversions” were far from dramatic and far from complete….Augustine, by contrast , accepted that the Christian Church had come to contain a large number of distinctly mediocre persons. He did not expect ever Christian to be perfect. Yet each Christian was equal to every other, because all Christians were equally dependent on the grace of God …. Augustine’s doctrine was a source of  comfort to the humble and a warning to the proud. There was no room in his view of the Church for self-created distinctions, based on the belief that some Christians could make themselves more “perfect” than others…Augustine saw the Catholic Church as a united community precisely because it was community of sinners as well as a community of heroes and of heroines.

Augustine’s City of God
Augustine’s City of God, was a book he began in 413, as an answer to pagan criticisms and to Christian disillusionment, provoked by Alaric’s sack of Rome in 410. The disaster of the sack o f Rome provided Augustine with an excuse to expatiate on a theme dear to his heart. It was summed up in the title of the book, On the City of God. For as in Psalm 86 (87), Jerusalem was the “City of our God, of which “glorious things are spoken” Like the Jerusalem of the Psalms (as Augustine read them) the Heavenly Jerusalem claimed those born in all other nations as potential citizens. A common sin had made all men and all women quite irrespective of race, of class, and of level of culture, equally aliens from that Heavenly Jerusalem. All were summoned with stark impartiality, to become Christians and so to begin the long, slow return to heaven, their true homeland…Augustine deliberately created common ground with his readers , precisely so that, all obstacles removed and all arguments vanquished, they might  have no excuse not to slip across that shared ground in order to become potential citizens of heaven by joining the Catholic Church.

Gregory The Great: Discernment In The Commentary on Job
Gregory entitle his commentary the “Mortalia of Job.” By this he meant a guide for the moral life derived from contemplation of the Book of Job…..It was the stuff of the soul that concerned him, in every situation and every turn and twist of its daily struggle with itself. Gregory was a throwback. He brought into the late sixth century an ancient strand in Roman thought — the austere tradition of ethical guidance earlier associated with the Stoic sages.. Gregory’s emphasis on the examination of ones’ motives, on the need for consideration of one’s response to every situation, the perpetual awareness of the inner self laid out before the quiet eyes of God are themes which hark back to the letters of Seneca and the Meditations of Marcus Aurelieus.

Gregory The Great: Praedicatio
“Once the world held us in its delights. Now it is so full of disasters that the world itself seems to be summoning us to God.” What mattered now was praedicatio, the gathering into the Christian Church of what remained of the human race, so as to face the dread Judgment Seat of Christ…It as a thought to greatly concentrate the mind. For Gregory the age of praedicatio was not an age of panic. It was, rather, an age of unexpected excitements. Like soft dawn creeping beneath a door, Gregory saw in his own age, a subdued recrudescent of the miraculous powers which had once accompanied the first advance of the Apostles. In 594 his Dialogues…announced to the Christian world that …his native Italy had been filled with vibrant holy men and women. They had been sent by God, in the last days of he world to warn mankind.

How The Irish Did Not Save Civilization But Did Something Greater
It is important not to exaggerate the cultural riches of sixth century Ireland. An enthusiastic nationalist tradition has claimed that an entire range of classical Latin books were transported to the island at the time of “Barbarian Invasions.” They were saved by the Irish form the barbarism into which , so these enthusiasts assert, continental Europe had irrevocably sunk. Books are still written entitled “How the Irish Saved Civilization”. This is a myth that has no scholarly support. It is also a myth that overlooks the true originality and creativity of Irish Christian culture at that time. For what Irish and West Britons lacked in books , they more than made up for though the intensity and originality with which they read what books they had, and the zest with which they applied their reading to substantially new situations, The Irish did a lot more than “save” the relics of classical civilization. They created something new.

Penance: Augustinian and Gregory the Great
Penance, for Augustine, was not a spectacular remedy for occasional great sins. It was, rather, a frame of mind. It was a lifelong process, because sin also, was the lifelong companion of the Christian.  It was Gregory the Great who added a final, distinctive tone to the Augustinian tradition of perpetual penance. His contribution derived, in many ways, from a very ancient Roman past. The aristocratic tradition of moral guidance, represented by Seneca and others, had always urged its practitioners to subject themselves to relentless inner cross-examination, so as to lay bare their failings and to correct them. To this venerable, almost instinctive tradition, maintained among the Roman elites, Gregory added the entire world of the Desert Fathers, with their unflinching emphasis on the constant inner struggle of the monk and on the need for candor in revealing all sins to a spiritual guide…all sins mattered; and all must be examined with medical precision if they were to be “healed.”  …The more Christians strove for perfection, he believed, the more clearly they would see heir own imperfection…Gregory used he word “horror”…not the fear of hell, rather, he referred to a nightmare sense of vertigo experienced by pious persons at the sight of the sheer tenacity, the insidiousness, and the minute particularity of their sins…They must look at themselves as God saw them, that is, with the divine impatience of an utterly just being, for whom a shoddy, unfinished soul was not enough.

In 610 at the age of 40, Muhammad began to see visions. They came from Allah, “The Lord of the World.” For the next 20 years, the messages came irregularly, in sudden, shattering moments, up to his death in 632. In them Muhammad believed, the same God who had spoken to Moses and to Jesus, and to many thousands of humbler prophets, now spoke again, once and for all, to himself. Vivid sequences of these words from God were carefully memorized by Muhammad’s followers. They were passed on by skilled reciters throughout the Arabic speaking world. For these were nothing less than snatches of the voice of God himself speaking to the Arabs through Muhammad. They were not written down until 660, in very different circumstances from the time of their first delivery. When written out…they came to be known as the Qur’an. What Muhammad recited was a direct rendering of the eloquence of God as he spoke to the human race…His messages declared that neglect and partisan strife had caused Jews and Christians to slip away from, even to distort the messages which they had once received from their prophets Moses and Jesus. Christians were told in, in no uncertain terms, that they had erred. They were warned by God that the Christological controversies which had absorbed their energies for so many centuries were based on a gigantic misunderstanding. Jesus had not been God and had never claimed to be treated as if he was God: “And behold God will say: “  Jesus, son of Mary! Didst thou say unto men: worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of God?” He will say:” Glory to Thee. Never could I have said what I had no right to say [Qur’an v:119]

The Dome Of The Rock
Caliph ‘Abd al-Malik had made an even more aggressive statement of the superiority of Muslims to all other religions. In 692, he began to build the Dome of the Rock on top of the deserted site of the former Jewish Temple at Jerusalem. The new dome towered above the dome of Constantine’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Inside the mosaics around the base of the dome bore inscriptions from the Qur’an. …They showed that the Caliph wished to make plain to visiting Muslim pilgrims that, in God’s definitive judgment, the entire past of Christianity had been weighed and found wanting. The inscriptions were taken from verses of the Qur’an in which Christians were rebuked: Oh People of the Book (i.e. Christians), do not go beyond the bounds of your religion….Jesus , the son of Mary, was only God’s messenger…It is not for God to take a son…The true religion with God is Islam.{ Qur’an iv:171 and iii:19]

Subordination of Christians and Jews in the Islamic Empire
Christians paid a special poll tax – the jizya – in return for the “benefaction” of being allowed to continue to practice their religion undisturbed. The jizya tax was intended to make plain their subordination. It was paid by individuals and not by communities. Its administration required an elaborate and vexatious system of registration, such as only a strong empire, backed by a professional bureaucracy, could have imposed. Event he moment of payment was supposed to emphasize the subordinate position of the “people of he book” over against Muslims. Lawyers insisted hat those who offered the jizya must be careful to present the money on their upraised palms, in such a way that their hands should never e seen to rise above those of the Muslim recipient. In return for this mark of inferiority, Christians and Jews were left free to carry on their lives under the protection of an Islamic empire.

Bands of Human Wolves: 7th Century Ireland
The monks knew that in 7th Century Ireland a further, concentric band of persons lurked in the moral equivalent of the wild. The worst examples of these were bands of landless, unmarried young men…who lived a wild existence in the woods and bog lands. Eating horseflesh marked by sinister tokens of their vows of vengeance, frequently employed as the powerful as “enforcers”, these groups shadowed Irish society like the grey shapes of he wolves the cu glas, the grey dogs, packs of savage creatures who had broken loose from human control. Human wolves, untamed warrior sand brigands, occupied the unchurched edges of society.

Pascha And Easter
Pascha, the Latin version of the Jewish feast of Passover, the Pasah, was still the word used in all the romance languages…but in England, Pascha became Easter. “The name was derived from Eostre, the pagan goddess form whom the month was named – the joy of a pagan spring festival became the joy of Easter

The Wisdom Of An Anglo-Saxon In 628
This is how the present life of man on earth appears to me, King, in comparison with the time that is unknown to us. You are sitting, feasting with your earldormen and thegns in winter time; the fire is burning on the hearth …and all inside is warm; while outside the wintry storm of rain and snow are raging; and a sparrow files swiftly though the hall ….it flits from your sight, out of the winter storm and back into it again. So this life of man appears but for a moment: what follows, or, indeed, what went before, we know not at all. If this new doctrine [Christianity] brings us more certain information, it seems right we should accept it.


The Chesterton Authority Paradox — Room to Run Wild

March 23, 2010

A reading selection from D.W. Fagerberg’s “The Size of Chesterton’s Catholicism.” I posted one on dogma and doctrine before. This functions as sort of a companion piece: on the authority that produces dogma.

Chesterton connects doctrine and authority because he believes doctrine requires a living authority. Some people eschew authority because they believe that freedom’s increase comes only in proportion to authority’s decrease; from such a starting point, both doctrine and authority are unwelcome impositions. Chesterton finds Catholic doctrine and authority imposing, to be sure, but he experiences them as an imposition in the way gravity imposes upon a body so it can walk the surface of the planet, or logic imposes itself on thought so that conversation can take place, or social rules impose on a society so we can cross a street without harm or enjoy a festive dinner party without anxiety.  The first objective will be to consider the paradox of freedom and limits, the second to organize the roomy images Chesterton uses to describe the Church, and the third to consider why he believes doctrine and authority require a real Church and do not function in the abstract.

We saw that Chesterton images doctrine as a map to a maze. But anyone who has been in a maze knows that the experience involves coming up against walls, fences, or gates which obstruct one’s original intentions. When one encounters such forced modifications of direction, what should be one’s general principle?

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution of law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it way. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.   

The truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, or that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served. But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion.
The Thing: Why I Am Catholic

What appear at first to be impositions placed upon us by an authority, turn out to be markers on an uncharted shore (which turns out to be England): someone has pioneered this path and has left warning markers if a certain way has been found dangerous or dehumanizing, or if it ill serves the cause of happiness. The purpose of the markers is the purpose of boundary lines on a playing field. “There was room for wrath and love to run wild. And the more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.”

As usual, Chesterton’s paradox operates by upsetting or inverting our normal assumptions. He suggests that the world conceives liberty “as something that merely works outwards,” whereas he has always “conceived it as something that works inwards.” This house is a strange and marvelous edifice: its inside is bigger than its outside. As the convert peers into the Catholic Church from the outside, “he often feels as if he were looking through a leper’s window. He is looking through a little crack or crooked hole that seems to grow smaller as he stares at it; but it is an opening that looks towards the Altar. Only, when he has entered the Church, he finds that the Church is much larger inside than it is outside.” The house, as any house, must be designed and ordered in deference to certain laws, just as any house must take account of the law of gravity if it plans to keep the roof from crashing in. But within the limits laid down by authority there is more room for good things to run wild than if they dwelled in a wild, albeit limitless, wasteland. Domestic does not mean servile; it means that by limitations, like that of four walls, a roof and a cozy hearth, a place becomes holy and habitable. The sense of limits stimulates a memory Chesterton carries from childhood, the source of so many of his paradoxes.

It is plain on the face of the facts that the child is positively in love with limits. He uses his imagination to invent imaginary limits. The nurse and the governess have never told him that it is his moral duty to step on alternate paving stones. He deliberately deprives this world of half its paving stones. in order to exult in a challenge that he has offered to himself. I played that kind of game with myself all over the mats and boards and carpets of the house; and, at the risk of being detained during His Majesty’s pleasure, I will admit that I often play it still. In that sense I have constantly tried to cut down the actual space at my disposal; to divide and subdivide, into these happy prisons, the house in which I was suite free to run wild…The charm of Robinson Crusoe is not in the fact that he could find his way to a remote island; but in the fact that he could not find any way of getting away from it. It is the fact which gives an intensive interest and excitement to all the things that he had with him on the island; the axe and the parrot and the guns and the little hoard of grain…This game of self-limitation is one of the secret pleasures of life.
The Autobiography of G. K. Chesterton

Limits permit creativity not only in the child’s game but in an artist’s drawing as well. “It is impossible to be an artist and not care for laws and limits. Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame. . . . The moment you step into the world of facts, you step into a world of limits.

Do not free a camel of the burden of his hump: you may be freeing him from being a camel.” And even on a metaphysical level it is evident that, “every act of will is an act of self’limitation.” At every real moment we are faced with a multitude of potentialities. To act is to make one choice, and to choose one act is to delimit the other possible acts. We are not faced with an infinity of potentialities. This belongs to the infinite Creator, not to finite creatures. “God is that which can make something out of nothing. Man (it may truly be said) is that which can make something out of anything. In other words, while the joy of God be unlimited creation, the special joy of man is limited creation, the combination of creation with limits. Man’s pleasure, therefore, is to possess conditions, but also to be partly possessed by them. . . The excitement is to get the utmost out of given conditions; the conditions will stretch, but not indefinitely.”

Chesterton really does want good things to run wild, but to do so good things must not themselves become wild things, because goodness lies in being proportioned to an end; disarrayed and erratic things cannot run to their good. That is why there is more room living within reason than without reason. Hence creeds and hierarchies were not organized, “as is ignorantly said, for the suppression of reason. They were organized for the difficult defence of reason. Man, by a blind instinct, knew that if once things were wildly questioned, reason could be questioned first.” We can be reasonably sure that a religion which liberates us from authority would leave us lighter, but we fear it would also, at the same time, liberate us from essential human goods the way a robber would leave us lighter one purse of gold.

Therefore Chesterton employs images of roominess to explain his experience of Catholicism as something which expands the mind, rather like the way post beams expand a room by holding up the ceiling, and our second objective in this chapter is to organize these images. He enlarges on the metaphor of size in three directions: the Catholic authoritative tradition makes our thought broader, longer, and taller. “The only difficulty about the evident reawakening of Catholicism in modern England is that conversion calls on a man to stretch his mind, as a man awakening from a sleep may stretch his arms and legs.”

The only antidote to narrow, heretical thinking is its antipode, Catholic thinking, so it is not surprising that we continue to find images of width at play when Chesterton defines “Catholic.” “Of nearly all the non-Catholic types of our time we can truly say, that any such type must broaden his mind to become a Catholic. He must grow more used than he is at present to the long avenues and the large spaces.” Chesterton propounds this thesis in the context of pointing out that being Catholic involves being catholic, i.e., universal, comprehensive in scope, including or concerning all humankind. Being Catholic obliges involvement with the very world which presence in the Roman Church leads the puritan to charge it with having become too worldly a church. The allegation that the Roman Church is pagan, we remember, means that it leaves open the back door to a very long avenue connecting us with pagan antiquity; and that it leaves open the side door to the town square peopled with all sorts of dubious and disreputable people, tramps and pedlars who make up the life of an open marketplace; and that it has too gaudily decorated the door fronting the (Roman) forum.

