Archive for the ‘Jacques Maritain’ Category


Catholic and American – Derek Jeter

October 3, 2012

In my takeaways from the Communio Study Group I mentioned the nature of Catholic communion and the internal unity of the Church that John XXIII was expecting to act as a as a leaven in order to restore the unity of the human race. John XXIII saw the world of the mid-twentieth century as a place of grave crisis. One of the more tragic periods of history, he said, was marked by a great disunity among the peoples of the world. “History that had been marked in recent decades by war and fratricide, by Nazism and racism, by Communism and class warfare,[it] had forgotten not only God; it had forgotten that the human race is one human family.” 50 years later one could be snarky and say not much has changed but in some ways the challenges to the Catholic Church are more clearly defined. And perhaps even easier to understand in this America of the 21st century.

A question that occurred to me was how my relationship with my country is different from my relationship with the Church. How is being a Catholic different from being an American? As an American I am an individual who participates in a democracy that grants me a privileged status as a Vietnam Veteran. Thanks to my war service I receive disability benefits and thanks to the payments I made to social security I get retirement benefits. In both those cases I belong to a group that the secular society has chosen to reward.

As a Catholic however I am marginalized by my government. My government supports abortion and uses my taxes to fund it both here and overseas. I find Catholic Charities, hospitals and social service agencies under siege as they attempt to fulfill the conscience and teachings of Matthew 25 in the public square.

Were gay marriage to become the law of the land I worry that the courts may direct my Church to perform the marriage sacrament so as not to be prejudicial against gay Americans. I have seen Catholic Charities in Boston close its doors to its adoption agencies for refusal to place children with gay couples. Will Churches be next? What about hospitals after Obama Care kicks in with its proscriptions against health care workers who wish to exercise a conscience clause and not participate in abortions or providing contraceptive medications?

HHS Secretary Sibelius has already gone on record to say that if they (Catholics) have a problem with doing those things they shouldn’t be working in health care in the first place. Will Catholic hospitals be sold so as to continue under the new Obama plan: At a public hearing on the sale of Caritas Christi, the health-care system of the Boston archdiocese, the director of the 6-hospital system admitted that he could not guarantee the continuation of the institution’s Catholic identity after the transfer. James Karam argued in favor of the sale, to the Cerberus capital firm, because he said the only alternative would be closing the hospitals

This article in the WSJ recently on events in Chicago as Obama Care rolls out:

On Monday, Catholic Charities of Chicago — the social-welfare arm of the archdiocese — joined other Illinois Catholic organizations to file a lawsuit against the Obama administration’s mandate that would force these Catholic groups to offer free contraceptives through their insurance, in violation of church teaching. The suit’s message is direct: Mr. President, your mandate will make it impossible for us to do our jobs.

Judging from how President Obama now sounds like George W. Bush when he talks about the Catholic Church, the president appreciates the political harm his mandate is doing. At a campaign stop last Thursday in Ohio, he repeated what has become a stock line: “When I first got my job as an organizer for the Catholic churches in Chicago . . . they taught me that no government program can replace good neighbors and people who care deeply about their communities [and] who are fighting on their behalf.”

In terms of religious liberty, the new lawsuit breaks no new legal ground. What it does is offer a window into how much the decency of daily American life depends on churches using their free-exercise rights. Our nation’s third-largest city provides an especially compelling example.

Chicago’s Catholic Charities employs 2,700 full- and part-time staffers delivering relief aimed at helping people achieve self-sufficiency. They do everything from stocking food pantries to helping people with HIV/AIDS, resettling refugees, housing seniors, and training people for jobs.

Last year alone, that translated into 19 million meals in the form of groceries for single moms, another 2.5 million meals served to the hungry or homeless, 458,000 nights of shelter for families and children, and 897,481 hours of homemaker services for seniors. And these numbers don’t include the thousands of inner-city children served by the archdiocese’s Catholic schools but not on the Catholic Charities budget.

When you ask the Rev. Michael Boland, president and CEO of Catholic Charities, what percentage of those he serves are Catholic, he answers that he doesn’t know, because they don’t ask. The Obama administration’s mandate would change that. Particularly galling, he says, is the charge that his church is engaged in a “war on women” — when 80% of those his organization serves are women and children.

As the lawsuit puts it: Enforcing the mandate could soon require Catholic Charities to “stop providing educational opportunities to non-Catholics, stop serving non-Catholics, and fire non-Catholic employees — actions that would betray their religious commitment to serving all in need without regard to religion.”

Yes, the bulk of the Catholic Charities budget these days comes from government funding. There’s a perfectly legitimate public question about what accepting that funding means for both society and the church.

It’s not, however, the only public question. Another important one is this: Will our society rely on civic institutions or the government to deliver these services? Does anyone really believe we would be better off turning over the work of Catholic Charities to states or the feds — with their higher costs, greater bureaucracy, and loss in efficiency?

In a recent report, Catholic Charities notes that it costs Medicaid (read: taxpayers) $43,000 per year for every senior in a nursing home. By contrast, Catholic Charities provides day care for seniors at $6,461 per year, home-delivered meals at $1,188 and services such as housecleaning for $4,028. Any one of these services can keep an elderly citizen in his own house instead of being sent to a nursing home (one of the great drivers of Medicaid’s escalating costs).

Overall, 92 cents of every Catholic Charities dollar goes to recipients, which is one reason Catholic Charities is so often chosen for contracts. The church can provide such value because for every staffer, it has nearly seven volunteers. That works out to a volunteer army of 17,000 people, larger than Chicago’s police force.

It’s worth asking what Chicago might look like if these religious volunteers were limited to employing and serving only those who share their faith. And not just Chicago. Across America, volunteers with other faith groups are also reclaiming lives and neighborhoods in a way that even Mr. Obama says is far superior to any government program.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York recently wrote:

Coercing religious ministries and citizens to pay directly for actions that violate their teaching is an unprecedented incursion into freedom of conscience. Organizations fear that this unjust rule will force them to take one horn or the other of an unacceptable dilemma: Stop serving people of all faiths in their ministries — so that they will fall under the narrow exemption — or stop providing health-care coverage to their own employees.

The Catholic Church defends religious liberty, including freedom of conscience, for everyone. The Amish do not carry health insurance. The government respects their principles. Christian Scientists want to heal by prayer alone, and the new health-care reform law respects that. Quakers and others object to killing even in wartime, and the government respects that principle for conscientious objectors. By its decision, the Obama administration has failed to show the same respect for the consciences of Catholics and others who object to treating pregnancy as a disease.

This latest erosion of our first freedom should make all Americans pause. When the government tampers with a freedom so fundamental to the life of our nation, one shudders to think what lies ahead.

So how does my life as an American contrast with my life as a Catholic? If the former features my identity as an individual with rights and privileges divvied up by my secular masters and fellow citizens then the latter is one where I explore my personhood and an anthropology that derives its power from who I am and the spiritual character of my soul. This is what John XXIII wanted to pass on to the world.

Our Lord’s account of redemption, restoring human nature from original sin and winning back for us what we had lost, has bought us something much greater than we could ever have lost. “And where sins abounded, grace did more abound (Romans5:20). Through Jesus Christ, who is the way to eternal life, anew creation was called into being. Man redeemed has become the brother and co-heir of the Son of God. This is why the Church begins one of her prayers in the Mass with the words, “O God, by whom the dignity of human nature was wondrously established and yet more wondrously restored.”… Original sin had destroyed man’s bridge of access to God, and only from God’s side could that bridge be rebuilt. Jesus Christ rebuild it.
Josef Pieper and Heinz Raskop, What Catholics Believe

As a Catholic, my religious tradition explodes from the Jewish Old Testament:

The divine Will is perfectly good and righteous and holy and just. God is the only god you can’t bribe. And since that is the character of Ultimate Reality — and since in order to be really real we must conform to the character of Ultimate Reality — therefore the meaning of life is to be holy, to be a saint. Morality flows from metaphysics because goodness flows from God. “You must be holy because I the Lord your God am holy.”

The connection is repeated like a liturgical formula in the Torah. Unlike the gods of the polytheists and unlike the god of the pantheists, God has no dark side. And that is why we shouldn’t have a dark side either. The consequences of the Jewish metaphysics for ethics have been world-shaking. The whole world got a Jewish mother, a Jewish conscience, because the world got the Jewish Father.

This divine goodness is not just perfect, it is more than perfect. It spills out beyond itself like sunlight. It is agape, generosity, altruism, self-giving, self-sacrificial love. God seeks intimacy with Man, God seeks to marry Man. “Your creator shall become your Husband,” says Isaiah (54:5). To that end, He makes covenants, to prepare for the fundamental covenant, marriage. No pagan ever suspected the possibility of such intimacy, even with their finite, anthropomorphic gods: that is, the relationship scripture calls “faith,” or fidelity. And therefore no pagan ever understood the deeper meaning and terror of “sin” either, for sin is the breaking of that relationship. Sin is to faith what infidelity is to marriage. Only one who knows the wonder of marriage can know the horror of infidelity.
Peter Kreeft, Jesus As Metaphysician

How else, but for Christ, could we have known that God loves us? I mean really loves us, not just with proper philanthropy but with utterly improper passion. Even if any man dared to hope this, what ground could there possibly be for such a crazy hope? What data do we have? What evidence? Certainly not nature (“nature red in tooth and claw” Lord Alfred Tennyson, In Memoriam AHH), or human life (“solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” Thomas Hobbes, The Leviathan), or human history (“the slaughter-bench at which the happiness of peoples is sacrificed” Georg Hegel). The only data we have to know that God is love is Christ.
Peter Kreeft, Jesus As Metaphysician

That knowledge comes from our personhood and our very being:

Being is not just presence, but active presence, tending by nature to pour over into active self-manifestation and self-communication to others. And if personal being is really being itself only at its supra-material levels, then it follows that to be a person as such is to be a being that tends by nature to pour over into active, conscious self-manifestation and self-communication to others, through intellect and will working together.

And if the person in question is a good person, i.e., rightly ordered in its conscious free action, then this active presence to others will take the form of willing what is truly good for them, which is itself a definition of love in its broadest meaning, defined by Thomas as “willing good to another for its own sake.” To be a person, then, is to be a bi-polar being that is at once present in itself, actively possessing itself by its self-consciousness (its substantial pole), and also actively oriented towards others, toward active loving self-communication to others (its relational pole). To be an authentic person, in a word, is to be a lover, to live a life of interpersonal self-giving and receiving. Person is essentially a “we” term. Person exists in its fullness only in the plural. As Jacques Maritain puts it felicitously:

Thus it is that when a man has been really awakened to the sense of being or existence, and grasps intuitively the obscure, living depth of the Self and subjectivity, he discovers by the same token the basic generosity of existence and realizes, by virtue of the inner dynamism of this intuition, that love is not a passing pleasure or emotion, but the very meaning of his being alive.
Jacques Maritain, Existence and the Existent

Thus subjectivity reveals itself as “self-mastery for self-giving… by spiritual existing in the manner of a gift.”
Jacques Maritain, Challenges and Renewals

Josef Pieper has also caught well the intrinsic bipolarity of personal being as spirit, when, commenting on a brief sentence of St. Thomas, he unfolds it thus:

The higher the form of intrinsic existence, the more developed becomes the relatedness with reality, also the more profound and comprehensive becomes the sphere of this relationship: namely, the world. And the deeper such relations penetrate the world of reality, the more intrinsic becomes the subject’s existence. . . These two aspects combined — dwelling most intensively within itself, and being capax universi, able to grasp the universe — together constitute the essence of the spirit. Any definition of “spirit” will have to contain these two aspects as its core.
Josef Pieper, Living the Truth

Transpose “spirit” into “person,” as being itself existing on the spiritual level, and Pieper and I are both expressing the same insight.
Fr. W. Norris Clarke, Person, Being, and St. Thomas

Call it human soul or person or spirit, this is who we are and how we need to treat each other. It is precisely what the atheist secular society rejects in its insistence on the “individual,” “rights,” and “fairness” code words for excusing the worst sort of morality and behavior.

What would underlie the dialogue between Church and World? I will address that in my next post.


The World And Its Contrasting Aspects Jacques Maritain

July 15, 2011

The religious or “mystical” truth concerning the world in its relation with the kingdom of God.


I have often insisted (a long time ago in Freedom in the Modern World and True Humanism more recently in On the Philosophy of History on the fundamental ambivalence of the world when considered in its relation to the kingdom of God. I will begin this chapter by looking at this ambivalence again.

To do this, it is enough to refer to the assertions of the Gospel. These are essential assertions; if we forgot them, we would be mere shadows of Christians; because they give us not only what Jesus knew, but what he lived, in the very depths of his experience — what he lived in his life, what he lived in his death.

All my readers are in the habit of reading the Gospel, I am sure. But it is not a bad idea to bring together all the texts which have to do with the world.

If we wish to try to understand these texts, let us not forget that Jesus and the apostles, when they speak to us of the world, consider it always in its relation — its simultaneous twofold relation — to the kingdom of God. On the one hand, insofar as the world accepts its final destiny to be taken up and transfigured into another world, a divine world, the kingdom of God which has already begun and will endure eternally; on the other hand, insofar as the world rejects the kingdom and falls back upon itself. What is then at stake (for it has to do with the mystery of salvation) is the religious or “mystical” truth concerning the world.

I regret having to speak in a magisterial tone, which is not my manner, but it is a question of the Gospel.

God So Loved The World
“God so loved the world that he gave it his only Son.” [John 3:16]

How could God not love the world which he himself made? He made it out of love. And see how it ruins itself, this world, with all its beauty, by reason of the freedom of the creature who is the image of God and who prefers himself to God and chooses nothingness. “That is why, when Christ came into the world, he said: `You have not wanted either sacrifice or oblation, but you have prepared a body for me….’ Then I said:’I am coming to do your will, O God.” [Hebrews 10:5-7]

“For I did not come to condemn the world, but to save the world.” [John 12:47]

“God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world, but for the world to be saved by him.” [John 3:17]

“Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” [John 1:29]  He who never knew sin, he consented to be made sin [2 Corinthians 5:21] and to die on the cross, in order to deliver the world from sin.

