|Jacques Maritain was one of the most creative
and exciting Thomists to appear in the 700 years since the death of Thomas Aquinas. Today,
interest in Maritain's work often centers on his social and political writings or the
major role that he played in French Catholic intellectual life in the 1930's. But the
Maritain of mysticism and metaphysics will prove to be equally if not more enduring. This
is the Maritain, not of the past, but of the future.
Jacques Maritain was born in Paris on November 18, 1882. His father Paul was a lawyer and served as the secretary of the democratic statesman Jules Favre and married his daughter Genevieve. In the cultured and intellectual atmosphere of the Maritain home on rue de Rennes, formal religion played little role and its place was taken by the ideal of the service to mankind. Through the salons of his mother and his close boyhood friendship with Ernest Psichari, the grandson of Renan, Jacques had entrance to the higher levels of French intellectual society. But this favored environment did not speak to his deepest aspirations. By his year of philosophy at the Lycée Henri IV he was already tormented by his inability to find answers to the deeper questions of life.
In 1900 Maritain began studying philosophy and science at the Sorbonne. There he met Raissa Oumansoff, the daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants, and she shared his own burning desire to discover the meaning of life. In her high school years Raissa had thought: "...before all else, I had to make sure of the essential thing: the possession of the truth about God, about myself, and about the world." (2) It was her hope that studying science at the Sorbonne would provide answers to such questions, but it was really not science that she sought: "No, I was truly seeking only that which I needed to justify existence, that which should seem to me, myself, necessary in order that human life be not a thing absurd and cruel. I needed the joy of understanding, the light of certitude, a rule of life based on faultless truth. Obviously, with such leanings, I should first have gone to the philosophies. But no one had advised me to do this. And I till believed that the natural sciences held the key to all knowledge." (3)
But naturally the scientists of the Sorbonne would have been bewildered by such expectations. When they id philosophize they were drawn to mechanism, epiphenomenism and determinism. If their scientific work itself ad to contain glimmers of metaphysical principles, these reflections were far too weak to appease the hunger that Jacques and Raissa felt. Raissa wrote of these days: "We swam aimlessly in the waters of observations and experience like fish in the depths of the sea, without ever seeing the sun whose dim rays filtered down to us." (4) Jacques, at least, could be partially sustained by his interest in science, but Raissa, unable to articulate and defend her deepest instincts, gave way to sadness and her scientific, studies suffered. (5)
They fared no better among the philosophers who 'despaired of truth, whose very name was unlovely to hem and could only be used between the quotation marks of a disillusioned smile." (6) During his first year at the Sorbonne, Jacques had become enamored with Spinoza but found this philosophy "had no power to console the least cry of a human being truly afflicted at heart." (7)
By the summer of 1901 they were close to despair. Walking in the Jardin des Plantes they decided that if life could offer them no answers then it was not worth living and they would kill themselves. Yet the instinctive workings of their minds, metaphysical and religious aspirations that had sprung up spontaneously in them and had produced these questions that tormented their lives, somehow still sustained them. They would continue searching for a while longer. "...We persisted in seeking the truth - what truth? - in continuing to bear within ourselves the hope of the possibility of a full adherence to a fullness of being." (8) They believed in the power of the human intelligence to know the truth, but they had no way to justify this belief, and this deep inner questioning had a strong metaphysical component.
As the new school year of 1901-1902 began, their desperate search was rewarded when Charles Peguy led them across the street from the Sorbonne to the Collège de France to hear Henri Bergson lecture, and in Bergson's elegant lectures they heard the beginning of the message they had been waiting for. When they listened to him they understood him to say, as Raissa put it, "that we could truly, absolutely, know what is." That Bergson was speaking not of the intelligence or reason, but a faculty that he called intuition that was opposed to the intelligence and its concepts did not matter to them then, but later it was to become a critical issue. No doubt they were hearing words like the inspiring words that were to fill Bergson's essay, "An Introduction to Metaphysics" which was to appear in the Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale in January of 1903: "...an absolute could only be given in an intuition, whilst everything else falls within the province of analysis. By intuition is meant the kind of intellectual sympathy by which one places oneself within an object in order to coincide with what is unique in it and consequently inexpressible. (9) ... There is one reality, at least, which we all seize from within, by intuition and not by simple analysis. It is our own personality in its flowing through time - our self which endures. (10) ... What is relative is the symbolic knowledge by pre-existing concepts, which proceeds from the fixed to the moving, and not the intuitive knowledge which installs itself in that which is moving and adopts the very life of things. This intuition attains the absolute." (11)
Jacques and Raissa attended a course in which Bergson commented on Platoons, and Raissa writes of it, "One summer day in the country, I was reading the Anneals. I was sitting on my bed with the book on my knees; reaching one of those numerous passages where Platoons speaks of the soul and of God, as much in the character of a mystic as in that of a metaphysician ... a wave of enthusiasm flooded my heart." (12)
Jacques and Raissa had become ardent Bergsonians and the night of their despair pressed down on them less strongly. They became engaged in 1902 and were married on November 26, 1904. Later, in September of 1905 they visited the cathedral at Chartres and soon after Raissa was 11on a journey and watching the forests glide by" her car window when she had another of these deeply religious and metaphysical experiences. "I was looking out of the window and thinking of nothing in particular. Suddenly a great change took place in me, as if from the perception of the senses I had passed over to an entirely inward perception. The passing trees suddenly had become much larger than themselves, they assumed a dimension prodigious for its depth. The whole forest seemed to be speaking and to speak of Another, became a forest of symbols, and seemed to have no other function than to signify the Creator." (13)
These experiences of Raissa cannot be underestimated. They were going to play a vital role in shaping Jacques' metaphysical thought and he will come back to them again and again.
At the beginning of 1906 Jacques had been working on a Bergsonian essay called, "Preliminary Discourse on Intelligence and Order" in which he describes his own experience of Bergson's duration: "As soon as leaving the surface he penetrates in depth - reality, living and substantial, astonishes him and takes possession of him." And he writes of an intuition of duration "...in which the instants do not follow one upon the other, which does not at all admit of separated instants, but which completely conserves itself in the powerful simplicity and the expansion of its inconceivable unity... he is in the presence, not of an idea which seems true by its convenience, to be handled in discourse and explication, but of the real itself, which asserts itself royally, and makes itself known by its force, through which it enraptures the mind, and by its absolute nature, into which the most agile rapidities of thought hurl themselves in vain... Of this primary intuition he will retain, when he had returned to consciousness, only a primary truth, and he says: I exist in an absolute manner, that is to say, I perdure..." (14)
Many years later he commented, "...under the mask of Bergsonian duration it was indeed the intuition of being which preoccupied me from that moment. (And I had already related it to the intelligence.)" (15) The many implications of this fundamental text will only become clear as we proceed, for example, the movement from the concrete experience of duration to the intuition of being, and its relationship to the intellect, but we are witnessing here the decisive starting point of Maritain's thought, his own intuition of being which contains in embryo his whole metaphysics.
The next step in the Maritain's journey was something they never anticipated. They read a novel by Leon Bloy called, The Woman Who Was Poor. Bloy, with a gift for extravagant language, had the reputation of a literary brawler. But he was a fervent Catholic, albeit with the thunder of the Old Testament prophets and the essence of his message exerted a deep attraction on Jacques and Raissa: "There is only one sadness and that is not to be among the saints." Soon they were climbing the long staircases to Montmartre to visit Bloy and his family and he did not try to overwhelm with reasons in favor of his faith, but read to them from the saints and mystics, and their hearts were drawn even as their minds protested that conversion to Catholicism would be the end and even the antithesis of their scientific and philosophical studies. And it is entirely possible that their metaphysical experiences were playing an important role in preparing them for conversion by acting like a spontaneous and lived philosophical apologetics stirring the depths of the intelligence and better preparing it for what was to come. It was about this time that Jacques began to pray, "My God, if You exist, and if You are the truth, make me know it." (16)
Thus, under the influence of Bloy, their philosophical studies, and these metaphysical impulses a new world began to open up. "Little by little, the hierarchy of spiritual, intellectual, scientific values was revealed to us, and we began to understand that they could not be inimical to each other." (17) They began to think of faith as a kind of higher intuition but it was difficult for them to come to grips with its nature. If faith was beyond any certitude that could come from rational demonstration, how did assent to it come about?
In February of 1906, Raiss4 fell seriously ill, and they knew that their rational deliberations could take them no further. If only, they thought, Bloy could baptize them privately. They were still both attracted and repulsed, and Jacques said, "If it has pleased God to hide His truth in a dunghill that is where we shall go to find it." (18)
Finally they felt compelled to take the last step. They were baptized on June 11, 1906 and with their baptism their hesitations and doubts about their new-found faith disappeared. By now Jacques had completed his philosophical studies, but unsure of how compatible a normal academic career would be with his faith, he decided to continue his scientific studies. At the end of this summer of 1906 they left Paris for Heidelberg. Jacques had received a Micheonis fellowship to spend two years studying new developments in biology in Germany under the direction of Hans Driesch whose experiments with the embryos of sea urchins had led him to notions similar to the Aristotelian conception of form. Heidelberg became the novitiate for their little community which had now been increased to three by the arrival of Raissa's sister Vera. They devoted themselves to prayer and spiritual reading and a monastic-like schedule.