Now a great deal has been said by Protestants, naturally enough, and not a little even by Catholics, about the danger of displaying before the world a pomp and triumph that might easily be called worldly. Undoubtedly some harm was done, and some misunderstandings did arise, when the Popes of the Renaissance filled Rome with trophies that might have marked the triumphs of the Caesars. . . . But, taking human nature as a whole, the method is justified; because . . . the Faith belongs to the heights and the open spaces, and the circle of the whole world. . . . That is, it does express the first essential fact that Catholicism is not a narrow thing; that it knows more than the world knows about the potentialities and creative possibilities of the world, and that it will outlast all the worldly and temporary expressions of the same culture.”
The Well and the Shallows

This Church is rather more like a mobile tabernacle than a fixed edifice, in the sense that Catholicism has pitched its tent in many lands and it has not been untouched or undecorated by any one of them: the inhabitants of these lands have brought with them into that ambulatory temple their cultures and philosophies and arts. Catholicism has also pitched its tent in each historical era. “Becoming a Catholic broadens the mind     For instance, many a man who is not yet a Catholic calls himself a Mediaevalist. But a man who is only a Mediaevalist is very much broadened by becoming a Catholic…As a Mediaevalist I am still proudest of the Gothic; but as a Catholic I am proud of the Baroque.”

By such an authoritative tradition we have a longer perspective, too. Making room for so many inhabitants requires an extensible, resilient, and flexible institution which can grow older without growing stiffer. It is by consequence of our mind’s unreflective association that we think of old as stiff and creaky, and the idea of ancient conjures up crumbling columns and faded frescoes. “It is only by the analogy of animal bodies that we suppose that old things must be stilt. It is a mere metaphor from bones and arteries. In an intellectual sense old things are flexible…A thing as old as the Catholic Church has an accumulated armory and treasury to choose from; it can pick and choose among the centuries and brings one age to the rescue of another. It can call in the old world to redress the balance of the new.” With this armory of insights the Church can save “a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age.” The defense against thinking narrow thoughts is to think a long time, but every age tends to think only about what it sees, and it only sees what is current, which does not last very long at all. The current opinion is always narrow because it is conditioned by what has gone before. The only way to avoid a “revolt against revolts” and a “reaction against reactions” is to “teach men to stretch their minds and inhabit a larger period of time. . . . It will be more apparent than ever that these jerks of novelty do not create either a progress or an equilibrium.” Such jerks of novelty, yanking history first port, then starboard, Chesterton records in this quick summary.

Perhaps there is really no such thing as a Revolution recorded in history. What happened was always a Counter-Revolution. Men were always rebelling against the last rebels; or even repenting of the last rebellion. This could be seen in the most casual contemporary fashions, if the fashionable mind had not fallen into the habit of seeing the very latest revel as rebelling against all ages at once. The Modern Girl with the lipstick and the cocktail is as much a rebel against the Woman’s Rights Woman of the ‘80s, with her stiff stick-up collars and strict teetotalism, as the latter was a rebel against the Early Victorian lady of the languid waltz tunes and the album full of quotations from Byron; or as the last, again, was a rebel against a Puritan mother to whom the waltz was a wild orgy and Byron the Bolshevist of his age. Trace even the Puritan mother back through history and she represents a rebellion against the Cavalier laxity of the English Church, which was at first a rebel against the Catholic civilization, which had been a rebel against the Pagan civilization. Nobody but a lunatic could pretend that these things were a progress; for they obviously go first one way and then the other. But whichever is right, one thing is certainly wrong; and that is the modern habit of looking at them only from the modern end.
St. Thomas Aquinas

Chesterton believes there was, beside “mere fashion or mere fatigue. a reasonable plan of the proportions of things” and that the proportionate plan which has the most plausible look to it is the plan of the Catholic faith because it has purposely and conscientiously sought an eternal equilibrium which will persist through the vagarious imbalances of each age. It is not as if only a Catholic can oppose an actual untruth, but Chesterton does think the Catholic is in a better position to oppose potential untruths. There may be allies to the Catholic position on this end of the playing field today, but will they be allies when the attack on human dignity redirects to the other end of the field.

Even the High Church Party, even the Anglo-Catholic Party only confronts a particular heresy called Protestantism upon particular points. It defends ritual rightly or even sacramentalism rightly, because these are the things the Puritans attacked. It is not the heresy of an age, at least it is only the anti-heresy of an age. But since I have become a Catholic, I have become conscious of being in a much vaster arsenal, full of arms against countless other potential enemies. The Church, as the Church and not merely as ordinary opinion, has something to say to philosophies which the merely High Church has never had occasion to think about. If the next movement is the very reverse of Protestantism, the Church will have something to say about it; or rather has already something to say about it. You might unite all High Churchmen on the High Church quarrel, but what authority is to unite them when the devil declares his next war on the world.
Letter to Maurice Baring

To think really broad thoughts, one must have both history and authority. History alone will not suffice because it is only a record of the aging process, and where something has been does not tell you where it will go, or where it should go. Catholicism is not true because it is old, it is old because its deposit of truth refuses to age. “It is not an old religion; it is a religion that refuses to grow old.” It is not just an old tradition, but an eternal tradition, and “the great difficulty is whether a man can stretch his mind, or (as the moderns would say) can broaden his mind, enough to see the need for an eternal Church.”

Every age has its own outlook. Persons who agree with each other agree on the basis of that outlook, and persons who disagree with each other disagree on the basis of that outlook. The only way to be truly broadened is to take a longer outlook, one where eternity and history have kissed and left behind a mark known as the character of that age. That is what gives certain portions of the Catholic household an alien feel to us. They embody truths in a way that we find difficult to assimilate through our particular gatehouse. The Church holds in its treasure house truths beyond our limited outlook.

That every other single system is narrow and insufficient compared to this one; that is not a rhetorical boast; it is a real fact and a real dilemma. Where is the Holy Child amid the Stoics and the ancestor-worshippers? Where is Our Lady of the Moslems, a woman made for no man and set above all angels? Where is St. Michael of the monks of Buddha, rider and master of the trumpets, guarding for every soldier the honor of the sword? What could St. Thomas Aquinas do with the mythology of Brahmanism, he who set forth all the science and rationality and even rationalism of Christianity? . . . Aquinas could understand the most logical parts of Aristotle; it is doubtful if Aristotle could have understood the most mystical parts of Aquinas. Even where we can hardly call the Christian greater, we are forced to call him larger. But it is so to whatever philosophy or heresy or modern movement we may turn. How would Francis the Troubadour have fared among the Calvinists, or for that matter among the Utilitarians of the Manchester School? Yet men like Bossuet and Pascal could be as stern and logical as any Calvinist or Utilitarian. How would St. Joan of Arc, a woman waving on men to war with the sword, have fared among the Quakers or the Doukhabors or the Tolstoyan sects of pacifists? Yet any number of Catholic saints have spent their lives in preaching peace and preventing wars. It is the same with all the modern attempts at syncretism. They are never able to make something larger than the Creed without leaving something out. I do not mean leaving out something divine but something human; the flag or the inn or the boy’s tale of battle or the hedge at the end of the field.
The Everlasting Man

Thus far Chesterton has claimed that Catholic authoritative tradition is broader than our narrow minds, and longer than our present minds. He finally claims that the height of Catholic authority enables human beings to stand up taller than alternatives which tend to stoop the human being. The size of Catholicism prevents its authority from being dehumanizing.

Chesterton knows that this is not how submission to Catholic authority is commonly perceived. He knows that a modern meaning of “docile” has replaced “willing to be taught” with “obsequiousness.” He knows that servanthood is mistaken for servility, and being refractory (vocab: Obstinately resistant to authority or control) is thought heroic in principle. He knows that “the man who fears to enter the Church commonly fancies that what he feels is a sort of claustrophobia,” even though we have already seen that Chesterton believes this person in fact suffers a sort of agoraphobia. For skeptics, “the typical Catholic act is not going into a great thing like a church, but into a small thing like a confessional box. And to their nightmare fancy a confessional box is a sort of mantrap; and presents in its very appearance same combination of a coffin and a cage.” This thought seems to amuse Chesterton, for he returns to it on other occasions. He describes outsiders looking at the convert entering with bowed head a sort of small temple which they are convinced is fitted up inside like a prison, if not a torture-chamber. But all they really know about it is that he has passed through a door. They do not know that he has not gone into the inner darkness, but out into the broad daylight. It is he who is, in the beautiful and beatific sense of the word, an outsider. He does not want to go into a larger room, because he does not know of any larger room to go into. He knows of a large number of much smaller rooms, each of which is labeled as being very large; but he is quite sure he would be cramped in any of them.

Catholic heads are not hung in humiliation, they are bowed in humility. “When a Catholic comes from Confession, he does truly, by definition, step out again into that dawn of his own beginning and look with new eyes across the world to a Crystal Palace that is really of crystal. He believes that in that dim corner, and in that brief ritual, God has really remade him in His own image. He is now a new experiment of the Creator. He is as much a new experiment as he was when he was really only five years old. .. . He may be grey and gouty; but he is only five minutes old.” These youngsters attain passage through a doorway into a world bigger inside than it looks from the outside. In this small chamber, the free citizens of the cathedral do not hear Mr. Blatchford’s voice whispering through the cell bars that the will is already determined; neither do they hear Luther’s voice whispering that the will is already depraved nor Calvin’s voice that one’s salvation is already determined. This box wherein penitence can be performed and absolution bestowed is deliberately entered, and it accommodates the magnitudinous divine, human encounter. “It is almost a good thing that nobody outside should know what gigantic generosity, and even geniality, can be locked up in a box, as the legendary casket held the heart of the giant. It is a satisfaction, and almost a joke, that it is only in a dark corner and a cramped space that any man can discover that mountain of magnanimity.”

Catholic tyranny, if that is what those who do not understand want to call it, is less oppressive than Protestant liberty which keeps the authority’s hands off the goods by prohibiting the good itself.

The fact is that Protestant tyranny is totally different from Catholic tyranny; let alone Catholic liberty. It is ineradicably rooted in a total opposite motive and moral philosophy. . . . Protestantism is in its nature prone to what may be called Prohibitionism…I mean that the Protestant tends to prohibit, rather than to curtail or control. . . . When puritans abolish ritualism, it means there shall be no more ritual. When prohibitionists abolished beer, they swore that a whole new generation would grow up and never know the taste of it…Thus there is a fanatical quality, sweeping, final, almost suicidal, in Protestant reforms which there is not even in Catholic repressions.

In short, apart from Catholic liberty, Catholic tyranny is either temporary in the sense of a penance or a fast, or temporary in the sense of a state of siege or a proclamation of martial law. But Protestant liberty is far more oppressive than Catholic tyranny. For Protestant liberty is only the unlimited liberty of the rich to destroy an unlimited number of the liberties of the poor.
The Well and the Shallows

The moralist will have difficulty understanding asceticism because the moralist, as legalist, fails to understand that while there is one path to salvation there may be many paths to holiness. Some heroic saints may make their way to sanctity through celibacy and retreat to the desert; but that is not required of everyone for their salvation. It is the authoritative creed which assures that even while the solitary life in the desert is admired, political life in the city and married life in the home are affirmed. Any human tradition would make more of the heroes who suffered for something than of the human beings who simply benefited by it, Chesterton wrote, but that does not alter the fact that there are more human beingsthan heroes.

This multiplicity is exactly what an authoritative Church protects. The only other alternative is a religion of mood and feeling.

If, in the really Dark Ages, there had been a religion of feeling, it would have been a religion of black and suicidal feeling. It was the rigid creed that resisted the rush of suicidal feeling. The critics of asceticism arc probably right in supposing that many a Western hermit did feel rather like an Eastern fakir. But he could not really think like an Eastern fakir; because he was an orthodox Catholic. And what kept his thought in touch with healthier and more humanistic thought was simply and solely the Dogma. He could not deny that a good God had created the normal and natural world; he could not say that the devil had made the world; because he was not a Manichee. A thousand enthusiasts for celibacy, in the day of the great rush to the desert or the cloister, might have called marriage a sin, if they had only considered their individual ideals, in the modern manlier, and their own immediate feelings about marriage. Fortunately, they had to accept the Authority of the church, which had definitely said that marriage was not a sin.
St. Thomas Aquinas

Creed and authority and doctrine set up the markers within which a teeming variety of paths to sanctification may be explored.

Catholic tyranny is also less oppressive than servitude to the state, Chesterton contends, which is why the Church has always remained at about the same distance from the state and its experiments. “It is the Church that excommunicates; but, in that very word, implies that a communion stands open for a restored communicant. It is the State that exterminates. .

Every Catholic enjoys much more freedom in Catholicism than any Liberal does under Bolshevism or Fascism. . . For the State has returned with all its ancient (errors out of antiquity; with the Gods of the City thundering from the sky.. . and we have begun to understand in what wide fields and playgrounds of liberty, the Faith that made us free has so long allowed us to wander and to play.” Chesterton finds Mr. H. G. Wells and Mr. Bernard Shaw to espouse the more captivating philosophy — and he does not mean enchanting or charming — when they propose repair of social chaos by sweeping sqcial regulations of the kind being championed by the early supporters of communism. “It is the very men who say that nothing can be classified, who say that everything must be codified. Thus Mr. Bernard Shaw said that the only golden rule is that there is no golden rule. He prefers an iron rule; as in Russia.”

Whence arises this confusion? How did authority come to figure so prominently in the impression the Catholic Church has made upon the modern mind? Chesterton has a theory. It is for the same reason that the monastic life of renunciation and austerity (which does exist in Catholicism “as a way of asserting the will against the power of nature, of thanking the Redeemer by partially sharing his sufferings, [and] of making a man ready for anything as a missionary or martyr”) also came to figure prominently in the picture held by a non-Catholic about Catholicism: “These happen to be rare in the modern industrial society of the West, outside his communion; and it is therefore assumed that they are the whole meaning of that communion. Because it is uncommon for an alderman to fast forty days, or a politician to take a Trappist vow of silence, or a man about town to live a life of strict celibacy, the average outsider is convinced, not only that Catholicism is nothing except asceticism, but that asceticism is nothing but pessimism.” The latter statement (that asceticism is pessimistic) is not true and the former statement (that Catholicism is nothing but asceticism) is not accurate. Defining Catholicism as asceticism is like naming the peacock tail blue; there is blue in it. But when the modern critic sees this unusual ascetic ideal in an authoritative Church, he is apt to say

“This is the result of Authority; it would be better to have Religion without Authority.” But in truth, a wider experience outside Brixton or Brighton would reveal the mistake. It is rare to find a fasting alderman or a Trappist politician, but it is still more rare to see nuns suspended in the air on hooks or spikes; it is unusual for a Catholic Evidence Guild orator in Hyde Park to begin his speech by gashing himself all over with knives; a stranger calling at an ordinary presbytery will seldom find the parish priest lying on the floor with a fire lighted on his chest and scorching him while he utters spiritual ejaculations…in short, a real knowledge of mankind will tell anybody that Religion is a very terrible thing; that it is truly a raging fire, and that Authority is often quite as much needed to restrain it as to impose it. Asceticism, or the war with the appetites, is itself an appetite. It can never be eliminated from among the strange ambitions of Man. But it can be kept in some reasonable control; and it is indulged in much saner proportion under Catholic Authority than in Pagan or Puritan anarchy.
St. Thomas Aquinas

Perhaps the reason our day fails to appreciate the service which authority renders in providing reasonable control and sane proportion is due to the fact that we are in very little danger of being overcome by religion as by a raging fire. But the day may come again when authority will have to protect us from ourselves.