And at the very moment when this world, insofar as it refuses the kingdom, is judged — “now is the judgment of the world,” [John 12:31] (it itself judges itself) — at the moment when Jesus is going to be lifted up on the cross and to draw all things to him; [John 12:32] on the very eve of his condemnation by the world and of his going to his Father[John 14:28], and leaving his own who were in the world and whom he loved until the End [John 13:1], at the Last Supper, at that moment when — whereas he does not pray for the world (it is for the Church that he prays, “for those whom you have given me” [John 17:9]  and “for those who will believe in me through their word” [John 17:20]he asks “that they may all be one, even as you, Father, in me and I in you, that they may also be one in us” [John 17:21] – he adds, “so that the world will believe that you sent me.” [John 17:21] How extraordinarily important the world is! Surely, since he came to save it.

That world which did not know the Father, [John 17:25] what I do, Christ said, is in order that “it know that I love the Father and that I do as the Father has commanded me”;[ John 14:31]it is necessary “that the world know that you have sent me and that you have loved them ["Those whom you have given me"; and "those who will believe in me through their word." John 17:9; 17:20]as you have loved me.” [John 17:23]

The world must know this, so that the world itself, or at least all in it who will not refuse to be saved, may be saved and enter into the kingdom of God and be transfigured there. And the world must also know this for its own condemnation, or at least for the condemnation of all in it that refuses to be saved and to turn toward mercy.

“The Son of man came to seek, and to save what was perishing.” [Luke 19:10] But he does not save us in spite of ourselves. He does not save what was perishing if what was perishing prefers to perish.

Behind all this there is a very long history.

The world was created good (which does not mean that it was created divine). It was created good, its natural structures are good in themselves: the Bible intends to get this into our heads once and for all. “God (Elohim) saw that the light was good.” [Genesis 1:4]  And in the same way, at the succeeding stages of creation, “God saw that it was good” keeps returning like a refrain. [Genesis 1:10;12;18;21;25] And on the sixth day, after man lied bcen created, “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, II was very good.” [Genesis 1:31]

And then evil made its appearance on the earth, with the disobedience of Man and Woman, deceived by the Evil Spirit. Finished, the earthly paradise, forever, for them and for all their posterity. (There are authors today who are discovering that original sin is an invention of St. Augustine; too bad they remember Genesis so poorly. I know very well they will say it is a myth, but this “myth,” whose truth is vouched for by God himself, comes at the head of the Bible, a pretty long time before St. Augustine.)

It would be childish to believe that before passing under the regime of the Logos, human thought was entirely given over to the illusions of the imagination.

Under what I called the twilight regime (the twilight world of myths), not only did practical thought have a hold — in a way different from but as good as our own — on the realities of daily life, the making and use of tools, etc., but in the metaphysico-religious domain the forms, still wholly immersed in the concrete and swarming with images, in which human thought then expressed itself could be adequate to what is, although in an essentially veiled manner.

Yes, they were myths. But in our day this term has been made dangerously equivocal, even with regard to primitive thought. (This is because of the systematic and mistaken use which our phenomenologists make of it in regard to everything which, in our own thought, does not pertain to scientific observation or psychological experience.) The myths of primitive thought were not all without value as wisdom, a more profound wisdom, I readily believe, than some of our metaphysical systems. There were myths which were not fairy tales, myths which were true, that is, myths that spoke the truth (just as under the regime of the Logos there are “false” and “true” propositions). Even in the domain of “science,” one can say that the network of lines which Chinese acupuncture imagines as connecting together all parts of the human body is a practical “myth” which teaches us nothing about anatomical structures but is “true” when it comes to where it is proper to insert the needle.

I have been aware of these things for a long time — without nevertheless being in agreement, far from it, with the problematic and the generalizations (incurably equivocal whatever he can do) of an author like Jean-Marie Paupert, whose good will deserves respect and sympathy but whose views on theology, as exemplified in his recent book, Peut-on etre chretien aujourd’hui, seem to me to be rather confused.

From the viewpoint I have just indicated concerning the two great historical regimes of human thought, it appears that (a unique case in the Bible, because revelation has here used elements coming down from the earliest times and reassumed in a prophetic light focused on the past) the history of Adam and Eve is a truth, a sacred truth veiled in its mode of expression, which hands over to us what is most important, absolutely important for us to know about our origins: the Event (the fall) which, as a result of a free act, a sin of Man and Woman placed at their creation in a supernatural state of innocence or harmony with God, brought mankind to pass into a state of rupture with God — which nature of itself is incapable of retrieving — whereby each man is born deprived of grace. Here, expressed in the language appropriate to the regime of the Logos, is the truth which the Church, faithful to the revelation with which she has been entrusted, and in the prophetic light of which I have just spoken, discerns in the so-called “myth” (but true under veils) of the mysterious forbidden fruit which Man, at the instigation of Woman, has eaten.

Henceforth evil is in the world, this world whose ontological structures are and remain good — we know that malum est in bono sicut in subjecto [Summa Theologica., I, 48, 3] — and which, however wounded, continues (not without losses) its movement toward the temporal goals to which its nature tends and for whose realization we have a duty to co-operate. Evil is in the world, and ferments there everywhere, sows deception everywhere, separating man from God. And while history advances and ages of civilization succeed one another, the true God remains unknown or badly known — except for one small nation, a chosen Vine sprung from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And men would be lost to eternal life if all who do not flee from a grace whose name they do not know were not saved by the Blood of Christ to come. And when he comes, the spiritual Power, the Doctors and Priests of the chosen people, crying out that they have no other king but Caesar, will condemn as a blasphemer the One who is the Truth in person. And they will deliver him up to an earthly Power for which truth is only a word; and acting in concert, spiritual Power gone astray and earthly Power will put him to death. That is the other face of the world in its relation to the kingdom of God.

The World Hates Me
“The world cannot hate you (who do not believe in me); but me,” Jesus said, “it hates me because I testify of it that its works are evil.” [John 7:7.] As for the disciples, the world will treat them as it treated their master: “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” [Matthew 10:22] In his last farewell, Jesus will again repeat to them: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, `A servant is not greater his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you too” [John 15:18-20]

And similarly, at the Last Supper, in his prayer for them: “The world has hated them because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not pray that you should keep them out of the world, but that you should keep them from the Evil One. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” [John 17:14-16] And again, at the Last Supper, he announces that the Paraclete, “when he will come, will bring accusation against the world by reason of the sin and of the justice and of the judgment.” By reason of the sin, because of the unbelief of the world (“because they do not believe in me”); by reason of the justice, because the world has rejected the Just One (“I go to the Father, and you will see me no more”); by reason of the judgment, “because the prince of this world is already judged.” [John 16:8-11]

It is Jesus who calls by this name the Angel of Darkness: “I will no longer talk much with you, for the prince of this world is coming, venit princeps hujus mundi.”[ John 14:20] On Palm Sunday, when he was foretelling his Passion, and a voice from heaven was heard, “Now,” he had said, “is the judgment of this world, now shall the prince of this world be cast out,” [John 12:31]– in other terms, is going to be dispossessed: dispossessed prince, and that much more anxious for his revenge, he will continue to prowl about us “like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour,” [1Peter 5:8] as the liturgy describes him to us every evening in the lectio brevis of Compline. He will continue to infest innocent material creatures ["He infests innocent fountains, hills, woods, he lurks in the tempest." Raissa Maritain, Le Prince de ce monde (2nd ed. Paris: Desclee De Brouwer, 1963) pp12-13] on whose behalf the Church lavishes her exorcisms — and to try to make in the heads of intellectuals the nicest possible mess — he will continue until the Passion has borne all its fruits, until the end of the world: he will let loose the world only when the world is ended. [Summa Theologica., I, 64, 4] (Good lord, I know very well that to a perspectivist the devil is a mythical survival, but I for one believe in him.) This is why St. Paul (something of a backward thinker himself), in warning us that it is not flesh and blood that we have to contend with, but evil spirits, calls them “the world despots of this present darkness” [Ephesians 6:12]

Thus, the world appears as the Antagonist, from which the great refusal comes. “The world was made by him, and the world did not know him. He came to his own home and his own people did not receive him.” [John 10:11]

The world lies in the power of evil: “the whole world is in the power of the Evil One.”[ John 5:19] “Woe to the world, because of the scandals.”[ Matthew 18:7] “The world cannot receive the Spirit of truth … because it neither sees him nor knows him.” [John 14:17]

And the world will be condemned. St. Paul asks the Corinthians to examine themselves “so that we may not be condemned along with the world.”[1 Corinthians 11:32] And Christ has vanquished the world. “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have vanquished the world.” [John 16:33]

Like Christ, the Church is of God, not of the world. And we have to choose to be friends of the world or friends of God. Because the world is not only created nature as God made it, but this very nature insofar as crowned with the triple diadem of the evil desires of human Liberty — Pride at being supremely self-sufficient; Intoxication with knowledge, not for the sake of truth but for power and possession; Intoxication in being overcome and torn by pleasure. “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that seduces In the world — the Lust of the flesh, the Lust of the eyes, and the Pride of life — is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world will pass away, and the lust of it.” [1 John 2:15-17]

“Adulterers, do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” [James 4:4]

Adulterers, you say we are? Ah, that’s pretty rude indeed. James and John, you poor backward apostles, what kind of a story have you got there? Calling us such a name, we who are emerging at last from all the old complexes, and who are taught by our new doctors, with sacred fervor, that there is nothing more beautiful or more urgent than to be friends of the world, this beloved world that is evolving so superbly toward final Deliverance, thanks to the Christian removal of the cross? Or could there have been a peculiar misunderstanding somewhere? What is called the “post-conciliar situation” of the Catholic faithful (better to say the situation following upon the crisis, still acute, which made the restatements of the Council necessary) is certainly a curious thing.

Some Conclusions
For the moment, I would simply like to stick to the gist of all the New Testament texts I have been citing. As I said in True Humanism (well, I did meditate on the matter for a long time), the world is the d nnain at once of man, of God, and of the devil. Thus appears the essential ambiguity of the world and of its history; it is a field corn-won to the three. The world is a closed field which belongs to God by right of creation; to the devil by right of conquest, because of sin; to Christ by right of victory over the conqueror, because of the Passion. The task of the Christian in the world is to contend with the devil his domain, to wrest it from him; he must strive to this end, he will succeed in it only in part as long as time will endure. The world is saved, yes, it is delivered in hope, it is on the march toward the kingdom of God definitely revealed; but it is not holy, it is the Church which is holy; it is on the march toward the kingdom of God, and this is why it is a treason toward this kingdom not to seek with all one’s forces — in a manner adapted to the conditions of earthly history, but as effective as possible, quantum potes, tantum aude — a realization or, more exactly, a refraction in the world of the Gospel exigencies; nevertheless this realization, even though relative, will always be in one manner or another deficient and disputed in the world. And at the same time that the history of the world is on the march — it is the growth of the wheat — toward the kingdom of God, it is also on the march — it is the growth of the tares, inextricably mingled with the wheat — toward the kingdom of reprobation.

The Gospel texts we have called to mind amount to saying that the world is sanctified insofar as it is not only the world but is assumed into the universe of the Incarnation; and that it is reprobate insofar as it shuts itself up in itself, insofar, in the words of Claudel, as it shuts itself up in the essential difference, and as it remains only the world, separated from the universe of the Incarnation.

Whereas the history of the Church, which is, as Pascal says, the history of the truth, leads as such toward the kingdom of God definitively revealed and has no other end than that kingdom — on the contrary, divided between two opposing ultimate ends, the history of the temporal city leads at one and the same time toward the kingdom of perdition and toward the kingdom of God — as toward the terms that are beyond its own natural ends.

I am not forgetting that the world has a relatively final end, which is its natural end. This natural end is not a goal attained once and for all; in the language of Leibniz [He said of beatitude, "it is a path through pleasures."], it is an unending path through conquests, and which has no term, and over whose entire length mankind is laboring to overcome fatality and reveal itself to itself.

Nor do I forget that in the natural order the world has an opposite “end” (in the sense of a final occurrence) — namely the losses and waste resulting from the growth of evil (not as great, in the last analysis, but a pretty nuisance for all that) in the course of history. There we have — in purely philosophical perspective — a sort of historical hell (a faint image of the real hell) from which the world and the history of the world can only be delivered if this world, regenerated from top to bottom, finds itself changed into a totally new universe: the new heaven and the new earth of Christian eschatology, according to which the absolutely final end of history is beyond history. In other words, there will be a discontinuity between history, which exists in time, and the final state of humanity, which will take place in a transfigured world.

But let us leave this parenthesis. As I indicated at the beginning of this chapter, the Gospel does not consider the world merely in itself, its natural structures and its historical development, its various political, economic or social regimes, its ages of culture, or with respect to the natural end which I have just mentioned. The Gospel considers the world in its concrete and existential connections with the kingdom of God, already present in our midst.

This kingdom is the Church, the mystical Body of Christ, at once visible in those who bear the mark of Christ and invisible in those who, without bearing the mark of Christ, share in His grace — but it will be definitively revealed only after the resurrection of the flesh. The world cannot be neutral with respect to the kingdom of God. Either it is vivified by it, or it struggles against it. If God so loved the world that he gave it his only begotten Son, it was to plant [From the moment of Adam's repentance -- in anticipation of the merits of Christ] and foster in it another world where all the desires of nature would be finally more than fulfilled.

If Jesus came not to condemn the world but to save it, if the Lamb of God takes away the sins of the world, this means that the kingdom of God, which is not of the world, is itself growing in the world, and that the life of grace performs in it its mysterious work; in such a way that at the final end, when the world is manifestly and definitively saved, it will no longer be this world, but will, at a stroke, have been transmuted into the other world, the universe of the Incarnation, which shall have reached its state of complete accomplishment; the unimaginable world of glory that has existed from the beginning for the holy Angels and the souls of the blessed, and where the bodies of Jesus and Mary are already present; and where, having been brought to participate in the condition of spirit, its privileges and its freedom, matter will be gentle and more fertile in beauty, the senses more penetrating and awed than ever.


