Archive for the ‘Maurice Blondel’ Category


Blondel Quotes 2 by Derek Jeter

November 2, 2012

There remains in us a place accessible and destined only for God. If God is not admitted by us to occupy this center and to create unity in us, then we have damnation, with disunion of parts, the intestinal discord that divides being like fire disintegrates bodies

The Mystery Of Our Intelligence
Through a really penetrating analysis of thought in ourselves and of the life of our spirit, we are led to discover that the very mystery of our intelligence has its origin in this supreme mystery of unity in Trinity, and that the history of the world, from the fiat lux [Let there be light] all the way to the consummation of the heavenly City, is set in motion, is oriented by what Christian theology and philosophy have said of the creative design: omnia intendunt assimilari Deo. [God became man in order that man might become God”] To bring all that out radically is therefore to tie nature and man back to their roots and to make them bear their true fruit, which is final union with God; but, on the other hand, it is also to enable us to understand better how the supernatural and quite gratuitous gift of grace has prepared in us the points of insertion, so that, within us, it is not a stranger or an intruder. In this regard, the many efforts of immanentist doctrines have provoked a more explicit consciousness of  the supernatural order, but also of the condescendence with which, without being confused with it, it descends into nature, stimulates it, perfects it: a view that sheds light on the very touchy point among many philosophers who are always afraid of repression by religion of the energies and the ascensions of human nature under a yoke that would be truly imposed from the outside and be humiliating for reason and freedom.

Thomas Saw One Thing And Believed Another
It has often been remarked that the risen Christ, in letting his material presence be observed, reveals it only to his disciples, intermittently, without allowing anything else to be touched but his wounds, as Pascal notes. Thus it is that the material fact, as real and as consistent as it is as grounding the spiritual sense, calls for being completed, vivified, and recognized in a higher order than that of banal history. Saint Matthew expressly declares that, among the witnesses of the Risen One, some believed and some did not, notwithstanding the evidence for all of the corporal presence of Christ. Thomas Aquinas vigorously takes note of the teaching to be drawn from the verification by Thomas Didymus of the wounds of the Savior: hominem vidit, Deum credens confessus est. [Thomas "saw one thing, and believed another: he saw the Man, and believing Him to be God, he made profession of his faith, saying: "My Lord and my God."] We can indeed observe humanity in flesh and bones; but to recognize the divinity, that is not something only for the senses, only for animal perception, only for positive science, nor even for reasoning alone, but for concrete intelligence, for rightness of soul, for the religious sense that is the most complete and the highest form of reason.

Living From The Very Life And The Light Of Christ
It is not enough, to exhaust the content of the Christian spirit, to join the historic truth to the spiritual interpretation, to the ideal value of the facts divinely interpreted; it is necessary also that the invisible realities be understood and admitted as having still much more than the force of an example, than the reality of a teaching, than the value of an ideal we would have to adhere to speculatively and to conform to practically: to restrict ourselves only to this would be to open the door to an entirely subjective symbolism, to a simple moralism that would at the most deserve the name of Christian religiosity, but would not in any way yet be Catholic realism. What then is this essential element that it is sovereignly important to integrate into the living unity of Christian spirit? — Quite simply it is the properly supernatural efficacity of the divine action, of grace, without which we would believe ourselves only capable, so to speak, of thinking the Christ without living from the very life and the light of Christ. It is not an idealist interpretation or a sentimental effusion — whatever generosity one might otherwise put into it, as we find with so many Protestants — that constitutes this spirit essentially, which is ours only to serve a docile receptacle, one as it were permeable to the truly supernatural operation, to the truly efficacious and substantial reality of Christ and the Holy Spirit, under the veil of unconsciousness, but with the reality of an effective presence. With this example — which helps us to understand that Christ cannot be said to be risen except by being something else than a man external to other men, and by being something else than a God external to our present humanity, as a purely transcendent idea would be — we are led to go beyond the objections as well as superficial and timorous interpretations. … it is a question literally of the living person of the incarnate Word, who authentically acts in each one of the beings called to form the mystical body that takes its nourishment from his life, his spirit, his charity.

