|If this book had limited itself to
Maritains natural mysticism, or as it is more commonly called today, his mysticism
of the Self, it still would have been necessary to examine in detail both metaphysical and
mystical contemplation. They form the indispensable context within which we can discover
just what Maritain meant by natural mysticism.
Fortunately, instead of having to go back again to the beginning of the Maritains life together, our story can begin in 1926. That was the year that saw the publication of "Mystical Experience and Philosophy" which, as I indicated in Chapter I, was to become, in a revised and augmented form, Chapter VI of The Degrees of Knowledge, dedicated to Garrigou-Lagrange. We looked at this chapter in some detail in our last chapter and saw Maritain denying emphatically that there could be an authentic mystical experience in the natural order. This was an answer demanded, he felt, by the fundamental distinction between nature and grace.
One of the objections to this denial that he poses reads: "There are Moslem, Hindu, Buddhist, and other schools of mystics. But the mystical experience to which they lay claim does not proceed from theological faith. There must, therefore, be a natural mystical experience." (1) And he answers that there can be authentic mystical experiences among other religions, but it comes from grace. These people "belong invisibly" to Christs Church and have theological faith. Here he footnotes his discussion with a reference to St. Paul to the Hebrews and says they "cling with ones heart to the two primary truths in the supernatural order (a God exists who wills my salvation and who saves those who seek Him ... ) (2), and brings up the notion of implicit faith which was later refined in his "The Immanent Dialectic." The studies of men like Louis Massignon on al-Hallâj, he feels, confirms this general perspective from a factual point of view.
But if there are genuine cases of mystical experience among non-Christians, there are also dubious ones where "intense meditation and concentration, may present external resemblances to supernatural contemplation... (which) can stem from merely natural causes as well as higher influences. In these states the natural or philosophical contemplation mentioned above undoubtedly plays an important role, but we do not think that for the most part it remains alone and in a pure state." (3)
He sees the possibility that "certain ascetic efforts, certain sequestrations of the soul exercised upon itself, can actually tend (unknown to the subject) towards a spiritual communication with angelic nature as such... the human mind would find itself giving way to the attraction, not so much of seeing pure spirits and seeking its happiness therein as receiving their help to a superhuman contemplation in which to be transported the soul would in some way mimic (in the suspension of consciousness, in a night, but as night different from the night of infused contemplation and the luminous cloud of Thabor) their way of knowing themselves and the highest." (4) We have arrived at a strong prefigurement of what is going to develop into Maritains ideas on natural mysticism. The role of the angels will recede but certain key elements will remain, albeit in a transformed way.
Such an "intellectualist mysticism" seeks realization by means of "a completely metaphysical asceticism, it examples of which can be found in certain Oriental schools. (5)
Maritain feels that the "Upanishads originally depend less on philosophy than on a contemplative source and a powerful intuition, more mystical than metaphysical, of the transcendence of the Supreme Being." But this "tremendous mystical striving... brings into play natural aspirations for perfect contemplation, and as natural harbingers of that contemplation, natural processes of asceticism and intuition which constitute in regards to it a stage of expectancy, as it were, and a metaphysic which aims at preparing the way for it..." (6) Here Maritain is concerned with demonstrating that there can be no natural mystical experience along these metaphysical paths, but later when the context has changed to creating an explanation of the mysticism of India, then he will look at these same paths with new eyes and discover their distinctive wonder and mystery.
In 1929 Maritain had written an article called "Bergsonisme et métaphysique" which had appeared in the Chroniques "Le Roseau dor" and became in 1930 the important preface to La Philosophie Bergsonienne which we have encountered before. It touched on Indian thought briefly and helps us see more clearly how his thoughts on natural mysticism are evolving. In a manner similar to his views on the practical science of contemplation that John of the Cross created, he finds that the thought of India is not so much a philosophy in the western sense, but rather is shaped by its ultimate goal of deliverance: "...from the very beginning, I mean from the fifth century B.C., India did not take knowledge itself as its goal, and... all its speculation is an ascetic discipline having deliverance as its avowed or virtual aim." (7) It aimed not at "knowledge pursued for its own sake, but exclusively toward salvation." (8) Once this perspective is adopted we can see how metaphysical thought in India "never gained its autonomy" but was carried in the wake of its desire for sanctity and "has chosen at all costs to transcend human nature and reason." (9)
This effort at transcendence has at its limit "a beleaguering, a denaturing of man at the touch of pure spirit, the kiss of the Angel... And of contemplation itself, for which formlessness and dissolvi are not sufficient, whose whole is esse tecum, one will have realized only the negative..." (10) Once again Maritain approaches the threshold of the secret of mystical experience in India, but the time is not yet ripe.
Somewhat later, in 1932, in a preface to the French translation of G. Dandoys work on the ontology of the Vedanta, Maritain expands the development of these thoughts and makes the links they possess with The Degrees of Knowledge, which had just been published, more explicit. Maritain was pleased that Fr. Dandoy had expressed a view similar to the one that he had set forth in his 2nd preface to La Philosophie Bergsonienne on the goal of Indian thought not aiming at speculative knowledge, but deliverance. And Maritain comments that we are dealing with practical knowledge, but "it is not a question there of a practical knowledge clearly and typically differentiated like that of St. John of the Cross, but rather a vast movement of thought with a practical finality carrying with it all speculative effort of a theological and liturgical reflection which itself serves as the vehicle for powerful metaphysical energies." (11) Therefore, instead of following the laws of philosophy and starting from the basic facts that ground philosophical speculation, the philosophy of the Vedanta with which Fr. Dandoy is concerned follows the law of "religious contemplation and of the movement of the soul towards mystical union." (12)
This overriding finality has many implications. The Vedanta will not operate like a pure philosophy; it will lack "the metaphysical instrument of the analogy of being" and equate with nothingness the being which is not Being by itself. Even if certain of these formulations are deficient from a philosophical point of view, they are more accurate in terms of the practical mystical goal in question and "the interior experience to which it corresponds" can be an authentic contact with reality. (13) "If the self is declared identical to Brahma it is metaphysically speaking an affirmation of integral monism; and that can be a defective formulation, mystically speaking, of the experience of union." (14)
Further, "the subject-object problem beset both India and the West. In truth, far from the subject being all other than the object, as the Hindu schools assume, there are only subjects which, by the work of knowledge, are rendered objects..." (15) The subject is always ontologically deeper and thicker than the object and constitutes a "remainder" in relationship to it. "As well as we might know ourselves, there is always some obscurity in us about ourselves." (16) Pure spirits know themselves by their substance, but we know ourselves by our acts, and in knowing ourselves by our acts "it is the existence itself of our substance, it is the singular existence of our soul that we seize." (17)
In order to understand the full import of that last statement we have to go back to 1927 and pick up the thread of our story. That was the year when a young student began to appear at the Thomist Circle meetings at Meudon and stimulate Maritain to reflect more deeply on the mystical experience of India.