A month after their arrival Jacques was writing in his diary about the possibility of a "restitution of Reason, of which metaphysics is the essential and highest operation... We now know what we want and it is to philosophize truly." (19) Jacques' philosophical vocation that had seemed so threatened by baptism was attempting to reassert itself, but the time was not ripe. He was fully occupied with his scientific studies and the nurturing of his faith, he was still a Bergsonian, and the inevitable question is going to slowly confront him: is this faith and even the metaphysics that he and Raissa have glimpsed in these flashes of metaphysical insight compatible with Bergson's philosophy? The answer was to come after a long struggle as Jacques trudged through the snows of Heidelberg.
"It was in 1908 while I was deliberating, in the country around Heidelberg, whether I could reconcile the . Bergsonian critique of the concept and the formulas of revealed dogma, that the irreducible conflict between the 'conceptual' pronouncements of the religious faith which had recently opened up my eyes, and the philosophical doctrine for which I had conceived such a passion during my years as a student and to which I was indebted for being freed from materialistic idols, appeared to me as one of those only too certain facts which the soul, once it has begun to admit them, knows immediately it will never escape. The effort, unobtrusively pursued for months, to bring about a conciliation which was the supreme object of my desire ended abruptly in this unimpeachable conclusion. The choice had to be made, and obviously this choice could only be in favor of the Infallible, confessing therefore that all the philosophical toil which had been my delight was to be begun again. Since God gives us, in concepts and conceptual propositions... truths transcendent and inaccessible to our reason, the very truth of His divine life, that abyss which is His, it is because the concept is not a mere practical instrument incapable in itself of transmitting the real to our mind, whose only use is in the artificially breaking up the ineffable continuities, leaving the absolute to escape like water through a sieve." (20)
In short, this was a struggle to see whether it was possible to "harmonize Bergson's critique of the concept and the formulas of revealed dogma" or in other words to determine whether the split that Bergson had introduced between the concept and intuition could be accepted by someone for whom the mysteries of faith could be communicated in concepts. There was a philosophy that was growing inside of Jacques, born in his metaphysical insights and nourished by Bergson, and as much by the Bergson of intention as the Bergson of fact, and stimulated mightily by the philosophical positions implicit in his Catholic faith. "My philosophical reflection leaned upon the indestructible truth of objects presented by faith in order to restore the natural order of the intelligence to being, and to recognize the ontological bearing of the work of reason. Thenceforth, in affirming to myself, without chicanery or diminution, the authentic value as reality of our human instruments of knowledge, I was already a Thomist without knowing it." (21)
We will completely misunderstand Maritain the metaphysician if we imagine that his Thomism came to him as a convenient philosophical appendix trailing in the wake of his Catholic faith. The actual situation was quite the opposite. He had gained no real knowledge of the Middle Ages and St. Thomas from the Sorbonne, or even from Bergson. Nor did he find any Thomism at the home of Leon Bloy, one of the most unphilosophical of minds, who had nothing good to say about philosophy, St. Thomas' or anyone else's. When we see Maritain struggling in Heidelberg, it is not a struggle between Bergsonian philosophy and Thomism, but between the philosophy he senses that is demanded by faith, but which he has not yet found. We are not dealing with a Thomist reactionary fighting a rearguard action against all modern philosophy and Bergson in particular, nor a convert who in his enthusiasm is confusing philosophy and faith, but a Thomist by inner inclination, a pre-Thomist who does not yet even know he is a Thomist. So he can conclude his reflections on these Heidelberg times: "When a few months later I came upon the Summa theologica its luminous flood was to find no opposing obstacles in me." (22) It was not some faded and tattered Thomism of the manuals that Maritain is going to discover but "an entirely new and correspondingly enthusiastic discovery of those famous routines still fresh with dew, and themselves newer even than the dawn." (23)
The Maritains returned to Paris in June of 1908. Jacques had decided not to teach philosophy in the French school system for fear it would compromise his Catholic faith and the philosophy that he was groping towards and so, instead, he found a job with the publishing house de Hatchette, first working for a year on an orthographic lexicon and then for three years, on a dictionary of the practical life, All this was highly uncongenial for him. He wrote of it in 1911: "Nourishment which insults the intellect and which it is necessary to vomit continually." But this work had one advantage. His philosophical understanding could proceed slowly and organically moving towards a lived appreciation of the basic questions without which any philosophical answer, no matter how correct in itself, is bereft of meaning.
The years in Heidelberg had been years of relative solitude in which the Maritains looked to God and the sacraments for the nourishment of their spiritual lives and had little contact with the clergy. When they returned to Paris in June of 1908 their life both in the world and the Church became more active. In October of 1909 they met the still unknown painter Georges Rouault at the home of the Bloys and it was conversations with Rouault that aided their reflections about the nature of art and later gave birth to Art and Scholasticism.
Not long after meeting Rouault their desire for spiritual direction brought them another important friendship with Humbert C1érissac, a Dominican priest and a well-trained Thomist who introduced them to Thomas Aquinas. Raissa began to read the Summa in the beginning of 1909, but Jacques was occupied with his work for de Hatchette and inwardly was not yet ready. He writes in his journal for March of 1910: "The dictionary overburdens me. I am enraged at not having time to study theology. But actually I am afraid of it. I am ensnared in my ratiocinations." But the light of faith had been slowly creating a new climate of soul in which a genuine metaphysics could grow. When Maritain finally read St. Thomas in September of 1910 there were no more obstacles to its light. The philosophy that had been growing in him all these years gave him the ability to penetrate beyond the externals of St. Thomas' scholastic format and recognize that his own embryonic philosophy was being fulfilled in St. Thomas'.
Even before he had begun to read the Summa, his conversations with Père Clérissac helped give birth to his first philosophical article, "La Science moderne et la raison" which appeared in the Revue de Philosophie in June of 1910. In the very beginning of this article the new Thomist makes his manifesto of independence from Berg-son: "Reason is the faculty of the real; or more correctly, the faculty by which our spirit becomes adequate to the real and by which we know, in an analogical way, no doubt, and at a distance, the reality of realities, God. Reason is made for the truth, for possessing being." And he immediately makes it clear that reason in this sense is what the scholastics called the intellect or the intelligence or intuition, and it must be distinguished from reason understood as ratio. "...In as much as it is exercised by a progressive movement and uses these means to conquer intelligible being, our intelligence is called ratio, reason." And in an allusion to his old master he goes on, "In distinguishing in this way intelligence and reason, they are not distinguished as two different faculties, but as two diverse aspects - in reason of two different modes of operation - of a single and same human faculty." (24)
By the fall of 1912 Jacques could put away the dictionary of the practical life, and having grounded himself in the works of St. Thomas, start teaching philosophy. His teaching career began at the College Stanislas and he happily threw himself into the work. "He read a great deal and meditated even more, and tried not to leave unsolved any question dealt with in the course. Yet he did not think he should give a ready-made solution to his students; the solution should in each case emerge from the discussion as a new discovery, and curiosity, the urge to explore the unknown, should be constantly stimulated. How tormenting it was suddenly to fall upon an unforeseen difficulty, and have to find the answer before the next day's class! Jacques passed nights working on such things." (25)
Jacques' "La Science moderne et la raison" was followed by a series of Bergsonian-oriented articles: "L'évolutionnisme de M. Bergson" (The evolutionary doctrine of M. Bergson) in the Revue de Philosophie 1911; "Les de Bergsonismes" (The two Bergsonian philosophies), Revue Thomiste, 1912; "L'intuition. Au sens de connaissance instinctive ou d'inclination" (Intuition. In the sense of instinctive knowledge or knowledge by inclination), Revue de Philosophie, 1913. In April and May of 1913 he was invited to give a series of lectures on Bergson at the Institut Catholique. These lectures, entitled "The Philosophy of M. Bergson and Christian Philosophy" caused quite a stir. "For the first time Thomistic thought was claiming its rights in profane life and culture, entering the lists with contemporary philosophies, entering into competition with them on their own grounds, as young and even more alive than the doctrines of the day." (26)
In October, 1913 Maritain's first book, La philosophie Bergsonienne appeared. In it Maritain's decision of 1908 to break with Bergson's philosophy was worked out in detail. He juxtaposes the thought of his old teacher with that of his new and he tries to understand in a Thomistic way the relationship between the concept and intuition and the idea of knowledge by way of connaturality, and it is Bergson's use of these ideas that must have given Maritain the impetus to dig deeply into Thomist thought and become the 20th century Thomist, par excellence, of both intuition and connaturality. And Maritain is working out, as well, the difference between what had initially attracted him to Bergson and what Bergson actually said, or in other words, the distinction between a Bergsonian philosophy of intention and one of fact, and he had always attached himself much more to Bergson's inner tendencies and directions than to Bergson's explicit philosophy. "Consequently, by duration what will he understand if not essence? By intuition what, if not perception of essence?... Thus, by a strange effect of the intellect's instinct for self-preservation, the reader will involuntarily transpose Bergsonian theses into the rudiments of scholastic theses, and so will plant in his soul the first desires for the great Thomist light." (27)
For Maritain, Bergson's philosophy was born from a clear understanding of a cardinal error of modern philosophy which was the "perversion of an intellect which had been separated from its principles and given up to matter". (28) But Bergson, instead of rediscovering the true nature of the intellect, "abandoned intelligence and abandoned being, replacing the first by an extra-intellectual intuition and the second by movement". (29)
The hard won insights of Heidelberg made Maritain the defender of the intellect against any attempt to separate it on the one hand from its ability to see, to know, in short, from intellectus or intuition, and on the other hand, from anything that would sever this intellectual seeing from its means which are concepts and the use of reason. If we grasp this we can understand Maritain breaking with Bergson for whom, "philosophical intuition is sought outside of and above the normal functions of the intellect. It is called super-intellectual intuition." (30) For Maritain, in contrast, "if we call intuition a direct knowledge of what is, there is indeed a philosophical intuition, but it is in the concept and by the concept ... 11 (31) If we attempt to save human knowing by separating concept from intuition we have not definitively broken with the stream of modern philosophy flowing from Descartes because the original error of modern philosophy has not been laid bare. It is not the concept that we know directly and as an object, but it is the thing itself in and through the concept. The intellect cannot be rescued from materialism by a misplaced angelism. And this rediscovery of the concept had little to do with a textbook scholasticism which would be hard pressed to understand the passion in Maritain's later description of abstraction and the role the concept plays in knowledge.