The Study Of The Catholic Spirit
For the supernatural is not a creation ex nihilo; it is an elevation, a transfiguration of our natural faculties under the motion of the gifts of the Holy Spirit; it is thus legitimate to analyze what in our human faculties is thus elevated, transformable, as a preparation in which we can and must cooperate… all the study of thought leads us to this conclusion, that, through every avenue of our intelligence as of our will, we are led to the edge of a real abyss that is not exterior to us, but that resides in our inmost selves, in what some call, with Tauler, the depth of the soul, in what has frequently been called, with Francis de Sales, the fine point of the spirit. We are always, so to speak, separated within ourselves and from ourselves by this mystery of our origins and our destiny: St. Augustine used to remark appropriately that to go from ourselves to ourselves, from our apparent ego all the way to our fully possessed reality, we must pass through God. There is no complete philosophy if this problem is masked over; and Deschamps insisted on what he called the philosophical truth par excellence, the affirmation of a question that arises invincibly in every conscience, and the inability of reason to define and to resolve this problem of problems. We see thereby how we have to excavate within ourselves the place where the supernatural solution will come to fill the abyss.

The Christian spirit, which has no greater enemy than the false sufficiency of egoistic autonomy, has no better auxiliary than this sense of mystery and of humility. God, says Scripture, loves empty vessels in which to pour himself out. And it is already a beautiful role to have to shape and to purify these vessels of nature and of man that are to contain the divine presence.

The Vessel
A vessel is an object designed for the sole purpose of holding, or containing, something. The vessel is not made already containing something, it is made empty. If a vessel contains something already it needs to be emptied in order to be used for something else. If contamination is an issue the inside of the vessel must be cleaned in order not to mix residue of the prior contents into the new contents. The Lord wants us to be vessels. In Acts 9:15 God refers to Paul as a “chosen vessel” unto Him, to bear His name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel. We, too, are chosen vessels designed to be used and filled by God.God chooses us to be His vessels, yet He will never force us to be used. Our God loves us so much that He gave us the thing called choice.

We can even choose whether or not to believe in Him. . . the One who made us! We can choose to allow Him to use us. Once you make the decision to be used by God, then hang on because you are in for the ride of your life. As already mentioned, a vessel is designed to contain something. As God’s vessels we are designed to contain God. We are to fill ourselves with Him. We are to read our Bibles and fill ourselves with the Word. We are to have communion with God and learn how to have His heart and His mind. It takes time. It may take many years to become filled with God. If we are seeking Him then He will use us along the way, even before we come close to being full of Him! It is necessary that we be clean and holy vessels. As a dirty bowl will contaminate foods placed in it, we will contaminate any good thing God wants to use us for if we are not clean and holy. All our thoughts, opinions, feelings, past hurts, attitudes, and everything that has happened to us throughout our lives become part and parcel of our actions and words. All those things make us unique individuals. The problem with that is we risk adding part of ourselves to the pure and holy Word of God.
From The Vessel,   NOT BLONDEL

The Catholic Heart
In Christian language, this center where human knowledge never penetrates directly is often called “the heart,” as in the hymn of Pentecost in which the Holy Spirit is called lumen cordium; [Light of Hearts] and in the Office of the Sacred Heart, the first words that designated the newly constituted Mass are these: cogitationes cordis. [Sacred Heart of Jesus] It is important to note that this is not about an affective life, a simple sensibility, the intuition of the soul warmed by love. It is about a secret presence of the divine gifts that, invisible in themselves, are illuminating without ever being illuminated. In the word heart, we must understand what remains hidden between the folds of the soul, where our personal look and egoistic affections have no access. In La Penseé, we saw that, in effect, we could not by any avenue of knowledge or will arrive at interior unity; there remains in us a place accessible and destined only for God. If God is not admitted by us to occupy this center and to create unity in us, then we have damnation, with disunion of parts, the intestinal discord that divides being like fire disintegrates bodies .


Blondel Quotes 1 by Derek Jeter

November 1, 2012

We have to take ourselves as we are and to make our belief rest on all the foundations that render it both obligatory and salutary.