In that year Olivier Lacombe was attending the lEcole Normale Supérieure where he was soon to earn an agrégé in philosophy. Maritain encouraged him in his vocation as an indologist and he soon became an active participant at Meudon. Maritains notes from these years read:
20th of January. Study meeting: Jacques de Monléon, Yves Simon, Olivier Lacombe...
Sunday the 23rd of February. Olivier replaces me at the Thomist meeting, he speaks on Buddhist logic.
7th of December (1930). Thomist meeting. Olivier on the Vedanta-Sara.
18th of January 1931. Thomist meeting. Olivier on the Baghavad-Gita. (18)
Just what role did Olivier Lacombe play in the formulation of Maritains ideas on natural mysticism? When I asked him that question many years later he summarized his contribution as follows: "I was very young at that time and I was not in a position to do that (collaborate with Maritain in the creation of his philosophical thesis). I presented him with the Indian facts and he did the rest on his own." (19)
But just how did Maritain arrive at his conception of natural mysticism? In 1929-1930 Maritain had taken a sabbatical to work on the Degrees of Knowledge and it was towards the end of 1929, while he was revising Chapter VI, that he paid a visit to the noted Dominican theologian Ambrose Gardeil. Maritain had been impressed by Gardeils La Structure de Iame et lexperience mystique, and the book served as a catalyst for Maritains insight into the nature of the mysticism of the Self.
Once Maritain had this inspiration he visited Fr. Gardeil again a few months before his death on October 2, 1931, curious, I think, to see what he would make of such a novel use of his book on Christian mysticism. Fr. Gardeil had not thought of such an application, and I imagine he was somewhat mystified by the whole idea. Sometime in late 1931 or early 1932, in the form of a fifth appendix to his Degrees of Knowledge entitled, "On a Work of Fr. Gardeil," he wrote down the kernel of his insight.
For Maritain, La Structure was one of the "most notable contemporary attempts" to examine mystical experience from a speculative point of view and in a rigorous fashion. But there were several points that he felt needed further discussion. The most important of these, from the perspective of natural mysticism, concerned the human souls knowledge of itself. Gardeil had postulated that the "souls habitual or radical knowledge of itself, inasmuch as it is a spirit, is partly actualized in its reflections on its acts." (20) Maritain thought that this was mistaken, for as long as the soul is united to the body this kind of knowledge is hindered.
What he would prefer is to see the souls radical knowledge of itself as spirit as the metaphysical foundation for our ability to reflect upon our acts which gives rise to our self-awareness. This distinction is critical for Maritains views on natural mysticism. We have no direct spiritual vision of our soul, yet when we reflect upon our acts of knowledge we know them to be our own. This self-reflection is no intuitive vision of our essence, but rather is an experimental knowledge that "belongs to the purely existential order and implies the presentation to the mind of no other quid than my operations reflexively perceived in their emanation from their principle." (21) Thus without having any vision of ourselves we do have an existential experience of ourselves, an experience of the singular existence of the soul.
Maritain then gives us the substance of his insight:
"We might add that this could be the starting point of a possible interpretation of certain natural states imitating or prefiguring authentic mystical experience. It is not impossible that a certain natural mysticism could apply itself methodically to the stripping off of particular images and representations, in the hope that, on the verge of the unconscious, as Bergson would say, it might achieve an evanescent grasp of the pure existence (unsignifiable in itself) of the souls substance. But (supposing that the beginnings, at least, of such an experience were possible) since no content of the "essential" order, no quid would in any event be attained, it is patent that in these circumstances philosophical thought reflecting upon these attempts would inevitably run the risk of confusing the self ("atman") with the supreme Principle." (22)
Thus in a highly condensed way Maritain gives us the essential nucleus of his theory of natural mysticism, and it will be the task of the rest of this chapter to explore its meaning and look at some of its implications. But first it is worthwhile to once again emphasize Maritains intellectual style. When, in 1929, he had revised chapter VI of the Degrees and talked to Fr. Gardeil, he must have felt something tugging at his intuition that he could not yet articulate. He is putting the final touches on the Degrees of Knowledge when it dawns on him that not only do Fr. Gardeils views on the souls transparency to itself need revision, but they point to a deeper understanding of the Indian mystical experience. If there is no intuitive vision of the soul of itself, there is a very precious experimental knowledge we have of ourselves, and could not this existential knowledge be a door that leads to some sort of contact with the Absolute? In short, Maritain has this powerful new intuition as a fruit of his effort to complete his monumental Degrees of Knowledge, and by an irony of the creative process, at the very moment he has taxed himself to finish his work, a new beginning appears. But this insight is too new and too radical to immediately find its full articulation. That is going to have to wait another six years.
