Maritain, Jacques

views updated May 14 2018


French Catholic philosopher; b. Paris, Nov. 18, 1882; d. Toulouse, April 28, 1973. Maritain was one of the great Catholic thinkers of the 20th century, and a leading figure in the revival of Thomism within both Catholic philosophical tradition and the public sphere. He was the author of some 70 books, among them the widely read and influential The Degrees of Knowledge, Integral Humanism, The Person and the Common Good, Man and the State, Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry, The Range of Reason, Approaches to God, Education at the Crossroads, and The Peasant of the Garonne. Pope Paul VI, long a student of his work, presented his "Message to the Men of Thought and of Science" to Maritain at the close of Vatican II.

Life. Maritain was the son of Paul Maritain, a lawyer, and Geneviève Favre, daughter of Jules Favre (one of the founders of the Third French Republic). He was raised in a progressive Protestant environment, and received his education at the Lycée Henri IV (189899) and at the Sorbonne, where he prepared a licence in philosophy (190001) and in the natural sciences (190102). Initially interested in the philosophy of Spinoza, he soon fell under the spell of teachers convinced that science alone could provide the answers to all questions of the human condition.

At the Sorbonne, Maritain met a young Russian Jewish student, Raïssa Oumansoff (see maritain, raÏssa oumansoff), who was to share his life and his quest for truth. (Over 50 years later, in 1954, Jacques wrote: "The aid and the inspiration of my beloved Raïssa have penetrated all my life and all my work. If there is something good in that which I have done, it is to her, after God, that I owe it.") Jacques and Raïssa became engaged in 1902. Shortly thereafter, because the scientism of their teachers had left them with a profound sense of the meaninglessness of life, they went through a period of depression. At the urging of a friend, Charles Péguy, Jacques and Raïssa attended the lectures of Henri Bergson at the Collège de France (190304); Bergson's philosophy offered an alternative to scientific materialism and, for a time, Jacques was attracted by bergsonisme. In 1904 Jacques and Raïssa married and, through the influence of another friend, Léon Bloy, were received into the Catholic church on June 11, 1906. A few months later, in August, the Maritains moved to Heidelberg, where Jacques studied biology under Hans Driesch (190608).

In 1908, Jacques and Raïssa, together with Raïssa's sister Véra, returned to France. Véra was to live with the Maritains continuously until her death. Within a few months, at the suggestion of Raïssa, Jacques began to read some of the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas; Raïssa had, during a period of convalescence, herself been introduced to St. Thomas's works by Father Humbert Clérissac, a Dominican. Jacques described the effect of reading St. Thomas's Summa Theologiae as a "luminous flood," and definitively abandoned bergsonisme.

In 1912, Maritain began teaching at the Lycée Stanislaus. In his early philosophical work (e.g., "La science moderne et la raison," 1910, and La philosophie bergsonienne, 1913), he sought to defend Thomistic philosophy from its Bergsonian and secular opponents. He was soon named Assistant Professor at the Institut Catholique de Paris (attached to the Chair of the History of Modern Philosophy), became full Professor in 1921 and, in 1928, was appointed to the Chair of Logic and Cosmology, which he held until 1939.

Beginning in the mid-1920s, Maritain developed a strong interest in applying philosophy to social concerns. Initially attracted by the social movement l'action franÇaise, he left it when it was condemned by the Catholic Church. Maritain's ideas were especially influential in Latin America and, largely as a result of the character of his political philosophy, he came under attack from both the left and the right, in France and abroad. Lectures in Latin America in 1936 led to him being named as a corresponding member of the Brazilian Academy of Letters, but also to being the object of a campaign of vilification.

Beginning in December 1932, Maritain travelled annually to North America, often to teach in Toronto at the Institute (later, the Pontifical Institute) of Mediaeval Studies. Following his lectures in Toronto at the beginning of 1940, he moved to the United States and, by June, decided to stay. During the Second World War, he taught at Princeton (194142) and at Columbia University (194144). He was instrumental in the establishment of a French university in exile in New Yorkthe École Libre des Hautes Étudesand active in the war effort, recording broadcasts destined for occupied France.

In December 1944, Maritain was named French ambassador to the Vatican, and was involved in discussions that led to the drafting of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Upon the completion of his appointment in 1948, Maritain returned to Princeton as professor emeritus where he lectured annually on topics in moral and political philosophy, though in the summers he frequently returned to France to give short courses in philosophynotably at L'Eau vive. A few months following Véra's death, on January 1, 1960, Jacques and Raïssa returned to France. But Raïssa herself soon fell ill, and died on November 4, 1960. Jacques moved to Toulouse, to live with a religious order, the Little Brothers of Jesus. He had long loved the Little Brothers, who pursued an essentially contemplative life in the very midst of the world and "at the core of the masses"; he had attended their Mass of foundation in the Basilica of Sacré-Coeur in 1933, and from the beginning had a great influence on their intellectual and spiritual formation. It was in this "fraternity" in Toulouse that Maritain wrote his celebrated and controversial book The Peasant of the Garonne on what he considered to be some of the confusions in the post-Vatican II world. He completed several other books God and the Permission of Evil, On the Grace and Humanity of Jesus, and On the Church of Christ: The Person of the Church and Her Personnel. In 1970, he petitioned to join the order, and died in Toulouse on April 28, 1973. He is buried alongside Raïssa in Kolbsheim, Alsace, France.