Chesterton’s theory is that an outsider necessarily finds the most alien practices the most striking, and because they are the most striking they seem the most important, when in point of fact they may be either unimportant or moderate when balanced within the whole. The theory accounts for many common mistakes. A Catholic doctrine can only be accurately understood when comprehended within the community of doctrines, like Catholic discipline can be comprehended only when it is understood within the whole practice of the religion. “It may still be noted that the unconverted world, Puritan or Pagan, but perhaps especially when it is Puritan, has a very strange notion of the collective unity of Catholic things or thoughts. Its exponents, even when not in any rabid sense enemies, give the most curious list of things which they think make up the Catholic life; an odd assortment of objects, such as candles, rosaries, incense (they are always intensely impressed with the enormous importance and necessity of incense), vestments, pointed windows, and then all sorts of essentials or non-essentials thrown in in any sort of order; fasts, relics, penances or the Pope.” It is like hearing the words, but not knowing the grammar which holds the words together, and confusing adjectives for nouns, prepositions for verbs. How important any given practice is to the whole can only be grasped by knowing the whole. Unfortunately, people who “fly into a rage with the Catholic Church” always use an extraordinary diction in which “all sorts of incommensurate things are jumbled up together, so that the very order of the words is a joke.” Chesterton holds that he “never read an attack on Catholicism without finding this ignorant gabble of terms all topsy-turvy There is always some such medley of misused words, in which mitres, misereres, nones, aibs, croziers, virgins and viaticums tumble over each other without the wildest hope that anybody could possibly know what any of them mean.” Thus on one occasion he read a description of the Catholic religion as if the author thought it to consist primarily of rosaries or beads, or crucifixes, or paying for candles or masses. ‘Apparently the first object of a Catholic is to get a candle. If once he can get hold of a candle, and walk about everywhere clasping his candle, he is all right. But if he cannot get a candle, he has the alternative of purchasing a mass; an instrument that is a sort of substitute for a candle.”

On another occasion, Chesterton read a critic’s report that in Rome’s relation with the Russian Uniats (Eastern Christian churches that are in union with the Roman Catholic Church) Rome tolerates “strange heresies and even bearded and wedded clergy.” Chesterton does not go on to tell what strange heresies the author was referring to; perhaps the author did not himself go on to say; but it does not matter because Chesterton’s attention is arrested by the emphasis in those eight words. ‘As somebody tumbling down the stairs bumps upon every step, the writer comes a crash upon every word.” Each word is strange enough when juxtaposed with the other, “but by far the funniest and most fantastic thing in all that fantastic sentence is the word ‘even” because it is by that word that one grasps, finally, what this critic must think Catholicism is if he finds it surprising that Rome would “even” allow aberrant bearded clergy.

There is in the world, they would tell us, a powerful and persecuting superstition, intoxicated with the impious idea of having a monopoly of divine truth, and therefore cruelly crushing and exterminating everything else as error. It burns thinkers for thinking, discoverers for discovering, philosophers and theologians who differ by a hair’s breadth from its dogmas; it will tolerate no tiny change or shadow of variety even among its friends and followers; it sweeps the whole world with one encyclical cyclone of uniformity; it would destroy nations and empires for a word, so wedded is it to its fixed idea that its own word is the Word of God. When it is thus sweeping the world, it comes to a remote and rather barbarous region somewhere on the borders of Russia; where it stops suddenly; smiles broadly; and tells the people there that they can have the strangest heresies they like. . . We might well suppose; therefore, that the Church says benevolently to these fortunate Slays, “By all means worship Baphomet and Beelzebub; say the Lord’s Prayer backwards; continue to drink the blood of infants—nay, even,” and here her voice falters, till she rallies with an effort of generous resolution, “yes, even, if you really must, grow a beard.”
The Thing: Why I Am A Catholic

Chesterton solicits the sympathy of the reader to understand what despair falls upon “the hapless Catholic journalist at such moments.” How can he begin to explain the importance of authority, the hierarchy of truths, the fact “that a married clergy is a matter of discipline and not doctrine, that it can therefore be allowed locally without heresy — when all the time the man thinks a beard is as important as a wife and more important than a false religion?”

The title of the essay in which this appears is “What Do They Think?” and one of Chesterton’s answers to this self-directed question appears in the essay, “What We Think About.” There are critics who do not think, who refuse to think, and so it is easier for them to name all Catholicism by the one feature which they themselves cannot understand, in this case authority. Thus they conclude that Catholics are forbidden to think. Chesterton’s recommended cure: “Now what we have really got to hammer into the heads of all these people, somehow is that a thinking man can think himself deeper and deeper into Catholicism, but not deeper and deeper into difficulties about Catholicism. We have got to make them see that conversion is the beginning of an active, fruitful, progressive and even adventurous life of the intellect. For that is the thing that they cannot at present bring themselves to believe.” How it happened that authority seems antithetical to thought is a riddle, when every child grows up knowing that what authorizes thought is a parent’s authoritative assurance that reality is a reasonable and trustworthy mystery, yet still the impression persists that Catholics have only half a brain because the clergy has shut down the other half. Chesterton himself had held this view of Catholicism until he began comparing what the theosophist said with what the theologian said. Then “dreadful seeds of doubt began to be sown in my mind. I was almost tempted to question the accuracy of the anti-clerical legend;…it seemed to me that the despised curates were rather more intelligent than anybody else; that they, alone in that world of intellectualism, were trying to use their intellects.”

How can there be less thought upon becoming a believer when the believer arrives at the conviction that life is worth thinking about because it is not absurd, and when revelation assures the believer of a reasonable hope of understanding the world because the same Creator made both mind and matter? How can there be less thought when the believer has so much more to think about and so many more people to think with? ‘A Catholic has fifty times more feeling of being free than a man caught in the net of the nervous compromises of Anglicanism. . . . He has the range of two thousand years full of twelve-hundred thousand controversies, thrashed out by thinker against thinker, school against school, guild against guild, nation against nation, with no limit except the fundamental logical fact that the things were worth arguing, because they could be ultimately solved and settled.” Could this impression be caused by the perpetually placid and eternally tranquil state of the Catholic Church, we ask, tongue-in-cheek. Then perhaps Chesterton could let the non-Catholic in upon a small secret. “If any one doubts that there is such a thing as Catholic liberty, I think it can do no harm to let him realize that there is such a thing as Catholic controversy; I mean controversy between Catholics.” Mr. Belloc may voice his opinion on matters as a Catholic, and because he is a Catholic, but this does not mean that other Catholics will agree. “On the contrary, each would say something quite different. It is not that they need agree with him; but that he need not agree with them…Catholics know the two or three transcendental truths on which they do agree; and take rather a pleasure in disagreeing on everything else.” Nevertheless, these differences do not rend the house or throw the family into denominational diaspora because of the consanguine understanding that nobody is trying to be an original individual, everybody is trying to express individually what the common fundaments mean. The family is confident that as different theologians with differing theologies draw nearer the beatific unity, they will draw nearer to each other. “The theology of a saint is simply the theism of a saint; or rather the theism of all saints. It is less individual, but it is much more intense. It is concerned with the common origin; but it is hardly an occasion for originality…Anyhow it is but natural that Augustine and Aquinas, Bonaventure and Duns Scotus, all the doctors and the saints, should draw nearer to each other as they approach the divine unity in things.” If, as has been insisted all along, grace perfects nature and does not nullify it, then the Church, as sacrament, does not nullify thought but perfects it. Reason may stand in need of healing every bit as much as the bodies of those who cried out from the roadside as Jesus passed by, but upon being healed reason will not sit still.

In some muddled way people have confused the natural remarks of converts, about having found moral peace, with some idea of their having found mental rest, in the sense of mental inaction. They might as well say that a man who has completely recovered his health, after an attack of palsy . . . signalizes his healthy state by sitting absolutely still like a stone. Recovering his health means recovering his power of moving in the right way as distinct from the wrong way; but he will probably move a great deal more than before. To become a Catholic is not to leave off thinking, but to learn how to think. It is so in exactly the same sense in which to recover from palsy is not to leave off moving but to learn how to move.
The Catholic Church and Conversion

Chesterton knows some will ask: “But even supposing that those doctrines do include those truths, why cannot you take the truths and leave the doctrines? . . . If you see clearly the kernel of common sense in the nut of Christian orthodoxy, why cannot you simply take the kernel and leave the nut?” Furthermore, we might wonder why one cannot take catholic teachings and leave the Roman Catholic Church? After all, Rome is a very tough nut to crack. The third objective in this chapter, then, is to explain why Chesterton thinks one must take the Church with the doctrines.

Part of Chesterton’s apology for why an authoritative institution is required in order to house abstract truths has already been presented: a religion of feeling does not hold the same way a religion of creed and doctrine does; the truths which we take are the ones we recognize but may not be the ones we need; and the truths which we find attractive may require other, less attractive truths in order to work. But the determinative reason why one can neither take truth without doctrine, nor doctrine without the Church, lies in Chesterton’s image of vitality. One can tell where a thing has been after it is dead, but one cannot know where a thing is going to go unless it is alive. By investigating the history of doctrine one can discover where Catholicism has been, but from that data one cannot know where the Catholic Church will go. The Church will know the answer as soon as the question is put, but for that a Catholic imagination is required, and an imagination is not contained in books and creeds; to learn it requires a living teacher. Vital doctrines breed and develop and are capable of protecting from specious outlooks only insofar as they dwell in a living Church which is a startling Church. “Any number of philosophies will repeat the platitudes of Christianity. But it is the ancient Church that can again startle the world with the paradoxes of Christianity.”

Chesterton describes the Church as an armory and treasure house, which is home to the Catholic imagination and which has never thrown any (good) thing away. Like some of our relative’s homes, this house of faith has a packed attic. “For the Catholic commentary on life has gone on so much longer, it has covered so many different social conditions, has dealt so carefully with countless fine shades of metaphysics or casuistry, that it really has a relation to almost any class of speculation that may arise.” Chesterton does not acclaim the Church’s treasure vaults because they are full of history; he is not interested in the past like a museum director (or worse yet, a mausoleum director) who lines the halls with dioramas of Catholicism’s bygone glory days. The treasure vaults are interesting the way the theory of hydraulics is interesting to someone whose city is burning down: from that historic treasury efficient doctrines can be produced — he means doctrines that can produce something, namely, human happiness. And since no one knows in advance under what conditions our quest for our happiness will have to be taken, the full resources of a living, imaginative Church are needed. It is, he confesses, the reason why he finally became Catholic. “The only way really to meet all the human needs of the future is to pass into the possession of all the Catholic thoughts of the past; and the only way to do that is really to become a Catholic…I was converted by the positive attractions of the things I had not yet got, and not by negative disparagements of such things as I had managed to get already.” His move to truth was not from false teaching, but from fractional teachings.

We have heard him say in The Autobiography that he believes other philosophies, in fact, each philosophy, contains a truth, so why isn’t it adequate to stack them together? For the reason a living body is not a stack of cells but an organism, and the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts. The collective mind looks all directions at once, in addition to looking in a particular direction at the moment. “Now there is no other corporate mind in the world that is thus on the watch to prevent minds from going wrong. . . And all other sects and schools are inadequate for the purpose. This is not because each of them may not contain a truth, but precisely because each of them does contain a truth; and is content to contain a truth. None of the others really pretends to contain the truth. None of the others, that is, really pretends to be looking out in all directions at once. The Church is not merely armed against the heresies of the past or even of the present, but equally against those of the future.” Chesterton ungrudgingly admits that catholic truths have taken root outside the Roman Church. He does not think that only Catholicism contains universal truths; but he does think Catholicism contains only universal truths — i.e., truths which are intended for the whole of humanity and the whole of a human life. His reason for becoming Catholic is not that he thinks truths can only be found here, but because they can all be found here. “When the convert has once seen the world like that . . . [he] is not worried by being told that there is something in Spiritualism or something in Christian Science. He knows there is something in everything. But he is moved by the more impressive fact that he finds everything in something…There is nothing supercilious about his attitude; because he is well aware that he has only scratched the surface of the spiritual estate that is now open to him.” There are truths yet to be grown on the Catholic estate, and they will be grown when they are needed, because the Catholic possesses the field as well as the fruits. And the field is more important for the future than the fruits, because while this movement or that trend may share the field’s produce, it cannot know what the field is capable of producing next season when the wind will blow from another direction. “The men of the Oxford Movement….did discover the need of Catholic things, but they did discover the need of one thing at a time. They took their pick in the fields of Christendom, but they did not possess the fields; and, above all, they did not possess the fallow fields. They could not have all the riches, because they could not have all the reserves of the religion.”

In order to grow a doctrine from this estate a state of obedience is required, and this for two reasons. First, obedience in the sense of patience is required because if one continually plucks up the developing doctrine to transplant it, it will be killed. Chesterton was convinced of this even before his conversion.

A man who is always going back and picking to pieces his own first principles may be having an amusing time but he is not developing as Newman understood development. Newman meant that if you wanted a tree to grow you must plant it finally under some definite spot. It may be (I do not know and I do not care) that Catholic Christianity is just now passing through one of its numberless periods of undue repression and silence. But I do know this, that when the great flowers break forth again, the new epics and the new arts, they will break out on the ancient and living tree. They cannot break out upon the little shrubs that you are always pulling up by the roots to see if they are growing.
From an Essay in the Nation

Second, obedience in the sense of faithfulness is required because the truth grown on the Catholic estate is an inherited truth. What makes the Catholic Church unique is not that it has a message to proclaim. “Huxley has a message; Haeckel has a message; Bernard Shaw has a message. It is only necessary to ask the logical question, ‘From whom to raise a thousand things that the writers have never thought of. And it is typical of the confusion, that the same person who says that Haeckel has a message probably goes on to say that he is an entirely original thinker. It may be doubted, in any case, whether the professor desires to be regarded as a messenger boy. But, anyhow, we, none of us, desire a messenger boy who originates his own message.” Grant, then, that this attempt at accuracy in conveying the message requires a certain faithfulness, and this faithfulness requires a certain tenacity, a tenacity which the world interprets as stubbornness. “What puzzles the world, and its wise philosophers and fanciful pagan poets, about the priests and people of the Catholic Church is that they still behave as if they were messengers. A messenger does not dream about what his message might be, or argue about what it probably would be; he delivers it as it is. It is not a theory or a fancy but a fact. . . . All that is condemned in Catholic tradition, authority, and dogmatism and the refusal to retract and modify, are but the natural human attributes of a man with a message relating to a fact.” If understood correctly, the obstinacy signs a humbleness the Church feels about the amount of control it has over the message. Therefore the Church is serious about receiving, preserving, and passing on the whole message, in its entirety.

At this point we can see Chesterton’s sympathy with the democratic life expressed not only in space, but also in time. He makes apology not only for the vulgar Christmas celebration in the street, but for the reception of antique customs handed down by our ancestors. Actually, handing on any tradition is a stirring responsibility, part of “the awful and ancestral responsibility to which our fathers committed us when they took the wild step of becoming men. I mean the responsibility of affirming the truth of our human tradition and handing it on with a voice of authority, an unshaken voice. That is the one eternal education; to be sure enough that something is true that you dare to tell it to a child.”53 Handing on the faith tradition is a religious species of this very human process. Unless one believes that the Church is reconstituted in every generation by original pentecosts, it is a very necessary process. The Church is the body of Christ, a temple made of human stones, founded at a historical moment and historically maintained by people who have found the tradition true enough to tell it to their children and other sinners. The haughty heretic obtrudes his services, unbidden, and stands at the gateway to the past, sifting out what he considers unbelievable or unacceptable (too religious in the pagan sense or too irreligious in the Puritan sense) and excludes all other doctrines or practices he judges unfit for religious aristocracy, and this strikes Chesterton as distinctly undemocratic.

I have never been able to understand where people got the idea that democracy was in some way opposed to tradition. It is obvious that tradition is only democracy extended through time. It is trusting to a consensus of common human voices rather than to some isolated or arbitrary record. The man who quotes some German historian against the tradition of the Catholic Church, for instance, is strictly appealing to aristocracy. He is appealing to the superiority of one expert against the awful authority of a mob. .. . Tradition may be defined as an extension of the franchise. Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father. . . . We will have the dead at our councils. The ancient Greeks voted by stones; these shall vote by tombstones. It is all quite regular and official, for most tombstones, like most ballot papers, are marked with a cross.