Contemplation by Jacques Maritain

July 6, 2011

A reading selection from The Peasant of the Garonne. A short note from the Master…


PATI DIVINA, TO SUFFER THINGS DIVINE, in an inner experience in which the soul does not act but is rather acted upon, acted upon by God under the regime of the gifts of the Holy Spirit; pati divina – these are the words that come to me the instant I try, as poorly qualified as I might be, to speak of contemplation. This word “contemplation,” like all words when one uses them to describe things of a very high order, is apt to betray those exalted things.

There is a natural or philosophical contemplation which is only of an intellectual and speculative order. Christian contemplation, because it comes from love and tends to love, and is a work of love, has nothing to do with that. There is also a “theological contemplation,” in which the theologian, at end of his labor of reason, contemplates intellectually, but with the savor of the truth that he has attained as a summit of the opus theologicum. The infused contemplation of which I am speaking here is not at all like that either.

Per amorem agnoscimus, there “we know through love,” said St. Gregory the Great. It is only out of respect for this mysterious knowledge, given by love, that Christian tradition has preserved the word “contemplation.”

But with the word “contemplation” vocabulary plays many other tricks on us, and I would like to say a few words about this right at the start. Suppose you were trying to find out what poetry is: you would go immediately to poets; in reading them you would learn, let’s hope, what poetry consists of, or what it is by nature, and you could then speak of poetry as a thing known or grasped in itself or in its typical traits. At the same time and by the same token you would be speaking of the poetry of poets.

After that you will become aware that poetry is not confined to the poets. There is an admirable poetry in the life of a Christopher Columbus or a Benedict Labre, in the thought of a Plato or an Einstein in the movement of the galaxies. Are you going to look there to find out what poetry is in itself or in its typical trait? That would be impossible, because it is found there in an atypical, hidden or masked mode. It is the poetry of great discoverers and great saints, of philosophical or scientific geniuses, of the world of the stars. You ought to recognize the existence of this poetry, which is not that of the poets (nor of the musicians or other servants of art).

But in fixing your attention and that of others on the poetry of the poets, as you must do when you describe what poetry is in itself or in its typical traits, you risk making yourself and others believe that poetry is confined to the poets (or the other servants of art). And the poetry which does exist elsewhere is thus in danger of being disregarded.

Something a bit like that happens with contemplation, but there it poses much greater problems. We have the contemplation of contemplatives in the strict sense of the word, of souls wholly dedicated to contemplation: it is to that type we are referring when we speak (as I would like to do now) of what contemplation is in itself or in its typical traits. But we must not forget that there is also the contemplation of those who are not contemplatives in the strict sense of the word, souls wholly dedicated to contemplation, but who have nevertheless crossed a certain threshold in the life of the spirit that the contemplatives also cross.

We love to contrast Martha and Mary, but we must not forget that Martha was not some directress of the works of proselytism in the Temple praying only with her lips, as may be the case occasionally (that sometimes happens).  Martha prayed in her heart, like Mary; she was concerned with many things, but she devoted herself to oraison and contemplated in secret, perhaps pleasing God as much as Mary, while cooking and busying herself with all those things of which her sister left her the burden.

Was she too perhaps one of those faithful souls in whom contemplation remains atypical and masked? In her particular case this seems highly improbable. In any case, like all souls that advance toward God (and like all saints — we venerate her as such) she answered, and answered well, the call to contemplation addressed to all. I shall come back a little later to these questions of major importance. I have alluded to them here parenthetically, as a preliminary to what I will say later. The parenthesis is closed.

I recalled a moment ago the words of St. Gregory the Great: in Contemplation “we know through love.” In Christian contemplation intelligence is there supremely alive, in a nocturnal darkness more instructive than any concept: blind as to its natural mode of operation, intelligence knows only by virtue of the connaturality that love creates between the soul who loves and the God it loves, a God who loves it first.

“Contemplation,” said Pere Lallemant, “is a simple, free, penetrating view of God or of things divine, which proceeds from love and tends toward love…. It is the exercise of the purest and most perfect charity. Love is its beginning, its exercise and its end.”

We could also say, more briefly, that “contemplation is a silent prayer which takes place in recollection in the secret of the heart, and is directly ordered to union with God.”

According to the common doctrine of the theologians, contemplation is dependent at one and the same time on the theological virtues, supernatural in their essence, and on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, “doubly supernatural, not only in their essence like the theological virtues, but also in their mode of action.” [R. P. Garrigou-Lagrange, Perfection chretienne et Contemplation] This mode of action exceeds human measure because “the soul is guided and immediately moved by divine inspiration.




Jacques Maritain and Dietrich von Hildebrand On Beauty by Alice von Hildebrand

June 27, 2011


Dietrich von Hildebrand and Jacques Maritain


Alice von Hildebrand, wife of the Catholic philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand, examines the thoughts of two very different leading philosophers of aesthetics. First is Jacques Maritain and the second her husband. Alice von Hildebrand is professor emerita of philosophy at Hunter College of the City University of New York and a renowned author and speaker.

While many revere her husband Dietrich von Hildebrand as a religious author, few realize that he was a philosopher of great stature and importance. “Those who knew von Hildebrand as philosopher held him in the highest esteem. Louis Bouyer, for example, once said that “von Hildebrand was the most important Catholic philosopher in Europe between the two world wars.” Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger expressed even greater esteem when he said: “I am personally convinced that, when, at some time in the future, the intellectual history of the Catholic Church in the twentieth century is written, the name of Dietrich von Hildebrand will be most prominent among the figures of our time.”

Maritain at the time of his death in 1973 was arguably the most well known Catholic philosopher. Despite his fame it is not easy to place Maritain’s work within the history of philosophy in the 20th century. “Clearly, his influence was strongest in those countries where Thomistic philosophy had pride of place. While his political philosophy led him, at least in his time, to be considered a liberal and even a social democrat, he eschewed socialism and, in Le paysan de la Garonne, was an early critic of many of the religious reforms that followed the Second Vatican Council. One can say, then, that he would be considered by present-day liberals as too conservative, and by many conservatives as too liberal. Again, though generally considered to be a Thomist, the extent to which he was is a matter of some debate. Indeed, according to Etienne Gilson, Maritain’s ‘Thomism’ was really an epistemology and, hence, not a real Thomism at all. There is, not surprisingly, no generally shared view of the precise character of Maritain’s philosophy.”


Having taught both ethics and aesthetics many times in the course of my career, I’ve come to the conclusion that the latter is a much more demanding task. In both cases, the enemy to be fought is the deeply rooted relativism and subjectivism prevalent in our society. But in ethics, there’s always a possibility that students will agree that in some cases, the evil nature of certain acts cannot be contested.

But when it comes to aesthetic appreciation of individual works of art — much as thinkers might agree on some basic principles — the disagreements are baffling. Two philosophers might agree that there’s a hierarchy among beautiful objects but disagree violently as to which one is actually more beautiful.

Is aesthetic appreciation a question of taste, as one can like or dislike beer? Tastes cannot be debated, and such debates would be totally meaningless.

Just as mystifying is the fact that some great artists have often shown no appreciation for other artists. One is tempted to assume that artists are qualified to pass judgment on the works of their peers, but this is far from the case. It is amazing, for example, that an artistic giant such as Michelangelo “was singularly hard on Flemish painting,” “which attempting to do so many things does none of them well” (Maritain, Creative Intuition). Just as amazing is El Greco’s judgment on the same artist: “Michelangelo was a good man, but he did not know how to paint” (Ibid.). These assertions are so shocking that one’s tempted to draw the conclusion that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and is therefore purely subjective.

Both Jacques Maritain and Dietrich von Hildebrand have written extensively on aesthetics. As close as these two devout Catholics were on central philosophical questions — the existence of God, the objectivity of moral values, the capacity that man’s mind has to reach absolute truth — their approach to aesthetics was vastly different.

Both men were great devotees of art. As a young man and later with his wife, Raissa, Maritain enjoyed going to the Louvre and contemplating its treasures. Dietrich von Hildebrand was the son of a great artist, brought up in Florence, acquainted with leading musicians and artists. He wrote his two-volume Aesthetics (close to a thousand pages) when he was more than 80 and completed the work in less than a year. Alice, the author of this piece was his wife.

Maritain’s Approach
Maritain based his views of aesthetics on the philosophy of St. Thomas. In his early work, Art and Scholasticism, Maritain acknowledged his debt to his master. But aesthetics, as Etienne Gilson remarked, is a field in which the Angelic Doctor had made but few major contributions.

In his writings, Maritain distinguished between two types of beauty: The first was “beauty as transcendental,” that is to say that beauty — like being, truth, and goodness — transcends all categories for the simple reason that it is a property of everything that exists. In other words, everything that is is beautiful. For God, Maritain argued, everything is beautiful, though he clarified this in a footnote:

Evil, it is true — the wound of nothingness by which the freedom of a creature deforms a voluntary act — is ugly in the eyes of God. But no being is ugly, as Angelus Silesius (Johann Scheffler) repeatedly points out.

Thus not only does Silesius claim that everything is beautiful, but he writes that “a frog is as beautiful as a Seraphic angel.” Whether everything is beautiful is one thing. The claim that an animal is as beautiful as an angel is quite another. Let us assume for the time being that the first assertion is true, and the second is obviously false. As there is a hierarchy of being, there is also a hierarchy of beauty: To claim that a saint is as beautiful as the Holy Virgin is plainly false.

One can also ask whether man can really know how God experiences beauty. Being Beauty itself, He need not perceive it frontally, as angels and humans do. Maritain proceeds: “Thus, just as everything is in its own way, and is good in its own way, so everything is beautiful in its own way.”

But this transcendental beauty isn’t what our senses perceive. And so we have another distinction that Maritain calls “aesthetic beauty,” that is, the type of beauty that we perceive through our eyes and ears. While transcendental beauty is intellectually perceived, our senses play a vital part in aesthetic beauty. The result is that not all things are beautiful to us. Writes Maritain: “The presence of the senses, which depend on our fleshly constitution, is inherently involved in the notion of aesthetic beauty. I would say that aesthetic beauty, which is not all beauty for man but which is the beauty most naturally proportioned to the human mind, is a particular determination of transcendental beauty: it is transcendental beauty as confronting not simply the intellect, but the intellect and the sense acting together in one single act.

Maritain didn’t stop there. He further praises Jean Paul Sartre for having highlighted the fact that ugliness, filth, and their cortege of negative characteristics are a category in existence. In other words, ugliness is a human phenomenon: that which is ugly, being seen, displeases; “where there is no sense, there is no category of ugliness.” For purely spiritual beings, “everything is a kind of spatial-temporal number, as Pythagoras saw it.” And if certain objects are experienced by man as noxious, “it is not because they are noxious, it is essentially because they are repugnant to the inner proportion or harmony of the sense itself.”

Ultimately, then, the artist aims at absorbing aesthetic beauty in transcendental beauty.

One can question whether it’s really true that “for a pure intellect, everything is a kind of spatial-temporal number, as Pythagoras saw it.” Certainly, there is such a thing as a beautiful mathematical demonstration, but one can raise the question whether this beauty can trigger in us the enchantment and Sursum Corda [Vocab:  (Latin for "Lift up your hearts") (Slavonic: Милост мира) is the opening dialogue to the Preface of the Eucharistic Prayer or Anaphora in the liturgies of the Christian Church, dating back to at least the third century and the Anaphora of the Apostolic Tradition.] that we experience in contemplating a great work of art or a glorious sunset.

Once the mind has perceived the convincing luminosity of a geometrical demonstration, the latter is hardly an object that it will contemplate over and over again. What is typical of the aesthetic experience is the desire to go from a joyful acquaintance with a beautiful object to a contemplative attitude characterized by the desire to dwell on it again and again. Quantum notiores, tantum cariores, writes St. Augustine. The better we know it, the more we love it. He who does not wish to go back to Florence because he’s seen it once is either blind to its beauty or very foolish. We rate our love for a piece of art according to our longing to see or hear it again.

Which one of us would prefer to have a Pythagorean acquaintance with aesthetic beauty than the one granted to us through our eyes and ears? John Henry Cardinal Newman had a particular love for music. In his monumental biography of this great English writer, Ian Ker writes that, listening to Beethoven’s quartets, “. . . he thought them more exquisite than ever” — “so that I was obliged to lay down the instrument and literally cry out with delight.” (Let us not forget that the English are well-known for controlling their feelings.) It’s hard to imagine that upon giving assent to the Euclidian proof that the sum of the angles of a triangle is equal to two right angles, Newman would have expressed the same explosive joy.

A Very Different View
Von Hildebrand’s presentation is different. He rejects the notion that whatever exists is beautiful and justifies his position — partly — by appealing to what he calls “metaphysical beauty.” This differs from transcendental beauty because it isn’t a characteristic of being. Rather it’s the radiance, the splendor, the glory of every value. But what is meant by value? Von Hildebrand distinguishes between two categories. The first he calls “ontological.” These are characterized by the fact that a being either possesses them or not. For example, man has an ontological value that is shared by all men: They’re all equally men.

Moreover, ontological values have no opposite: Logically, the opposite of man is “non-man;” but non-man is a concept, not a real entity. The universe is a hierarchy, and ontological values are structured according to this hierarchy. At the top, we have God, then angels, then men, then higher animals, then lower ones, then plants, then inanimate matter. Each one of them, according to its value and dignity, possesses beauty.

Von Hildebrand remarks further that it’s vitally important for human beings to be aware of their ontological value — their dignity as persons made in God’s image and likeness. The pantheistic view that we’re but drops in an immense universe is fake humility, a subtle lack of gratitude for the fact that God — in His infinite bounty and generosity — has metaphysically “knighted” us.

Apart from ontological values that are more or less beautiful according to their ontological rank, von Hildebrand speaks about qualitative values, moral values, intellectual values, and aesthetical values, to mention the most important ones. These clearly differ from ontological values for the obvious reason that one can possess them more or less. Men are not equally just, or kind, or generous, or beautiful. Some are geniuses, some are intellectually talented, and some have a mediocre intelligence. Some are exceptionally handsome, some are pleasant-looking, and some have a physical appearance that only a mother’s love can appreciate.