An Elevation, An Assumption, A Transfiguration, A Grace
The Christian religion presents itself not as a creation superimposed on nature, but as an elevation, an assumption, a transfiguration, a grace that makes use of normal faculties, fortifies them without destroying them, rests on rational foundations, and perfects without suppressing. Moreover, if it is true that the mysteries of faith remain impenetrable to our intellectual insight, just as the life of grace as such remains unconscious, still mysteries and grace bring with them a light that shines in what we know and in our conscience.

The Accessibility Of Revealed Truths And Psychological States
Saint Thomas, as jealous as he is to maintain the accessibility of revealed truths, nevertheless indicates that they are not unthinkable and that meditation on them is fructuosissima; similarly there are psychological states that, in an anonymous but real and observable way, express (as Cardinal Deschamps remarks) the presence of the divine order in the life of persons and of peoples. And therein lies a very precious study that reveals, in the human species, the divine spirit of Christianity.

Unity Of Destiny
What there is in us is not duality, there is unity of destiny

Preaching the Gospel
It [Preaching the Gospel] is a task that is not only permitted, but is in a sense required, that consists in applying this verse of Scripture completely to the study of the Christian spirit: qui elucidant me vitam aeternam habebunt. [“They that explain me shall have life everlasting.” Sirach 24:31] Rather than discussing the diverse objections, we shall see them disappear little by little in the course of a study that is entirely positive and direct.

Antithetical To …, Complementary For …
In the things of God, it is not enough that two assertions clash to justify excluding one or the other. Antithetical with regard to the understanding, they can be complementary for a higher wisdom, as they are solidary[vocab: characterized by or involving community of responsibilities and interests] in the deeper life of souls. Has it not often been noted that the Gospel seems to advance precepts opposed to one another, bringing war and peace, gentleness and harshness, mortification and joy?

The Natural Desire To See God And Its Frustration
Even in St. Thomas notably, there is a fitting sense that can be attributed to the diverse passages where he treats of the natural desire to see God and of the normal failure of such an aspiration. Little by little the effort of analysis has discerned the bearing of the desiderium naturale [natural desire] and of the meaning we must give to the word frustra [vocab: plural of frustrum, in vain] designating the impossibility of the sought-after, but metaphysically inaccessible vision, except by grace and by adoption. The critique of texts was thus connecting to the metaphysical and moral investigations in such a way that, through some theological progress, we came to understand finally that the supernatural is neither a creation ex nihilo, without any preparation in the aspirations of the spiritual being, nor an arbitrary overlay, and even less an exigency whose nature could turn into a sort of congenital right. None of this is true, even though each one of these aspects expresses a specious appearance.

Being Ourselves… A Gratuitous Gift That No One Wants
What makes the solidarity and the beauty of the catholic thesis on this fundamental point, is this alliance of the two gifts: that of the rational nature, prepared to receive and to taste, — and the gift of supernatural grace coming to fulfill in an unforeseen way the expectation of the spiritual nature, without reason by itself ever being able to discover and to attain the term of a destiny that renders man “consors divinae naturae.” [a sharer of the divine nature]

That is how far we have to go to unite in infinite charity the oppositions that remain insurmountable as long as we remain in the lower regions of abstraction. Thereby we can also resolve the conflict, so painful to many human consciences, between the liberality and the severity in the divine work of Christianity. On one side, everything is presented as an effusion of more than maternal goodness, of infinite condescendence, of sacrifice going all the way to the cross of Christ. And then, on the other hand, we are shown the terrible reprisals, not just of a justice that punishes faults, but of an inflexible exigency with regard to those who limit themselves in refusing liberalities that are entirely gratuitous. So that man seems quite right in being stunned, irritated, as we see so frequently, before a religion that does not allow him to just be himself and that obliges him to accept, to utilize a gift that is allegedly generously gratuitous and that appears terribly burdensome since one does not have the right to pass it up without falling short.