It was also typical of Maritain, that while during the course of 1931, when he was working on this insight, which at first glance seems so highly intellectual and removed from ordinary existence, he was at the same time considering becoming part of a Christian ashram. At Jacques urging, Raissa, in the fall of 1931, had taken up her journal again. It was an extremely busy time at Meudon, and her entry for October 3rd reads: "Jacques has drawn up a ukase destined to protect us against the invasions of our fellow men! We will try once again, and see if it is possible for us to continue to live at Meudon without losing any leisure for prayer..." (23) These constant demands probably formed part of the context within which a Christian ashram with time for solitude and prayer would appear very attractive.
During this same time Raissa was reading Romain Rollands Vie de Ramakrishna in which he cites Gandhi, and Raissa is led by his words to reflect on the contemplative life among Catholics: "...our religious communities ought all to be more contemplative than they are." (24) And in an entry for October 24th: "Does God want us to leave here to have greater solitude? Or to have greater solitude without going away? I no longer know what I want in my heart of hearts... Going away would be a great adventure!" In late November Jacques talks with Dom Florent Miège who advises them against their ashram project.
During those years he continued to be presented with the facts of the religious experience of India:
Sunday the 13th of March. Thomist meeting. Olivier brings Mile Ramakrishna.
Sunday the 7th of January. Thomist meeting, tiring. Jacques on the object and objectivity; Olivier on Ramanuja. (25)
In 1937 Lacombe was to write an article entitled, "Sur le yoga indien" which appeared in the Etudes Carmélitaines, and publish his LAbsolu selon le Vedanta, and Maritain was to write of him to his friend John Nef at the University of Chicago on November 8, 1938: "Olivier Lacombe is the best and most dear of my students; he is someone completely superior and I recommend him in an unconditional manner which is rare." (26)
Finally, on September 21-23, 1938 at the Fourth Congress on Religious Psychology held at Avon-Fontainbleu Maritain fully expressed his intuition in a talk entitled, "Lexperience mystique naturelle et le vide" (Natural Mysticism and the Void). It was published in Etudes Carmélitaines the following month and appeared in his book Quatre essais sur lesprit dans sa condition charnelle in 1939.
In this essay Maritain characterizes mystical experience as "a possession-giving experience of the absolute." This is a wider definition than equating mystical experience with supernatural contemplation, and it leaves the door open to considering the possibility, not of a naturally attained supernatural mystical experience, but a natural mystical experience. Such a natural mystical experience is not to be confused with the natural philosophical contemplation of Chapter 1: "Is this natural contemplation of divine things a mystical experience in the natural order? I believe not." (27) The reason it is not is because this philosophical contemplation, despite the affective overtones that can accompany it, knows God at a distance through the mirror of creatures; it knows God in and through the intuition of being that makes use of concepts. But can there be a natural mystical experience, a kind of "metaphilosophical contemplation" that is the result of a deeper and more religious desire, not just to know that the cause of creatures exists, but to embrace and contact in some way this source of being? Mystical experience wants to do this. It wants to go beyond concepts and experience the absolute by a kind of knowledge that Maritain calls "nescience, of possession-giving not knowing." And this mystical knowledge can be divided into two types depending on the kind of connaturality that it involves. The first is a mystical experience by means of affective connaturality which is the supernatural contemplation of Chapter II. The second is mystical experience by an intellectual connaturality, "a natural contemplation which by means of a supra or para-conceptual intellection attains a transcendent reality." (28) This is a metaphilosophical contemplation that reverses rather than continues the normal direction of philosophical contemplation by achieving its knowledge at the price of the elimination of all concepts.
Maritains starting point for exploring this natural mysticism is the knowledge that we have of ourselves, "the inner and obscure experience of myself, through myself." (29) Inspired by Ambrose Gardeils book he realized that although there cannot be even a "partial actualization of the latent self-intellection of the soul reflecting upon itself," (30) this self-knowledge can become an invaluable entranceway to a genuine natural mystical experience. Our self-awareness is a "true experience of the singular existence" of the soul in and through its operations. (31) But this awareness of our existence does not directly reveal to us "what" we are. We know this what only in a piecemeal fashion by making use of our concepts. In contrast, our experimental knowledge of ourselves is a "purely existential" knowledge. However, this existential knowledge is usually intimately commingled with our discursive activities, but now Maritain envisions the possibility of a deliberate and determined effort in which spiritual seekers, like the sages of India, would concentrate on this primordial fact of their existence and eliminate every image and distinct operation of the mind. By means of this negative act, "an act of supreme silence," they would try to penetrate this experience of existence to its depths and finally come to a state in which "the soul empties itself absolutely of every specific operation and of all multiplicity, and knows negatively by means of the void and the annihilation of every act and of every object of thought coming from outside - the soul knows negatively - but nakedly, with veils - that metaphysical marvel, that absolute, that perfection of every act and of every perfection, which is to exist, which is the souls own substantial existence." (32)
Laying aside every what or essence, they descend into a silence which is "a negation, a void, and an annihilation which are in no sense nothingness." (33) Instead, this very void becomes the formal means by which they know, not an intuitive vision of the soul, but its very existence which seems to surge up and be a gift passively received. Instead of supernatural contemplations amor transit in conditionem objecti, in this natural mysticism "vacuitas, abolitio, denudatio transit in conditionem objecti" (voidness, annihilation and denudation become the formal means by which the object is known.) The abolition of all acts becomes the supreme act, and it is this emptiness that becomes the way in which "the deep fathomless to exist of subjectivity" is negatively experienced as a "mystical experience of the Self." (34) But if this experience of the existence of the soul can only take place by the elimination of all essences, then "it is comprehensible that this negative experience, in attaining the existential esse of the soul, should at the same time attain, indistinctly, both this same existence proper to the soul and existence in its metaphysical amplitude, and the sources of existence." (35) "And how could this experience, being purely negative, distinguish one absolute from the other? Inasmuch as it is a purely negative experience, it neither confuses nor distinguishes them. And since therein is attained no content in the essential order, no quid, it is comprehensible that philosophic thought, reflecting upon such an experience, fatally runs the danger of identifying in some measure one absolute with the other, that absolute which is the mirror and that which is perceived in the mirror. The same word atman designates the human Self and the supreme Self." (36)
In short, the very powerful yet obscure experience of our own existence can become the doorway through which we can pursue, not the path of essence, but that of existence to the very bedrock of the human spirit which is our very existence as it comes forth from the source of existence. But this existence is known through the medium of emptiness so that there is no way to distinguish the existence of the soul, the existence of all created things and the existence which is God. All of this will remain incomprehensible if we have not understood that metaphysics is supremely alive and lives principally not in words but in the intuitions that give birth to them. This is not Maritain trying to make some academic evaluation of Hindu mystical experience, but rather trying to awaken us to the riches of the metaphysics of St. Thomas that can allow us to begin to see into the dark yet luminous depths of natural mystical experience.