Moreover, qualitative values have opposites: Moral goodness is opposed to moral evil; stupidity antagonizes intelligence; ugliness is at loggerheads with beauty. He stresses the fact that moral wickedness isn’t just an absence of goodness, but, alas, a very real quality called sin, which, because of its reality, offends God. Stupidity isn’t just a weak intelligence but a full-fledged negative quality. And ugliness isn’t just an absence of beauty but wages war on it.

The author tells us, further, that qualitative values are beautiful and that once again, their degree of beauty depends on the degree in which a good incorporates this value. In other words, the moral value of a saint is infinitely more beautiful than the moral value of an honest man. Plato’s genius is more beautiful than the mind of a thinker of lower rank. Good is opposed to evil, intelligence to stupidity, beauty to ugliness.

Qualitative values, as opposed to ontological ones, shouldn’t make us focus on our own persons. The saint doesn’t contemplate his own humility — that would be the best and fastest way to lose it. The person endowed with remarkable intellectual gifts should be concerned about using the gifts for God’s glory and not gloat over them. Similarly, the beautiful person who is narcissistic would inevitably lose one dimension of aesthetic beauty.

All values are beautiful, whether ontological or qualitative. But in all of them, except in aesthetic values, beauty isn’t the theme. Rather, it’s a halo, a perfume that necessarily accompanies them, but shouldn’t be the locus of our interest. Moreover, all of them (except some aesthetic values) are intellectually perceived. Whereas only persons can be morally good or intelligent, aesthetic values can be found in every single level of being: An animal can be beautiful, as can plants and inanimate matter. Beauty is the most universal of all values. It’s found both in ontological and qualitative values.

But some aesthetic values (should we call them artistic values?) need the integrity of our sight and hearing in order to be perceived. In this Maritain and von Hildebrand agree. The beauty that we find in art is “thematic.” The philosopher worthy of the name should be a truth lover and a truth seeker. Neither his “brilliance” nor his style should be our concern in reading his works. The one question that is crucial is: Is what he says true? This does not prevent us from appreciating his stylistic gifts, but his work should not be rated according to it. The aesthete — that is, the person who makes of beauty his one exclusive concern — would have to rate Nietzsche above Aristotle because of the beauty of his style. This would clearly be a perversion.

The artist’s aim should be to create beauty. If he fails to do so, he is a bad artist. A writer whose novels are boring and clumsy is a bad writer. And a philosopher whose aim is “originality” and who cares not whether his claims are justified by agreeing with reality is a bad philosopher.

Two Ways
Clearly, Maritain and von Hildebrand have different approaches to aesthetic beauty. As mentioned, the latter makes no use of “transcendental beauty,” arguing that the knowledge that something exists does not guarantee that this object is beautiful.

Moreover, both thinkers differ in their interpretation of sense-perceived beauty. Maritain considers it a purely human phenomenon, as it necessarily presupposes sense perception. Far from denying the importance of the senses, von Hildebrand differs from the French philosopher in his claim that whereas the beauty of a painting or of music is perceived through the senses, the message it delivers totally transcends the world of matter.

Whereas for Maritain, sense experiences are purely human, both Newman and von Hildebrand claim that though man’s senses are necessarily involved, the message they communicate radically transcends the world of pure matter. It transmits a message coming from above, some mysterious echo of “the eternal hills” that sharpen our longing for Beauty itself — that is, God.

In metaphysical beauty there’s a perfect proportion between the dignity of the object and its beauty. In sense-perceived beauty — and this is a mirandumthere’s a total disproportion between the material used and the result obtained. What, after all, are tones? What are colors and forms? What are canvasses and bronze? They rank low on the metaphysical scale, but by some mysterious artistic transformation, they can radiate a beauty that brings tears to our eyes.

This is why von Hildebrand speaks of a quasi-sacramental dimension of sense-perceived beauty. In baptism, plain water is poured on the head of a child, while the priest pronounces some words, and lo, through these mediums, the Holy Trinity takes hold of the child’s soul and blots out the stain of original sin. Our response to beauty is awe, enchantment, gratitude — something that a meditation on purely abstract being cannot give us. Our senses are like windows opened to a sublime world — a sort of Promised Land. This explains the deepest stirrings of the heart, this profound emotion that takes the one whose eyes and ears are opened to the message of beauty.

The aesthetic difference between Maritain and von Hildebrand also finds its expression in their appreciation of concrete works of art. Maritain — a close friend of Georges Rouault — sees 19th- and early 20th-century French painting as a climax of artistic beauty. Echoing her husband, Raissa Maritain calls Rouault “the greatest religious painter of our time” and adds “one of the greatest painters of all times.”

Maritain feels so strongly about this that he doesn’t hesitate to disparage the distinguished historian of art, Hans Sedlmayr, for criticizing Cezanne in his famous work Verlust de Mitte. (Maritain accused Sedlmayr and Fritz Novotny of being “biased doctrinaires” and of making “blind judgments” for detecting in Maritain’s favorite painter the germs of cultural degeneration.)

Von Hildebrand would certainly not place Cezanne, Rouault, Chagall, Braque, and some of the “most durable works of Picasso” on the level of Giotto, Giorgione, Titian, Leonardo, or Michelangelo (to mention some of the many geniuses that Catholic culture has produced).

The reader is free to draw his own conclusions. Disagreements between art lovers — much less philosophers — don’t prevent us from claiming that artistic beauty is a great gift, not only in our human life but in our religious life as well. Indeed, it’s a faint reflection of the Eternal Beauty.


Art and Beauty Part III – Jacques Maritain

June 21, 2011

The moment one touches a transcendental, one touches being itself, a likeness of God, an absolute, that which ennobles and delights our life; one enters into the domain of the spirit. It is remarkable that men really communicate with one another only by passing through being or one of its properties. Only in this way do they escape from the individuality in which matter encloses them. If they remain in the world of their sense needs and of their sentimental egos, in vain do they tell their stories to one another, they do not understand each other. They observe each other without seeing each other, each one of them infinitely alone, even though work or sense pleasures bind them together.

But let one touch the good and Love, like the saints, the true, like an Aristotle, the beautiful, like a Dante or a Bach or a Giotto, then contact is made, souls communicate. Men are really united only by the spirit; light alone brings them together, intellectualia et rationalia omnia congregans, et indestructibilia faciens.

Art in general tends to make a work. But certain arts tend to make a beautiful work, and in this they differ essentially from all the others. The work to which all the other arts tend is itself ordered to the service of man, and is therefore a simple means; and it is entirely enclosed in a determined material genus. The work to which the fine arts tend is ordered to beauty; as beautiful, it is an end, an absolute, it suffices of itself; and if, as work-to-be-made, it is material and enclosed in a genus, as beautiful it belongs to the kingdom of the spirit and plunges deep into the transcendence and the infinity of being.

The fine arts thus stand out in the genus art as man stands out in the genus animal. And like man himself they are like a horizon where matter and spirit meet. They have a spiritual soul. Hence they possess many distinctive properties. Their contact with the beautiful modifies in them certain characteristics of art in general, notably, as I shall try to show, with respect to the rules of art; on the other hand, this contact discloses and carries to a sort of excess other generic characteristics of the virtue of art, above all its intellectual character and its resemblance to the speculative virtues.

There is a curious analogy between the fine arts and wisdom. Like wisdom, they are ordered to an object which transcends man and which is of value in itself, and whose amplitude is limitless, for beauty, like being, is infinite. They are disinterested, desired for themselves, truly noble because their work taken in itself is not made in order that one may use it as a means, but in order that one may enjoy it as an end, being a true fruit, aliquid ultimum et delectabile. Their whole value is spiritual, and their mode of being is contemplative. For if contemplation is not their act, as it is the act of wisdom, nevertheless they aim at producing an intellectual delight, that is to say, a kind of contemplation; and they also presuppose in the artist a kind of contemplation, from which the beauty of the work must overflow.

That is why we may apply to them, with due allowance, what Saint Thomas says of wisdom when he compares it to play: “The contemplation of wisdom is rightly compared to play, because of two things that one finds in play. The first is that play is delightful, and the contemplation of wisdom has the greatest delight, according to what Wisdom says of itself in Ecclesiasticus: my spirit is sweet above honey. The second is that the movements of play are not ordered to anything else, but are sought for themselves. And it is the same with the delights of wisdom. . . . That is why divine Wisdom compares its delight to play: I was delighted every day, playing before him in the world. “

But Art remains, nevertheless, in the order of Making, and it is by drudgery upon some matter that it aims at delighting the spirit. Hence for the artist a strange and saddening condition, image itself of man’s condition in the world, where he must wear himself out among bodies and live with the spirits. Though reproaching the old poets for holding Divinity to be jealous, Aristotle acknowledges that they were right in saying that the possession of wisdom is in the strict sense reserved to Divinity alone: “It is not a human possession, for human nature is a slave in so many ways.” To produce beauty likewise belongs to God alone in the strict sense. And if the condition of the artist is more human and less exalted than that of the wise man, it is also more discordant and more painful, because his activity does not remain wholly within the pure immanence of spiritual operations, and does not in itself consist in contemplating, but in making. Without enjoying the substance and the peace of wisdom, he is caught up in the hard exigencies of the intellect and the speculative life, and he is condemned to all the servile miseries of practice and of temporal production.

“Dear Brother Leo, God’s little beast, even if a Friar Minor spoke the language of the angels and raised to life a man dead for four days, note it well that it is not therein that perfect joy is found. . . .”

Even if the artist were to encompass in his work all the light of heaven and all the grace of the first garden, he would not have perfect joy, because he is following wisdom’s footsteps and running by the scent of its perfumes, but does not possess it. Even if the philosopher were to know all the intelligible reasons and all the properties of being, he would not have perfect joy, because his wisdom is human. Even if the theologian were to know all the analogies of the divine processions and all the whys and the wherefores of Christ’s actions, he would not have perfect joy, because his wisdom has a divine origin but a human mode, and a human voice.

Ah! les voix, mourez donc, mourantes que vows etes!

The Poor and the Peaceful alone have perfect joy because they possess wisdom and contemplation par excellence, in the silence of creatures and in the voice of Love; united without intermediary to subsisting Truth, they know “the sweetness that God gives and the delicious taste of the Holy Spirit.” This is what prompted Saint Thomas, a short time before his death, to say of his unfinished Summa: “It seems to me as so much straw”– mihi videtur ut palea. Human straw: the Parthenon and Notre-Dame de Chartres, the Sistine Chapel and the Mass in D — and which will be burned on the last day! “Creatures have no savor.”

I feel today that I must apologize for the sort of thoughtlessness with which I adopted this phrase here. One must have little experience of created things, or much experience of divine things, in order to be able to speak in this way. In general, formulas of contempt with regard to created things belong to a conventional literature that is difficult to endure. The creature is deserving of compassion, not contempt; it exists only because it is loved. It is deceptive because it has too much savor, and because this savor is nothing in comparison with the being of God. [1935]

The Middle Ages knew this order. The Renaissance shattered it. After three centuries of infidelity, prodigal Art aspired to become the ultimate end of man, his Bread and his Wine, the consubstantial mirror of beatific Beauty. And the poet hungry for beatitude who asked of art the mystical fullness that God alone can give, has been able to open out only onto Sige l’abime.

Rimbaud’s silence marks perhaps the end of a secular apostasy. In any case it clearly signifies that it is folly to seek in art the words of eternal life and the repose of the human heart; and that the artist, if he is not to shatter his art or his soul, must simply be, as artist, what art wants him to be — a good workman.

And now the modern world, which had promised the artist everything, soon will scarcely leave him even the bare means of subsistence. Founded on the two unnatural principles of the fecundity of money and the finality of the useful, multiplying needs and servitude without the possibility of there ever being a limit, destroying the leisure of the soul, withdrawing the material factibile from the control which proportioned it to the ends of the human being, and imposing on man the panting of the machine and the accelerated movement of matter, the system of nothing but the earth is imprinting on human activity a truly inhuman mode and a diabolical direction, for the final end of all this frenzy is to prevent man from resembling God,

dum nil perenne cogitat,
seseque culpis illigat.

while thinking but the thoughts of time,
they weave new chains of woe and crime
Attributed to Pope St. Gregory the Great (540-604), Hymn, O Blest Creator of the Light

Consequently he must, if he is to be logical, treat as useless, and therefore as rejected, all that by any grounds bears the mark of the spirit.

Or it will even be necessary that heroism, truth, virtue, beauty become useful values — the best, the most loyal instruments of propaganda and of control of temporal powers.

Persecuted like the wise man and almost like the saint, the artist will perhaps recognize his brothers at last and discover his true vocation again: for in a way he is not of this world, being, from the moment that he works for beauty, on the path which leads upright souls to God and manifests to them the invisible things by the visible. However rare may be at such a time those who will not want to please the Beast and to turn with the wind, it is in them, by the very fact that they will exercise a disinterested activity, that the human race will live.




Art and Beauty Part II – Jacques Maritain

June 20, 2011

The speculations of the ancients concerning the beautiful must be taken in the most formal sense; we must avoid materializing their thought in any too narrow specification. There is not just one way but a thousand or ten thousand ways in which the notion of integrity or perfection or completion can be realized. The lack of a head or an arm is quite a considerable lack of integrity in a woman but of very little account in a statue — whatever disappointment M. Ravaisson may have felt at not being able to complete the Venus de Milo. The least sketch of da Vinci’s or even of Rodin’s is more complete than the most perfect Bouguereau. And if it pleases a futurist to give the lady he is painting only one eye, or a quarter of an eye, no one denies him the right to do this: one asks only — here is the whole problem — that this quarter of an eye be precisely all the eye this lady needs in the given case.