Tradition means “to hand on,” and the word might better reveal itself as a verb: the faith has been “traditioned.” And the deposit of faith accrues interest; the Church is made roomier by tradition; the more traditional the Church, the greater its amplitude. This is not to say the message changes, if by that one means it changes into a different message; but the rolling stone established upon Peter does gather moss: the unchanged and unchanging message does agglomerate the truths through which it rolls. As the Church moves through history, the faith deposited in it accumulates and preserves the wisdom of the ages. It becomes the rock of ages, for the Church is “not a movement but a meeting-place; the trysting-place of all the truths in the world.” Traditioning does not idolize the past, or fear the future, or cling to the present. The task incumbent on the Church is neither to quick-freeze a bygone era nor bemoan the fate of being cast into a brave new world. The tradition is alive, after all.

Tradition is lived, and doctrines are living things, and therefore the Church is flexible and adaptable to hitherto unknown circumstances and forever young. “The Church had any number of opportunities of dying, and even of being respectfully interred. But the younger generation always began once again to knock at the door; and never louder than when it was knocking at the lid of the coffin, in which it had been prematurely buried.”56 Chesterton identifies five moments in the history of Western civilization when it appeared as though Catholicism was dead. “With the Arian and the Albigensian, with the Human skeptic, after Voltaire and after Darwin, the Faith has to all appearance gone to the dogs. But in each of the five cases it was the dog that died.” Christianity rose after each death because “it had a God who knew the way out of the grave.” “A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.” One cannot take the doctrine without the Church because doctrines or pieties or spiritual movements tend to fossilize as soon as they die, and they die as soon as they are cut off from the living body. One cannot have the teaching without the teacher except as a dead thing.

The Church in its practical relation to my soul is a living teacher, not a dead one. It not only taught me yesterday, but will almost certainly teach me tomorrow. Once I saw suddenly the meaning of the shape of the cross; some day I may see suddenly the meaning of the shape of the mitre.

Plato has told you a truth; but Plato is dead. Shakespeare has startled you with an image; but Shakespeare will not startle you with any more. But imagine what it would be to live with such men still living, to know that Plato might break out with an original lecture tomorrow, or that at any moment Shakespeare might shatter everything with a single song. The person who lives in contact with what he believes to be a living Church is a person always expecting to meet Plato and Shakespeare to, morrow at breakfast. He is always expecting to see some truth he has not seen before. .

When your father told you, walking about in the garden, that bees stung or that roses smelled sweet, you did not talk of taking the best out of his philosophy. When the bees stung you, you did not call it an entertaining coincidence. When the rose smelt sweet you did not say “My father is a rude, barbaric symbol, enshrining the deep delicate truths that flowers smell.” No; you believed your father, because you found him to be a living fountain of facts, a thing that knew more than you; a thing that would tell you truth tomorrow as well as today.

I give one instance out of a hundred; I have not myself any instinctive kinship with that enthusiasm for physical virginity, which has certainly been a note of historic Christianity…It takes all kinds to make a church; she does not ask me to be celibate. But the fact that I have no appreciation of the celibates, I accept like the fact that I have no ear for music. Celibacy is one flower in my father’s garden, of which I have not yet been told the sweet or terrible name. But I may be told it any day.

This, then, is, in conclusion, my reason for accepting the religion and not merely the scattered and secular truths out of the religion. I do it be’ cause the thing has not merely told this truth or that truth, but has revealed itself as a truth-telling thing.

The teachings and the teacher are connected; one cannot take one and leave the other.


Bartman II Saves the Children

March 22, 2010

Peace In Our Time

Bartman II Saves The Children

Maybe I am too old for my own good, but I can’t help but recall Neville Chamberlain waving that agreement he signed with Hitler in Munich proclaiming “Peace in our time.” Chamberlain, I believe,  was honestly deluded.

Stupak is a far different animal. This is someone who cultivated the pro-life label and presented himself and his group of like-minded Democratic brethren as Catholics voting their “conscience” or “principles”.

I watched as he claimed that the President “had enough votes” and he “had to go for the best bargain he could get” to seeing that this healthcare monstrositypassed with just 219 votes. Had he and even three of his “pro-life” group stuck to their principles, they would have been heroes to the pro-life community today. And all Bartman II got was a meaningless piece of paper — just like Chamberlain. Thirty years of public policy down the toilet.

Such a cynical sellout. I hope they follow this group like that Cubs fan they hounded for interfering with that catch in the playoffs several years back. Bartman One. This guy is Bartman II. I never want to see them anywhere near public policy again — out of Congress, out of any public policy job, out of any cushy Washington lobbyist job. May the term “pro-life Democrat” ring hollow forever.

In the meantime, join me in contacting BartmanII’s bishop and encouraging him to communicate the deep disappointment his fellow Catholics have in his committment to Church teachings on abortion.

Most Rev.  Alexander Sample, JCL
(906) 227-9115; 1-800-562-9745, ext. 115

If you need some quick text for your email, this is what I sent:

Hi Bishop Sample:
I understand that you are the Bishop of Congressman Bart Stupak who has represented himself to Catholics as a principled opponent to ObamaCare and the devastating impact it will have on the unborn.
It was with great shock and disappointment that I watched him betray the pro-life community and his Church teachings  for a worthless piece of paper from President Obama, a so-called Presidential executive order which virtually every commentator has said will have no impact on the law that was passed with his vote.
I note that other bishops have used their office to counsel Catholic politicians who openly side with pro-abortion forces. May I suggest that you do the same with Congressman Stupak when he returns to his district this Easter.
Respectfully yours

Chicago Francis Cardinal George, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, has issued a statement regarding the passage of the health care reform bill by the House yesterday. The statement was unanimously approved by the 32 bishops on the conference’s administrative committee. Here it is:

For nearly a century, the Catholic bishops of the United States have called for reform of our health care system so that all may have access to the care that recognizes and affirms their human dignity. Christian discipleship means, “working to ensure that all people have access to what makes them fully human and fosters their human dignity” (United States Catechism for Adults, page 454). Included among those elements is the provision of necessary and appropriate health care.

For too long, this question has gone unaddressed in our country. Often, while many had access to excellent medical treatment, millions of others including expectant mothers, struggling families or those with serious medical or physical problems were left unable to afford the care they needed. As Catholic bishops, we have expressed our support for efforts to address this national and societal shortcoming. We have spoken for the poorest and most defenseless among us. Many elements of the health care reform measure signed into law by the President address these concerns and so help to fulfill the duty that we have to each other for the common good. We are bishops, and therefore pastors and teachers. In that role, we applaud the effort to expand health care to all.

Nevertheless, for whatever good this law achieves or intends, we as Catholic bishops have opposed its passage because there is compelling evidence that it would expand the role of the federal government in funding and facilitating abortion and plans that cover abortion. The statute appropriates billions of dollars in new funding without explicitly prohibiting the use of these funds for abortion, and it provides federal subsidies for health plans covering elective abortions. Its failure to preserve the legal status quo that has regulated the government’s relation to abortion, as did the original bill adopted by the House of Representatives last November, could undermine what has been the law of our land for decades and threatens the consensus of the majority of Americans: that federal funds not be used for abortions or plans that cover abortions. Stranger still, the statute forces all those who choose federally subsidized plans that cover abortion to pay for other peoples’ abortions with their own funds. If this new law is intended to prevent people from being complicit in the abortions of others, it is at war with itself.

We share fully the admirable intention of President Obama expressed in his pending Executive Order, where he states, “it is necessary to establish an adequate enforcement mechanism to ensure that Federal funds are not used for abortion services.” However, the fact that an Executive Order is necessary to clarify the legislation points to deficiencies in the statute itself. We do not understand how an Executive Order, no matter how well intentioned, can substitute for statutory provisions.

The statute is also profoundly flawed because it has failed to include necessary language to provide essential conscience protections (both within and beyond the abortion context). As well, many immigrant workers and their families could be left worse off since they will not be allowed to purchase health coverage in the new exchanges to be created, even if they use their own money.

Many in Congress and the Administration, as well as individuals and groups in the Catholic community, have repeatedly insisted that there is no federal funding for abortion in this statute and that strong conscience protection has been assured. Analyses that are being published separately show this not to be the case, which is why we oppose it in its current form. We and many others will follow the government’s implementation of health care reform and will work to ensure that Congress and the Administration live up to the claims that have contributed to its passage. We believe, finally, that new legislation to address its deficiencies will almost certainly be required.

As bishops, we wish to recognize the principled actions of the pro-life Members of Congress from both parties, in the House and the Senate, who have worked courageously to create legislation that respects the principles outlined above. They have often been vilified and have worked against great odds.

As bishops of the Catholic Church, we speak in the name of the Church and for the Catholic faith itself. The Catholic faith is not a partisan agenda, and we take this opportunity to recommit ourselves to working for health care which truly and fully safeguards the life, dignity, conscience and health of all, from the child in the womb to those in their last days on earth.

Early Bartman in a John Kerry-esque moment (“I voted for it before I voted against it”):

William McGurn, a senior editorial writer at the Wall Street Journal comments on the politics of Bartman2’s move:

And then there were none.

When Bart Stupak announced Sunday he was now a “yes” on the health-care bill, six Democrats stood with him. Even that handful would have been enough to defeat the bill. Instead, they accepted the fig leaf of an executive order—and threw away all the hard-won gains they had made.

Amid the recriminations it’s easy to overlook what Mr. Stupak had cobbled together. His amendment restricting federal funding for abortions, passed in November, marked the only bipartisan vote in this whole health-care mess. For the first time since Roe v. Wade, pro-life Democrats had seized the legislative initiative in the teeth of their leadership’s opposition—and brought the party of abortion to heel.

Now Mr. Stupak has thrown it away. By caving at the last hour, he discredited all who stood with him. (What does it say about Ohio’s Marcy Kaptur and Pennsylvania’s Chris Carney that they had already agreed to vote yes even before the fig leaf of the executive order had come through?) In addition to undermining an encouraging partnership with pro-lifers across the congressional aisle, Mr. Stupak signaled that, in the end, you can’t count on pro-life Democrats.

“The peer pressure to be part of the team can be overwhelming,” says Chris Smith, a pro-life GOP congressman from New Jersey. “But sometimes it’s absolutely necessary, regardless of the cost, to bend into the wind, unmovable, committed to what your heart, mind and conscience know to be right.”

“For so long, Bart did that. Then he was like a runner who stopped a hundred feet before the finish line. It’s a sad day for the unborn, a sad day for their mothers, and a serious setback for the culture of life.”

Kristen Day of Democrats for Life doesn’t see it that way. Her official statement “applauds” the executive order. In a phone conversation, she tells me that “at this point in time, the pro-life voice in the Democratic Party is the strongest I’ve ever seen it.” She goes on to suggest that now is a “pivotal moment”—because if the pro-life movement punishes Mr. Stupak and Co. at the polls, the “pro-life voice in the Democratic Party will be diluted.”

She’s right about that last bit: If the Stupak crew goes down, they will probably be replaced by pro-life Republicans or pro-choice Democrats. Either way, it means fewer pro-life Democrats. On the other hand, many who cheered Mr. Stupak will say the “pivotal moment” came Sunday—and he chose liberalism over life.

Even more troubling for Ms. Day is that few accept the idea that the executive order really adds anything. In fact, on this point National Right to Life, the Catholic bishops and the Susan B. Anthony List are largely on the same page as Planned Parenthood. As are the pro-life Republican leader Mr. Smith and the pro-choice Democrat Diana DeGette of Colorado.

Planned Parenthood calls it a “symbolic gesture,” and says “it is critically important to note that it does not include the Stupak abortion ban.” Rep. DeGette, who screamed so loudly when the Stupak amendment passed, said she had no problem with the executive order because “it doesn’t change anything.” She’s right, because an executive order cannot change the law.

Take the $7 billion in new federal funding for the community health centers. As my former White House colleague Yuval Levin points out, all that has to happen for these federal dollars to start flowing for abortion is for NARAL Pro-Choice America to sponsor a woman demanding an abortion. The center will initially deny funding, citing the executive order. The woman will then sue, arguing that abortion is a part of health care. Given the legal precedents, and the lack of a specific ban in the actual legislation, the courts will likely agree.

That is part of what makes the consequences of Mr. Stupak’s surrender so far reaching. Not only has he opened the door to this kind of mischief, he has encouraged those who want to get rid of the Hyde amendment itself, which for decades has prevented federal funds from paying for abortions. Because his leadership and collapse were both so high-profile, moreover, he left fellow pro-lifer Illinois Rep. Dan Lipinski (who stood firm) out in the cold, and made nearly invisible the pro-life House Democrats such as Mississippi Rep. Gene Taylor who voted for the Stupak amendment and against the bill both times.

In signing on to this sham order, the Stupak people signed their death warrant as a force within their party. In an America where a majority now describe themselves as pro-life, they have put legislative accommodations on abortion further out of reach. At least in the near future, they have ensured the Democrats will become even more uniformly pro-choice, and our national debate more polarized.

And that’s a tragedy for our politics as well as for our principles

Although we can’t say we weren’t warned :

And finally, Bartman2 The Final Chapter:  

“It’s been amazing,” said Dr. Dan Benishek, Bartman2′s opponent in 2010. “The phone hasn’t stopped ringing.”

Benishek, who has never run for office and has an all-volunteer campaign, says he has raised $50,000 since the vote. He’s also gotten about 6,000 emails, 18,000 friends on the Facebook page he has  and more than 3,000 followers on Twitter.

He’s got my $50.


Some Readings on Jacques and Raissa Maritain

March 19, 2010

First, some reading selections from “The Achievement of Jacques Maritain” by Michael Novak:

An Architect Of Christian Democratic Politics
Although the twentieth century was often proclaimed by the church to be the “Age of the Laity,” it remains true that most Catholic discourse is still taken up with the words of popes, bishops, priests, and sisters. Nonetheless, as in the nineteenth century so in the twentieth, a number of lay men and women have made intellectual contributions to religious discourse of such magnitude as to place not just Roman Catholics but the entire body of Christians in their debt. Of these, no one has been so influential in so many different spheres as Jacques Maritain (1882-1973), a man who, in addition to his intellectual stature, was widely esteemed for his holiness of life.

His range was truly catholic. Perhaps no one in any tradition has written more beautifully of the subject he addressed in his book Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry. (So lovely is that book that often, while reading it as an undergraduate, I had to put it down and go for a long walk, my heart burning with more than it could bear.) In political and social thought, no Christian bas ever written a more profound defense of the democratic idea and its component parts, such as the dignity of the person, the sharp distinction between society and the state, the role of practical wisdom, the common good, the transcendent anchoring of human rights, transcendent judgment upon societies, and the interplay of goodness and evil in human individuals and institutions. Indeed, in the thrust that this body of thought gave to Christian Democratic parties after World War II, Maritain gained the right to be thought of as one of the architects of Christian Democratic politics both in Europe and Latin America.

A Giant of Catholic Intellectual Life
Nonetheless, it is perhaps in his profound grasp of the metaphysics of the philosophia perennis (vocab: An idea taken up by the German mathematician and philosopher Gottfried Leibniz, who used it to designate the common, eternal philosophy that underlies all religions, and in particular the mystical streams within them. The term was popularized in more recent times by Aldous Huxley in his 1945 book: The Perennial Philosophy). that one must seek the essence of Maritain’s achievement. More clearly and subtly than anyone else in modern times, and over a larger body of materials, Maritain grasped the “intuition of being” that animates the deepest stratum of Catholic intellectual life. For him, this was at once an intuition of charity as well as of being. He chose most often to express this intuition philosophically — philosophy, not theology, was his vocation — but his vision of caritas, “the Love that moves the sun and all the stars,” broke through over and over again.