Maritain, in an important footnote to this discussion, finally completes the journey that he had started back in the Degrees, and clarifies the relationship between the experience of the existence of the soul and the experience of God: "It is the substantial esse of the soul which is the object of (negative) possession; and by this negative experience of the self God is attained at the same time without any duality of act, though attained indirectly... God being known (1) by and in the substantial esse of the soul, itself attained immediately and negatively by means of the formal medium of the void; (2) in the negative experience itself of that substantial esse (just as the eye, by one and same act of knowing, sees the image, and in the image the signified) - all this being the case, I think, it is permissible in such an instance to speak of a contact with the absolute, and of an improperly immediate experience (that is to say, one wrapt up in the very act of the immediate experience of the self) of God creator and author of nature." (37)
Maritain now realizes that what he wrote in The Degrees of Knowledge, as far as a natural experience of the depths of God is concerned, ought to be maintained, but his position of natural mysticism can be nuanced further: "But here we have an experience of God in quantum infundens et profundens esse in rebus (insofar as He is pouring in and infusing existence in things), indirectly attained in the mirror of the substantial esse of the soul... God, without being Himself an object of possession is attained by this same act of the experience of the self..." (38) There is, then, such a thing as "a negative mystical experience of the presence of immensity" and the Degrees has to be corrected in this regard, and he carried this out in the postscript to the third edition dated July 25, 1939 in which he states that this essay completes chapter VI.
This profound insight into natural mysticism will remain from now on one of Maritains fundamental intuitions, and he will continue to refer to it, but at the same time he will not formally try to advance and deepen it; there is not going to be another essay devoted exclusively or chiefly to this theme. He will write, for example, in his 1938 essay, "Action and Contemplation": "Natural spirituality has techniques which are well determined and are, moreover, good and useful." (39) And in a more powerful passage he indicates that the East, even in the temporal order, looks to this natural mysticism, while in the West supernatural contemplation has remained in the sacred order. "If a new age of Christian civilization should dawn, it is probable that the law of contemplation superabounding in action would overflow in the secular and temporal order. It will thus be an age of the sanctification of the profane." (40) Much later, in the Peasant of the Garonne, he comments that although Thomism has fallen out of fashion, it is "actually in pretty good shape. In saying this, I am thinking of its intrinsic development and of the various kinds of research it has stimulated. I have in mind particularly the progress which is owed to it (thanks to the investigations of Olivier Lacombe and Louis Gardet) in the understanding of Oriental thought (and a good understanding, too, with its representatives) and in an authentic theory (the only one) of natural mystique." (41) Still later in Approches sans entraves he will remark in passing on the role that natural mysticism played in the philosophy of Heidegger.
His Approaches to God, published in 1953, is one of the few places where he devotes more than a passing glance to natural mysticism. In a discussion of a potential "sixth way" by which to demonstrate the existence of God, he speculates on how natural mystical experience may have originated in places like India. This sixth way is based on an intuition that is reminiscent of Maritains comments in the Degrees on the philosopher who is led to the existence of God by a reflection on his own thought. Here it arises in the form of a sudden penetrating insight: "(H)ow is it possible that I was born?" (42) "...(H)ow is it possible that that which is thus in the process of thinking, in the act of intelligence, which is immersed in the fire of knowing and of the intellectual grasp of what is, should once have been a pure nothing, once did not exist? (43)
This is an intuition that arises from the very transcendence of the mind in relationship to sense and imagination, space and time; could this fire of consciousness and thought have once been nothing? "Yet I know quite well that I was born." (44) And once we struggle with this dilemma we may arrive at its resolution: "It must have been in a Being of transcendent personality, in whom all that there is of perfection in my thought existed in a supereminent manner, and who was, in His own infinite Self, before I was, more than I myself, who is eternal, and from whom 1, the self which is thinking now, proceeded one day into temporal existence." (45)
Maritain had this insight "entirely independent of any contact with Indian thought," (46) but he realized that a similar intuition could have arisen in India, and if subsequent metaphysical reflection on it had been inadequate it would have given rise to a confusion "between the divine Self and the human self." (47)
In 1956, a revised and augmented version of Quatre essais appeared. As far as Maritains essay on natural mysticism is concerned, the changes were confined principally to the addition of some footnotes. They ranged from an acknowledgment of the role of Lacombe and Gardet during the intervening years in developing these ideas and references to some of Maritains later works. The most extensive of these new notes was added to the final page of the essay and deals with the question of whether grace can give natural mystical experience "a participation in the supernatural union of- charity." More precisely it asks whether natural mysticism can be a valuable aid for the interior life of the Christian, and it comes in the form of a quote from Olivier Lacombe. Lacombe thinks that the answer must be reserved (réservée), but historically speaking it is possible to come to a more positive judgment. "We do not see why a soul that is upright and consequently habituated and moved by a hidden grace would not be able to live a particularly rectified yoga as a vicarious exercise of an authentic spiritual life." (48)
It is becoming clear by now that Maritain did not devote much energy to the applications of his theory of natural mysticism or even to developing its theoretical side further, but as this footnote indicates, he was not unaware of some of the interesting avenues that would have to be explored. He left the application of his work in the able hands of his friends Olivier Lacombe and Louis Gardet, as we have seen. Gardet, a student of Islam, wrote widely on comparative mysticism in works like his Expériences mystiques en terres non chrétiennes and La Mystique. But it is his 1972 study, Etudes de philosophie et de mystique comparées, that is particularly important for our examination of Maritains thought.