It is the same with proportion, fitness and harmony. They are diversified according to the objects and according to the ends. The good proportion of a man is not the good proportion of a child. Figures constructed according to the Greek or the Egyptian canons are perfectly proportioned in their genre; but Rouault’s clowns are also perfectly proportioned, in their genre. Integrity and proportion have no absolute signification, and must be understood solely in relation to the end of the work, which is to make a form shine on matter. Finally, and above all, this radiance itself of the form, which is the main thing in beauty, has an infinity of diverse ways of shining on matter.

By “radiance of the form” must be understood an ontological splendor which is in one way or another revealed to our mind, not a conceptual clarity. We must avoid all misunderstanding here: the words clarity, intelligibility, light, which we use to characterize the role of “form” at the heart of things, do not necessarily designate something clear and intelligible for us, but rather something clear and luminous in itself, intelligible in itself, and which often remains obscure to our eyes, either because of the matter in which the form in question is buried, or because of the transcendence of the form itself in the things of the spirit.

The more substantial and the more profound this secret sense is, the more hidden it is for us; so that, in truth, to say with the Schoolmen that the form is in things the proper principle of intelligibility, is to say at the same time that it is the proper principle of mystery. (There is in fact no mystery where there is nothing to know: mystery exists where there is more to be known than is given to our comprehension.) To define the beautiful by the radiance of the form is in reality to define it by the radiance of a mystery.

It is a Cartesian misconception to reduce clarity in itself to clarity for us. In art this misconception produces academicism, and condemns us to a beauty so meagre that it can radiate in the soul only the most paltry of delights. If it be a question of the “legibility” of the work, I would add that if the radiance of form can appear in an “obscure” work as well as in a “clear” work, the radiance of mystery can appear in a “clear” work as well as in an “obscure” work. From this point of view neither “obscurity” nor “clarity” enjoys any privilege. [1927]

Moreover, it is natural that every really new work appear obscure at first. Time will decant the judgment. “They say,” Hopkins wrote to Bridges apropos the poem The Wreck of the Deutschland, “that vessels sailing from the port of London will take (perhaps it should be / used once to take) Thames water for the voyage: it was foul and stunk at first as the ship worked but by degrees casting its filth was in a few days very pure and sweet and wholesome and better than any water in the world. However that may be, it is true to my purpose.

When a new thing, such as my ventures in the Deutschland are, is presented us our first criticisms are not our truest, best, most homefelt, or most lasting but what come easiest on the instant. They are barbarous and like what the ignorant and the ruck say. This was so with you. The Deutschland on her first run worked very much and unsettled you, thickening and clouding your mind with vulgar mud-bottom and common sewage (I see that I am going it with the image) and just then you drew off your criticisms all stinking (a necessity now of the image) and bilgy, whereas if you had let your thoughts cast themselves they would have been clearer in themselves and more to my taste too.” [Letter of May 13, 1878, in The Letters of Gerard Manley Hopkins to Robert Bridges, edited with notes and an introduction by Claude Colleer Abbott (London: Oxford University Press, 1935), pp. 50-51.]

There is the sensible radiance of color or tone; there is the intelligible clarity of an arabesque, of a rhythm or an harmonious balance, of an activity or a movement; there is the reflection upon things of a human or divine thought; there is, above all, the deep-seated splendor one glimpses of the soul, of the soul principle of life and animal energy, or principle of spiritual life, of pain and passion. And there is a still more exalted splendor, the splendor of Grace, which the Greeks did not know.

Beauty, therefore, is not conformity to a certain ideal and immutable type, in the sense in which they understand it who, confusing the true and the beautiful, knowledge and delight, would have it that in order to perceive beauty man discover “by the vision of ideas,” “through the material envelope,” “the invisible essence of things” and their “necessary type.” Saint Thomas was as far removed from this pseudo-Platonism as he was from the idealist bazaar of Winckelmann and David. There is beauty for him the moment the shining of any form on a suitably proportioned matter succeeds in pleasing the intellect, and he takes care to warn us that beauty is in some way relative — relative not to the dispositions of the subject, in the sense in which the moderns understand the word relative, but to the proper nature and end of the thing, and to the formal conditions under which it is taken. “Pulchritudo quodammodo dicitur per respectum ad aliquid…  “Alia enim est pulchritudo spiritus et alia corporis, atque alia hujus et illius corporis.” And however beautiful a created thing may be, it can appear beautiful to some and not to others, because it is beautiful only under certain aspects, which some discern and others do not: it is thus “beautiful in one place and not beautiful in another.”

If this is so, it is because the beautiful belongs to the order of the transcendentals, that is to say, objects of thought which transcend every limit of genus or category, and which do not allow themselves to be enclosed in any class, because they imbue everything and are to be found everywhere. Like the one, the true and the good, the beautiful is being itself considered from a certain aspect; it is a property of being. It is not an accident superadded to being, it adds to being only a relation of reason: it is being considered as delighting, by the mere intuition of it, an intellectual nature.

Thus everything is beautiful, just as everything is good, at least in a certain relation. And as being is everywhere present and everywhere varied the beautiful likewise is diffused everywhere and is everywhere varied. Like being and the other transcendentals, it is essentially analogous, that is to say, it is predicated for diverse reasons, sub diversa ratione, of the diverse subjects of which it is predicated: each kind of being is in its own way, is good in its own way, is beautiful in its own way.

Analogous concepts are predicated of God pre-eminently; in Him the perfection they designate exists in a “formal-eminent” manner, in the pure and infinite state. God is their “sovereign analogue,” and they are to be met with again in things only as a dispersed and prismatized reflection of the countenance of God. Thus Beauty is one of the divine names.

God is beautiful. He is the most beautiful of beings, because, as Denis the Areopagite and Saint Thomas explain, His beauty is without alteration or vicissitude, without increase or diminution; and because it is not as the beauty of things, all of which have a particularized beauty, particulatam pulchritudinem, sicut et particulatam naturam. He is beautiful through Himself and in Himself, beautiful absolutely.

He is beautiful to the extreme (superpulcher), because in the perfectly simple unity of His nature there pre-exists in a super-excellent manner the fountain of all beauty.

He is beauty itself, because He gives beauty to all created beings, according to the particular nature of each, and because He is the cause of all consonance and all brightness. Every form indeed, that is to say, every light, is “a certain irradiation proceeding from the first brightness,” “a participation in the divine brightness.” And every consonance or every harmony, every concord, every friendship and every union whatsoever among beings proceeds from the divine beauty, the primordial and super-eminent type of all consonance, which gathers all things together and which calls them all to itself, meriting well in this “the name Xakos, which derives from `to call.’ ” Thus “the beauty of anything created is nothing else than a similitude of divine beauty participated in by things,” and, on the other hand, as every form is a principle of being and as every consonance or every harmony is preservative of being, it must be said that divine beauty is the cause of the being of all that is. Ex divina pulchritudine esse omnium derivatur.

In the Trinity, Saint Thomas adds, the name Beauty is attributed most fittingly to the Son. As for integrity or perfection, He has truly and perfectly in Himself, without the least diminution, the nature of the Father. As for due proportion or consonance, He is the express and perfect image of the Father: and it is proportion which befits the image as such. As for radiance, finally, He is the Word, the light and the splendor of the intellect, “perfect Word to Whom nothing is lacking, and., so to speak, art of Almighty God.”

Beauty, therefore, belongs to the transcendental and metaphysical order. This is why it tends of itself to draw the soul beyond the created. Speaking of the instinct for beauty, Baudelaire, the poete maudit to whom modern art owes its renewed awareness of the theological quality and tyrannical spirituality of beauty, writes: “. . . it 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. . . . 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.”


Art and Beauty Jacques Maritain

June 17, 2011

Detail of a Peacock Feather

 Saint Thomas, who was as simple as he was wise, defined the beautiful as that which, being seen, pleases: id quod visum placet.[Summa Theologica I, 5,4, ad 1] These four words say all that is necessary: a vision, that is to say, an intuitive knowledge, and a delight. The beautiful is what gives delight — not just any delight, but delight in knowing; not the delight peculiar to the act of knowing, but a delight which superabounds and overflows from this act because of the object known. If a thing exalts and delights the soul by the very fact that it is given to the soul’s intuition, it is good to apprehend, it is beautiful.

Beauty is essentially an object of intelligence, for that which knows in the full sense of the word is intelligence, which alone is open to the infinity of being. The natural place of beauty is the intelligible world, it is from there that it descends. But it also, in a way, falls under the grasp of the senses, in so far as in man they serve the intellect and can themselves take delight in knowing: “Among all-the senses, it is to the sense of sight and the sense of hearing only that the beautiful relates, because these two senses are maxime cognoscitivi.”

The part played by the senses in the perception of beauty is even rendered enormous in us, and well-nigh indispensable, by the very fact that our intelligence is not intuitive, as is the intelligence of the angel; it sees, to be sure, but on condition of abstracting and discoursing; only sense knowledge possesses perfectly in man the intuitiveness required for the perception of the beautiful. Thus man can doubtless enjoy purely intelligible beauty, but the beautiful that is connatural to man is the beautiful that delights the intellect through the senses and through their intuition. Such is also the beautiful that is proper to our art, which shapes a sensible matter in order to delight the spirit. It would thus like to believe that paradise is not lost. It has the savor of the terrestrial paradise, because it restores, for a moment, the peace and the simultaneous delight of the intellect and the senses.

If beauty delights the intellect, it is because it is essentially a certain excellence or perfection in the proportion of things to the intellect. Hence the three conditions Saint Thomas assigned to beauty: integrity, because the intellect is pleased in fullness of Being; proportion, because the intellect is pleased in order and unity; finally, and above all, radiance or clarity, because the intellect is pleased in light and intelligibility. A certain splendor is, in fact, according to all the ancients, the essential characteristic of beauty — claritas est de ratione pulchritudinis, lux pulchrificat, quia sine luce omnia suns turpia [Commentary in Psalms, Ps. XXV,5] — but it is a splendor of intelligibility: splendor veri, said the Platonists; splendor ordinis, said Saint Augustine, adding that “unity is the form of all beauty”; splendor formae, said Saint Thomas in his precise metaphysician’s language: for the form, that is to say, the principle which constitutes the proper perfection of all that is, which constitutes and achieves things in their essences and qualities, which is, finally, if one may so put it, the ontological secret that they bear within them, their spiritual being, their operating mystery  — the form, indeed, is above all the proper principle of intelligibility, the proper clarity of every thing.

Besides, every form is a vestige or a ray of the creative Intelligence imprinted at the heart of created being. On the other hand, every order and every proportion is the work of intelligence. And so, to say with the Schoolmen that beauty is the splendor of the form on the proportioned parts of matter, is to say that it is a flashing of intelligence on a matter intelligibly arranged. The intelligence delights in the beautiful because in the beautiful it finds itself again and recognizes itself, and makes contact with its own light. This is so true that those — such as Saint Francis of Assisi — perceive and savor more the beauty of things, who know that things come forth from an intelligence, and who relate them to their author.

Every sensible beauty implies, it is true, a certain delight of the eye itself or of the ear or the imagination: but there is beauty only if the intelligence also takes delight in some way. A beautiful color “washes the eye,” just as a strong scent dilates the nostril; but of these two “forms” or qualities color only is said to be beautiful, because, being received, unlike the perfume, in a sense power capable of disinterested knowledge,”” it can be, even through its purely sensible brilliance, an object of delight for the intellect. Moreover, the higher the level of man’s culture, the more spiritual becomes the brilliance of the form that delights him.

It is important, however, to note that in the beautiful that we have called connatural to man, and which is proper to human art, this brilliance of the form, no matter how purely intelligible it may be in itself, is seized in the sensible and through the sensible, and not separately from it. The intuition of artistic beauty thus stands at the opposite extreme from the abstraction of scientific truth. For with the former it is through the very apprehension of the sense that the light of being penetrates the intelligence.

The intelligence in this case, diverted from all effort of abstraction, rejoices without work and without discourse. It is dispensed from its usual labor; it does not have to disengage an intelligible from the matter in which it is buried, in order to go over its different attributes step by step; like a stag at the gushing spring, intelligence has nothing to do but drink; it drinks the clarity of being. Caught up in the intuition of sense, it is irradiated by an intelligible light that is suddenly given to it, in the very sensible in which it glitters, and which it does not seize sub ratione veri, but rather sub ratione delectabilis, through the happy release procured for the intelligence and through the delight ensuing in the appetite, which leaps at every good of the soul as at its proper object. Only afterwards will it be able to reflect more or less successfully upon the causes of this delight.

Thus, although the beautiful borders on the metaphysical true, in the sense that every splendor of intelligibility in things implies some conformity with the Intelligence that is the cause of things, nevertheless the beautiful is not a kind of truth, but a kind of good; the perception of the beautiful relates to knowledge, but by way of addition, comme a la jeunesse s’ajoute sa leur; it is not so much a kind of knowledge as a kind of delight.

The beautiful is essentially delightful. This is why, of its very nature and precisely as beautiful, it stirs desire and produces love, whereas the true as such only illumines.Omnibus igitur est pulchrum et bonum desiderabile et amabile et diligibile.”  It is for its beauty that Wisdom is loved. And it is for itself that every beauty is first loved, even if afterwards the too weak flesh is caught in the trap. Love in its turn produces ecstasy, that is to say, it puts the lover outside of himself; ecstasy, of which the soul experiences a diminished form when it is seized by the beauty of the work of art, and the fullness when it is absorbed, like the dew, by the beauty of God.

And of God Himself, according to Denis the Areopagite, we must be so bold as to say that He suffers in some way ecstasy of love, because of the abundance of His goodness which leads Him to diffuse in all things a participation of His splendor. But God’s love causes the beauty of what He loves, whereas our love is caused by the beauty of what we love.


The Positions of St. Thomas on the Ordination of the Person to Its Ultimate End by Jacques Maritain

December 21, 2010

Maritain and Friends: From the left, Ade Bethune, Dorothy Day, Dorothy Weston, Jacques and Peter Maurin at the Catholic Worker house in New York, 1934

There are two great things that have buoyed my spirits recently. One has been the writings of Edward Feser that I have been featuring. For the longest time I have conceded the field of God’s existence to the atheists who say that science can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God. Edward Feser has been a breath of fresh air who simply says, “Well, you’re not looking at science in the right way. Modern science is based as much on the metaphysical as our Theology is. It is an atheist conceit that science is somehow above all the fray and is able to judge. To say that it is[above the fray] is to rely upon a subset of modern science, called Scientism, a strict construct that attempts to ban the metaphysical or the “supernatural” as my atheist friends are wont to say.