Two Dangers
Two dangers threaten us constantly. One consists in looking for idealized meanings, less brutal interpretations, symbolic forms where unbelievers could themselves find charming allegories and as it were enchanting myths. But if one were to let oneself go down this incline, there would be an inevitable slipping toward a sublimation that would make the authentic reality of the only true Christianity evaporate. Nevertheless the other danger, symmetrical to the first, is hardly less deleterious and menacing. In reacting against the deleterious idealization, many fall back on a pure and simple literalism or latch on only to the container of the facts, the formulas, the rites, the traditional precepts, as if it were a question of ancestral custom or of a magical practice to be preserved without putting one’s soul and all of one’s entire life into it.

The Coincidence Of Historical Reality And Of Dogmatic Truth
The proper and truly unique mark of Christianity is the coincidence of historical reality and of dogmatic truth. The facts remain posited in the positive order in what is most singular, most personal, most apparently contingent about them; everything is incarnated in accounts that bear on beings of flesh and bones, on events humbly enmeshed in the course of this world that passes. But at the same time these authentic data serve as support or even as substance for divine interventions, for supernaturally and eternally acting causes: the virginal conception, the redemptive value of the cross, the fact of the resurrection are not parables, and their historical reality, which is a matter of faith, requires not only that they be accepted as facts taken literally like other facts of the phenomenal order, or as symbols analogous to other mythological and moral teachings; they are constitutive of an intrinsic truth whose dogmatic value is absolute. In this sense we can say that the letter of the facts is at once the living spirit, the incarnate reality without which neither the letter nor the spirit would remain what they must be.

Principles Of Spiritual Vivification And Of Transformative Union
We will be able to call ourselves Christians only on this twofold condition: that we accept as historical certitudes certain facts that we can call dogmatic, even where the proofs do not pertain to the critique of texts and testimonies: and, on the other hand, that we try to understand the intimate sense, the vital exigencies, the transfigurative character of these doctrinal truths that never fall into a state of speculative mysteries, but that must pass into us as principles of spiritual vivification and of transformative union.

The Catholic Task
Our task is altogether different. It must consist in justifying the formula according to which human meditation and the philosophical study of naturally inaccessible mysteries is nevertheless fruitful, very illuminating, quite appropriate for showing the conveniences as well as the speculative and practical coherences of the faith. This is a rational task that calls for intelligence, having recourse as well to the experience built up through the exercise of a moral and religious life as to the concatenation of truths that support one another and call for one another. This is indeed the ensemble, made of nuances and of clarity, of spiritual tact and of intellectual ordinance, that we can call the Christian spirit. It is in fact of a unique character, as are the equilibrium and the coincidences we have just been indicating, unique above all because of the more than human origin of its development, for which consequently no purely exterior effort of natural thought can substitute.

Foundations Of Faith That Are Both Obligatory And Salutary
All of Christianity is higher than reason, but nowhere is it contrary to reason; and reason, without transgressing on the mystery of grace, finds in it nevertheless a light in facing certain problems that it can and must raise, but that it cannot and must not resolve itself. For humanity to live more by Christ, it is therefore good to show it ever more to what point it needs him. Not that we therefore have to speculate on a state of nature that, in fact, has never existed historically and that is no more than a fictitious entity, possible to be sure, but apart from the authentic conditions wherein the activity of men and of peoples is deployed; we have to take ourselves as we are and to make our belief rest on all the foundations that render it both obligatory and salutary.


On Being Maurice Blondel – Derek Jeter

October 31, 2012

Maurice Blondel was born in Dijon, France in 1861, entered the École Normale Supérieure in 1881, and passed the aggregation in 1886. Like many in his generation, he was profoundly affected by the tensions in French life, particularly those between the French academic establishment and Catholicism. Blondel defended his thesis, L’action in 1893, at the Sorbonne. His thesis, which argues for the inescapability of the “religious problem”, brought him into the heart of theological and philosophical controversy of his time. Controversies that seem even more pronounced to this day.