"In the incomparable moments of intellectual discovery, in which capturing for the first time in the seemingly infinite breath of its possibilities of expansion a living intelligible reality, we feel the spiritual word which renders it present to us well up and fasten itself in our very core, we know what intuitive power of the intellect is and that it exerts itself through concept... It is a question of calling forth a brand new Word, never yet conceived, from the dark yet fecund waters which have poured into the soul through the sluice-gates of the senses. Intellect gropes its way, strives, waits; it seeks a gift which will come to it from its nature. It must retain everything it knows, and forget what it knows about the ideas that it has already learned (especially philosophical ideas), plunge into a bath of active forgetting, render soluble and virtual and bring to a state of confused vital tension its acquired experience, sympathize with the real as it would in mimicking it. Beneath its inner active light, at some unforeseeable moment of decisive emotion, the coveted idea will be born." (32)
Maritain's words are ablaze with the joy and adventure and sense of liberation he experienced in coming out of the narrow confines of modern philosophy and discovering that the human mind could truly know. It was this long road of inner intellectual development, this road to his Degrees of Knowledge, that was to teach him the nature, limits and grades of this knowing, and he will always champion the intellect against Descartes and his heirs for misunderstanding the transparency of the concept to reality, and against men like Bergson who would rescue it by dismembering it. In intuition, we have arrived at one of Maritain's key ideas that can open up for us his thought on the different kinds of contemplation. If it surfaced in his first uncompleted 1906 essay and his further work on Bergsonian philosophy, it was to return over and over again until "Pas de savoir sans intuitivité" (No understanding without intuition) which was one of his last works.
Maritain's intuition is his own creation which borrows from the modern and general sense of intuition, is rooted in the intuition of St. Thomas, and insists on the intuitivity of the intellect even when it works through concepts. And the challenge that Maritain faces is to smoothly integrate all these elements. In the modern sense, intuition is a direct or immediate knowledge, a seeing. But it also has another allied meaning in which it signifies divination, a spontaneous knowledge that wells up in us without following the normal pathway of reasoning. And both these meanings were to become central in Maritain's thought. To them he adds a keen perception of the intellect as an intuitive faculty which directly perceives the intelligible object. While subjectively this knowledge takes place through the concept, objectively, the intellect becomes one with the thing known which exists in it, not as it exists in itself, but by "an intentional likeness, a sort of living reflection". But it is not this living reflection we know and then know the thing we wish to know, but rather "this likeness is that through which (or in which) knowledge takes place." (33)
Maritain is careful to place his more modern and flexible sense of intuition in the framework of St. Thomas' thought:
1. In an "absolutely restricted sense" intuition means, not a knowledge through a likeness, but a direct knowledge of the thing known which is in the subject by itself and as an intelligible in act. This kind of intuition is found in God's knowledge of Himself, the knowledge an angel has of itself and the beatific vision. "The intellect is informed 'immediately' by the essence or the substance of the thing known, without the means of a subjective similitude of the thing..." (34)
2. Then in a "less restricted but still strict sense intuition means the sense perception of man and the knowledge of things by angels, both of which attain things as "physically present". (35)
3. In a broader sense, intuition is the knowledge we have of ourselves. This kind of intuition will become one of the foundations for Maritain's doctrine on natural mysticism. Here the intellect in the act of knowing something "perceives by a spontaneous reflection on its concrete and singular act the very existence of the soul that knows. This experimental knowledge indeed attains an object (the soul), insofar as present itself and acting; but as it apprehends only the existence and the action, and not the nature of that object, and thus remains essentially obscure, the ancients refused to call it properly 'intuition"'. (36)
4. Finally, in a very broad sense, we arrive at intuition in the sense of direct intellectual perception in and through the concept. Now while the intuition found in 3 and 4 are only improperly intuition in the classical sense, Maritain with a keen appreciation of Bergson is willing to extend the meaning of the word to include them. This gives us an insight into his way of marrying old and new. While rigorously adhering to St. Thomas he has his eye on the contemporary problems he wants to tackle.
Intuition is not opposed to discourse or ratio, for discourse starts from intuition and ends in intuition, for when all is said and done, the intellect is made to see. The intellect begins with being from which spring the first principles of identity and non-contradiction - "here we have perception without discourse, truly primary intuition" (37), and it ends in intuition in which it has reached "a conclusion, a final judgment to which discourse well conducted will have brought the evidence of first principles." (38)
Intuition as direct perception was to lead Maritain by way of the transparency of the concept to a deeper grasp of the primordial beginnings of metaphysics which he is here identifying with a knowledge of first principles. But the other major meaning of intuition, intuition as divinatory or as a knowledge by inclination or connaturality, was to be equally important to him. Intuition, in this sense, meant to know without reasoning, to make a correct judgment without discursive preparation, a more spontaneous exercise, not of any extra or infra-intellectual faculty, but of the intelligence itself. We know and truly know but not by means of discourse and reason. It is as if the light of the intellect, ever eager to illuminate and unleash the intelligible treasures of things, is not confined to abstracting ideas from sense perceptions and organizing them, but searches the senses and imagination, sense instinct or cogitative faculty and the workings of the will for new food to devour. The result is not demonstrative certitude but a more obscure yet very real intellectual knowledge that comes from reading the messages hidden in the very attraction and repulsion of the other faculties. This kind of knowledge will engage us a great deal when we look at supernatural and natural mysticism in the chapters to come.
In 1914 Jacques was given an honorary Roman doctorate and a teaching post at the Institut Catholique. During World War I he was excused from active service because of his health and redoubled his teaching efforts. The war years saw the death of Père Clérissac, Peggy and Psichari, and its end brought an unexpected surprise. Jacques had befriended a soldier, Pierre Villard, who had been attracted to his work, and when Villard was killed in 1918 Maritain was astounded to find that the man he had taken to be a poor soldier had left a considerable fortune to be split between him and Charles Maurras. This unexpected windfall freed him from the necessity of depending on low-paid teaching positions to support his family and gave him the time to devote to his philosophical work. His days of philosophical apprenticeship were over and he was about to greatly increase his productivity. Raissa sums up this time: "The potentialities of his future work were all there. But n- or e shape and to be made explicit, much time, much experience and suffering were needed." (39)
These early years of conversion before the war had not been without their problems. The Maritains possessed that fervor of novices which has difficulty in distinguishing between the Church as the body of Christ and the Church as a human institution with all its trappings and weaknesses. Père CIérissac, for all his admirable qualities, differed markedly from the Maritains in temperament. He mistrusted what he called the reflex mind, and unfortunately, tended to include under that heading the contemplative spirituality of Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross that Raissa felt drawn to. Further, he mingled his spiritual counsel and solid Thomistic teaching with conservative political opinions, perhaps not realizing how difficult it would be for his new converts not to be inclined to accept his political views under a form of holy obedience and docility. Clérissac's political opinions, Leon Bloy's anti-democratic leanings and Pierre Villard's linking Jacques with Charles Maurras, the head of the right-wing Action Française, all conspired to put the Maritains in a false position. They had no strongly formed political opinions of their own for all their energies were engaged in spiritual and philosophical activities, so they tended to go along believing in a parallelism between the Thomistic renaissance and the politics of the right. It was only when Rome condemned Action Française in 1926 were they freed from this unexamined baggage and were compelled to try to elaborate a genuine social and political philosophy in the light of the Gospel.