A number of critics have pointed out that of all Maritain’s books no doubt the most seminal, like a pebble plunked in a quiet pool and rippling outwards in ever-expanding circles, is his tiny Existence and the Existent. This “Essay on Christian Existentialism,” a difficult and dense but immensely pregnant book, lies at the heart of his work. Its brief 142 pages were penned in Rome from January through April of 1947, as much of Europe still lay in the ruins of war and as the terribly disappointing Cold War of the subsequent era was just beginning. Its five compact chapters, it is safe to predict, will echo in the world’s thinking for generations to come. Indeed, their full meaning is likely to become more apparent in the future than at the time of the book’s first appearance, as thinkers from other world traditions engage its arguments.

Limits of His Achievements
I would not suggest that there are no faults or limits in Maritain’s achievement. Concerned as much as he was for the poor (or, as he usually expressed it in the vulgar Marxism current at the time, the “workers”), it is surprising how little sustained attention Maritain gave to the most significant new discipline of post-medieval times, political economy, with the accent on economy. Maritain came to the problems of politics and society rather late in his reflections and then, having achieved much, never took up a study of the great economic classics, especially those of the Austrian and Anglo-American worlds. Further, much as he admired the United States — a civilization, he felt, full of reverberations of the realities to which he was trying to point in Integral Humanism — Maritain never fully grappled with such classics of American political economy as The Federalist, his fellow Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, or the writings of Abraham Lincoln.

His Writing Style
On the whole, Maritain wrote a beautiful prose, a prose that reaches the heart and the imagination more than that of most philosophers, even while manifesting a Thomist love of exquisite clarity, particularly in the making of distinctions. To read him on any subject is to be forced to look, through such distinctions, from many angles of vision at once. And all for the sake of unity: “To distinguish in order to unite” was a most suitable motto for his life’s work. He had a passion for clear and precise ideas, distinguished sharply from their nearest neighbors, as well as for the relations that tie each idea to every other. Sometimes, indeed, he tried to capture too much at once, piling up within a single sentence distinctions within distinctions or introducing an analogous aside, all the while trying to encapsulate an entire argument. Many of his sentences require rereading. But the effort is almost always worthwhile, for Maritain’s true conversation partners were less his contemporary critics than the classics, whose intricate treasures he did not wish to muffle, encrust, or belittle by oversimplification.

In the autumn of 1960, in one of my first conversations with a full professor in Harvard’s philosophy department, a teacher of metaphysics and ethics who confessed cheerily that he deeply admired Hume’s happy atheism mentioned how nonetheless deeply impressed be bad been with Jacques Maritain during the latter’s presence on campus. “He was perhaps the most saintly philosopher I have ever known,” be said, “gentle, kind, honest, almost childlike. Of course, I didn’t agree with a single position he took. But I did come to admire him a great deal.” This was meant to be a warning to me, of course; I, also a Catholic, should not expect an easy time at Harvard. Yet it was also meant as a token of esteem for a significant tradition and a remarkable thinker: no small tribute considering its source.

Understanding Fragility
That professor’s tribute to Maritain’s saintliness, his gentleness, his childlike manner has remained with me, especially the unusual word (for Harvard), “childlike.” This is, I think, the key to Maritain’s intuition of being, a way of seeing in which so many other philosophers simply could not follow him. Maritain approached each day with a certain wonder — at the color of the sky, the scent of the grass, the feel of the breeze. He marveled that such a world could have come to be. There was, he understood, no necessity in its coming to be. It had happened. Here it was. He could sense it, his every sensible organ alive to its active solicitations of color, sound, scent, taste, and feel. More than that, his intellect would wonder at it, knowing that it did not have to be as it was on that particular day, or on any other day. And it could also cease to be.

Well before the cloudburst of the first atomic bomb, long before a perceived “ecological crisis,” Maritain perceived the fragility of life on earth — not only in his personal mortality, nor even in the fragility of planet earth. Rather, Maritain sensed, in the obscure way of the human intellect at its most childlike and most profound, that all changeable created things— all things short of an Existent necessarily and fully existing in Itself — are fragile and dependent….

Nonetheless, I am emboldened by the recent testimony of my second-favorite atheist humanist, Sidney Hook—Albert Camus still being my first—who just before his death confided to the American Jewish Committee Archives that there were many times in his life, at the height of his powers, that he often felt well up within him the desire to say thanks that things, which might have gone badly, worked out in existence as they had. This barely conscious, intuitive inference seems to me wholly natural. It seems to me also a bit of data about the human intellect that ought never to be lost to the attention of philosophers. Sidney Hook was a supremely honest man, willing to put on the record evidence that went against his own philosophy. True, Hook never understood that bit of data as Maritain did, or accepted the interpretation of human life that went with it, but his experience of the movement of human intellect to utter thanks remains a phenomenon to be explained.

Maritain and Russell Kirk
It is not my intention, however, to spell out the implications that Maritain derived from his intuition of the existent, not at least in the direction of metaphysics, the philosophy of God, or even Jewish and Christian faith. (Maritain was deeply involved through his wife Raissa in questions of Jewish as well as Christian faith; in fact, he may have done as much as any Christian in our time to lay the intellectual groundwork for a special instinct of fraternity among Christians and Jews.) I would prefer here to carry the intuition of the existent into Maritain’s further reflections on politics and society.

For if all of human existence is fragile, even more fragile is human action, above all in the political sphere. Maritain writes in Existence and the Existent that the end of practical wisdom is “not to know that which exists but to cause to exist what is not yet.” Between the cup and the lip, many a slip. It is easier to intend results in ethical or in political action than to achieve those results. Politics, in a language more favored by Reinhold Niebuhr than by Maritain but by no means in conflict with the latter’s, is the realm of the contingent, the ironic, and the tragic.

We might pause here to observe the sharp difference between a Thomist view of politics, such as that of Maritain, and that of classical conservatives such as Russell Kirk. Struck by the contingency and organic relatedness of social institutions, practices, and actions, and dismayed by the Utopian ideologies to which so many modern minds are prone, paleoconservatives (as they now style themselves) such as Kirk are opposed to “ideological infatuation” or even to imagining social projects for the future at all. Considering the projection of social notions into the future to be signs of the disease of “ideology,” such conservatives prefer to let things continue, to move along “organically,” to be. They resist “thinking for the future,” for fear of contamination by ideology. Maritain had a significantly different view. For him (as for Thomas Aquinas), practical intellect is aimed by its very nature not at knowing that which already exists, but at causing to exist what is not yet. Practical intellect is oriented toward the future, more precisely, to changing the future, to making the future different, “to cause to exist what does not yet exist.” For this reason, Maritain did not hesitate in Integral Humanism (1936) to imagine possible futures or to suggest new courses of action that would alter the awful European present in the direction of a better—a more humane, more Christian—proximate future.

Maritain took considerable care not to think in a merely Utopian fashion. But he did not hesitate to try to imagine proximate, achievable next steps, which might in turn lead to yet further achievable steps, toward building up a more humane and more Christian civilization than the world had yet known. In brief, Maritain shared with those who are currently known as neoconservatives a willingness to project a future at once more attractive and more plausible than socialists or others could imagine, a future thoroughly realizable within the bounds of proximate probable developments. Unlike Kirk, Maritain was not willing to embrace social laissez-faire in the political realm, and he was resolutely opposed to mere nostalgia about some supposedly more humane premodern era. Maritain claimed the future. Indeed, insofar as the Christian Democratic parties of Sturzo, de Gasperi, Schuman, and Adenauer drew crucial inspiration from his work, Maritain may be said to have in fact caused to exist much that had not existed before him.

Charity and Wisdom
In this sense, Aquinas is properly called the “first Whig” because his ethics and his politics did lay claims upon the future, did inspire, down the ages, a search for political institutions worthy of the rational, consensual dignity of humans. This is the sense in which Maritain was able in Christianity and Democracy, Man and the State, and other works to claim for a specific idea of democracy the support of the main spine of the Christian intellectual tradition. For this tradition nourished over the centuries the slow emergence of the ideal of a civilized politics, a politics of civil conversation, of noncoercion, of the consent of the governed, of pluralism, of religious liberty, of respect for the inalienable dignity of every human person, of voluntary cooperation in pursuit of the common good, and of checks and balances against the wayward tendencies of sinful men and women. As we shall see presently, Maritain did not claim too much for the historical efficacy of the Christian intellectual tradition; he chastised its failures severely and gave credit to nonbelievers for crucial advances. But neither did he wish to claim too little.

Here it is necessary to see how profound was Maritain’s understanding of the hold that the ideal of caritas had upon the political thinking of Thomas Aquinas. Maritain held that action in the world — whether ethical action among individuals or political action among systems, institutions, and groups — is always action among existents, among real sinners and saints and all those in between, not among purely “rational agents.” For him, realistic thinking about ethics and politics could not be conducted wholly within the boundaries of philosophy; theology was necessarily required.

Why? Because ethics and politics are about the real, existing world, and in this existing world humans are not purely rational agents but, rather, fallen creatures redeemed by grace on the condition that they are willing to accept God’s action within them. To proceed in purely philosophical categories about ethics and politics would be Utopian; one must deal with real, existing creatures locked in the actual historical drama of sin and grace.

That is why, in explicating “the fundamentally existential character of Thomist ethics,” Maritain stresses two points, one regarding charity, the other regarding practical wisdom or prudence. Concerning the first, he writes:

St. Thomas teaches that perfection consists in charity, and that each of us is bound to tend towards the perfection of love according to his condition and in so far as it is in his power. All morality thus hangs upon that which is most existential in the world. For love (this is another Thomist theme) does not deal with possibles or pure essences, it deals with existents. We do not love possibles, we love that which exists or is destined to exist.

Regarding practical wisdom, Maritain makes two extremely subtle points whose fullness I will not be able to reproduce. The first is that, at the heart of concrete existence, when an actual person is confronted with a set of particulars among which to decide to act, that person’s appetite—that person’s will or secret and deepest loves—enters into the quality of his or her perception of alternatives. More than that, for Aquinas, the rectitude of an existing person’s intellect depends upon the rectitude of his existing loves. This is a powerfully realistic doctrine. Intellect follows love, and if the love is errant so also will be the judgment of practical intellect or “conscience.” Although, for Maritain as for Aquinas, practical intellect still exerts a major discipline over the soul (over its loves, for example), nonetheless, here and now, under the immediate pressures of choice, the predispositions of one’s loves are highly likely to bend the intellect to their purposes. (Were not David Hume and Adam Smith, under different background assumptions but with the same Augustinian sense for real experience, to make an analogous point?)

Hence, for Aquinas, there is necessary in one’s ethical formation in advance of such choices a deep and profound habit of disciplining and directing one’s loves, seducing them so to speak, so that in every case they will love the good, the true, and the just, and be habituated to being restless with anything less. Absent a right will, a right practical intelligence will also be absent. In doing what they think is best, those whose loves are disordered will distort even their own intellects. As they love, so will they perceive. “Love is blind,” we say, meaning that, disordered, it is more powerful than light, obscures the light, and darkens the eye of intelligence itself.

The second subtle point that Maritain makes about practical intellect begins again with the fact that ethical and political action are always about existents. This time he points out that such action always faces two wholly singular, unrepeatable realities: first, the singular character, here and now, of this particular agent; and, second, the singular, never-to-be-repeated circumstances of the here and now. For these reasons, practical wisdom is utterly different from science. Whereas scientific judgment depends upon regularities, moral judgment must cope with singulars. “The same moral case never appears twice in the world. To speak absolutely strictly, precedent does not exist.” Practical wisdom concerns unprecedented singulars (“Useless to thumb through the dictionary of cases of conscience!”). At the same time, however, its point is “not to know that which exists, but to cause that to exist which is not yet,” and so it is moved by the appetite of will or love that thrusts us toward creating something new, whether of evil or of good.

Building A Humane, Christian Society
From this discussion of the sheer existing of ethical and political action—here and now, singular, unprecedented, unrepeatable—it follows that building a humane, Christian society is an uncertain business. It cannot be built upon any institutional framework at all; it has preconditions; many things can go wrong. Thus, to be faithful to the full measure of Christian intellectual conviction about the dignity (and fallibility) of the human person, about civilization as a state of society characterized by uncoerced decisions arrived at through civil discourse, and about the pull upon human love of God’s own command of love, new forms of social institutions will have to be labored towards in history, and not without setbacks. For reasons Maritain articulates at some length, a certain kind of democracy, guarded against the diseases to which “pure” democracies are prey, best represents the full flowering of human practical wisdom about the sorts of institutions worthy of Jewish and Christian thought. This particular kind of democratic reality gives the broken world some hope for a better future.

Maritain is not unsophisticated about democracy. He knows, writing in 1944 in the depths of destruction, that “the very name democracy has a different ring in America and in Europe.” And before proceeding very far on this subject in Christianity and Democracy, Maritain makes three important distinctions, each of which he discusses at more length than we can here duplicate. “First, the word democracy, as used by modern peoples, has a wider meaning than in the classical treatises on the science of government. It designates first and foremost a general philosophy of human and political life.” Its inner dynamism, although consistent with a monarchic regime and even other classic “regimes” or “forms of government,” leads “in the words of Abraham Lincoln,” to “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” Democratic regimes are not the only good regimes, but all good regimes will have to embody the dynamism of respect for free persons and their consent.

Second, Maritain argues that democracy after the war will certainly have to be ordered democracy, based on constitutions that have at least three characteristics: formation through the consent of the governed; protection of “the essential bases of common life, respect for human dignity and the rights of the person”; and grounding in a “long process of education.” This long process of education will be necessary to lead peoples away from habits of dictatorship, nationalistic impulses, and the mental sloth of unfree and coercively minded peoples. It will have to lead them towards the “slow and difficult construction” of new habits in the temporal life of nations, supportive of “the soul of democracy,” that is, “the law of brotherly love and the spiritual dignity of the person.”

By these first two distinctions, Maritain shows that he intends what in the United States we mean by a democratic republic, protective of the rights of the person. He means no totalitarian or merely majoritarian democracy, but limited government, grounded in a tradition of sound habits, associations, and institutions. Moreover, he means a set of principles not exhausted by any one form of regime, and yet capable of distinguishing false from true ideas of democracy.

Then, by his third distinction, Maritain makes clear both that Christian faith cannot be made subservient to democracy as a philosophy of life and that democracy cannot claim to be the only form of regime demanded by Christian belief. He intends “by no means to pretend that Christianity is linked to democracy and that a Christian faith compels every Christian to be a democrat.” To so argue would be to mix the things of Caesar and the things of God. Nonetheless, Maritain does affirm “that democracy is linked to Christianity and that the democratic impulse has arisen in human history as a temporal manifestation of the inspiration of the Gospel.”

Christianity In The World
Maritain does not believe that Christianity exists in the world solely as the Church or the body of believers. Rather, he sees Christianity “as historical energy at work in the world. It is not in the heights of theology, it is in the depths of the secular conscience and secular existence that Christianity works in this fashion.” Maritain is equally far from asserting that Christians brought modern democratic institutions into existence: “It was not given to believers in Catholic dogma but to rationalists to proclaim in France the rights of man and of the citizen, to Puritans to strike the last blow at slavery in America.” He knows full well the many non-Christian sources of the democratic impulse: “Neither Locke nor Jean-Jacques Rousseau nor the Encyclopedists can pass as thinkers faithful to the integrity of the Christian trust.”

Once again, Maritain is interested in existents, not essences. In the existing world of 1944, “The chances of religion, conscience, and civilization coincide with those of freedom; freedom’s chances coincide with those of the evangelical message.” The terrors of war have obliged the democracies to rethink their spiritual foundations so as to recover their spiritual energies and humanizing mission. They dare not go back to what they were before. The demands of ‘the human spirit for the time include authentic understandings, many of them rooted in the Gospels and in the deepest Christian intellectual traditions, about the nature of human existents. But these have not always been best expressed, or best developed in practical life, by believers.