The problem is that modern science is shot through with the metaphysical and attempts beginning with Enlightenment philosophers such as David Hume that don’t hold up to such propositions least of all our examinations. Yet despite Feser’s yeoman work to demonstrate this, the fact is God’s existence has never been much of an issue for me. And I have discovered that the only proof of His existence that matters is the one that proves Him to whomever you are. Feser’s stuff is nice to know in that it takes the ground out from underneath my atheist friends who claim that God doesn’t exist and argue magisterially from their thin Scientism that it is so.

The second spirit-buoying event for me this year has been my discovery of Personalism. This is less about God (that’s not true either) as it is about who we are. For we are Persons, insofar as we know God. Writers like Benedict XVI, Jacques Maritain, Nikolai Berdyaev, Robert Spaemann and John Paul II have shown to me this year that Person’ is indeed a fundamental notion which cannot be abolished without implying major shifts in our understanding of reality. It is a non-reductive and truly empirical position that rehabilitates our everyday experience of life, time, space, freedom, motion, possibility, and contingency. God shows us who we truly are and it is uplifting to say the least. It strikes me that if you believe in personhood, you believe in God.

More of that here by Jacques Maritain from a small book (The Person and the Common Good)that came heartily recommended to me by a reader of these posts. Merry Christmas.

THE human person is ordained directly to God as to its absolute ultimate end. Its direct ordination to God transcends every created common good — both the common good of the political society and the intrinsic common good of the universe. Here is the fundamental truth governing the entire discussion — the truth in which nothing less than the very message of Christian wisdom in its triumph over Hellenic thought and every other pagan wisdom, henceforth toppled from their dominion, is involved. Here, too, St. Thomas Aquinas, following the precedent set by Albert the Great, did not take over the doctrine of Aristotle without correcting and transfiguring it.

The most essential and the dearest aim of Thomism is to make sure that the personal contact of all intellectual creatures with God, as well as their personal subordination to God, be in no way interrupted. Everything else — the whole universe and every social institution — must ultimately minister to this purpose; everything must foster and strengthen and protect the conversation of the soul, every soul, with God. It is characteristically Greek and pagan to interpose the universe between God and intellectual creatures.” It is to this essential concern for asserting and safeguarding the ordination, direct and personal, of each human soul to God that the principal points of doctrine, lying at the very heart of Thomism, are attached.

In the first place, there can be no question about the importance which St. Thomas unceasingly attributes to the consideration of the intrinsic order and “common good” of the cosmos principally to establish the existence of Divine Providence against Greco-Arabian necessitarianism. Nonetheless, in comparing the intellectual substance and the universe, he emphasizes that intellectual creatures, though they, like all creatures, are ordained to the perfection of the created whole, are willed and governed for their own sakes. Divine Providence takes care of each one of them for its own sake and not at all as a mere cog in the machinery of the world. Obviously, this does not prevent them from being related first to God and then to the order and perfection of the created universe, of which they are the most noble constitutive parts.

Each intellectual substance is made, first, for God, the separated common good of the universe, second, for the perfection of the order of the universe (not only as the universe of bodies but also as the universe of spirits), and third, for itself, that is, for the action (immanent and spiritual) by which it perfects itself and accomplishes its destiny. (Cf. Summa Theologica, I, 65, 2, and Cajetan’s commentary.) Using a distinction established further on, we may say that as individual or part, the intellectual substance is first willed and loved for the order of the universe and the perfection of the created whole; as person, it is first willed and loved for itself. Yet, like every creature, it differs from God, or Personality in pure act, more than it resembles Him. Hence, absolutely speaking, it is part or “individual” more than “person’ and before it is a “person.” (It is this that Kant failed to see.) It follows there from that, absolutely speaking, the intellectual sub stance is loved and willed for the order of the universe of creation before being loved and willed for itself. This in no wise hinders it, in contrast to irrational beings, from being really for itself and referred directly to God.

Let us add that if we pass to the supernatural order, the order of formal participation in the deity, this priority of the universe of created nature over the person is reversed. Each person is here willed and loved for its own sake, that is, to find bliss in God (He truly died for each of them), before being willed and loved for the order and perfection of this world or of the universe of nature and creation. “As He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.” Ephesians. 1: 4. (Whereas, “there. is no election, nor a book of life as regards the life of nature.” Summa Theologica I, 24, 2 ad 2.) In the words of St.. Augustine, the justification of the ungodly is a greater work than the creation of heaven and earth. In his teaching that “the justification of the of the ungodly is the greatest work of God,” St. Thomas: proposes the following objection: “The justification of the ungodly is ordained to the particular good of one man. But the good of the universe is greater than the good of one man, as is plain from Ethics I. Hence the creation of heaven and earth is a greater work than the justification of the ungodly.” To it, he answers, “The good of the universe is greater than the particular good of one, if we consider both in the same genus. But the good of grace in one is greater than the good of nature in the whole universe,” including the angelic natures. Summa Theologica I-II, 113, 9, ad 2.]

“They alone in the universe are willed for their own sake.” Cf. Sam. Contra Gentiles, III, 112; “Intellectual creatures are ruled by God as though He cared for ‘them for their own sake, while other creatures are ruled as being directed to rational creatures….The rational soul is capable of perpetuity, not only in respect of the species, like other creatures, but also in respect of the individual … Rational creatures alone are directed by God to their actions for the sake, not only of the species, but also of the individual. . Rational creatures alone are directed by God providence as being for its own sake governed and eaten for, and not, as other corruptible creatures, for the sake of the species only. For the individual that is governed only for .the-: sake of the’ species is not governed for its own sake, whereas the rational creature is governed for its own sake … Accordingly, rational creatures alone are directed by God to their actions for the “sake, not only of the species, but also of the individual.”

In other words, before they are related to the immanent common good of the universe, they are related to an infinitely greater good-the separated common Good, the divine transcendent Whole. That the extrinsic or separated common good of a multitude to which it is ordained, is greater than the immanent common good of the multitude is a universal principle: . . “Just as the good of a multitude is greater than the good of a unit in that multitude, so it is less than the extrinsic good to which that multitude is directed, as the good order of an army is less than the (objective)’ good (the defeat of the’ enemy) of its commander-in-chief. In like manner the good of ecclesiastical unity, to which schism is opposed, is less than the good of ‘Divine truth, to which unbelief is opposed.” Summa Theologica 1I-1I, 39, 2, ad 2.1.

In intellectual creatures alone, Aquinas teaches further, is found the image of God. In no other creature, not even in the universe as a whole, is this found. To be sure with regard to the extension and variety according to which the divine attributes are manifested, there is more participated similitude of the divine perfections in the whole totality of creatures. But considering the degree of perfection with. which, each one approaches God according to its capacity, the intellectual creature, which is capable of the supreme good, is more like unto the divine perfection than the whole universe in its entirety. For it alone is properly the image of God. (Summa Theologica I, 93, 2.)

Elsewhere, the Angelic Doctor writes that the good of grace of one person is worth more than the good of the whole universe of nature. For, precisely because it alone is capable of the supreme good, because it alone is the image of God, the intellectual creature alone is capable of grace. He also teaches that the natural knowledge of the angels does not extend to the secrets of the heart, even though it encompasses de jure all the things of this world. The reason is, as John of St. Thomas explained, because the free act of the human person, considered in its pure and secret intimacy as a free act, is not of this world. By its liberty, the human person transcends the stars and all the world of nature.

In the .second place concerning the, possession itself of the ultimate end, St. Thomas teaches that in the beatific vision each blessed soul, knowing God as He is and as it itself is known by Him (Saint Paul, I Corinthians 13:12: “Now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am known.”) grasps the Divine Essence and becomes God intentionally in the most immediate act conceivable. In this act, the Divine Essence itself assumes the role of “impressed species” in the human intellect. The “light of glory” enables the intellect to know in a direct intuition, without any created intermediary, without even the mediation of an idea, the very Being whose intelligibility in pure act is  per se proportionate only to the Intellect in pure act. The divine beatitude enjoys eternally the exhaustive knowledge of those uncreated depths. The beatific vision is therefore the supremely personal act by which the soul, transcending absolutely every sort of created common good, enters into the very bliss of God and draws its life from the uncreated Good, the divine essence itself, the uncreated common Good of the three Divine Persons.

Were there but a single soul to enjoy God thus it would still be blessed, even though it would not have to share this beatitude with any other creature.” (Summa Theologica I-II, 4, 8, ad 3.) Ordained to Him who is the Good by His essence and the Good by essence, it has, as the object of its vision and the substance of its beatitude, God as He is in Himself. Together, God and the soul are two in one; two natures in a single vision and a single love. The soul is filled with God. It is in society with God. With Him, it possesses a common good, the divine Good Itself. And thus the adage “Goods are common among friends” holds for it. “Absolutely speaking that love, since it is like friendship, is perfect love by which God loves His creatures not only as the artisan loves his work but also with a certain friendly association; as friend loves friend, in as much as He draws them into the community of His own enjoyment in order that their glory and beatitude may reside in that very thing by which He Himself is blessed.” The beatific vision, good so personal, knowledge so incommunicable that the soul of the blessed cannot even• express it to itself in an interior word, is the most perfect, the most secret and the most divine solitude with God.

Yet, it is the most open, most generous and most inhabited solitude. Because of it, another society is formed — the society of the multitude of blessed souls, each of which on its own account beholds the divine essence and enjoys the same untreated Good. They love mutually in God. The untreated common Good, in which they all participate, constitutes the common good of the celestial city in which they are congregated. It is this society of which St. Augustine writes: “The peace of the celestial city is the perfectly ordered and harmonious enjoyment of God, and of one another in God” (De civitate dei, XIX, 13) According to St. Thomas, it is neither essential to nor necessarily required by perfect beatitude; this society accompanies it: “Friendship stands a concomitant, as it were, of perfect beatitude.”(Summa Theologica I-II, 4, 8 ad 3) 

Let us note further that, though God is the “separated common good” of the universe, the intellectual creature is related, primarily as to the object of its beatitude, not to God as the common good of the universe of nature and creation, but to God in the transcendence of his own mystery; to God as Deity, conceptually ineffable, expressible only in the Untreated Word, to God as common good of the divine Persons and of the souls which have entered by participation into the universe of the Deity.

It is only consequentially, because God is the common good of the multitude of beatified creatures which all communicate with Him, that they communicate in His love with one another, outside of the vision, by all the created communications of mutual knowledge and mutual charity and common adoration, which flow from the vision; by those exchanges and that celestial conversation, those illuminations and that common praise of God, which render back unto each of them the goods which they have in common. The eminently personal act in which each beholds the divine essence at once transcends their blessed community and provides it with a foundation.

A third point of doctrine, concerning the superiority of the speculative over the practical intellect (speculative intellect = the faculty of knowing for the sake of knowing), likewise constitutes an essential thesis of Thomism and confirms what we have just observed. For St. Thomas, beatitude, which consists formally in the vision, pertains to the speculative and not to the practical. Intellect (practical intellect = the rational faculty that governs desire; roughly the will, rational desire (or rational appetite). The object of the practical intellect is a practical good, a good to be done, a good which, however lofty it may be, remains inferior to the truth to be known and the subsistent Good itself. In consequence, the resemblance to God is less in the practical than in the speculative intellect. “The asserted likeness of the practical intellect to God is one of proportion; that is to say, by reason of its standing in relation to what it knows (and brings into existence) as God does to what He knows (creatively). But the likeness of the speculative to God is one of union and information; which is a much greater likeness.” (Summa Theologica I-II, 3,5, ad1.)Now this much more perfect similitude with God, characteristic of the speculative intellect, is accomplished by a personal and solitary act of each one’s intellect.

The good and the end of the speculative intellect are of themselves superior to the good and the end of the practical intellect. Hence, they are superior to every created common good, however eminent it may be. For the highest object of the practical intellect is a common good to be realized. (Summa Theologica II-II, 47, 2 ad 11.)By the practical intellect,” writes St. Thomas, “one directs oneself and others towards the end as it is exemplified in him who directs the multitude. But by the fact that a man contemplates he directs himself alone towards the end of contemplation. The end itself of the speculative intellect (3 Sent., 35, I, 4 sol. Ic et ad 2; also 4 Sent., 49, I, 1, sol. 3 ad 1) surpasses as much the good of the practical intellect as the personal attainment of this speculative end, transcends the common accomplishment of the good of the practical intellect. For this reason, the most perfect beatitude resides in the speculative intellect.”  These two texts, which we have just quoted and which yield, as has been noted, one of the keys to the “personalism” of a doctrine that also asserts, at each degree of the analogy of being, the primacy of the common good, introduce us to the second great Thomistic theme which we wish to recall in the first part of this study, namely, the preeminence of the contemplative over the political life.

This doctrine is so well known that a brief recollection will suffice here. Because of its perfect immanence and its high degree of immateriality, contemplative activity is the highest of human activities. It binds man to things divine. It is better than life on the human scale. In supernatural contemplation it takes place according to a mode which is itself superhuman, through the connaturality of love with God and the action of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It makes of the transfigured soul one spirit with God. It is supreme and active repose, activity theological — received in its entirety from God, an imperfect and crucified beginning of beatitude.

To it are ordained the moral virtues, which are at the service of wisdom as the valet is at the service of the king. It is from it, when the soul is perfect, that the works of the active life must overflow, at least as to the mode of their accomplishment. And if a man be called to abandon his contemplation to come to the aid of his brothers or to serve the good of the community, the reason for this call is not at all because the good of, the practical order is of itself superior to his solitary contemplation. He must accept it only because the order of charity can require that an urgent necessity of a less elevated good, in the circumstances, be given priority. In truth, such a man if he has entered upon the pathways of the perfect. life, would be abandoning rather the conditions and leisure of contemplation than contemplation itself, which would remain, in the recesses of the soul, the source from which his practical activity would descend into human affairs.