After the war the Maritains experienced a new sense of freedom and maturity. These years saw the publication of Art and Scholasticism, Antimoderne, a collection of Jacques' earlier articles, and Theonas, inspired by Raissa's new director Père Dehau. They began to have Sunday gatherings at their home in the form of a Thomist study circle, and these gatherings became a magnet for writers and artists, philosophers and scientists, and people of all different religious creeds or none at all. Jacques' journal entry for May 16, 1922 reads: "Talked at length with Raissa. We have the impression that here we are the two of us, in spite of ourselves, in high seas and forced to judge by ourselves, as autonomous beings - it is just like coming of age (I am 40! but 16 years only since our Baptism.)"
If it was critical for our understanding of Maritain to see how he was a Thomist before he discovered St. Thomas, it is equally important we place his early Thomistic work in the right context. The essays of La Philosophie Bergsonienne and Antimoderne have a tone that Maritain later regretted. Even in his first essay, "La Science moderne et la raison", which became the lead article of Antimoderne, we read, for example: "The age has long since come where reason perishes by the philosophers and savants... and it is themselves, in truth, and the work of their hands that they adore in adoring this imitation of the intelligence, this pseudo-reason, perverted, unfaithful to its Creator, despoiled of faith, sullied more and more by inconceivable ignorance, denuded of all intuitive light, delivered to the blind fantasies of a disordered reason. ( ... dépouillée de la foi, souillée de plus en plus par une inconcevable ignorance, dénuée de toute lumière intuitive, livrée aux fantaises aveugles du raisonnement déréglé.") (40)
Maritain regretted, not the content of this early work, but its high-flown style - "It is no business of the philosopher to have a style - it is not for him to give way to his feelings." - and a language "so imperious and lacking in deference". But beyond that "I was not then aware that if one can never be too right, it is nevertheless so great a privilege, that it should always make one feel apologetic... human truths require in the telling a voice more modestly pitched." (41) But behind this language that even a Bloy could and did applaud, there was a passion that we need to grasp. Maritain is not antimoderne in a reactionary way, unappreciative of the modern world, but rather he has suffered at the hands of the wise of this world who could not give him or Raissa or so many others the truth for which they were so desperately seeking. There is nothing anti-intellectual in Maritain. The world of the Sorbonne was his world, the continuation of the world of his childhood, but this world had disappointed him deeply. Maritain's attitude is different, as well, from that of many Catholics who, having grown up in the faith, look to science and contemporary philosophy as ways to enrich that faith. Their temptation is to see Maritain as part of a defensive Church that fears to reach out to the modern world. This is to completely reverse the actual facts of the matter. The world of science and philosophy was precisely Maritain's world and one that he found lacking in certain basic respects. It is one thing to look at this world from the point of view of a secure Catholic faith feeling the pangs of its own parochialism, and another to be wandering in this world in darkness and close to despair looking for true bread to eat. Maritain's early language is compounded of his pain and joy of discovery and an inexperience that does not yet allow him to always find the right tone.
This digression on Maritain helps to see how he could write in his preface to Antimoderne, "That which I call here antimoderne would be able to be called, as well, ultramoderne." (42) When Maritain started teaching at the Institut Catholique it was in the field of the history of modern philosophy. But Maritain by inclination was not an historian. He used history to lay bare the structural faults in modern philosophy since Descartes and to try to find a remedy for them by drawing on the principles he found in St. Thomas.
For all his knowledge of St. Thomas and Thomas' commentators, Maritain was not a Thomist historian either. He wanted to free a genuine living philosophy from the mistakes of the moderns and the worn-out matrixes of the scholastics, and apply it to contemporary issues. Already in January of 1920 in a lecture given at Louvain, he could say, "Le Bergsonisme est entré dan le muse des systèmes." (Bergsonian philosophy has entered into the museum of systems.) He had taken a sabbatical from the Institut Catholique during the school year of 1918-1919 to work on an introduction to philosophy which had been requested by Church authorities and which appeared in 1920. In 1922 we begin to see the first signs of Maritain's own vigorous metaphysical approach in his "Troisième cahier de Théonas: Connaissance de l'être" which appeared in the Revue Universelle. It is in this article that his preliminary remarks about the intuition of being as an understanding of first principles achieve more elaborate development. "Philosophy is not constructed... like a palace built in a void; it has to base itself on facts, on the most simple and evident of facts." (43) And what are the most evident and accessible of these facts? "There are things that are." (44) (Il y a des choses qui sont ... ) This primordial fact contains within itself two affirmations. First, "All these things are." I find in all of them a certain reality that I call being. Secondly, "These things are different." And from these two affirmations I see that the notion of being is applied to all things and thus transcends all classes and categories. So I see that being is transcendent. Further, I see that what makes things different from each other must be being as well for "Things which are really different are not able to differ by nothing." And if I use the same name being for things which are essentially different and these very differences are being then I arrive at the analogy of being.
In this way Maritain begins to draw out the starting point of a whole metaphysics from the mystery of being contained in the fundamental fact: "All these things are." He goes on to affirm that "being is the proper object of the intellect and every thing is intelligible in the degree that it is." (45) And once the intellect sees being it immediately sees "every thing is that which it is and being is not able to be non-being." (46) Maritain could not help being fascinated by this primordial fact, "Things are" which appears so simple and commonplace to us, yet has hidden in it the entire mystery of being. Little by little he will begin to reflect on why some people see in this fact the inner mystery of being while others do not. He is going to return again and again to scrutinize these metaphysical origins and to ponder the nature of the special kind of seeing that allows us to glimpse the metaphysical depths of things. But the next major stage in the development of these themes is not going to appear until 10 years later in Maritain's Distinguish to Unite or The Degrees of Knowledge.
The Degrees of Knowledge is such an extraordinary book that it will repay the effort to examine it in greater detail, for it forms the framework in which we can situate Maritain's three contemplations. The structure of this book is announced in its title which, according to its author, "suffices to declare its plan and purpose" and its external organization can be summarized like this:
Preface to the 1st French edition, June 11, 1932.
Chapter 1, "The Majesty and Poverty of Metaphysics"; dedicated to Charles Du Bos. The chapter is based on the material appearing in the Chroniques of Roseau d'Or of December 1, 1925, which in turn is based on a conference given at Geneva and the Sorbonne.
First Part: The Degrees of Rational Knowledge: Philosophy and Experimental Science
Chapter II, Philosophy and Experimental Science; based on an article in "Cahiers de Philosophie de la Nature" in Mé1anges, May 1929, which is based on an article in Revue de Philosophie, July-August 1926, which was based, in turn, on a conference given on March 5, 1926 at the Institut Catholique.
Chapter III, Critical Realism; two extracts appeared in the beginning of 1932 in Nova et Vetera and the Rivista di Filosophia Neo-Scholastica.
Chapter IV, Knowledge of Sensible Nature; outlined with Chapter III and V in Revue Thomiste, Jan.-Feb. 1931, which was based, in turn, on a lecture given at King's College, University of London, March 19, 1930.
Chapter V, Metaphysical Knowledge; dedicated to Raissa; extracts in Vigile, 1st cahier, 1931, and Roseau d'Or, no. 46, 1931.
Second Part: The Degrees of Suprarational Knowledge
Chapter VI, Mystical Experience and Philosophy; dedicated to Garrigou-Lagrange; based on an article in Revue de Philosophie, Nov.-Dec., 1926 which was based, in turn, on a conference at the Institut Catholique, March 12, 1926 and at Aix-en-Provence, May 11, 1926, but leaving out material on Blondel.
Chapter VII, Augustian Wisdom; based on an article in Revue de Philosophie, July-Dec., 1930.
Chapter VIII, St. John of the Cross, Practioner of Contemplation; based on an article in the Etudes Carmélitaines, April, 1931.