It is clear that Maritain considers the Christian message about the cry of the poor for justice to be a motor of human temporal improvement. He holds simultaneously that existing democratic ideas, traditions, and institutions were often championed in actual history by those who were non-Christians or even anti-Christian; and yet that, in building better than they knew, such persons were often generating in human temporal life constructs whose foundations were not only consistent with Jewish and Christian convictions about the realities of ethical and political life, but in a sense dependent on them. Pull out from under democratic principles the beliefs of Judaism and Christianity about the transcendent dignity of the person and the human propensity to sin, and the existing edifice of democratic thought is exposed to radical doubt.

Thus, Maritain argued, existing democratic institutions need to be grounded on a deeper, sounder foundation of intellectual conviction and moral habits than had been achieved in previous history. He urged Christians to take up this work both in intellect and in active practice. He saw a great deal to be done, both intellectually and morally, in the “slow and difficult construction” of a more humane world, whether considered from a Christian or a humanistic viewpoint.

Reading Selections from Raissa Maritain: Philosopher, Poet, Mystic by Fr. Michael Sherwin, O.P.

Her Life and Work
Raïssa’s understanding of her Hasidic heritage is best seen in her description of the work and personality of another Russian Jew, her friend Marc Chagall:

“The tender spiritual joy that permeates his work was born with him in Vitebsk, in Russian soil, in Jewish soil. It is thus penetrated with melancholy, pierced by the sting of nostalgia and a hard-pressed hope. Truly, Jewish joy is not like any other; one might say that by sending its roots deeply into the reality of life, Jewish joy simultaneously draws from this reality the tragic sense of its fragility and of death.”

With images drawn from Chagall’s paintings, Raïssa continues:

“The Jewish bride cries under the wedding canopy. The little Jew who dances does not lose the memory of his misery; by dancing he mocks it and accepts it as his divine lot. If he sings, he sings with sighs; for he is penetrated with the past sufferings of his people and his soul is bathed in the prophetic awareness of the unimaginable sufferings that are reserved for it. Did not God forewarn them about it? Did not God take the trouble, something he did not do for any other people, to tell them through the prophet Isaiah, through Jeremiah and the other great voices of the Bible, about the purifications that his love reserves for them? They know all of these things, those Jews who have not given themselves over to the secular world, but are bathed each day in the living waters of the Scriptures. They know these things, the Jews of Chagall.”

Raïssa Maritain was also to know them. In describing Chagall’s art, she describes herself. Her life and work were also suffused with a “tender spiritual joy” that was “penetrated with melancholy,” and “pierced by the sting of nostalgia and a hard-pressed hope.” The song she sings throughout her writings, she sings with sighs: she too was permeated with the past sufferings of her people; her soul too was bathed in the awareness of the sufferings that are reserved for all wayfarers on earth. By the time she wrote her reflections on Chagall, she had already long discovered the mystery of human suffering revealed in Christ. Yet, that was later. First, she was to undergo exile and a painful search for meaning.

Meeting Jacques Maritain
When Raïssa began her studies at the University of Paris she was seventeen years old and the year was 1900. It was a time of great scientific achievement and the Sorbonne was one of its centers. Marie and Pierre Curie, for example, had discovered radium there only two years before. It was natural, therefore, for Raïssa to turn to the sciences for the answers she sought. To her dismay, however, she soon discovered that her professors were either strict materialists or simply did not pose for themselves philosophical questions concerning truth and meaning. Hope began to wane in her heart. Yet, she also continued to await “some great event, some perfect fulfillment.”8 The first step toward that fulfillment came when she met the man who would become her greatest companion during her earthly pilgrimage.

Almost from the moment that Jacques Maritain introduced himself to Raïssa Oumansov they became inseparable. They were both students at the Sorbonne, he a year older than she, and they both were searching for the meaning of their lives. Jacques Maritain came from a family that embodied the values of the French Revolution.” Maritain offers a revealing description of these values in his account of the intellectual outlook that filled the home of his closest boyhood friend, Renan’s grandson, Ernest Psichari. He explains that his friend’s home was suffused by:

a spirit of moral inquiry that was extremely broad and lofty, but foreign to all metaphysical certainty, a marked tendency to ignore the conflicts created by the opposition of intellectual principles. You did not fight Christianity, you were deeply persuaded that you had assimilated it and outgrown it.

Maritain was raised in a similar intellectual climate. He early discovered, however, what many others of his generation would one day recognize: the metaphysical agnosticism that was their heritage was too thin a soil for the sense of justice that burned in their hearts. To withstand the winds of tyranny, justice needs deep roots and a rich soil in which to sink them. It was during his search for that rich metaphysical soil that Jacques encountered Raïssa. In the friendship that grew between them, they undertook the search together.

As they pursued their studies, the calm materialism and convinced atheism of their science professors left them cold. The philosophers at the Sorbonne were equally disappointing to them.

“Our teachers were philosophers, yet they in fact had lost all hope in philosophy…. Through some curious de facto contradiction, they sought to verify everything by processes of material learning and of positive verification, and yet they despaired of truth, whose very name was unlovely to them and could be used only between the quotation marks of a disillusioned smile.”

The cumulative effect of their years of study led Raïssa and Jacques to the threshold of despair. For Raïssa, her exile from the homeland of faith that began when her family first left Russia was now reaching its lowest ebb.

We swam aimlessly in the waters of observation and experience like a fish in the depths of the sea, without ever seeing the sun whose dim rays filtered down to us,… And sadness pierced me, the bitter taste of the emptiness of a soul which saw the lights go out, one by one.

In the midst of their distress, Jacques and Raïssa reached a fateful decision that would shape the rest of their lives. While strolling through Paris beloved Jardin des Plantes they both agreed that if it were impossible to know the truth, to distinguish good from evil, just from unjust, then it was impossible to live with dignity. In such a case it would be better to die young through suicide than to live an absurdity. Something, however, kept them from taking that final step. Their refusal to accept the absurd and their desire to know truth, a desire that caused them great suffering, seemed to point to something beyond the absurd.

What saved us then, what made our real despair still a conditional despair was precisely our suffering. That almost unconscious dignity of the mind saved our minds through the presence of an element which could not be reduced to the absurdity into which everything seemed to be trying to lead us.

Thus, they decided to give “the unknown” a chance to explain itself to them and to reveal a truth that they could live by.

Léon Bloy And Baptism Into The Catholic Church
In the days that followed, Jacques and Raïssa Maritain were to discover the wondrous fact that the Unknown God “desires all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). God in his great mercy led them to Christ, to baptism in the Catholic Church and to the consolation of the Eucharist. Their way to faith in Christ had many twists and turns. It led from the philosopher Henri Bergson, through the writings of Plotinus and Ruysbroeck, and finally by way of Maeterlinck to the writer and fiery lay preacher, Leon Bloy.

In reading Bloy’s great novel, The Woman Who Was Poor, the Maritains encountered the profile and the grandeur of the Christian saint. “What struck us so forcibly on first reading La Femme Pauvre was the immensity of this believer’s soul, his burning zeal for justice, the beauty of a lofty doctrine which for the first time rose up before our eyes.” Upon meeting Bloy and his family, they were even more impressed. His poverty, his faith, his heroic independence, all spoke to the young Maritains of the life-giving mystery of Christ. Entering Bloy’s home seemed to them a homecoming. They recognized in his description of sanctity and in his efforts to live it — with its zeal for divine justice, its desire for truth and its tender love for the afflicted — the image of the longings present in their own hearts.

Equally important for Raïssa was Bloy’s book Le Salut par les Juifs (Salvation through the Jews). Although Bloy’s earthy and prophetic style was often offensive to the very people he intended to defend, Raissa recognized in Bloy’s description of the vocation of the Jewish people the key to solving the problem that had plagued her since childhood: the problem of God and suffering. The key was Christ. Paradoxically, by leading Raïssa to Christ, Bloy gave back to her the Jewish faith of her childhood, now brought to completion in the New Covenant in Christ’s blood. Bloy was explaining something to Raïssa that she somehow already sensed: the salvific power of human suffering when in God’s grace it is united to the sufferings of Christ.

Léon Bloy was perhaps the most remarkable figure to arise in France at the twilight of the nineteenth century. Destitute, constantly harassed by creditors, with a wife and two children to feed, Bloy spent his life thundering against France’s rejection of God and the lukewarm complacency of those believers who still remained. At the very moment when Paris was preparing to celebrate its paean to human progress — the Exposition of 1900 — Bloy was telling France to prepare for the destruction that would befall her: “The Exposition … ought not to take place, because Paris and all nations will have enough to do with hardening their sinews against death.” When war finally did come, with the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Bloy remarked that it was “only the beginning.”

In 1916, in the preface of Au Seuil del’ Apocalypse (At the Threshold of the Apocalypse ), Bloy writes, “In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries a nation was found to undertake something that had never been seen since the beginning of History: THE EXTINCTION OF SOULS. This was called German Culture.”

This hyperbolic assessment, so characteristic of Bloy, pointed out a real truth: something was terribly wrong in Germany, and it was spreading. Bloy was particularly concerned with the new strain of anti-Semitism that was arising around him. It was no longer this or that individual Jew or community of Jews that was being attacked. Jews were now in danger as an entire race. Remarkably, Bloy was writing this in 1916

Bloy’s message was not solely a message of destruction. He also spoke of a coming renewal. Christians would have to suffer, but united to Christ their sufferings would purify them and help many souls find the healing love of God. Mysteriously, in Bloy’s view, the sufferings of the Jews were a sign that pointed to the Christ, their fellow Jew who suffered with them. Bloy’s mission, as he saw it, was to help France prepare to walk with Christ the way of Calvary so that the Church might be renewed.

Raïssa was receptive to Bloy’s message. In 1906, with Jacques and Vera, she was baptized into the Catholic Church, with Léon and Jeanne Bloy as her godparents. From that point on, Raïssa began to discern the features of her vocation. She was being called to live in union with Christ. She was also being invited, through a life of prayer and study, to put into words — in prose and poetry — the truths she was now discovering in Christ. In the years that followed, physical and emotional suffering would never be far from her, but there was also peace and a quiet joy. She was strengthened by the growing conviction that in Christ her sufferings were secretly working for the good of souls. The life that she and Jacques were to live in the service of the Church is best understood as an effort to live Bloy’s vision.

The House in Meudon
The years between their baptism and the outbreak of the First World War were a time of spiritual gestation for the Maritains, and for many others in Europe. Those years saw the conversion of Jacques’ sister and Raïssa’s father. A number of their friends also converted at this time, including two who had become dear to many in France through their writings and exploits: Jacques’ boyhood friend, Ernest Psichari, and his early mentor, Charles Péguy. During those years, Jacques and Raïssa with her sister Vera became Benedictine oblates, establishing together a domestic community of prayer and study. Jacques and Raïssa had decided to live as brother and sister, forsaking marital intimacy and the joys of raising a family in order to dedicate themselves more deeply to their vocation to serve the truth. It was also during those years that the Maritians discovered Thomas Aquinas and began, under the guidance of their Dominican mentors, to study his works in depth.

Although Jacques was already beginning to become known in France through his articles, it was only after the First World War that his life as a philosopher began in earnest. Having received a bequest in support of his work from a soldier killed at the front, the Maritains were able to buy a home in Meudon, a village not far from Paris, and bring their plans to fruition. They could live a life of prayer and study, and make their home a center for Catholic thought and culture, under the patronage of St. Thomas Aquinas. Their home became a place where artists and intellectuals could find friendship and lively discussion. The guest lists to their home during those years read like a Who’s Who of the Catholic intellectual revival in France. It was during the Meudon years that Raïssa’s public life as a writer and a poet began.

Raïssa’s Writings
Raïssa Maritain’s first publication was the slender La Vie d’Oraison (Prayer and Intelligence), a work she wrote with Jacques as a spiritual guidebook for the Thomistic study groups she and Jacques had formed. The goal of this little work was to convey to the members of the study groups the priority of prayer and Christian love for progress in the intellectual life: “the intelligence itself can only develop its highest powers in so far as it is protected and fortified by the peace given by prayer. The closer a soul approaches God by love, the simpler grows the gaze of her intelligence and the clearer her vision.” The intellectual life, therefore, must be fortified by the contemplative life if it is to make real progress in discovering truth and in leading others to know and love the truth.

Raïssa took to heart the message of her book and strove to live it. From the earliest days of her conversion she felt an intense call to contemplative prayer. It was during this period that Raïssa began to write her Journal, which was published only after her death. With arresting clarity she describes the Lord’s action in her life and her struggles to understand and respond. Brief insights — “To love and understand one’s neighbor one must forget oneself” — are interspersed with descriptions of her struggles and pearls of calm wisdom, such as the following:

“Error is like the foam on the waves; it eludes our grasp and keeps reappearing. The soul must not exhaust itself fighting against the foam. Its zeal must be purified and calmed and, by union with the divine Will, it must gather strength from the depths. And Christ, with all his merits and the merits of all the saints, will do his work deep down below the surface of the waters. And everything that can be saved will be saved.”

The journal also provides the record of her awareness that the Lord was inviting her to accept a share in his suffering:

“During silent prayer I feel inwardly solicited to abandon myself to God, and not only solicited but effectively inclined to do it, and do it, feeling that it is for a trial, for a suffering, for which my consent is thus demanded. I make this act of abandon in spite of my natural cowardice.”

Her Poetry
It was during these years at Meudon that Raïssa received the gift of poetry: “He who would know the depths of the spirit or, if you will, the spirituality of being, begins by entering into himself. And it is also in the inwardness of life, of thought, of conscience that he encounters Poetry, if he be destined to encounter it.” In the depths of her prayer, Raïssa encountered Poetry. Poems became a way for her to express her inner experiences. While specialists have noted the technical limitations present in a number of her poems, her best pieces succeed in making the ordinary events of life glow with “spiritual transparency.” One finds here themes that recur throughout her works: the sudden encounter with God in the ordinary (“The Cloud”); the mystery of moral evil and natural beauty (“The Fall of Icarus”); the workings of God’s providence in the midst of human sinfulness (“Meditation”); and the ever present mystery of Christ’s suffering and our vocation to participate in it (“O Cross”). In all, Raïssa wrote close to ninety poems, published in four different collections, and brought together into one volume by Jacques after her death. For those who have the patience to let the poet’s art speak to them, her poems are of enduring value.

Darkness below and darkness above;
Under Archangel’s black wing
The plan of God unfolds.

Creation’s paradox is infinite
Eternity is being made of time,
Imperishable good by evil fostered.

Humanity plods onward seeking justice
On lazy by-ways of iniquity,
And the deceits and errors of today
Tomorrow’s truth will serve.

The little good,
Through unavailing it may seem
To overcome disaster in our time,
Contains the seed of love’s eternal tree

The Fall of Icarus
A branch in flower frames the sea.
Some ships dream of the universe; On shore the sheep stand drowsily.
Icarus has fallen from the sky
With a sea-gull’s downard dive.
In noon-day sun creation sleeps –
The world, serene, its beauty keeps.

O Cross
O Cross you divide the heart,
O Cross you split the world,
Cross divine and wood of bitterness,
Bloodstained price of the Beatitudes,
Royal rood, imperious impress,
Most sombre Cross, gibbet of God,
Star of Mysteries,
Key to certitude.

The Cloud
A cloud in the sky,
Ezechiel’s chariot
Flashing by.

In the meadow see
Under the peach tree
Roses glow,
Then you appear

And the tears flow
In the thin air
Upon your face
O messenger.