Such is St. Thomas’ doctrine on this crucial problem of action and contemplation — a problem at the very heart of social philosophy, a problem the solution of which is of prime importance to every civilization worthy of the name. With an incomparable incisiveness, it affirms the human person’s vocation to contemplation. It is a doctrine of the primacy of the act, of the act par excellence, the act of the spirit; it is, for that very reason, a doctrine of the primacy of that which is spiritual and most eminently personal: “Just as that which is already perfect is superior to that which is practiced for perfection, so the life of the solitaries,” of those who, in the words of Aristotle, are not as beasts but as gods, “is superior to life in society.” (Summa Theologica I-II, 113, 9, ad 2) The contemplative life is better than the political life.

This doctrine is at the same time’ a doctrine of the primacy of the common good. No one more than St. Thomas has emphasized the primacy of the common good in the practical or political order of the life of the city, as in every order, where, in relation to a same category of good, (Summa Theologica II-II, 188, 8. 20:”The good of the universe is greater than the particular good of one, if we consider both in the same genus.”) the distinction between the private and common good is found. At every opportunity, he repeats the maxim of Aristotle that the good of the whole is “more divine” than the good of the parts. Unceasingly he strives to preserve this dictum authenticum, applied according to the most diverse degrees of analogy. A fortiori, then, does he give it its full value in strictly social matters. Because the common good is the human common good, (“The end of politics is the human good; it is the highest end in human things.” St. Thomas, in Ethics. I, 2) it includes within its essence, as we shall see later, the service of the human person. [As expressed by Pope Pius XII in His Christmas Message of 1942, "The origin and the primary scope of social life is the conservation, development and perfection of the human person, helping him to realize accurately the demands and values of religion and culture set by the creator for every man and for all mankind, both as a whole and in its natural ramifications." (Translation published by The Catholic Mind, Jan. 1943.)

From the Encyclical Mystici Corporis: "In a natural body the principle of unity so unites the parts that each lacks its own individual subsistence; on the contrary in the Mystical Body that mutual union, though intrinsic, links the members by a bond which leaves to each intact his own personality. Besides, if we examine the relation existing between the several members and the head, in every physical, living body, all the different members are ultimately destined to the good of the whole alone; while every moral association of men, if we look to its ultimate usefulness, is in the end directed to the advancement of all and of every single member. For they are persons, utpote personae sunt." (Prepared by Joseph J. Bluett, S.J., The America Press, New York.) This passage is truly the charter of the Christian doctrine on the person.]  

The adage of the superiority of the common good is understood in its true sense only in the measure that the common good itself implies a reference to the human person. As Giorgio La Pira rightly observed, the worst errors concerning society are born of the confusion between the substantial whole of the biological organism and the collective whole, itself composed of persons, of society.


Reading Selections from “The Christian Personalism Of Jacques Maritain” by Donald DeMarco

November 11, 2010

Jacques Maritain, circa 1938

I jump all over good essays on Jacques Maritain, particularly the ones that explain his theories of the Person, which I have come to see is the basis of the Church’s teaching on homosexuality and a host of other modern issues. Donald DeMarco is Associate Professor of Philosophy at St. Jerome’s College in Ontario, Canada. He received both the M.A. and the Ph.D. degrees from St. John’s University, and has studied at the Gregorian University in Rome. Dr. DeMarco illustrates in this essay how Maritain’s Catholic Faith led him to develop a philosophic personalism based upon the teachings of St. Thomas. This key element in his thought may serve as a counter current to the contemporary world’s exaltation of selfishness.

“We don’t love qualities, we love persons; sometimes by reason of their defects as well as of their qualities.”
Jacques Maritain

Jacques Maritain:A Short Bio
Jacques Maritain was born in Paris on November 18, 1882. He grew up in that city, barely nourished spiritually on the lukewarm Protestantism of his mother. When he entered the Lycée Henri IV, he possessed no particular religious convictions. He enrolled at the Sorbonne in 1901 during France’s rich and corrupt Third Republic, a time when rabid French anti-clericalism had turned the Church into an intellectual ghetto. The school’s rigid empiricism had effectively excluded any respectful discussion of spiritual matters. One day, as Jacques walked hand in hand through a Paris park with his Jewish girl friend, Raissa, the two made a pact that if, within a year, they could not find any meaning to life beyond the material, they would commit suicide.

That despair dissolved when they heard lectures at the Collège de France given by Henri Bergson, whose theories of creative evolution exalted the spirit of man and his ability to discover the intelligibility of things through intuition. In 1905, Jacques and Raissa, now newlyweds, met a passionate Catholic named Leon Bloy (“A Christian of the second century astray in the Third Republic”) who led them into the Catholic faith.

Maritain soon began studying the massive works of St. Thomas Aquinas. As Aquinas had found in Aristotle a philosophical basis for harmonizing human reason with Christian faith, Maritain discovered in Aquinas possibilities for bringing a rejuvenated Thomism into a modern age of skepticism and science. “The disease afflicting the modern world,” he wrote, “is above all a disease of the intellect.” In one of his early works, <The Degrees of Knowledge>, Maritain sought to unify all the sciences and subdivisions of philosophy in the pursuit of reality.

At the height of his fame, in the 1920s and ’30s, Maritain lectured at Oxford, Yale, Notre Dame, and Chicago. He also taught at Paris, Princeton, and Toronto. After World War II, he served three years as France’s ambassador to the Vatican. In 1963 the French government honored him with its National Grand Prize for Letters.

The 50-odd books that Maritain wrote, spanning a period of more than half a century and translated into every major language, earned him the distinction of being “the greatest living Catholic philosopher.”

In his books, articles, and lectures, Maritain repeatedly and passionately called upon the Church to bring its theology and philosophy into contact with present day problems. His liberal thoughts concerning political and social justice issues won him bitter enemies among ultra-conventional Church thinkers. Attempts were even made, though unsuccessful, to have his books condemned by the Vatican.

Pope Paul VI honored Maritain during Vatican II, and in 1967 gave him unprecedented credit for inspiring the Pontiff’s landmark encyclical on economic justice, <Populorum Progressio>. He also considered making Maritain a Cardinal, but the philosopher rejected the suggestion.

When his beloved wife and collaborator Raissa died in 1960, Maritain withdrew to a secluded life of silence and prayer, living in a hut with the Little Brothers of Jesus at Toulouse. When he died there in 1973, Pope Paul VI described him publicly as a “master of the art of thinking, of living, and of praying.”

Maritain once referred to himself as “a man God has turned inside out like a glove.” In a letter to poet Jean Cocteau, he wrote: “I have given my life to St. Thomas, and labor to spread his doctrine. For I, too, want intelligence to be taken from the Devil and returned to God.” Indeed, no modern Catholic thinker has done more in an effort to achieve this end than Jacques Maritain.

The Person and the Individual
In The Person and the Common Good, which is Maritain’s clearest and most sustained treatment of the person, he asks whether the person is simply the self and nothing more. This is an appropriate question to raise in the light of modern culture’s commonplace identification of the two. We find this identification in the various expressions of individualism which maintain that an individual has a right to pursue the objects of his desires apart from any consideration of the effect this pursuit might have on others. Jean-Paul Sartre’s celebrated phrase from his play No Exit — “Hell is other people” — reflects this commonplace lack of concern that selfish people have for others. A brief glance at the list of best-selling self-help books corroborates the point: Winning Through Intimidation; How to Be Your Own Best Friend; Having It All; Own Your Own Life; Creative Divorce; and Getting Divorced from Mother and Dad.

Maritain’s question may have more validity today than ever before, given present society’s inordinate preoccupation with selfism. Numerous critics of contemporary culture have studied this phenomenon in great detail. A few notable works that come to mind are: Culture of Narcissism by Christopher Lasch; Psychology as Religion: The Cult of Self-worship by Paul Vitz; The Heresy of Self-Love by Paul Zweig; <The Inflated Self> by David Myers; and The Age of Sensation by Herbert Hendin. Popular magazines and virtually all of commercial advertising are based on the notion that a human person is merely a self, a center for the experience of pleasure and the acquisition of material goods. Novelist Thomas Pynchon captures the essence of the consuming self when he speaks of one of his characters as “walking the aisles of a bright, gigantic supermarket, his only function to want.”

Maritain refrains from being moralistic. He does not rail against the evil or narrowness of the self. He advises us not to be hasty in dismissing the self, and points out that no one can become a saint without having a strong sense of self.

He wants to take us more deeply into the issue. It appears on the surface that there is a contradiction. He refers to Pascal who asserts that “the self is detestable.” On the other hand, St. Thomas states that “Person signifies what is most perfect in all nature.” It is abundantly clear that self cannot be equated with person since that which is “detestable” cannot be that which is “most perfect in all nature.” How can this apparent contradiction be resolved?

Maritain avoids a contradiction by making a crucial distinction between individuality and personality. We should note here that what is distinguishable by the mind is not necessarily separable in reality. To take a simple example, we can mentally distinguish the right from the left sides of a piece of paper. Yet if we cut away the right hand side of the paper, we do not succeed in removing it, leaving us with a page that has only a left side. By cutting the right side, we merely have a smaller piece of paper that still has a right side in equal proportion with its left side counterpart. We cannot separate the right from the left in reality even though we can make a very useful and practical distinction between them in the mind.

So too, although we can distinguish individuality from personality, we cannot separate them from each other in the concrete human being. It has been said of Maritain that the motto of his philosophical life was “to distinguish in order to unite.” Philosophy is to distinguish (Philosophiae est distinguere). But its ultimate purpose is not to decompose things into fragments, but to appreciate more profoundly the diversity within unity, the multi-faceted constitution of being, the manner in which the object of philosophical inquiry is integrated. Maritain wants us to understand how individuality and personality (which are principles, rather than independent realities) combine, like body and soul, to form a single, unified human being.

The Distinction Between Individuality And Personality
Pascal’s remark that the “self is detestable” appears in his classic work, The Pensées. The great 16th century scientist, mathematician, philosopher, and religious thinker explains that we hate the self because it can impose itself as the center of everything, an imposition which is in direct opposition to justice.

In short, the self has two qualities: it is unjust because it makes itself the centre of everything; it is disagreeable to other people because it tries to browbeat them; for each <self> is the enemy and would like to be the tyrant of all the others. You remove its unpleasantness, but not its injustice.
Blaise Pascal, Pascal’s Pensées, tr. by Martin Turnell (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), # 141, p. 78

Maritain argues similarly, that the material pole, which is but the “shadow of personality,” tends to draw things to itself. The spiritual pole, contrariwise, which concerns true personality, is what Aquinas has in mind when he speaks of a source of generosity and bountifulness.

The distinction between individuality and personality has roots in the ancient world. The Greeks had two words for life: bios and zoe. The former referred to individual life, the life that was contained within the singular living thing. The latter, however, referred to a transcendent form of life, life that could be shared. The Christian doctrine of the Trinity follows similar lines. Each person in the Blessed Trinity possesses his own individuality. Nonetheless, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have a superabundance of life that they share with each other in so intimate a fashion that the three together constitute a single, unified God.

More recently, Pope John Paul II has re-emphasized how marriage between man and woman is an image of the Trinity and a <communio personarum> (a communion of persons), a two-in-one-flesh union of two individuals who transcend their respective singularities to share their personhood with each other in a unity that is both sacred and profound.
Pope John Paul II, <The Original Unity of Man and Woman> (Boston: Daughters of St. Paul, 1981), p. 76

Psychologist Paul Vitz has explained that the concept of the “person” is the fruit of Jewish and Christian theology. Sundered from this root, the “person” becomes truncated as a “self-actualizing individual who is devoted to the growth of the secular self.” consequently, when Carl Rogers titles his best known work, On Becoming a Person, which is about the cultivation of the self-actualizing, secular self, he is simply wrong. According to Vitz, what Rogers wrote was a book “On Becoming an Individual.”

Maritain alludes to the contribution of existentialist philosopher Nicolas Berdiaeff to the store of personalism. This outstanding Russian thinker wrote passionately and extensively about the “person.” For Berdiaeff, the notion of person captures the twofold, polarized quality of the human being. The following words could have been penned by Maritain himself:

Man is a personality not by nature but by spirit. By nature he is only an individual. Personality is not a monad entering into a hierarchy of monads and subordinate to it. Personality is a microcosm, a complete universe. It is personality alone that can bring together a universal content and be a potential universe in an individual form. . . . The monad is closed, shut up, it has neither windows nor doors. For personality, however, infinity opens out, it enters into infinity, and admits infinity into itself; in its self-revelation it is directed towards an infinite content.
Nikolai Berdyaev, <Slavery and Freedom>, tr. by R. M. French (New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1944), pp. 21-22 

Having resolved the apparent contradiction by distinguishing the material and spiritual polarities, Maritain then goes on to discuss the notion of individuality in some depth.

In a fundamental sense which most people can understand, only individuals exist in the extra-mental world of concrete reality. Ideas and the like do not have real existence, that is to say, they are not capable of exercising the act of existing. Here, Maritain is writing as an existentialist echoing the existentialism of his master, St. Thomas Aquinas. “Existence,” for the Angelic Doctor, is the “perfection of perfections”; it is that by which something becomes truly real. As “the first act” of an essence, existence concretizes an essence in reality.

We must note at this point that it is not the essence that exists (and certainly not existence that exists), but the underlying subject (or “supposit”). It is this “supposit” that exercises the act of existence and allows an essence to make its entrance into the real world. For Maritain and Aquinas, reality is composed of subjects that exercise existence and manifest an essence. This is a crucial point and allows the philosopher to distinguish real entities from those Platonic essences or ideal forms that float in a heaven of abstractions.

Individuality is, therefore, common to all things that exist. Thus, angels and God are individuals. Pure spirits are individuals by virtue of their form. Angels, consequently, differ from each other not as taller or shorter, fatter or thinner, etc., for they have no material dimension. They differ from each other as one species differs from another, as a horse differs from a cow, for example. Spiritual beings are individuals, though they are not “individualized,” that is, “individualized by matter.”