Chapter IX, Todo y Nada; dedicated to Charles Henrion, first version in Vigile, 1st cahier 1930; expanded version in Etudes Carmélitaines, April, 1932. (47)
The Degrees represents not only a summation of Maritain's thought from 1925 to 1932, but the raising of this thought to a higher intensity and maturity. 1924 had seen the publication of Réflexions sur l'intelligence et sur sa vie propre, (Reflections on the intelligence and its proper life), but this had been a less comprehensive and more historically oriented philosophical synthesis. If we look at Maritain's previous mileposts in his philosophical development, that is, La Philosophie Bergsonienne, Antimoderne, and Réflexions we see the long road he has traveled to the Degrees of Knowledge, and how he has summed up and transcended this previous work in this masterpiece. And the Degrees is not only a summation of his own personal efforts, but of the remarkable interactions that had been going on for many years in his teaching, the editorship of various series of books, an enormous correspondence and the Thomist circle at Meudon which played an important role in the French Catholic revival of the 1920's and 1930's. These study meetings were neither formal lectures nor free-floating discussions. Rather, great philosophical and theological problems were presented, usually by Jacques, and presented in all their technical rigor together with a reading of some texts of St. Thomas or passages from his famous commentator John of St. Thomas. But the disputatios of the past underwent a transformation as they emerged from the dust of history by being presented to a lively group of artists and poets as well as philosophers and theologians. The voluminous commentaries of a John of St. Thomas were to be mined and their precious ore extracted from a historically conditioned matrix, and "interminable controversies", as Jacques once put it, that no longer spoke to contemporary needs. The philosophical and theological riches of the past were to be unleashed and used to grapple with modern questions. This was a philosophy, not of the classroom, but on the roads of the world. This was a Thomism with the strength and clarity to forge a synthesis among the different branches and degrees of knowledge: "The fundamental idea was to bring into play at one and the same time, in the concrete problems and needs of our mind, things we knew to be diverse in essence but which we wanted to unify within us: reason and faith, philosophy and theology, metaphysics, poetry, politics, and the great rush of new knowledge and of new questions brought by modern culture." (48) And the result? "Thomism all bristling with its quills was thus thrown into the bath, and it swam there with ease." (49)
Here in what Raissa called "these days of sun" in France, it must have seemed like all the artistic and intellectual world was coming to Meudon or being effected by its light and warmth: Abbé Lallement and Dalbiez, Prince Ghika and Massignon, Gheon and Cocteau, Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange who became the spiritual director of the Thomist circle and gave its annual retreats, Abbé Lamy and Abbé Journet and young students like Yves Congar and Olivier Lacombe, and so many more.
It was the animated discussions of these study meetings, retreats and Sunday afternoon gatherings which created the atmosphere out of which the Degrees of Knowledge was born. The stimulus of the Thomist circle might account for the unusual procedure that Maritain followed in dedicating the Degrees to four different people. Chapter 5, Metaphysical Knowledge, was dedicated to Raissa in acknowledging not only her early metaphysical inspirations but her philosophical work with Jacques, starting with his first articles on Bergson which he later regretted had not appeared under their joint authorship. Chapter 6, Mystical Experience and Philosophy, was dedicated to Père Garrigou-Lagrange who had been a source of philosophical and theological inspiration to the Maritains, and Chapter IX, Todo y Nada, to Charles Henrion, a contemplative priest who followed Charles de Foucauld's footsteps in the deserts of North Africa. (50)
If Maritain's first sabbatical produced his introduction to philosophy and represents the young Maritain writing a textbook, his second sabbatical which he took in 19291930 in order to write the Degrees represents the mature Maritain who has found his own distinctive way of philosophizing. He writes of these Meudon years:
"Finally and above all, it was understood instinctively that the whole carapace of words is absolutely nothing when the words are employed to facilitate some intuitive discovery. I must add that the experience of our study meetings taught me a very precious thing: namely, that discursive and demonstrative argumentation, doctrinal erudition and historical erudition are assuredly necessary, but of little efficacy on human intellects such as God made them, and which first ask to see. In actual fact, a few fundamental intuitions, if they have one fine day sprung up in a mind, mark it forever (they are intemporal in themselves), and they suffice, not doubtless to make a specialist in Thomist philosophy or Thomist theology, but to make a man unshakably strengthened in the love of St. Thomas and in the understanding of his wisdom. I observed this in a good number of our friends, whose example I take to be decisive." (51)
The very fact that Maritain took a sabbatical for the writing of the Degrees is an indication of the importance he gave to it. During these years he was caught up in an ever-growing press of activities and always lamenting his lack of time to fulfill all the demands made on him. On occasion he would stay up all night correcting proofs to meet publishing deadlines. But the Degrees demanded special attention, for it was the articulation of the inner vision that he had nurtured with Raissa for so long.
In Chapter V, Maritain returns to the mystery of being that he was exploring in "Connaissance d'être". "I find it (being) everywhere, everywhere itself and everywhere varied." (52) "But nothing can be applied to it from the outside in order to differentiate it." (53) If being can embrace this or that individual, it must somehow transcend them. In being we obtain "an object of concept not only transindividual, but trans-specific, transgeneric, trans-categorical, as if in opening a blade of grass one started a bird greater than the world.. it is polyvalent, it envelops an actual multiplicity; the bird we spoke of a moment ago is at the same time a flock." (54)
Maritain returns to the primordial fact, "All these things are", in a deeper way: "When I took at a man and think: 'This is a being,' or 'He exists,' I grasp a certain determinate being, finite, perishable, fleshly and spiritual, subject to time and (M. Heidegger would say) to anguish, and a certain existence similarly qualified. But the analogous object 'being,' 'existence,' thus thought by me outreaches this analogate in such a way that it will be found also, intrinsically and properly, in analogates which differ from man by their very being and their very mode of existing." (55) The concept of being is "at once one and multiple". It is "implicitly and actually multiple" and "one in a certain respect, insofar as it does make incomplete abstraction from its analogates, and is disengaged from them without being conceivable apart from them, as attracted towards, without attaining, a pure and simple unity, which could alone be present to the mind if it were able to see in itself - and without concept - a reality which would be at once itself and all things. (Let us say the concept of being demands to be replaced by God clearly seen, to disappear in the face of the beatific vision.)" (56)
In the Degrees of Knowledge we see Maritain's own metaphysical insight increasing. The intuition of being is not just a knowledge of first principles, but it is a knowledge of being in which existence is coming to the forefront and Maritain is beginning to appreciate the subjective requirements for this kind of metaphysical seeing. If Descartes thought it sufficient to spend a few hours a year on metaphysics, and philosophers after Hume and Kant refused "all proper intelligibility to existence" (57), Maritain is glimpsing the absolutely primordial content of existence and the central role it plays in the metaphysics of St. Thomas:
"There is much more in a hundred existing dollars than in a hundred possible dollars. But still more, existence is perfection par excellence, and, as it were, the seal of every other perfection... Doubtless of itself it says only positio extra nihil, but it is the positing extra nihil of this or that. And to posit outside of nothingness a glance or a rose, a man or an angel is something essentially diverse, since it is the very actuation of all the perfection of each of these essentially diverse subjects. Existence is itself varied and admits all the degrees of ontological intensity according to the essences that receive it. If anywhere it is found in the pure state, without an essence that receives it - in other words, if there exists a being whose essence is to exist - existence must -there be identical with an absolutely infinite abyss of reality and perfection." (58)
In every act of the intellect there is an intellectual perception of being, and when this is disengaged for itself "It constitutes our primordial philosophical intuition without which we can no more acquire the science of metaphysical realities than a man born blind acquires the science of colors. In this metaphysical intuition the principle of identity: 'being is not non-being,' 'every being is what it is,' is not known merely in actu exercito and as an inescapable necessity for thought, its ontological necessity is itself seen." (59) And when the knowledge of first principles is phrased in this fashion, it is but a step to examine how this disengagement comes about.
This increment comes in Chapter VI, Metaphysics and Mystical Experience: "The intellect may well receive, after the manner of a sudden revelation, a knowledge of that which constitutes the proper object of the third level of abstraction. One who is very near to us one day gave us the following testimony of such a knowledge: 'Before receiving the faith,' that person told us, 'it often happened that by a sudden intuition I experienced the reality of my own being, of the deepest, first principle that placed me outside of nothingness. It was a powerful intuition and its violence often frightened me; that intuition gave me, for the first time, knowledge of a metaphysical absolute.' Or again, at the sight of something or other - a blade of grass, a windmill - a soul may know in an instant that these things do not exist by themselves, and that God exists. 'Suddenly' - and I am citing the same witness -'all creatures appeared to me as symbols; they all seemed to have as their unique function to point to the Creator."' (60) Jacques is, of course, citing Raissa and these passages that we have been seeing signal the power of Maritain's mature metaphysical thought which will unfold during the rest of his life. At this point, in the midst of writing the Degrees, he is not ready to explore the implications of this existential way of viewing the relationship between essence and existence or the implications that experiences like Raissa's could have for metaphysics. He will comment, for example, about these kinds of experiences: "But, far from being integral parts or necessary requisites of metaphysical science, these kinds of metaphysical experiences or intuitions... transcend the proper sphere of metaphysics..." (61) Maritain is still emphasizing metaphysics as a science and the objective side of the intuition of being so metaphysic's subjective demands remain in shadow, but not for long.