Jacques Maritain’s Aesthetics

March 18, 2010

Jacque Maritain

This essay was originally a chapter in Creative Intuition In Art And Poetry.

From his earliest years Jacques Maritain has been the friend and confidant of numberless artists, writers, poets, and musicians. He is considered by many as having the finest esthetic sensibility among the major figures of modern philosophy. His long reflection — beginning with Art et Scolastique in 1920 —  on almost every facet of the artistic process culminated in 1953 with the publication of his monumental Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry.

Maritain likes to say with Dante that human art is, as it were, the grandchild of God — it continues in its own way the labor of divine creation. But he keeps reminding the modern artist that human art cannot create out of nothing; it must first nourish itself on things, which it transforms in order to make a form grasped in them shine on a bit of matter. For Maritain, human art is in the last analysis doomed to sterility and failure if it cuts itself off from the existential world of nature and the universe of man.

The deepest concern of Maritain has been with the nature of poetic knowledge and poetic intuition — that is, with the nature of the knowledge immanent In and consubstantial with poetry, poetry as distinct from art and quickening all the arts. Other major themes of his are the prise de conscience (growth in self-awareness) of art and poetry in modern times; art as a virtue of the practical intellect; art and beauty, and the relationship between transcendental beauty and esthetic beauty; art as “imitation”; and the relationship between art and morality.

Maritain’s works in aesthetics are

Art And Faith
Art And Poetry
Art And Scholasticism And The Frontiers Of Poetry
Creative Intuition In Art And Poetry
The Responsibility Of The Artist
The Situation Of Poetry (In Collaboration With Raissa Maritain)

Creative Intuition And Poetic Knowledge

At The Single Root Of The Soul’s Powers
I have given a few indications, general in nature, about the existence in us of a spiritual unconscious or preconscious, specifically distinct from the automatic or Freudian unconscious, though in vital intercommunication and interaction with it. I also suggested that it is in this translucid spiritual night that poetry and poetic inspiration have their primal source. And I referred to the views of Thomas Aquinas on the structure of the intellect and the preconscious intellectual activity on which the birth of ideas depends.

It is once again with some philosophical considerations borrowed from Thomas Aquinas that I shall preface our discussion of creative or poetic intuition. These considerations deal with the manner in which the powers of the soul, through which the various operations of life — biological, sensitive, intellective life — are performed, emanate from the soul. As soon as the human soul exists, the powers with which it is naturally endowed also exist, of course, though with regard to their exercise, the nutritive powers come first (they alone are in activity in the embryo); and then the sensitive powers, and then the intellective powers. But at the very instant of the creation of the soul, there is an order — with respect not to time but to nature — in the way in which they flow or emanate from the essence of the son.

At this point St. Thomas states that with respect to this order of natural priorities, the more perfect powers emanate before the others, and he goes on to say (here is the point in which I am interested) that in this ontological procession one power or faculty proceeds from the essence of the soul through the medium or instrumentality of another — which emanates beforehand. For the more perfect powers are the principle or raison d’être of others, both as being their end and as being their “active principle,” or the efficacious source of their existence, Intelligence does not exist for the senses, but the senses, which are, as he puts it, “a certain defective participation in intelligence,” exist for intelligence. Hence it is that in the order of natural origin the senses exist, as it were, from the intellect, in other words, proceed from the essence of the soul through the intellect.

Consequently, we must say that imagination proceeds or flows from the essence of the soul through the intellect, and that the external senses proceed from the essence of the soui through imagination. For they exist in man to serve imagination, and through imagination, intelligence.

I am fond of diagrams. I hope that the one I am offering here and which represents this order of emanation, will help me to clarify the matter, poor as it may be from the point of view of abstract drawing.

Maritain's Diagram

The point at the summit of the diagram represents the essence of the soul. The first — so to speak — cone represents the Intellect, or Reason, emanating first from the soul. The second, which emerges from the first, represents the Imagination, emanating from the soul through the Intellect, The third, which emerges from the second, represents the External Senses, emanating from the soul through the Imagination.

The first circle represents the world of Concepts and Ideas in a state of explicit formation, say, the conceptualized externals of Reason: the world of the working of conceptual, logical, discursive Reason, The second circle represents the world of the Images in a state of explicit and definite formation, say, the organized externals of Imagination. This is the world of the achievements of Imagination as stirred by, and centered upon, the actual exercise of External Senses and held in unity by it: in other words, as engaged in the process of sense perception and used for practical purposes in the current activities of man in the waking state.

The third circle represents the intuitive data afforded by external sensation (which is, of itself, almost unconscious, and becomes sense perception when it is interpreted and structured of the soul’s powers, and in the unconscious of the spirit, that poetry, I think, has its source. (We may observe at this point, in regard to Coleridge’s celebrated distinction between imagination and fancy, that what Coleridge called fancy relates to the “externals of imagination” (the second circle in our diagram) inasmuch as the streams and associations of images are released from the actual service of sense perception and man’s practical life (“Equally with the ordinary memory the Fancy must receive all its materials ready-made from the law of association.” Biographia Literaria, Chapter XIII).

What he called imagination relates to the imagination and the intuitive intellect together as vitally united in the preconscious life of the spirit.

In forging — or rather borrowing from Schelling, as Huntington Cairns observes (Invitation to Learning [New York: Random House, 1941], P. 244) — the expression esenplastic Imagination, “to shape into one”), Coleridge had in view the implied tendency toward creation and the unifying power involved.)

Poetry’s freedom resembles, thus, as Plato pointed out, the freedom of the child, and the freedom of play, and the freedom of dreams. It is none of these. It is the freedom of the creative spirit.

And because poetry is born in this root life where the powers of the soul are active in common, poetry implies an essential requirement of totality or integrity. Poetry is the fruit neither of the intellect alone, nor of imagination alone. Nay more, it proceeds from the totality of man, sense, imagination, intellect, love, desire, instinct, blood, and spirit together. And the first obligation imposed on the poet is to consent to be brought back to the hidden place, near the center of the soul, where this totality exists in a creative source.

Poetic Intuition
Thus, when it comes to poetry, we must admit that in the spiritual unconscious of the intellect, at the single root of the soul’s powers, there is, apart from the process which tends to knowledge by means of concepts and abstract ideas, something which is pre-conceptual or non-conceptual and nevertheless in a state of definite intellectual actuation: not, therefore, a mere way to the concept, as was the “impressed pattern” I spoke of in the preceding chapter, but another kind of germ, which does not tend toward a concept to be formed, and which is already an intellective form or act fully determined though enveloped in the night of the spiritual unconscious. In other words, such a thing is knowledge in act, but non-conceptual knowledge.

The problem, then, that I should like to discuss now deals with that kind of knowledge which is involved in poetic activity.

Clearly, what we are considering at this point is not the previous (theoretical) knowledge, in any field whatever of human experience and culture, that is presupposed by art and poetry, and which provides them with external materials to be integrated in, and transformed by, the fire of creative virtues.

What we are considering is the kind of inherent knowledge that is immanent in and consubstantial with poetry, one with its very essence.

Here our first signpost is, I think — the notion, which I have previously pointed out, of the free creativity of the spirit. In the craftsman the creativity of the spirit is, as it were, bound or tied up to a particular aim, which is the satisfying of a particular need. In the poet it is free creativity, for it only tends to engender in beauty, which is a transcendental, and involves an infinity of possible realizations and possible choices. In this respect the poet is like a god. And in order to discover the first essentials of poetry there is nothing better for us to do than to look to the First Poet.

God’s creative Idea, from the very fact that it is creative, does not receive anything from things, since they do not yet exist. It is in no way formed by its creatable object, it is only and purely formative and forming. And that which will be expressed or manifested in the things made is nothing else than their Creator Himself, whose transcendent Essence is enigmatically signified in a diffused, dispersed, or parceled-out manner, by works which are deficient likenesses of and created participations in it. And God’s Intellect is determined or specified by nothing else than His own essence. It is by knowing Himself, in an act of intellection which is His very Essence and His very Existence, that He knows His works, which exist in time and have begun in time, but which He eternally is in the free act of creating.

Such is the supreme analogate (vocab: To make into an analogy) of poetry. Poetry is engaged in the free creativity of the spirit. And thus it implies an intellective act which is not formed by things but is, by its own essence, formative and forming. Well, it is too clear that the poet is a poor god. He does not know himself. And his creative insight miserably depends on the external world, and on the infinite heap of forms and beauties already made by men, and on the mass of things that generations have learned, and on the code of signs which is used by his fellow men and which he receives from a language he has not made. Yet, for all that he is condemned both to subdue to his own purpose all these extraneous elements and to manifest his own substance in his creation.

At this point we see how essential to poetry is the subjectivity of the poet. I do not mean the inexhaustible flux of superficial feelings in which the sentimental reader recognizes his own cheap longings, and with which the songs to the Darling and Faithless One of generations of poets have desperately fed us. I mean subjectivity in its deepest ontologic sense, that is, the substantial totality of the human person, a universe unto itself, which the spirituality of the soul makes capable of containing itself through its own immanent acts, and which, at the center of all the subjects that it knows as objects, grasps only itself as subject. In a way similar to that in which divine creation presupposes the knowledge God has of His own essence, poetic creation presupposes, as a primary requirement, a grasping, by the poet, of his own subjectivity, in order to create. The poet’s aim is not to know himself. He is not a guru. To attain, through the void, an intuitive experience of the existence of the Self, of the Atman, in its pure and full actuality, is the specific aim of natural mysticism. It is not the aim of poetry. The essential need of the poet is to create; but he cannot do so without passing through the door of the knowing, as obscure as it may be, of his own subjectivity. For poetry means first of all an intellective act which by its essence is creative, and forms something into being instead of being formed by things: and what can such an intellective act possibly express and manifest in producing the work if not the very being and substance of the one who creates? Thus it is that works of painting or sculpture or music or poetry the closer they come to the sources of poetry the more they reveal, one way or another, the subjectivity of their author.

But the substance of man is obscure to himself. He knows not his soul, except in the fluid multiplicity of passing phenomena which emerge from it and are more or less clearly attained by reflective consciousness, but only increase the enigma, and leave him more ignorant of the essence of his Self. He knows not his own subjectivity. Or, if he knows it, it is formlessly, by feeling it as a kind of propitious and enveloping night. Melville, I think, was aware of that when he observed that “no man can ever feel his own identity aright except his eyes be closed; as if darkness were indeed the proper element of our essences.” Subjectivity as subjectivity is inconceptualizable; it is an unknowable abyss. How, then, can it be revealed to the poet?

The poet does not know himself in the light of his own essence. Since man perceives himself only through a repercussion of his knowledge of the world of things, and remains empty to himself if he does not fill himself with the universe, the poet knows himself only on the condition that things resound in him, and that in him, at a single wakening, they and he come forth together out of sleep.  In other words, the primary requirement of poetry, which is the obscure knowing, by the poet, of his own subjectivity, is inseparable from, is one with another requirement — the grasping, by the poet, of the objective reality of the outer and inner world; not by means of concepts and conceptual knowledge, but by means of an obscure knowledge which I shall describe in a moment as knowledge through affective union.

Hence the perplexities of the poet’s condition. If he hears the passwords and the secrets that are stammering in things, if he perceives realities, correspondences, ciphered writings that are at the core of actual existence, if he captures those more things which are in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy, he does not do so by knowing all this in the ordinary sense of the word “to know,?’ but by receiving all this into the obscure recesses of his passion. (“This thing which is in me but which no efforts of mine can slay! “Wherefore time and again I stroke my empty bosom in pity for myself; so ignorant am I of what causes the opening and the barring of the door.” Lu Chi, Wen Pu, II, (o), 6-7, in The Art of Letters: Lu Chi’s “Wen Pu,” A.D. 302, trans. and ed. E. R. Hughes, Bollingen Series XXIX (New York: Pantheon Books, 1951). All that he discerns and divines in things, he discerns and divines not as something other than himself, according to the law of speculative knowledge, but, on the contrary, as inseparable from himself and from his emotion, and in truth as identified with himself.

His intuition, the creative intuition, is an obscure grasping of his own Self and of things in a knowledge through union or through con-naturality which is born in the spiritual unconscious, and which fructifies only in the work. So the germ of which I spoke some pages back, and which is contained in the spiritual night of the free life of the intellect, tends from the very start to a kind of revelation — not to the revelation of the ubermensch or of the omnipotency of man, as the Surrealists believe, but to the humble revelation, virtually contained in a small, lucid cloud of inescapable intuition, both of the Self of the poet and of some particular flash of reality in the God-made universe; a particular flash of reality bursting forth in its unforgettable individuality, but infinite in its meanings and echoing capacity –

To see a World in a Grain of Sand,
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower.

Such is the answer of philosophical analysis to the problem which had imposed itself on our consideration at the end of the merely descriptive or inductive inquiry conducted in the first chapter of this book. At that moment we observed that Oriental art, only intent on Things, nevertheless reveals obscurely, together with Things (and to the very extent to which it truly succeeds in revealing Things), the creative subjectivity of the artist; and that, on the other hand, Occidental art, more and more intent on the artist’s Self, nevertheless reveals obscurely, together with this Self (and to the very extent to which it succeeds in revealing it), the transparent reality and secret significance of Things. And we concluded that at the root of the creative act there must be a quite particular intellectual process, a kind of experience or knowledge without parallel in logical reason, through which Things and the Self are obscurely grasped together.

Now, availing ourselves of the self-awareness which the progress of reflexivity has developed in modem art and poetry, and which causes poets to say with Pierre Reverdy that “the value of a work is proportional to the poignant contact of the poet with his own destiny,” (“To the modern poet,” Allen Tate wrote, “poetry is one of the ways that we have of knowing the world.” On the Limits of Poetry (New York: The Swallow Press and William Morrow, 1948), p. 117). We come to perceive in philosophical terms how and why the process in question takes place. A direct inquiry into the inner functioning of the intellect in its preconceptual life makes us realize that poetic intuition and poetic knowledge are both one of the basic manifestations of man’s spiritual nature, and a primary requirement of the creativity of the spirit steeped in imagination and emotion.

“Poetry, I think, must be much more ‘creative’ than science is, or at least much more spiritedly, incessantly so. It is such an eager cognitive impulse that it overreaches its object. That is its glory, and one of the causes of its delightfulness perhaps, and certainly the source of its bad reputation. It goes where science hardly cares to set foot.”
John Crowe Ransom, The World’s Body

Nature Of Poetic Knowledge
I used a moment ago the expression “knowledge through con-naturality.” It refers to a basic distinction made by Thomas Aquinas,” when he explains that there are two different ways to judge of things pertaining to a moral virtue, say fortitude. On the one hand we can possess in our mind moral science, the conceptual and rational knowledge of virtues, which produces in us a merely intellectual conformity with the truths involved. Then, if we axe asked a question about fortitude, we will give the right answer by merely looking at and consulting the intelligible objects contained in our concepts. A moral philosopher may possibly not be a virtuous man and know everything about virtues.

On the other hand, we can possess the virtue in question in our own powers of will and desire, have it embodied in ourselves, and thus be in accordance with it or connatured with it in our very being. Then, if we are asked a question about fortitude, we will give the right answer, no longer through science, but through inclination, by looking at and consulting what we are an4 the inner bents or propensities of our own being. A virtuous man may possibly be utterly ignorant in moral philosophy, and know as well (probably better) everything about virtues — through con-naturality (vocab: The condition of being con-natural  or similar in nature).

In this knowledge through union or inclination, con-naturality or congeniality, the intellect is at play not alone, but together with affective inclinations and the dispositions of the will, and as guided and shaped by them. It is not rational knowledge, knowledge through the conceptual, logical, and discursive exercise of reason. But it is really and genuinely knowledge, though obscure and perhaps incapable of giving account of itself.