Lacombe, for his part, continued to add to his earlier works with volumes like his Indianité, which contain an article on Ramana Marharshi, and he produced in collaboration with Gardet a work that expounded in masterly fashion the hints contained in Maritains original essay. This book, LExpérience du Soi, has been in the works since the late 1950s and excerpts had appeared in the Revue Thomiste in 1968, 1972, and 1976, with the book finally appearing in 1981.
In this volume Lacombe deals with the Vedanta and yoga, while Gardet deals with Islamic mysticism, modern poetry and Heidegger. But what interests us here are their theoretical reflections on Maritains natural mysticism. Lacombe characterizes it not as "a metaphysical intuition contemplating the intelligible riches of the essence of the soul," but as "an inward looking ecstasy or enstasy (entase) of the act of knowing in the act of existing." (49) This is an immediate but negative experience of the self, and the creative presence of God is experienced, not directly - for that would be the same as supernatural mystical contemplation - but "mediately in the mirror of the Self." (50) It is "a quasi negative experience of the presence of immensity." (51)
But if this experience of the self has played such a powerful role in the religious life of India and Islam, it must represent a fundamental possibility for the human spirit in its present condition, and so wouldnt it be reasonable to expect to see it appear in Western thought, as well? Gardet pursues this possibility, not only with a chapter on poetry and Heidegger, but by discussing atypical forms of this experience of the self. They range from spontaneous cases of cosmic consciousness to various mixtures of natural and supernatural mysticism which can take place in two directions. In the first, a natural mysticism can be touched and transfigured by supernatural contemplation, and in the second, a Christian mystic can experience moments of natural mysticism and this, in Gardets opinion, seems to have been true in the case of Meister Eckhart.
Despite the strong metaphysical character of the experience of the self, Gardet is careful not to confuse it with metaphysics as a philosophical discipline, for one works by the negation of all concepts while the other through concepts. Therefore it is important not to see "in the (negative) grasp of a transempirical 'I', a metaphysical intuition of being." (52) While both the experience of the self and the intuition of being originate in the spiritual preconscious of the soul, and while they can vitally influence each other, they unfold in distinctively different ways. If the experience of the self takes precedence, as it does in India, then it will "guide and center" metaphysical reflection. (53) And the result will be quite different than a metaphysics founded on the eidetic intuition of being. The non-conceptual nature of the experience of the self, when it becomes an object of reflection, will make it extremely difficult to distinguish philosophically the human self in its deepest roots from the divine Self.
Maritain realized that since all people are called to grace, and therefore to supernatural contemplation, then there was no need to deny that there could exist situations in which "a sort of composition of the upward movement of Yoga and of the disciplines of natural contemplation of the Self combined with supernatural touches and the love of charity," and that they could "come to impart to the natural mystical experience a higher value and a participation in the supernatural union of love." (54) Building on this thought Lacombe asks himself again whether the experience of the self can serve as a preparation for the supernatural life of contemplation. And he answers in much the same words as he did before: "We do not see the reason why an upright soul drawn along by the dynamics of the universal vocation of humanity to a supernatural life in God, conditioned, elevated and activated by a secret grace, could not be able to live a particularly rectified discipline of yoga as a vicarious exercise of spirituality..." (55)
Gardet, looking at this question from a slightly different perspective, sees the possibility that in the context of grace and aiming at a supernatural union with God, certain techniques similar to those that lead to the experience of the self could play a role in the spiritual life as long as the technique does not "invade the whole soul," (56) and substitute a belief in the efficacy of the technique for a humble waiting on grace.
In his Etudes de philosophie et de mystique comparées Gardet, in commenting on Maritains essay, looks carefully at Maritains footnote on the way God is experienced in natural mysticism. We have seen that for Maritain this natural mysticism has as its object the substantial existence of the soul. But two difficulties have to be avoided. If we say that we experience God directly, even in his creative presence by immensity, we are, in fact, claiming to have a supernatural mystical experience on the natural order, for there is no distinction in God between God as Trinity and God as creator, even though there is a distinction from our point of view. As Gardet puts it: God, the ineffable One and Three, is his presence of immensity..." (57) But if we turn around and say that we only experience God through his effects, we have to be careful that we dont lose sight of the testimony of India which talks about the experience of atman as the absolute, as well as the experience of atman as the soul.
So Maritain will talk about the experience of God by and in the esse of the soul, an experience that takes place "immediately and negatively by the formal medium of the void," or an "improperly immediate" experience; it is an experience "indirectly attained in the mirror of the substantial existence of the soul," or "a negative mystical experience of the presence of immensity itself." Gardet comments: "We ought to be extremely guarded here in the vocabulary employed. It is not the creative influx in itself that is attained by the experience. It is, we believe, even necessary to say: that it is not God in the presence of his immensity who is attained experimentally, but the effect of this presence in a singular existence. Let us say, if you want, that it is, indeed, the creative and conserving act of God, but in and by its terminus ad quem. So although God the author of nature is thus experienced, it is not only indirectly but also mediately: by the medium that remains such, the substantial esse of the soul. There would be some risk of confusion to speak here of an immediate experience even if it is improperly immediate." (58)
Even though in the experience itself there can be no distinction made between the existence of the soul and God as the author of existence, it still remains true that "every singular existence only realizes itself as limited by essence," (59) and "the experience of the presence of immensity of God remains mediate, the substantial existence of the soul - although not seized as limited, since no conceptual context enters into play - guards its function of medium; it is a pure existence (pur exister) which is directly attained, but not pure existence (Vexister pur), pure act." (60)
The refinements of Gardet are worth considering, but they should not diminish our sense of the immediacy and the absolute character that the actual experience of the self has, which is what I think Maritain is trying to capture. If we have a direct though negative experience of the existence of the soul, and this existence is in direct contact, radiant as it were, with the inpouring of existence coming from God, and if, in the night and void of all concepts the two are experienced as one, then we can understand Maritains "improperly immediate." As long as we maintain the fundamental distinction between nature and grace, supernatural mysticism and the mysticism of the self, we have some room in which to grope towards the best form of expression for this natural mysticism.