These texts of the Degrees of Knowledge were like little gems that, once spoken, served as points of crystallization around which Maritain's metaphysical thought would quickly coalesce. The Degrees appeared in late summer of 1932 with a preface dated, as we saw, June 11th. Certainly, this date which was the anniversary of the Maritains' baptism was no coincidence and it underscores again how much this book represents an answer to their long search for the integration of the various parts of their lives. Later that year Jacques went on to give a course on metaphysics at the Institut Catholique and the process of crystallization started by the Degrees bore fruit, with his course forming the foundation of Sept leçons sur l'être et les premiers principes de la raison spéculative, (Seven lessons on being and the first principles of speculative reason), a book of such profundity that its English title, A Preface to Metaphysics, does not do it justice.
Meditating again and again on the mystery of being, Maritain's insight is getting keener: "...where the mystery aspect prevails the intellect has to penetrate more and more deeply the same object... Thus the intellect, as its habitus grows more intense, continues, as John of St. Thomas puts it, to assault its object, the same object, with increasing force and penetration, vehementius et profundius." (62) He is now ready to tackle the relationship between essence and existence that forms the heart of the metaphysics of St. Thomas.
"Observe that being presents two aspects. One of these is the aspect of essence which corresponds particularly to the first operation of the mind. For we form concepts primarily in order to apprehend, though in many cases blindly, essences - which are positive capacities of existence." (63) Essences are now directly centered on existence. They are "positive capacities of existence." Thomism is not a philosophy that stops at essences, but rather it goes on to the actual existence of things. This or that exists. It is of the very nature of essences to be positive capacities of existence. Maritain goes on, in an important "Digression on Existence and Philosophy" to allow the long hidden existence face of being to come out and calls Thomism an "existential philosophy" (64) and thus becomes the forerunner of the existential movement in Thomism, as we shall see in a moment, that was to develop around World War II.
And if Thomism is to be really centered on existence then the Thomist metaphysician must be immersed in existence. "He must be keenly and profoundly aware of sensible objects. And he should be plunged into existence, steeped ever more deeply in it by a sensuous and aesthetic perception as acute as possible, and by experiencing the suffering and the struggles of real life, so that aloft in the third heaven of natural understanding he may feed upon the intelligible substance of things." (65)
Now there is no escaping from the subjective side of the intuition of being. The mystery of existence is present all around us in a leaf or a stone, but why don't we see it? What makes metaphysical insight such "a sublime and exceedingly rare mental endowment."'? Being is all around us but "we have not looked it in the face. We think it something far simpler than it is." It is like the stolen letter in Edgar Allen Poe's, "The Purloined Letter" which is rendered invisible to the detectives searching for it by being placed right out in the open. "For the little word 'is,' the commonest of all words, used every moment everywhere, offers us, though concealed and well concealed, the mystery of being as such." (66) "Objects, all objects, murmur this being; they utter it to the intellect, but not to all intellects, only to those capable of hearing... Being is then seen in its distinctive properties, as transobjectively subsistent, autonomous and essentially diversified. For the intuition of being is also the intuition of its transcendental character and analogical value. It is not enough to employ the word being, to say 'being.' We must have the intuition, the intellectual perception of the inexhaustible and incomprehensible reality thus manifested as the object of this perception. It is this intuition that makes the metaphysician." (67)
But how can this last sentence be reconciled with Maritain's assertion in the Degrees? "But far from being integral parts or necessary requisites of metaphysical science these kinds of metaphysical experience or intuitions ... transcend the proper sphere of metaphysics..." Is Maritain talking of something different here than the metaphysical experiences of Raissa that he described before? No. For he cites them again in this chapter and comments: "These are, therefore, metaphysical intuitions which are a natural revelation to the soul, invested with the decisive, imperious and dominant character of a 'substantial word' uttered by reality... Evidently this intuition does not necessarily present this appearance of a species of mystical grace. But it is always, so to speak, a gift bestowed upon the intellect, and beyond question it is in one form or another indispensable to every metaphysician." (68)
Part of the answer to why this apparent divergence exists lies in Maritain turning for the first time to this subjective dimension of the intuition of being. If these metaphysical experiences are not seen to be essential from the point of view of metaphysics as a science, they play a vital role in the development of this or that individual metaphysician. And this turn by Maritain to the subjective requirements of metaphysics is one of his greatest achievements. But Maritain's shift of thought illustrates a more subtle and difficult problem of how the various contemplations he describes interact inside us, and we will look at this problem later.
Maritain's intuition of being is now revealed in both its objective and subjective dimensions. He describes it as "a genuine intuition, a perception direct and immediate, an intuition not in the technical sense which the. ancients attached to the term, but in the sense we may accept from modern philosophy. It is a very simple sight, superior to any discursive reasoning or demonstration, because it is the source of demonstration. It is a sight whose content and implications no words of human speech can exhaust or adequately express and in which in a moment of decisive emotion, as it were, of spiritual conflagration, the soul is in contact, a living, penetrating and illuminating contact, with a reality which it touches and which takes hold of it. Now what I want to emphasize is that it is being more than anything else which produces such an intuition." (69) This is, of course, an echo of La Philosophie Bergsonienne and Maritain is aware that his intuition could be mistaken for Bergson's, so he insists "he (Bergson) denies his intuition is intellectual. I, on the other hand, have just maintained that the object par excellence of intuition is being, but that that intuition is intellectual." (70)
But instead of discarding Bergson's genuine insights Maritain will try to reconcile these two views of intuition, by taking Bergson's intuition and other similar approaches and seeing how they can serve as "concrete approaches which prepare for this intuition and lead up to it. " (7 1) He describes Marcel's fidelity, Heidegger's anguish, a "feeling at once keen and lacerating of all that is imperiled in our existence" and Bergson's duration. Now when we remember that it was duration that served as Maritain's road to the intuition of being, this description takes on personal overtones:
"Duration is apprehended by an experience of motion in which, on a level deeper than consciousness, our psychic states fuse in a potential manifold which is, notwithstanding, a unity, and in which we are aware of advancing through time and enduring through change indivisibly, yet we are growing richer in quality and triumphing over the inertia of matter. This is a psychological experience which is not yet the metaphysical intuition of being, but is capable of leading us up to it. For involved in this psychological duration and implicitly given by it there is indeed existence, the irreducible value of being, esse.
"This intuition is therefore a path, an approach, to the perception of existence. The latter, however, is not yet nakedly displayed in its own intelligible form." (72) Even though Maritain attained a glimpse of the intuition of being through duration he is insisting on the difference between an existential Thomism and the modern existentialisms of various persuasions. There are many concrete manifestations of existence that can prepare us "to recover the sense of being. But they can do this only if we will travel further; cross the threshold, take the decisive step ... We do this by letting the veils - too heavy with matter and too opaque - of the concrete psychological or ethical fact fall away to discover in their purity the strictly metaphysical values which such experiences concealed." (73)
When we have disengaged being in its full intelligibility, being as being, what do we see? It is as it were "a pure activity, a subsistence, but a subsistence which transcends the entire order of the imaginable, a living tenacity, at once precarious it is nothing for me to crush a fly - and indomitable within and around me there is growth without ceasing." (74) It is the task of metaphysics as a science to explore this mystery and express it in a rigorously conceptual way, ever mindful that this expression will never exhaust the mystery of being. The intuition of being is an abstractive or eidetic intuition or visualization that produces an idea. It is the mind that through the intuition of being discovers an imperfect and relative unity in the diversity of actually existing things.
"But in virtue of its essential structure the concept of being also includes in itself indissolubly... these two linked and associated members of the pair essence-existence, which the mind cannot isolate in separate concepts." (75) Now we are approaching the content of the intuition of being which is closely allied to the content of philosophical or metaphysical contemplation. But before we look at this content two further points ought to be made.
First, Sept leçons presents Maritain at his metaphysical finest. He is not a writer of textbooks. He needs a greater freedom to spread his wings and soar and to let the lightning of his own intuition flash. Perhaps this is why he never completed a proposed series of textbooks that had been initiated with his introduction to philosophy which had been followed by a text on logic. In his preface to these seven lessons he mentions that his publisher Pierre Téqui had been receiving letters asking whether this series of textbooks would be continued. Maritain's response sheds a little more light on his methodology. No. He has not renounced the proposed series, but such a collection of textbooks must be built on more detailed studies such as Réflexions and Les Degrés and now Sept leçons. Then once this ground work had been prepared it could be summarized in a textbook. Maritain never did write a metaphysics textbook, but was that an irreplaceable loss? I don't think so. Sept leçons is alive and vibrant and conveys, better than any textbook, the message of the indispensable role of the intuition of being in the creation of metaphysics.