St. Thomas explains in this way the difference between the knowledge of divine reality acquired by theology and the knowledge of divine reality provided by mystical experience. For the spiritual man, he says, knows divine things through inclination or con-naturality: not only because he has learned them, but because he suffers them, as the Pseudo-Dionysius put it.

Knowledge through con-naturality plays an immense part in human life. Modern philosophers have thrown it into oblivion, but the ancient Doctors paid careful attention to it and established upon it all their theory of God-given contemplation. I think that we have to restore it, and to recognize its basic role and importance in such domains as moral practical knowledge and natural or supernatural mystical experience — and in the domain of art and poetry. Poetic knowledge, as I see it, is a specific kind of knowledge through inclination or con-naturality—let us say a knowledge through affective con-naturality which essentially relates to the creativity of the spirit and tends to express itself in a work. So that in such a knowledge it is the object created, the poem, the painting, the symphony, in its own existence as a world of its own, which plays the part played in ordinary knowledge by the concepts and judgments produced within the mind.

Hence it follows that poetic knowledge is fully expressed only in the work. In the mind of the poet, poetic knowledge arises in an unconscious or preconscious manner, and emerges into consciousness in a sometimes almost imperceptible though imperative and irrefragable way, through an impact both emotional and intellectual or through an unpredictable experiential insight, which gives notice of its existence, but does not express it.

This particular kind of knowledge through con-naturality comes about, I think, by means of emotion. That is why, at first glance, one believes, and often the poet himself believes, that he is like the Ahab of Moby Dick: “Here’s food for thought, had Ahab time to think; but Ahab never thinks; he only feels, feels, feels; that’s tingling enough for mortal man! to think’s audacity. God only has that right and privilege.”13 Well, in this people are mistaken. The poet also thinks. And poetic knowledge proceeds from the intellect in its most genuine and essential capacity as intellect, though through the indispensable instrumentality of feeling, feeling, feeling.

Must I quote at this point the testimony of painters? “Be guided by feeling alone,” Corot said. “We are only simple mortals, subject to error; so listen to the advice of others, but follow only what you understand and can unite in your own feeling…While 1 strive for a conscientious imitation, I yet never for an instant lose the emotion that has taken hold of me.”

Similarly van Gogh: “Is it not emotion, the sincerity of one’s feeling for nature, that draws us, and if the emotions are sometimes so strong that one works without knowing one works, when sometimes the strokes come with a sequence and a coherence like words in a speech or a letter, then one must remember that it has not always been so, and that in the time to come there will again be heavy days, empty of inspiration.”

And Braque: “Emotion…is the seed, the work is the flower.”

And Hopper: “I believe that the great painters, with their intellect as master, have attempted to force this unwilling medium of paint and canvas into

At this point I would wish to insist that a record of their emotions. I find any digression from this large aim leads me to boredom.”

And Matisse: “I am unable to distinguish between the feeling I have for life and my way of expressing it.”

It is in no way a merely emotional or a sentimentalist theory of poetry that I am suggesting. First, I am speaking of a certain kind of knowledge, and emotion does not know: the intellect knows, in this kind of knowledge as in any other. Second, the emotion of which I am speaking is in no way that “brute or merely subjective emotion” to which I alluded to in an earlier chapter, and which is extraneous to art. (See supra [Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry], pp. 6-7 and 8. As I put it in Art and Scholasticism (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1930):

“I will willingly suffer the domination of the object which the artist has conceived and which he puts before my eyes; I will then yield myself unreservedly to the emotion roused in him and me by one same beauty, one same transcendental in which we communicate. But I refuse to suffer the domination of an art which deliberately contrives means of suggestion to seduce my subconscious, J resist an emotion which the will of a man claims to impose upon me.” See also E, I. Watkin, A Philosophy of Form, revised edition (London and New York: Sheed & Ward, 1951), Chapter II, section IV. In his remarkable analysis of aesthetic contemplation, Mr. Watkin rightly points out both the intellectuality and objectivity of artistic intuition, and its essential difference from the emotion or vital pleasure which normally accompanies it. These pages afford us the most correct philosophical approach I have read on the matter — except for the lack of the key notion of intentional emotion, as contradistinguished to ordinary or “vital” emotion.

 It is not an emotion expressed or depicted by the poet, an emotion as thing which serves as a kind of matter or material in the making of the work, nor is it a thrill in the poet which the poem will “send down the spine” of the reader. It is an emotion as form, which, being one with the creative intuition, gives form to the poem, and which is intentional, as an idea is, or carries within itself infinitely more than itself. (I use the word “intentional” in the Thomistic sense, reintroduced by Brentano and Husserl into modern philosophy, which refers to the purely tendential existence through which a thing normally accompanies it. These pages afford us the most correct philosophical approach I have read on the matter — except for the lack of the key notion of intentional emotion, as contradistinguished to ordinary or “vital” emotion. — for instance, the object known — is present, in an immaterial or supra-subjective manner, in an “instrument” — an idea for instance, which, in so far as it determines the act of knowing, is a mere immaterial tendency or intentio toward the object.)

The distinction made in the above paragraph is basically important, and it is relevant to discuss in this connection certain views expressed by T. S. Eliot in The Sacred Wood (London: Methuen, 1920). Eliot, in his essays on “The Perfect Critic” and on “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” points to valuable truths but at the price of serious equivocation, because he overlooks this distinction. He makes his point with regard to brute or merely subjective emotion (emotion as a simple psychological state), but glosses over what matters most: intentional or creative emotion (emotion as the proper medium of poetic knowledge). It is quite true that, as he puts it in “The Perfect Critic,” one who reads poets should not mistake for the poetry “an emotional state aroused in himself by the poetry, a state which may be merely an indulgence of his own emotions.” (This deals with brute or merely subjective emotion.) It is quite true that “the end of the enjoyment of poetry is a pure contemplation from which all the accidents of personal emotion are removed” — that is, all the accidents of brute or merely subjective emotion. But this pure contemplation itself is steeped in the creative emotion or poetic intuition conveyed by the poem.

The emotions and feelings of which Eliot speaks in “Tradition and the Individual Talent” are, too, only brute or merely subjective emotions and feelings. Such affective states are indeed merely matter or material, as I have said, which poetry must “digest” and “transmute.” “It is not the ‘greatness,’ the intensity, of the emotions, the components, but the intensity of the artistic process, the pressure, so to speak, under which the fusion takes place, that counts,” That is perfectly right, but it is through the creative, or intentional emotion that the fusion takes place. The pressure of the artistic process would be of no avail to poetry if it did not proceed from poetic intuition or creative emotion. “It is not in his personal emotions, the emotions provoked by particular events in his life, that the poet is in any way remarkable or interesting. His particular emotions may be simple, or crude, or fiat.

The emotion in his poetry will be a very complex thing, but not with the complexity of the emotions 0f people who have very complex or unusual emotions in life. One error, in fact, of eccentricity in poetry is to seek for new human emotions to express: and in this search for novelty in the wrong places it discovers the perverse. The business of the poet is not to find new emotions, but to use the ordinary ones and, in working them up into poetry, to express feelings which are not in actual fact emotions at all.” All this deals with emotion as material, with brute or merely subjective emotion. It would mislead us if we forgot the essential, necessary part played by that emotion which causes to express, emotion as formative, emotion as intentional vehicle of reality known through inclination and as proper medium of poetic intuition. This creative emotion, moreover, distinct as it is from the merely subjective emotions or feelings of the poet as a man, lives on them, so that, while being bound to transmute them, he cannot “escape from them” as simply as Eliot seems to suggest. It would be misunderstanding Eliot in a most unfortunate manner to believe that self-restraint is enough for this, and finally to mistake poetic discipline for artistic skill plus dessication of the heart. The escape of which he speaks cannot come about except through poetic knowledge and creative emotion, and in the very act of creating. And this is what he means.

“Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion.” An escape from brute or merely subjective emotion, yes! But, as I just said, through and in creative emotion!

One single sentence in this essay touches the core of the matter. “Very few,” Eliot writes, “know when there is expression of significant emotion, emotion which has its life in the poem and not in the history of the poet.” At last! At last we are told of the significant emotion, the intentional and creative emotion, without which there is no poetry. It deserved better than to be only alluded to in passing.

It seems also relevant to add at this point a few remarks about the indictment of Western art that Lionel de Fonseka offers us in the name of Eastern wisdom. The author has the merit of frankness in stating the issue in extreme terms. But he irremediably mistakes intentional emotion for brute emotion and the creative Self for the self-centered ego. In binding, moreover, art to utility, and making the artist an artisan at the service of human life, he simply disregards both the transcendental nature of beauty and the spiritual value of poetic knowledge and creative emotion.

“An obscene work to us [Orientals],” he writes, “is one wherein the artist lays bare his soul, and many of your modern artists we should consider spiritual prostitutes.” On the Truth of Decorative Art, A Dialogue between an Oriental and an Occidental (London: Greening and Go., 1912), p. 56. This sentence typifies the philosophy of those enemies of poetry who hold forth on art without recognizing its deepest life force, and who ignore the law of generosity proper to the spirit. For them, in the last analysis, any gift of oneself is prostitution. It is but natural that they regard as prostitution (which means no real gift hut only making oneself into an instrument of pleasure) the gift of himself through which the artist discloses in his work his soul and the world, so as to become a free creator (through the work) of joy and delectation — of the spiritual delectation by which men are liberated from their material ego and raised to experimental knowledge and love of what is better than human life.

When Baudelaire spoke in his own way of art as prostitution (Fusées, I, in Journaux intinies, ed. van Bever [Paris: Crés, 1919], p. 4), he made just the reverse error, in the opposite direction, and used a perverse image to humiliate what he revered and express the supreme law of the laying bare and giving of oneself which commands poetic creation.

How can emotion be thus raised to the level of the intellect and, as it were, take the place of the concept in becoming for the intellect a determining means or instrumental vehicle through which reality is grasped?

That’s a difficult question, as are all similar questions dealing with the application of the general concept of knowledge through con-naturality to the various particular fields in which this kind of knowledge is at play. I think that   in all these cases, where the soul “suffers things more than it learns them,” and experiences them through resonance in subjectivity, we have to find out a certain specific way in which the great notion developed by John of St. Thomas apropos of mystical knowledge — amor transit in conditionem objecti, love passes on to the sphere of the intentional means of objective grasping — has to be used analogically. Here I would say that in poetic knowledge emotion carries the reality which the soul suffers — a world in a grain of sand — into the depth of subjectivity, and of the spiritual unconscious of the intellect, because in the poet, contrary to other men (especially those involved in the business of civilized life), the soul remains, as it were, more available to itself, and keeps a reserve of spirituality which is not absorbed by its activity toward the outside and by the toil of its powers. And this deep unemployed reserve of the spirit, being unemployed, is like a sleep of the soul; but, being spiritual, is in a state of virtual vigilance and vital tension, owing to the virtual reversion of the spirit on itself and on everything in itself. The soul sleeps, but her heart is awake; allow her to sleep.

Well, let us suppose that in the density of such a secretly alert sleep and such a spiritual tension, emotion intervenes (whatever this emotion may be; what matters is where it is received). On the one hand it spreads into the entire soul, it imbues its very being, and thus certain particular aspects in things become con-natural to the soul affected in this way. On the other hand, emotion, falling into the living springs, is received in the vitality of intelligence, I mean intelligence permeated by the diffuse light of the Illuminating Intellect and virtually turned toward all the harvests of experience and memory preserved in the soul, all the universe of fluid images, recollections, associations, feelings, and desires latent, under pressure, in the subjectivity, and now stirred. And it suffices for emotion disposing or inclining, as I have said, the entire soul in a certain determinate manner to be thus received in the undetermined vitality and productivity of the spirit, where it is permeated by the light of the Illuminating Intellect: then, while remaining emotion, it is made — with respect to the. aspects in things which are connatural to, or like, the soul it imbues — into an instrument of intelligence judging through con-naturality, and plays, in the process of this knowledge through likeness between reality and subjectivity, the part of a non-conceptual intrinsic determination of intelligence in its preconscious activity. By this very fact it is transferred into the state of objective intentionality; it is spiritualized, it becomes intentional, that is to say, conveying, in a state of immateriality, things other than itself. In the case of mystical contemplation, love of charity (which is much more than an emotion) becomes a means 0f experiential knowledge for the virtue of faith which already tends toward and knows (though not experientially) the reality with which to be united. And a special inspiration of the divine Spirit is necessary, because a supernatural object is then to be experienced in a supernatural manner.

In the case of poetic knowledge, on the contrary, no previous virtue of the intellect is already in the act of knowing when emotion brings the enigmatic reality which moves the soul, the world which resounds in it and which it suffers, to the bosom of subjectivity and of the creativity of the spirit. And the entire process needs no inspiration whatever from the outside—no more than the knowledge a mother has of her child through affection or con-naturality –because the object as well as the mode of experience are simply natural.

It becomes for the intellect a determining means or instrumental vehicle through which the things which have impressed this emotion on the soul, and the deeper, invisible things that are contained in them or connected with them, and which have ineffable correspondence or coaptation with the soul thus affected, and which resound in it, are grasped and known obscurely.

It is by means of such a spiritualized emotion that poetic intuition, which in itself is an intellective flash, is born in the unconscious of the spirit. In one sense it is, as I said a moment ago, a privilege of those souls in which the margin of dreaming activity and introverted natural spirituality, unemployed for the business of human life, is particularly large. In another sense, because it emanates from a most natural capacity of the human mind, we must say that every human being is potentially capable of it: among those who do not know it, many, in point of fact, have repressed it or murdered it within themselves. Hence their instinctive resentment against the poet.

Of itself poetic intuition proceeds from the natural and supremely spontaneous movement of the soul which seeks itself by communicating with things in its capacity as a spirit endowed with senses and passions. And sometimes it is in mature age, when the spirit has been fed with experience and suffering, and turns back toward itself, that it best experiences the sapid sleep in which poetic intuition awakes — and which also exists, in another fashion, and with the acrid taste of greenness, in the child and the primitive. Poetic knowledge is as natural to the spirit of man as the return of the bird to his nest; and it is the universe which, together with the spirit, makes its way back to the mysterious nest of the soul. For the content of poetic intuition is both the reality of the things of the world and the subjectivity of the poet, both obscurely conveyed through an intentional or spiritualized emotion. The soul is known in the experience of the world and the world is known in the experience of the soul, through a knowledge which does not know itself. For such knowledge knows, not in order to know, but in order to produce. It is toward creation that it tends.

“Je est un autre,” Rimbaud said: “I is another.” In poetic intuition objective reality and subjectivity, the world and the whole of the soul, coexist inseparably. At that moment sense and sensation are brought back to the heart, blood to the spirit, passion to intuition. And through the vital though non-conceptual actuation of the intellect all the powers of the soul are also actuated in their roots. Thus it is through the notion and reality of poetic knowledge that the sentence of Novalis quoted in the preceding chapter [Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry, pp. 84-85] takes on philosophical sense, and appears not as a pure élan of lyricism, but as a justifiable statement: “The poet is literally out of his senses — in exchange, all comes about within him. He is, to the letter, subject and object at the same time, soul and universe.”

Among the pages which have been inserted in the volume as a kind of literary illustration, the ones pertaining to this chapter contain texts which seem to be significant for my present purpose. I think that by reading those collected under heading we can see better than through any philosophical arguments how the subjectivity of the poet is revealed (but together with things) in his poem; and by reading the texts collected under heading III, how the Another, the things of the world and of the intellect, and their meanings, are also (but together with the Self) revealed in the poem; and how, in this single and double revelation, everything derives from a primal creative intuition, born in the soul of the poet, under the impact of a definite emotion.

The direct, intuitive contact with any genuine work of painting, sculpture or architecture, or music, which has spiritual depth and conveys a message of its own, affords us the same evidence.


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