Later, the application and extension of Maritains ideas was continued by his companion in the Little Brothers of Jesus, Heinz Schmidt. Today, unfortunately, this extremely valuable way in which to come to grips with the growing encounter between Christianity and Eastern religions is neglected with the exception of a few people like Yves Floucat in his Vocation de lhomme et sagesse Chrétienne (61) or Louis Chammings, the Parisian follower of Maritain.
The work of this Maritain school of the mysticism of the self has examined many facets of the question, with the notable exception of Buddhism. Here Buddhisms insistence on the limits of philosophical understanding, the non-substantial character of all things, and its non-theistic viewpoint have made such an application more difficult. This has combined with the limited nature of the Buddhist texts available to Maritain and caused him to say in his Church of Christ that Buddhism is led: "to reject absolutely all substantial being: neither God, nor soul, the experience of deliverance is an experience of the nonexistence of the self." (62)
In another place he comments: "And this changes many things. I noted a moment ago that in the Hindu experience... the soul attains in night the pure esse of the self. Now such an act, in which the reality of the self culminates, is clearly out of the question, since there is no self... It seems indeed that what is required can be only a total vanishing of the spirit. And one does not experience the vanishing of the spirit." (63) And he concludes concerning Buddhism: "It would indeed be futile to seek there unfathomable metaphysical depths." (64) This negative evaluation, I think, he would have revised had he had a chance to study the rich collection of Mahayana and Tibetan Buddhist texts that have become available in recent years, as well as the moving testimony of modern accounts of Zen Buddhists who have undergone awakening experiences, for it is abundantly clear from them that the experience of no-self and emptiness is not simply privative or negative, but supremely positive, so that Buddhism, in its highly distinctive way, can be said to illustrate another facet of the mysticism of the self. To change Maritains phrase: the experience of the non-existence of the self is - by the kind of paradox so dear to the old Zen masters - the means by which the Self is experienced as Non-Self or Emptiness.
In chapter I we saw the transition from an objective consideration of the intuition of being in the 1932 Degrees of Knowledge to a more subjectively oriented treatment in the 1934 Sept leçons. In chapter II we traced an analogous movement into the depths of the subject through the various versions of his essay, "The Immanent Dialectic," in which the idea of the unconscious or preconscious of the spirit began to emerge. Now we have to ask ourselves whether it is possible to discern a similar process of development, a move to a deeper awareness of subjectivity, in Maritains ideas on natural mysticism. I believe that it is, but here, since he left so much of the application of these ideas to others, the trail is fainter. For example, in chapter X of The Church of Christ - which has a preface dated June 11, 1970 Maritain is speaking of how people belong invisibly to the Church. And he has in mind particularly the members of the great non-Christian spiritual families of Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. And when he tries to explain how they could belong to the Church without any conscious knowledge of Christ, he makes use of the ideas he developed in his immanent dialectic essay. He footnotes this discussion with the comments we have seen in chapter II: this essay ought to be corrected and completed by being reworked in the light of the supraconscious of the spirit. What we are seeing, then, is a conjunction of the idea of belonging invisibly to the Church, natural mysticism and the supraconscious of the spirit, although Maritain does not systematically explore the many implications of bringing these ideas together. It is possible, however, to pursue this implicit theme in Maritains thought by looking at his ideas of subsistence and subjectivity.
This story starts in 1932 with appendix IV of The Degrees of Knowledge entitled, "On the Notion of Subsistence." Maritain wants to situate the difficult notion of subsistence in the context of what he considers St. Thomas most fundamental metaphysical insight, the application of the Aristotelian doctrine of potency and act to the relationship between essence and existence. There is a relationship of potency to act between a faculty and its operation, but when we come to the case of essence and existence, Maritain sees a transcendence of existence in relationship to essence. Essence which is "completely achieved in its line of nature" is in potency to a whole other order which is existence. Essence does not receive existence as if it somehow preexisted existence, and existence was "a determination of that potencys own reserves of determinability" (65); "...existence is not the achievement of essence in the order of essence: it does not form part of the order of essence..." (66) Put in another way: "Existence is not a quiddatative determination... By a unique paradox, it actuates essence and it is not an actuation of the reserves of potency within essence." (67)
But how can this transcendence be bridged so that essence can make existence its own? It needs "to be terminated on the side of existence, face to face with existence, in such a fashion that it cannot be joined to another substantial essence in order to receive existence." (68) And this termination is a substantial mode which is subsistence itself which is neither the quiddatative aspect of essence nor existence. In short, subsistence becomes the way in which essence already achieved in the quiddatative order is made ready to actually exist; it bridges the transcendence of existence in relationship to essence. "Thus, subsistence appears as a sort of individuation of the essence with respect to the order of existence, leaving the line of nature to face up to something altogether different, to make the leap into existence." (69) If essence is a closed whole in the quiddatative order, it needs to become a "closed whole in the order of the aptitude to exist..." (70) Then "it is not that by which a man is what he is, it is this man, you or I..." (71)
While this appendix represented a continuation of the typical Thomistic approach, it did not rest completely easy on Maritains mind. In 1947, in his Existence and the Existent, in a chapter entitled, "The Existent" and devoted to subjectivity, he took another look at subsistence. When examining these views we should keep in mind that this book was being prepared while Maritain was developing his ideas on the preconscious of the intellect between 1945-1947.