The second point is more important. Traditionally the period around World War II has been looked at as the time when the central role of the act of existence, or esse, in St. Thomas was rediscovered after centuries of neglect. Indeed, this rediscovery was rightly acclaimed as one of the finest achievements of the 20th century's Thomistic renaissance. But the exact chronology of these events has never been made clear. For example, the 5th edition of Etienne Gilson's Le Thomisme, which was written in 1943, is credited as one of the instigators of this development of an existential Thomism. But when we read the pages of the chapter 'L'esprit du Thomisme" we see that Gilson cites two contemporary works. One is Joseph de Finance's Etre et agir dans la philosophie de Saint Thomas (Being and action in the philosophy of St. Thomas) which appeared in 1943, but had been in preparation for many years. This citation is readily understandable, for Etre et agir was de Finance's doctoral dissertation and was done under Gilson's direction, and de Finance's position did not depend on either Gilson or Maritain. He attributes the origin of his insights to his Jesuit confreres who held to the real distinction of essence and existence, the remark of one of them that esse was an act, and especially his reading of St. Thomas. (76)
The other citation of Gilson's is to Maritain's Sept leçons. "...The proper object of the intellect is being" writes Gilson, and then quotes Maritain "not only as 'essential' or quiddative but existential" and a little later "the Thomist philosophy is an existential philosophy". (77) But even though Maritain was one of the originators of an existential Thomism it was not until 1947 and Existence and the Existent, dedicated again to Raissa, that he more fully explores its implications and the relation-ship between essence and existence.
Existence and the Existent is "an essay on the existentialism of St. Thomas Aquinas" (78) and what distinguishes an authentic Thomism "is precisely the primacy which authentic Thomism accords to existence and to the intuition of existential being." (79) This intuition has to do most of all with the relationship between essence and existence. "The most fundamental and most characteristic metaphysical thesis of Aristotelianism as re-thought by Thomas Aquinas, the thesis of the real distinction between essence and existence in all that is not God - in other words, the extension of the doctrine of potency and act to the relation between essence and existence, is directly connected with this intuition." (80) And now Maritain caps 40 years of probing the mystery of being with an ever deeper look at the relationship between essence and existence.
"...Existence is not an essence. It belongs to another order, an order which is other than the whole order of essences." (81) But "...the concept of existence cannot be detached from the concept of essence. Inseparable from each other, these two make up one and the same concept, simple although intrinsically varied; one and the same essentially analogous concept, that of being." (82) "Existence is always the existence of something, of a capacity to exist. The very notion of essentia signifies a relation to esse, which is why we have good grounds for saying that existence is the primary source of intelligibility." (83) "...The metaphysics of St. Thomas is centered, not upon essences but upon existence - upon the mysterious gushing forth of the act of existing in which, according to the analogical variety of the degrees of being, qualities and natures are actualised and formed, which qualities and natures refract and multiply the transcendent unity of subsistent Being itself in its created participations..." (84) And finally in a passage ablaze with Maritain's own intuition of being: "We can understand nothing of this... if we do not see that the very intelligibility of essences is a certain kind of ability to exist... The analogical infinity of the act of existing is a created participation in the unflawed oneness of the infinity of the Ipsum esse subsistens; an analogical infinitude which is diversified according to the possibilities of existing." (85)
This passage is a window that looks on to the heart of the metaphysics of St. Thomas, but only if we can see, if we possess that inner spiritual seeing that Maritain called the intuition of being. When he says "the very intelligibility of essences is a certain kind of ability to exist" we have to understand that essences are not somehow pre-existing receptacles which receive existence, but are simply potencies or capacities for existence. An essence is this or that particular capacity to receive a certain amount, as it were, of existence; what makes an essence to be an essence is this capacity for existence.
Maritain continued to return to contemplate the mystery of being and try to penetrate its inexhaustible depths more deeply. By December of 1965, at 83 years old, he had completed The Peasant of the Garonne in which he talked at length about the intuition of being in a vocabulary which is now familiar to us: The human mind is an intellect, "a power capable of seeing in the intelligible order as the eye sees in the sensible order..." (86) and he goes on to cite his Sept leçons and the experience of Raissa. And while critical of the then popular phenomenologies, he is well aware of the deficiencies of a scholasticism in which the intuitive fires have been covered by the routines of reason, which is exemplified by the Thomism of the manuals which is like "an aerolite which has fallen from the sky, with everything we need to know written on it." (87)
A genuine Thomistic metaphysics is very different in origin. "There is nothing simpler to think I am, I exist, this blade of grass exists; this gesture of the hand, this captivating smile that the next instant will hurry away, exist; the world exists. The all-important thing is for such a perception to sink deeply enough within me that my awareness of it will strike me some day sharply enough (at times violently) to stir and move my intellect up to that very world of preconscious activity, beyond any word or formula... And then, if luck should take a hand, and if the eye of the consciousness, sufficiently accustomed to the half-light, should penetrate a little, like a thief, this limbo of the preconscious, it can come about that this simple I am will seem like a revelation in the night " (88)
If this intuition is not the intuition of Bergson "...it is nevertheless thanks to the impact of the latter, and of Bergson's metaphysical genius, on modern thought... that contemporary Thomists have at last recognized (not without opposition, nor yet unanimously; there are not that many metaphysicians in the world) the essential and absolutely rock bottom importance of the intuition of being in their own philosophy. From this point of view one ought to consider Bergson a great liberator." (89) There is a certain serenity and balance in this passage that is the fruit of Maritain's long struggle to define his relationship with Bergson. The intuition of being is completely Thomist in content, but Bergson inspired Maritain to bring to conscious awareness and development this dimension of the philosophy of St. Thomas.
In a talk given in Kolbsheim in the summer of 1967 called "Reflexions sur la nature blessée" (Reflections on wounded nature) Maritain returns once again to the intuition of being, and remarkably at age 84, attempts to deepen his thought, this time with a nod to Heidegger. He describes several distinct concepts of being. In the first we say, "That rose is there." And this says nothing more than that this rose is present to my world. This first concept of existence is conceived in the mode of an essence and closed up in the sphere of sensible experience. It simply declares the rose present in the way common sense would do.
In contrast, the second concept of being, which is the intuition of being itself, unleashes the full intelligibility Of this "is". In fact, this concept of existence is not like other concepts that precede an act of judgment and are united in it, but it is a unique concept that comes after the judgment of existence. "The intelligence, in the instant that the eye sees this rose, and says: that rose is there, passes to a superior level... which is also a moment of natural contemplation... then the lightning of the intuition of being flashes and the to be of the rose, intentionally present already in the intelligence... as implicitly and blindly contained in 'that rose is there... is revealed as an object now explicitly seized..." (90)
Finally, in an article that appeared in the Revue Thomiste in 1970, "Pas de savoir sans intuitivité" (No knowledge without intuition) and was collected, together with "Reflections on wounded nature", under the heading of "For an existential epistemology", in Maritain's last book, Approches sans entraves, (Approaches without obstacles), in 1973, Maritain completed the circle begun with his 1910 article which had started off with a discussion of reason and intuition. Here Maritain explores the constant role of intuition in the creation of concepts, the judgment and in the process of reasoning. The interaction between intuition and reasoning is like an explorer who will send out scouts of intuition and then consolidates their findings by sending out the map makers of reason. And intuition, by keeping a constant eye on the real, prevents reason from losing sight of the path it should follow. Finally, Maritain sums up his lifelong reflection on the nature of intuition by saying: "There is no understanding without intuition." (91)
We have arrived much closer to our goal of understanding Maritain's metaphysical contemplation. It is going to be a contemplation that gazes into the very ontological depths of things where the very what or essence of things shows its deepest face, which is existence. And this existing essence, this existent, draws us further to the center of the mystery of being where God dwells. In the metaphysics of Maritain, as in that of St. Thomas, the question of God is not something added to it from the outside out of some misplaced piety, but it emerges at its absolute center as we pursue the most obvious of facts, the what and that of things, to their final conclusion.
As far back as La Philosophie Bergsonienne Maritain has expounded with clarity and zest the arguments of St. Thomas for the existence of God. By the time we reach the Degrees of Knowledge these Thomistic proofs, long since assimilated, begin to take on a distinctive Maritainian flavor: "A philosopher thinks and grasps reflexively his own act of thought. Here is a reality that has a certain ontological quality or value and the existence of which hic et nunc is indubitable to him... Moreover, this philosopher knows that his thought which is a mystery of vitality to the world of bodies is at the same time a mystery of debility in itself. For it is subject to error and to time, to forgetfulness and to sleep, to distractions and to apathies... And so it is clear to our philosopher that he himself is not thought. He is not thought; he has thought. But if he has it without being it, does he derive it from something other than himself; from a cause?... From the moment there are diverse things, no one suffices unto itself to exist." (92) "From the moment that there are diverse things", from the moment we grasp essence existing, and truly grasp the relationship between essence and existence, then "no one suffices unto itself to exist". If every essence is a certain capacity to exist no one of these contractions of what existence is in itself suffices to explain existence. The very fundamental facts that are the starting point of metaphysical inquiry lead to the existence of God, but only if we have the metaphysical insight, the intuition of being to see beyond the surface of these facts. "Existence is itself varied and admits all the degrees of ontological intensity according to the essences that receive it." (93) But existence received demands existence unreceived. Every essence is a Positive capacity for existence, but these positive capacities could not receive existence if there were not something that is existence unreceived by essence, existence itself.