Sunday the 21st I was off to my Communio group to discuss an article by Maurice Blondel. When the assignment first came up, I confess I knew little about this Catholic philosopher, save that he is part of an almost celestial group of intellectuals who populated the early 20th century and into the 1960s – names that I group with Maritain, Dawson, Lewis, Gilson and others. You can find their writings and articles about them on PayingAttentiontotheSky. I thought before I added Maurice Blondel I would attempt to perform an introduction of sorts. The background information  comes from Oliva Blanchette’s Why We Need Maurice Blondel which was part of Communio’s tribute issue to Blondel, the 150th anniversary of his birth, in the Spring issue of 2011.  I was so taken with the subject I immediately got Blanchette’s biography, Maurice Blondel A Philosophical Life.

Two things stand out for me about Blondel. The first is how his life so neatly folded about his vocation. He came to it early on, hitting upon the issues that would concern him as a Catholic philosopher and scholar for the rest of his life. (This is stupid, I know, but) I couldn’t help but think of the young Derek Jeter who in his childhood conceived of playing shortstop for the New York Yankees. Some people get such an early start on life, scholars or ball players and they pursue their vocations or dreams with an intensity that brings them great achievements. Their greatness is derived from their excellence, something the disciples in Mark left out of their discussions of who was the greatest amongst them and never quite got.

What were the issues that so consumed the young Blondel with his vocation as philosopher and identity as a member of the Catholic faith?

Maurice Blondel can best be understood as a philosopher, but as a philosopher who sought to expand the scope of philosophy, so that it would include the most authentic religious spirit as it is lived in human thought and action. He was a religious man who had to think his religious life philosophically. But at the same time he was a philosopher for whom religion, even in its supernatural aspect, had to be seen as a necessary part, not only of human life itself, but also of philosophical reflection on that life.

In this resolve Blondel found himself at odds with both sides of the anti-religious atmosphere that ruled in French intellectual life at the end of the century, those who attacked religion or relegated it to something insignificant in rational life, and those who defended religion and asserted its right to propagate in secular society. At first he was seen as a defender of religion in defender of religion in philosophy in a University that was resolutely secular, and as a threat to the autonomy of reason.

As the defenders of reason feared for their conception of philosophy, the defenders of religion, who were mostly Catholic in France at the time, as was Blondel, rejoiced in having a champion of religion at the University. But this joy soon turned to suspicion on the part of some, when it became clear how Blondel proposed to “defend” religion, not by cutting reason short as even many philosophers were quite willing to do in the spirit of neo Kantianism, but by extending its power of inquiry into the very idea of supernatural religion, thus apparently bringing the very content of such religion, supposedly the exclusive domain of a theology based on revelation, under the domain of critical philosophy.

This was not what the established theologians of the time had had in mind as a proper defense of religion, and while philosophers found some reassurance in Blondel’s protestations concerning the philosophical nature of his method, theologians began to fear for the autonomy of their own method in discoursing about religion.

Blondel left neither side complacent about its method in trying to bring them together into the unity of a single method which was essentially philosophical, but which was also no less essentially open to the transcendence of the supernatural in religion. This was clear from the two important publications that appeared under his name in the 1890s, the Thesis on Action of 1893 and the so-called Letter on Apologetics of 1896. In the first he took issue with the attitude of the University and philosophy regarding religion.

In the second he took issue with certain interpretations of his “defense” of religion and certain ways of dealing with questions of religion that were not in keeping with the exigencies of modern philosophy, as he claimed his was. In short, it could be said that in breaking into the intellectual scene of his day Blondel was breaking it up as it was established on either side of the controversy over religion, by beginning a new journey inward to the human spirit that was at once philosophical and religious.
Oliva Blanchette, Maurice Blondel A Philosophical Life

The second thing I noted about Blondel’s life was the terrible physical crosses he bore. What could be a greater cross to bear to a scholar than to lose both his sight and his hearing? One recalls Beethoven and his hearing loss. Here in the 21st century, technology allows a minimal loss in productivity but in the 20thso little was in place to help someone like Blondel. All this appears to have happened to Blondel following the death of this wife Rose in 1919. In 1927, his vision combined with deafness had degenerated so that it necessitated his retirement, and required his being able to work only by dictation. From 1934 to 1937, however, he published the five volumes, La Pensée (2 vol.), L’être et les êtres, and L’action (2 vol.) of the metaphysical trilogy, followed by L’Esprit chrétien, only two volumes of which were completely finished at his death in 1949.