The subject is "that which has an essence, that which exercises existence and action..." (72) But once Maritain has summarized the argument of appendix IV, he begins to break new ground. God doesnt create essences. God creates existents, subjects, and we "shall never know everything there is to know about the tiniest blade of grass or the least ripple. in a stream." (73) We know subjects "by achieving objective insights of them and making them our objects; for the object is nothing other than something of the subject transferred into the state of immaterial existence of intellection in act." (74) Each of us is a deep well of subjectivity and each of us "is situated precisely at the centre of this world." (75) We are not objects to ourselves but subjects, and we are "confronted with subjectivity as subjectivity." (76) Our previous explorations of Maritains thought have prepared us to understand him when he continues: "I know myself as subject by consciousness and reflexivity, but my substance is obscure to me." This brings to mind his reflections on the work of Gardeil that prepared the way for his theory of natural mysticism. Then he links this insight with the experiences that give rise to the intuition of being: "When a man is awake to the intuition of being he is awake at the same time to the intuition of subjectivity; he grasps, in a flash that will never be dimmed, the fact that he is a self, as Jean-Paul Richter said." He concludes by linking subjectivity and intuition of being with natural mysticism: "The force of such perception may be so great as to sweep him along to that heroic asceticism of the void and of annihilation in which he will achieve ecstasy in the substantial existence of the self and the presence of immensity of the divine Self at one and the same time - which in my view characterises the natural mysticism of India." (77)
In itself "the intuition of subjectivity is an existential intuition which surrenders no essence to us... Subjectivity as subjectivity is inconceptualisable." (78) Yet there are ways in which we can know the subject as subject. In the first of these ways subjectivity "is felt as a propitious and enveloping night" that surrounds all our inner activities; it is a formless and diffuse knowledge which in relation to reflexive consciousness, we may call unconscious or pre-conscious knowledge." (79)
In addition to this unformed knowledge of subjectivity that envelops all our activities there is a more definite kind of knowledge of subjectivity that comes through connaturality. There is, for example, supernatural mystical knowledge in which love that becomes "the formal means of knowledge of the divine Self, simultaneously renders the human self transparent in its spiritual depths." (80) Maritain could have gone here and added that among these kinds of connatural knowledge is the knowledge of the existence of the soul that takes place through the void of all concepts. Could not this, too, be taken as a knowledge of subjectivity, but in darkness?
Maritain has seen that starting from our experience of our subjectivity we can arrive at a sense of the interiority of being, the richness and fecundity of existence that superabounds in knowledge and love, in what he calls "the generosity of being." (81) The implications of this primordial experience of us being present to ourselves can be pursued in different directions. In one case it might give rise to the eidetic intuition of being and a keen sense of Gods existence. In another we might be driven to grasp the root and the source of our being as deeply as possible, and leaving all distinct knowledge behind, come to the mysticism of the self. And in a third situation this obscure but vibrant experience of subjectivity and our sense of a prisoner in our own interiority where no one seems to be able to enter can make us grasp that supernatural contemplation would be a great liberation in which we would transcend the limits of our subjectivity by experiencing the subjectivity of God, not through concepts but through charity. It is of the very nature of love to reach out to the other precisely as other, to aim at their very subjectivity whether it is the case of human love or divine love. In these kinds of love, albeit in different ways, "the intellect within us becomes passive as regards love, and, allowing its concepts to slumber, thereby renders love a formal means of knowledge (and) to this degree we acquire an obscure knowledge of the being we love similar to that which we possess of ourselves; we know that being in his very subjectivity... by an experience of union." (82) This passage and this whole chapter, in fact, is a fitting crown to Maritains footnote in the Degrees of Knowledge on the nature of love that we saw in chapter II.
In 1954 Maritain wrote a revision of his appendix IV of the Degrees. It was occasioned by the preparation of a new English translation of the book, a project that pleased him very much, for he felt the old translation lacking and it had omitted the appendixes altogether. This new appendix gave him an opportunity to deal with some objections that had been raised against the old version.
The first had made subsistence a way in which to overcome the transcendence of existence in relationship to essence. But it is probably fair to say that this transcendence had originated in a perception of essence that had stressed its completeness on a quiddatative level and failed to fully grasp that the deepest intelligibility of essence was its existability. I have been at pains to indicate the central role Maritain played in putting existence in the center of the 20th century Thomistic revival, and this is but an illustration of how it slowly had to filter into the traditional way of explaining subsistence. Essence is this or that capacity for existence, and the more that is recognized the less need is there to try to find a way to join essence to existence; if essences are certain capacities for existence, then in a very deep way essence already belongs to the order of existence. Therefore in his 1954, "On the Notion of Subsistence" Maritain insists that, first of all, it is "existents that we experience" and we derive essences from them.