Human persons, because they are material, have their individuality rooted in matter. Matter in itself, however, is a mere potency to receive forms. Its nature is essentially relatable to that which can inform it. In this regard it is roughly analogous to computer hardware that is merely a potentiality for receiving the information contained in the software programming.

Because of this radically parasitic nature of matter, Maritain refers to it as in itself a kind of “non-being.” And because of its essential relatability to form, he speaks of matter as an “avidity for being.” Together, matter and form combine to form a substantial unity. The human person is a single, unified substance, a dynamic whole which is the synthesis of body and soul.

After discussing the individual side of man, Maritain then turns to the more difficult task of expressing the meaning of his personality. He commences his treatment by explaining how love is a movement that directs itself to the center of one’s personality. Love is not concerned with essences, or qualities, or pleasure, but with affirming the metaphysical center of the beloved’s personality. Love does not ignore the qualities of the one who is loved. Indeed, it is one with them. Moreover, the lover is not content to express his love in bestowing gifts which merely symbolize his love. He gives himself as a gift.

At the metaphysical center of personality is a capacity to give oneself as a person and to receive the gift of another person. This could not be possible if the lovers were not subjects capable of a subject-to-subject reciprocal affirmation. Love is sourced in the metaphysics of inter-subjectivity.

What Maritain is leading to here is a notion which has given students so many headaches, the notion of subsistence. This is a critical notion because it is needed in order to establish, philosophically, the reality of the subject (as opposed to the object). The subject, in turn, is important because only a subject can exist as a person.

The existential subject (like existence itself) eludes the powers of conceptualization. It is not an object of thought, something we can grasp intellectually. Hence it tends to be absent from many philosophies, especially those of a rationalistic bent. The intellect knows things as objects. But love moves on a different plane and loves the other as a subject. The nature of the subject is such that it transcends the operation of the intellect. In this regard, the subject is a “super-intelligible.” Nonetheless, it must be posited, for it is not the essence which exists, but the subject. Essence is that which a thing is; the subject is that which has an essence, that which exercises existence and action, that which “subsists.”

Subjectivity marks the frontier which separates philosophy from religion. Philosophy consists in the relation of intelligence to object; whereas religion enters into the relation of subject to subject. Love gives us the opportunity to establish person-to-person relationships. Since God is love, religion becomes a paradigm for this experience of inter-subjectivity.

Subjectivity both receives and gives. It receives through the intellect by super-existing in knowledge. It gives through the will by super-existing in love. But since it is better to give than to receive, it is through love that a person comes to attain the supreme revelation of his personal reality. He discovers at this same time the basic generosity of his existence in which he realizes the very meaning of his being alive.

Love, then, breaks down the barriers that keep people at a distance from each other, causing them to see one another as objects. It makes the being we love another ourself , that is to say, another subjectivity for us, another subjectivity that is ours. Love is perfective of our personalities; it helps us to achieve more completely the very purpose of our existence, which, in Maritain’s words is “self-mastery for the purpose of self-giving.”

The life of personality is not self-preservation or self-aggrandizement as that of the individual, but self-development and self-giving. It presupposes sacrifice, and sacrifice cannot be impersonal. Psychological individualism, so characteristic of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is the very reverse of personalism.

Personality shares its own cultivated life with the lives of others. In the process of developing this personal communion with others, dialogue is required. Nevertheless, as Maritain points out, such communication is rarely possible. Indeed, as another personalist thinker, Martin Buber, has remarked, the fact that people “can no longer carry on authentic dialogue with one another is the most acute symptom of the pathology of our time.”

Hence, alienation — both personal and intellectual — seems more characteristic of modern man than loving, personal union. This unhappy state of affairs is directly tied to the material side of man whose inward gravitational pull draws him away from other people. Only persons can emerge in dialogue, because only persons are capable of participating in a common life. As individuals, people are divided and alienated from one another. As Maritain comments, “evil arises when, in our own action, we give preponderance to the individual aspect of our being.”

The Catholic novelist, Walker Percy, has depicted this alienated state of modern man in his book Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book. Like Maritain, Percy sees the roots of this predicament in the Cartesian isolation of the conscious self from its corporeal link with both its personal wholeness as well as its place in the cosmos. “The Self since the time of Descartes,” he writes, “has been stranded, split off from everything else in the Cosmos, a mind which professes to understand bodies and galaxies but is by the very act of understanding marooned in the Cosmos, with which it has no connection.”

Maritain’s notion of “personality” has profound religious (specifically Christian) implications. Through loving communication with others, the person begins to appreciate the inexhaustible richness of subjectivity. This image of the infinite implies a Source of infinite plenitude. Thus, the person is directly related to the absolute and finds its sufficiency only in an intimate relationship with God. This notion is consistent with the Biblical reference to man being made in the image of God. The “image” to which Scripture refers, is the spiritual image of God in man which makes it possible for him to know and love God and, through grace, to participate in His Life.

As a person, the human being is a whole, a synthesis of body and soul. But, as Maritain remarks elsewhere, he is an “open whole.” This opening allows for additional and higher unifications. The person tends by its very nature to social life and to modes of communion that attain their ultimate fulfillment only in the Godhead. There is a radical generosity inscribed within the very being of the person, a quality which is the essence of spirit. Nothing could be more contradictory for the person than to be alone. By the untransformable nature of its spiritual being, the person wants to know and to love. But more than that, it wants to share that knowledge and love with others. Still more, it wants this sharing to reach a level of perfection that could be realized only with God.



Book Recommendation: “The Living Thoughts of Saint Paul” by Jacques Maritain

April 19, 2010

St. Paul And His Teachings
Overflowing with gifts of the Spirit, the graces of mystical contemplation and prophetic power, he [Paul] is the master of masters of Christian perfection and union with God…The irresistible dynamism which runs though all his teaching draws souls toward that perfection of charity which, as Saint Thomas Aquinas would explain, is not merely counseled, but commanded, and which comes under the first commandment to the New Law, not doubtless as something to be instantly realized (that is quite impossible) but as the end to which we are summoned and at which all Christian life should aim…Saint Paul’s teaching is inseparable from his experience. He was not simply called, as were the other Apostles; he was converted; he was the first great convert chosen to carry afar the name of Christ, and his teaching mission is the extraordinary flowering of that even more extraordinary moment – his interior conversion.

Hollow And Deceptive Philosophy
But the mystery of our state is that our nature and our reason, as we see them in real and concrete existence, cannot by themselves alone attain the fullness and the perfection of that of which they are capable. All the more, if they set out to usurp that which is beyond their reach, they will become for us a snare, an occasion of sin and of death, With regard to eternal life and absolute wisdom, faith alone — and reason which heeds faith — truly knows the road.

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.
Colossians 2: 6-8

The True Wisdom Of Eternal Life
The true wisdom of eternal life is the contemplation of the profundities of God, which the Spirit of God alone knows and of which, through faith and in faith, God causes a mysterious knowledge to come down upon us when we have reached the perfect age of the Christian.

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written:
   “No eye has seen,
      no ear has heard,
   no mind has conceived
   what God has prepared for those who love him”

But God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.
[1 Corinthians 2:6-13]

Man Is Held To Goodness
The meaning of the law has been transfigured: they no longer command bad men to be good and to grow into something which they are not; rather do they command good men not be bad and not to fail in that which they already are, not to fall back into that state of slavery from whence they have been freed. Justification is received through faith, quite apart from works. But once justified man is more than ever held to do good works…And this is not because the works of man would have power to save man by themselves, but because good works proceed from the charity which has been given to man and which is his life — his new and eternal life — and which is joined to faith when faith is living: “faith working through charity.” And also because the works of charity, serving of life, to the extent that man, acting freely under the inflowing of grace, receives from God’s mercy the dignity of being a cause — secondary and instrumental — the matter of his  own salvation. 

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

“Everything is permissible for me”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”—but I will not be mastered by anything. “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food”—but God will destroy them both. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit.

  All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. .
1 Corinthians 6: 9-12; 15-20

And in like fashion, Paul writes:

Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. [Romans 6:2-14]

The Just Man Lives Of Faith And Charity
Even though he feels ever within him the workings of sin (but from thenceforth he is no longer subject thereto; he is stronger than it), the just man lives from a divine life, which is not a life according to the flesh either; and which makes him in truth an adopted son of God.

Life Through the Spirit
 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man,in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.

 Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.

 You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.

 Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Future Glory
 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

More Than Conquerors
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
   “For your sake we face death all day long;
      we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. [
Romans 8: 1-39

Old Law New Law
The [old] law suffices to punish; it does not suffice to save. Here is a particular case of that dissymmetry which is always found between the good of which we are incapable without God, and the evil of which we are capable, ourselves alone. And the divine inflowing, which in vitalizing us give s us the power to act as good men (not halfheartedly, or limpingly, but lastingly and completely) is the grace of Christ and supposes (supernatural) faith in Him because the goal toward which it makes us tend is entrance into the very joy of God and into his glory. It was by this grace of the Christ to come, and by faith in Him, that lived the just men of the Old Law and those of the times of the Patriarchs….If the New Law requires many less things beyond the prescriptions of the natural law, and many less ceremonial observances than the Old Law, in return it requires that which is the most difficult of all: purity in the hidden movements and internal acts of the soul. But love makes light the yoke of this higher perfection: a yoke too heavy for him who does not love (but he who loves not has already cut himself off from life); and freedom for him who loves.

For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”  
Galatians 2:19-21

The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Romans 5 19-20

Charity is God’s Gift Of Gifts
Charity does not exist here below without faith and hope. But of the three theological virtues, which are given us by grace together with gratuitous justification, it is charity which is the greatest and which deserves life eternal.

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 
 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. 
 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. 
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; 
 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; 
 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. 
Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. 
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 
But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. 
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. 
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
1Corinthians 13 1-13

Brotherly Love
Feeling for justice is unconquerable in us; charity transcends it; it does not destroy it. To forgive in full and complete measure, we must know that God makes it his affair to redress the balance of things, and that the coals of fire which are heaped upon the head of the unjust man make ready the day when the evil works accumulated by him will be upset, and when the grace of conversion will assault his heart. Each should bear his own burden; that is to say, have care for the task set him by God, without making judgments of others. And we should bear one another’s burdens, that is to say, forgive offenses and mutually help each other along the way.

Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.
Galatians 6: 1-5

Supernatural faith is the prerequisite of the supernatural loves of God, of the charity which efficaciously loves God above all things, like a friend who calls us to share his life…Paul clearly holds that faith, which of itself seeks to blossom out into love, can nevertheless through the corruption of sin, exist in a soul without charity: for even while they believe in the truths of faith, Christians can be lost by losing charity. Of those Christians who do not take care of their own, he tells us that by their actions they give the lie to faith, and that they are worse than those without faith. …The faith of which Paul speaks is…always faith joined to charity, the faith which “worketh by love.”

Faith is the substance of things hoped for, a certification of things not seen. [ Hebrews 11: 1]

The whole of Paul’s teaching is suffused and exalted by the virtue of hope
…in his teaching as in Christian life, hope plays a role so profoundly “existential” that it is like some vegetative force which supplies us life, and which we feel no compelling need to make an object of explicit speculation. Yet everywhere it is present. If even enters into the Pauline definition of faith: Faith is the substance of things hoped for.

The Divinity And Paradox of Christ’s Nature
Christ is the very impress of the substance or of the essence of God:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
 Who, being in very nature God,
      did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
 but made himself nothing,
      taking the very nature of a servant,
      being made in human likeness.
 And being found in appearance as a man,
      he humbled himself
      and became obedient to death—
         even death on a cross!
 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
      and gave him the name that is above every name,
 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
      in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
      to the glory of God the Father.

The Mystical Body
This one and indivisible body which the faithful form in Christ is the body of Christ Himself, the extension of the Incarnate Word, “Jesus Christ, spilled over and conveyed.” (Bossuet) Hence the Church is a visible body but a body whose constitutive reality is essentially mysterious, since it is the body – made up of the multitude of those who believe – of Christ  invisibly present in them in order to communicate to them His life of grace…The visible unity of the mystical body, made manifest n Baptism, in the profession of faith, and in discipline, is the visible and human instrument in the world of a life divine and hidden which is not of the world – for it is the life of grace, the life given by the blood of Christ – and in the invisible unity thereof the Spirit of God prepares sons for God.

The Old And New Covenant
The Old Covenant was entered into in fear. The New Covenant , in grace; and  the mystical body of Christ already forms and builds , in its earthly pilgrimage nd its crucified life, and in the darkness of faith, the city of the living God the heavenly Jerusalem “which is to come.”

You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”

 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

The Continued Redemption
It is the work of redemption continued in time, by the preaching of truth, and by the fulfillment, through all ages, of “what is lacking to the sufferings of the Savior” – not indeed as to merits, for He has paid by His blood once for all and for all men, but as to the application of the merits of Christ by means of the communion of saints to the human generations and to those who, sitting in the shadow of death, await their redemption.

 Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness—the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

 We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.

The Church and Christ are two in the same flesh, which is human nature. The Church is a spouse, and a spouse who has her very being, her soul and her life from the Bridegroom; and it is by this double reason that she is the body of Christ; “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” As a sign of that union, the sacrament of matrimony enables man and woman in their own union to realize a participation in that union; that is why Christian marriage carries the requirements and refinements of the natural law to a point of perfection which can only find its fulfillment by and in grace….In Paul’s eyes marriage is above all the mystery of an indissoluble union – realized through a love that which divine charity penetrates, and at once spiritual and carnal and fruitful – between two human persons.

Views On Men And Women
Paul’s views [on men and women] [have] a very high metaphysical meaning. They relate to the metaphysical finalities inscribed in nature
, and to the fact that womanhood as such is directed toward man, and hence toward love, wherein it finds its fulfillment, whereas the masculine as such is directed toward the operation of the reason (that is to say, in the supernatural order, toward the Incarnate Word) and hence toward authority over nature, in which it finds its fulfillment.


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