Now we can understand more clearly the passage where Maritain writes of the concept of being: "Let us say that the concept of being demands to be replaced by God clearly seen, to disappear in the face of the beatific vision." (94) The intuition of being allows us to grasp the Mind's inner dynamism which urges it to search for the deepest ontological core of the things around us and Within us, as well. In 1947 in an essay, "A New Approach to God" Maritain shows how the intuition of being has at its heart God's existence:
"Once a man... has really perceived this tremendous fact, sometimes exhilarating, sometimes disgusting and maddening: I exist, he is henceforth taken hold of by the intuition of Being and the implications it involves... When it takes place, I suddenly realize that a given entity, man, mountain, or tree, exists and exercises that sovereign activity to be in its own way, in an independence from me which is total, totally self-assertive and totally implacable. And at the same time, I realize that I also exist, but as thrown back into my loneliness and frailty by such affirmation of existence in which I have positively no part... I see that Being-with-nothingness, as my own being is, implies, in order to be, Being-without-nothingness that absolute existence which I confusedly perceived as involved in my primordial intuition of existence." (95)
The intuition of being, both as a way of seeing and in its content, finds its supreme object in God. Neither Maritain nor St. Thomas before him would ever say that by this intuition we see God directly, but rather we know him through the prism of creatures. Everything that exists around us by the simple fact that it does exist in this or that particular way, points to Existence itself. If we can see clearly and deeply enough we can know that God exists, but this is a knowledge that does not deliver God up to us, but starting from the mirror of creatures, rises to a knowledge of God which, while certain and true, is swallowed up in the darkness where God dwells. If we push our knowledge of things enough we will arrive at a genuine knowledge of God, but because this knowledge starts from the limited things around us it is wrapped up in a mode of signification that is limited and cannot be directly and immediately applied to God. We must distinguish between "what is signified" and the "mode of our conception". (96)
What does this mean when it comes to being itself? Our knowledge of the being of creatures leads us to say that God is a being, but we must immediately qualify this statement. God does not have essence and existence like we do. His existence is not received and limited by his essence. His essence is not a certain positive capacity for existence; his existence is unlimited and unreceived and is identical to his essence. We are correct in saying that from the existence of creatures we can know that God exists, but this does not deliver into our hands a direct knowledge of God, but rather what Maritain calls an uncircumscriptive knowledge in which we see that the essence-existence structure found in creatures demands existence in all its purity, but we do not see God in his essence. In short, we have a very precious but limited knowledge of God.
Further, if I am a person, someone who knows and loves, then God must be a person as well, but in some way too wonderful for me to grasp. And the intuition of being "normally carries along with itself another intuition, the intuition of my own existence or my Self, the intuition of Subjectivity as Subjectivity. Now Subjectivity, insofar as it is Subjectivity, is not an object presented to thought, but rather the very wellspring of thought a deep, unknown and living center which superabounds in knowledge and superabounds in love, attaining only through love its supreme level of existence, existence as giving itself... And not only does he know, by virtue of his primordial intellectual grasping of existence, that God exists and is the absolute Being, the self-subsisting Esse. He also knows that because of this very fact, God is absolute ontological generosity, the self-subsisting Love; and that such transcendent Love inherently causes, permeates and activates every creature, which in answer loves God more than itself." (97)
It is in understanding the inner movement that gives birth to this kind of knowledge of God that we have finally arrived at the proximate means of understanding metaphysical contemplation. In a postscript to his last metaphysical essay, "No Knowledge without Intuition", Maritain explains the nature of metaphysical contemplation. It is in metaphysics that the intuitivity of the intellect finds its highest natural exercise. And when someone has developed this metaphysical insight especially by directing it towards God, "metaphysics culminates in a kind of contemplation that could be called philosophical contemplation and which, as in all contemplation, comprises a certain superior sort of intuition." (98)
How does this philosophical contemplation come about? "When the philosopher does not content himself with naming such and such uncreated perfection giving it a quick nod before passing to the next, but sets himself to meditate on it and what he knows of divine things, he experiences that his intelligence and all his ideas are surpassed by them and are disproportionate to them; and the more he fixes his spirit on the ideas that make him know God, the more he experiences the devouring power of this surpassing and disproportion and of the night in which - at the instant when the signs here below, which proceed from him, make us utter his name - God hides from our human eyes." (99)
This kind of contemplation can be accompanied by a natural love of God and a fear of trembling closely related to adoration. But it is a contemplation which does not bear directly on God, "but on that which happens in the knowing subject and on the disproportion of his concepts in regards to the object he knows." (100) But if intuition must somehow have a rapport with the object known, which in this case is God, then how does it take place? Our natural metaphysical knowledge of God is both a knowing and an unknowing. We know that God exists and that his essence is his existence, but we cannot see this existence. Every created thing with the whole force of its being points to God but as we follow these pointers we are swallowed up in darkness.
"But what! This sting of negativity, this unknowing which accompanies and surpassed invincibly the knowledge in the knowing subject, is it not in this subject the reversed image of something infinitely positive in God, the negative image in us of the divine sublimity?" This cultivated metaphysical intuition "seizes in a flash, in an instantaneous perception" this negative knowledge in the subject and "reverses it in changing its sign" so that "the dazzled intellect plunges in it as in a luminous abyss that overflows it in every direction." (101)
All the elements of Maritain's metaphysical develop~ment find fulfillment in this doctrine of metaphysical contemplation: his apprenticeship with Bergson, the metaphysical experiences of Raissa, the philosophical demands implicit in faith, the metaphysical doctrine of St. Thomas with its primacy of existence or esse, and Maritain's own discovery of the subjective dimension of metaphysics. This last element, while momentarily neglected today, may well be one of his greatest achievements. A serene objectivity was the hallmark of the philosophy of St. Thomas without a word about how he personally came to his revolutionary insight on the role of esse. But Maritain, heir at once to the modern sense of subjectivity and to the metaphysics of St. Thomas, made conscious for the first time the inner personal requirements for metaphysical activity which he summed up under the heading of the intuition of being. And it is this intuition that allowed him to attain such a deep grasp of that contemplation which is the crown of metaphysics.
Maritain was always fond of diagrams so I am going to risk creating one of my own in order to illustrate what he meant by metaphysical contemplation.
We usually experience the things around us as if we are standing at position (A). This is the essence face of the circle of created beings. From this perspective we see a bird or a tree or a stone. We focus on the differences among things. A bird is a bird and it is not a tree. We live in a world of essences (existing) but existence is bracketed and we have no yet averted to it for itself. We notice it in the form of Maritain's first concept of existence in which we say, "Here is a bird" or "There is a tree". Existence means no more than being present; we have not yet unleashed the intelligibility of existence.
With the intuition of being, we move to the inner circle of the universe of creatures (B) which is their existence. We then see that essence is not the ultimate principle of a thing. An essence is a certain capacity for the act of existing. Now we see existing essences. The previous emphasis on the diversity of things is replaced by a sense of their unity. This bird is a being and this tree is a being. And this being and that being, this act of existing and that act of existing, demands Existence itself. "The analogical infinity of the act of existing is a created participation in the unflawed oneness of the Ipsum esse subsistens." (102)
Finally if we concentrate, no longer on the existence of creatures, but the whole thrust of this existence which points to Existence itself, then we arrive at metaphysical contemplation. We concentrate on the center (C). The very essence-existence structure of things, existence received by essence, impels us to affirm that Existence unreceived must be at the center of the universe of creatures. But we don't see it and know it directly. It is a secure knowledge -for it is founded on the most evident and basic of facts - but it is a knowledge wrapped in darkness. But the more we cultivate this intuition of being centered on God, the more we realize that this darkness is not the darkness of mere negation and emptiness, but is a darkness of a light too bright for our minds to comprehend. Our negative knowledge becomes a powerful symbol of the richness of God's existence and our intellects are in awe at this dark yet luminous abyss.
(1) "Pas de savoir sans intuitivité" in Approches
sans entraves, Paris, Fayard, 1973, p. 412. (2) Raissa Maritain, We Have Been
Friends Together, Garden City, New York, Image Books, 1961 edition, p. 34. Translated
from Les Grandes Amitiés, New York, Editions de la Maison Française, 1942.
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