"In the second place, essence is in potency to existence, to the act of existing, which is act and perfection par excellence... In the third place, there is an intuition of existence" in which "esse is perceived quite precisely... as an exercised act... as an activity in which the existent itself is engaged, an energy that it exerts." (83) It was this distinction between existence as received and existence as exercised that Maritain had not brought out in his first version. Since essence is in potency to existence, it "suffices by that very fact to limit, appropriate or circumscribe to itself the existence that it receives." But where then is the role of subsistence? "But to exercise something besides bare essence is necessary, namely the supposit or person." (84) There is still a transcendence of existence in relationship to essence but now Maritain will draw another inference: "essence or nature can receive existence only by exercising it... In other words, it can receive existence only on condition of being drawn at the same time from the state of simple essence and placed in an existential state which makes it a quod capable of exercising existence." (85)
In a similar way existence is not "received by the essence as in a pre-existing subject which would already be in existential act." (86) But again the inference to be drawn is the same as before. Since existence must be an exercised act - something cannot truly be without exercising existence - essence can receive existence only by exercising it. So subsistence becomes, not a way of making the essence incommunicable, but of placing it in a "state of exercising existence." (87) Now Maritain can invoke the old scholastic axiom that causes are causes of each other. Existence can be received by the essence only if the essence exercises existence. "In other words, it is by being received by the essence that existence is exercised by the supposit, and it is by being exercised by the supposit that existence is received by the essence." (88) And in a passage that throws new light on his natural mysticism he comments: "If it can be said that the supposit actively exercises existence, it is in the more profound sense - and this is the privilege, and the mystery of the act of existing - that for esse, to actuate the supposit is (in virtue of the divine action compenetrating it) to be the fundamental and absolutely first activity of the supposit in its substantial intimacy and depths - activity eminently its own when the supposit is a person by which it is other than nothing." (89)
Maritain continues this new appendix with a theological discussion on subsistence in Jesus which we need not go into except for one striking point. Just as appendix V, "On a Work of Father Gardeil," contained an insight that was to flower in his essay on natural mysticism, this 1954 appendix has a passage that will be developed in 1968 in his On the Grace and Humanity of Jesus: "And according as He was man that which pertained to His state as comprehensor was reserved, so to say, for heaven by reason of the exigencies of His state as viator." And the philosophical underpinnings of this statement are Maritains views on the supraconscious: "We ask ourselves, or rather we ask theologians, if the conclusion to be drawn from this is not that the supreme evidence that Christ, in His human soul, had of His own divinity by the beatific vision did not pass into the experience of Himself proper to the homo viator in the form of only an absolute certitude or knowledge which was sur-conscious or super-conscious (I mean retained at the supreme spiritual point of consciousness), and neither signifiable in concepts nor communicable?" (90)
It is reasonable to suppose that Maritains ideas on the preconscious of the intellect were fresh in his mind, having given his Mellon lectures on creative intuition in art and poetry in 1952, which were later produced in book form in 1954, and it would have been natural for him to transfer these thoughts developed in relationship to art and poetry to the theological realm when the occasion arose of preparing this new appendix. The appendix was originally written in French and the original manuscript is at the Jacques Maritain Center in Notre Dame. It shows less alterations than some of his other manuscripts, but exhibits an interesting hint of the same struggle we saw in the various versions of "The Immanent Dialectic." In the passage just cited on sur-conscious or superconscious knowledge, the original shows considerable reworking, and significantly lacks the word sur-conscious and the parenthesis: "I mean retained at the supreme spiritual point of consciousness."
But what does this exploration of the admittedly difficult notion of subsistence have to do with natural mysticism? At the end of chapter II we surmised that if Jacques had continued his work on supernatural contemplation he would have increasingly viewed it in the light of the preconscious of the spirit, and I like to think that he would have followed a similar process in regards to his theory of natural mysticism.
This would have been a continuation of Maritains role of suffusing the objectively oriented Thomistic tradition of the past with a deeper appreciation of subjectivity. Put in another way, if traditional Thomism had placed a certain stress on essence, and developed a particular notion of subsistence in order to address the fundamentally existential character of St. Thomas metaphysics, then Maritain can be seen as completing this traditional approach of subsistence by emphasizing its relationship to existence and subjectivity.
Set in this context, if Maritains natural mysticism were developed in the light of subjectivity, then it would make Thomism better able to engage in the growing dialogue with Eastern religions where an inward looking orientation predominates. Maritains explanations of subsistence, precisely because they flow from the mainstream of Thomistic metaphysics, advance that tradition without losing any of its treasures. If consciousness and objective requirements of knowledge were long to the forefront, Maritain is showing the limitations of conscious logical knowledge and the connections it has with the spiritual unconscious. Such an approach is much more congenial to the spiritual universe of the East - not to mention many modern people of the West - which has devoted itself to trying to fathom the realms beyond the ego and building a philosophy on the basis of non-conceptual experiences.
There pain and suffering lead to the pursuit of the source of existence which is found beyond all concepts or essences in a night where the existence of the self, and in and through it, the Divine Self, is experienced. But if no conceptual knowledge is possible in this experience itself, then is it possible to call the experience of the self an experience of subjectivity? If this means an experience of the inwardness or the subjectivity of God, the answer is no. But if it means a contact with something richer and deeper than any concept or object let us say with a subject, but not known as a subject then we can begin to grasp that it is an experience of subjectivity in the sense of the deepest roots of the human subject and in and through it the presence, in darkness and the void, of the ultimate Source and Subject. There is no experience of God as person, but neither can we say that it is a non-personal or non-subjective experience. The very experience is not nameable, not subjective, not objective, not personal, not impersonal.
When Maritain writes, "If it can be said that the supposit actively exercises existence, it is in the more profound sense... that for esse, to actuate the supposit is (in virtue of the divine action compenetrating it) to be the fundamental and absolutely first activity of the supposit in its substantial intimacy and depths..." can we not understand this in relationship to natural mysticism? The ego, in the metaphysical sense, is far distant from the supposit or person. The person in its deepest center, in the heart of the spiritual unconscious, is where it receives all its actuality, its existence directly from the hand of God; it receives its very to be by exercising it. It is not enough for us to receive existence, for to truly possess it we must exercise it, and so subsistence is no different from the existent itself, the essence precisely as exercising existence. We are subjects with an immense interiority which is the interiority of existence itself superabounding in knowledge and love, and too often our depths are hidden from us.
But if someone, driven by suffering and attracted to these depths, were to leave aside
all concepts and travel through this void to the very existence of the soul, what would
that be like if not but an experience of our deepest subjectivity where we exercise
existence, and in that very existence receive all that we are from the hand of God? But in
a night where no concepts can enter, the existence of the soul and the existence of all
things and the existence of God are all experienced together. Maritains exploration
of subsistence, then, holds the promise to peer more deeply into the metaphysical depths
of the mysticism of the self.
(1) The Degrees of Knowledge, p. 272.