I couldn’t understand how Blondel could have ever accomplished the work he did, struggling with blindness and deafness, until I read the following marvelous story in Blanchette’s definitive biography. The problem it refers to in the beginning was with a friend, Jean Wehrlé, who attempted to fill the workload for companion and collaborator and nearly had a breakdown doing it. It turns out that perfect combination was found, in turn shaped by circumstances and evolved into the perfect situation for Blondel. All of that was accomplished in the person of Mlle Nathalie Panis.

The problem was not solved for him until a few months later when, out of the blue, or providentially, as he more likely would have said, a certain Mlle. Nathalie Panis, having heard of his plight, wrote to him from Paris to offer her services as secretary on a long-term basis. She had been a graduate student of Blondel in Aix during the First World War and, after getting her Licentiate in Philosophy, had gone on to teach at a French Lycee in Athens, Greece, for years.

In 1931 she was back in Paris, relatively unattached, but still very much interested in the thought of her former teacher and perhaps even more devoted to him than his friend Wehrlé. Blondel had no problem remembering her and began to think that perhaps she could do on a long-term basis what others could not do on a short-term basis. Seeing that she was eager and that she was ready to make a long-term commitment to the task, he invited her down to the house a Aix.

She came in December 1931, and, as she was fond of saying, she never left its side after that. This became for her a second career in which she would look after the intellectual affairs of the one she would call Maitre, not in the sense of Master, but in the sense of Magister, Teacher. She moved into the large house on rue Roux-Alphéran with Blondel, to be at his side, just the two of them for the most part, except when family and friends came to visit, and worked with him or the rest of his life and beyond, taking care of the Blondel Archives after his death for as long as they were in that house.

The arrangement was as simple as could be. There was not even any question of a salary. Blondel assured her that she would be taken care of as a member of the family in exchange for dedicating herself totally to the support of Blondel in his work, becoming his eyes and his hands, as it were, by reading to him and taking down dictation, and most importantly by being there consistently at his side day in and day out with her enthusiasm and her interest in seeing that Blondel’s work be brought to completion and broadcast as widely as possible, including through translation into different languages, which she was always eager to urge on those who came to visit the Blondel Archives from abroad.

This proved to be the answer to Blondel’s problem, short of restoring his sight. It enabled him to start a second career of writing from his solitude in Aix, not unlike the first one, when he first conceived his original dissertation on Action in the solitude of Saint-Seine. It was what he had been dreaming of being able to do for a long time in order to give a more complete expression to his philosophy in terms of Thought and Being as well as Action.

Together, he and Mlle. Panis developed a daily routine of work that would take them through the five volumes of the Trilogy and way beyond. Each morning they would attend the early mass at the nearby parish church of Saint Jean de Malte and come back to the second floor study to prepare for the morning’s work. While Mlle. Panis prepared the coffee and bread for their petit dejeuner, before the arrival of the housekeeper who took care of the other meals, Blondel would sit by himself scribbling notes and preparing in his mind what he wanted to get into for that day.

Morning sessions, which lasted three or four hours, were reserved exclusively for work on the books that Blondel wanted to compose. Afternoon sessions, after dejeuner and a siesta, were devoted to other business, such as the ample flow of correspondence that never slowed down, keeping up with the literature on philosophy and education that always interested Blondel, and responding to proposals of others in discussions that went on in the Societe de Philosophie Francaise in connection with Lalande’s Vocabulaire or in Les Etudes Philosophiques, a journal edited by Gaston Berger, a former student of Blondel. Also included was a certain amount of political commentary as a regular contributor to the review Politique, which his son-in-law, Charles Flory, had founded in 1926. With the collaboration of Mlle. Panis, Blondel was able to get back into the swing of things almost as well as when he had been able to see for himself, in what has been called his second career as a publicist.

Isn’t that just amazing?  Another illustration of how “Give us this day, our daily bread,” is all we need to pray for, it seems.


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