Works and Thought. In his many books, articles, and lectures, Maritain developed and deepened the classical doctrines of Thomistic philosophy. He insisted that Catholic philosophers had to do more than merely repeat St. Thomas's views, and his own efforts to engage problems raised by contemporary philosophy and culture often presented St. Thomas's insights in a highly original way. While the most profound inspiration of many of Maritain's ideas was the work of St. Thomas, his epistemology and aesthetics show other influences as well, particularly that of St. john of the cross. Maritain never swerved from his conviction that in St. Thomas's thought are to be found the principles of a realistic and existential metaphysics and the bases of a political and ethical philosophy that does justice to the dignity of human beings and their relationship with God.

Throughout his work, Maritain repeatedly called attention to there being in every aspect of modern culture art, poetry, science, philosophy, and even in the spiritual lifea prise de conscience, a growth in self-awareness. He saw this striving for autonomy and a fuller identity as a characteristic feature of the modern age; at the same time, he deplored the loss of the sense of being and of love in modern life. Although Maritain consistently made trenchant criticisms of modern culture (e.g., in Antimoderne, 1922), he recognized and placed even greater emphasis on its positive contributions. The task ahead for Christian philosophers of the future, as he envisioned it, was to become aware of their mission, their resources, and their methodology, and the importance of restoring a philosophy of being and a social and political philosophy that is open to the evangelical message of love.

Moral, Social, Political Philosophy. In Moral Philosophy, Maritain turned to the great moral philosophers of the past and assessed the problems they considered fundamental in ethics. In his Neuf leçons sur la philosophie morale and his posthumously published La loi naturelle ou loi non-ecrite (lectures given, in 1949 and 1950 at L'Eau vive, and which, together, would have been the basis for the projected second volume of Moral Philosophy ), Maritain provided a positive account of a moral theory, based on natural law, that is both truly philosophical and yet wholly consistent with the Christian tradition.

In Integral Humanism, Maritain provided a charter for a Christian social philosophy. Starting with the concrete situation of human beings before their destiny, Maritain envisaged a form of civilization that would be characterized by an integral humanism, theocentric as opposed to anthropocentric, and that would strive toward the ideal of true community by showing respect for human dignity and human rights. In this and other works (Freedom and the Modern World, Christianity and Democracy, The Rights of Man and the Natural Law ), Maritain called for a Christian humanism to achieve the goal of a New Christendom. In Man and the State, he redefined basic political conceptse.g., body politic, state, the people, and sovereigntyand defended democratic principles and institutions for all nations. To show that certain basic rights are recognized by all, he pointed to the general agreement on those rights found in the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Maritain recognized the rights of workers as well as those of the human and the civic person.

Throughout Maritain's ethics and social and political philosophy runs the leitmotiv of freedom. By "freedom" he does not mean license, but the full development of the human person in accord with his or her nature specifically, the achievement of moral and spiritual perfection which is a "common good." In works such as The Person and the Common Good, Maritain importantly distinguishes between the human being as an individual and as a person. Human beings are individuals so far as they are part of a material, social order, and have responsibilities to it. Yet, because they are part of a spiritual order, they are also persons. The person is a whole, has dignity, "must be treated as an end," and has a transcendent destiny. Maritain's personalism is a via media between individualism and collectivism, and has been influential in the writings of Edith Stein (Blessed Teresa Benedicta) and Karol Wojtyła (Pope john paul ii).

Knowledge. Since the movement of humanity is, Maritain says, towards freedom, it is no surprise that the primary goal of education is the conquest of interior freedom (Education at the Crossroads ). Such freedom is one of fulfillment and expansion and is analogous to that enjoyed by those united to God in the beatific vision. For Maritain, the pursuit of the highest freedom and of the highest contemplation are but two aspects of the same quest (Confession de foi ). This search after wisdom and freedom are the goals of his.

In The Degrees of Knowledge Maritain surveyed a wide range of issues in order to show the diversity and essential compatibility of the various areas of knowledge, from science and philosophy to religious faith and mysticism. He argued that there were different orders of knowledge and, within them, different degrees determined by the nature of the object to be known and the "degree of abstraction" involved. Yet all are organically related. Maritain called his own view "critical realism," and maintained that, despite the differences among them, kantianism, idealism, pragmatism, and positivism all reflected the influence of nominalismthat universal notions are creations of the human mind and have no foundation in reality.

Throughout his writings on theoretical philosophy, and particularly in A Preface to Metaphysics and Existence and the Existent, there is an emphasis on the existential character of a realistic philosophy of being; in Maritain's view, knowledge as well as love is immersed in existence.

Like St. Thomas, Maritain held that there was no conflict between faith and true reason, that religious belief was open to rational discussion, and that the existence of God and certain fundamental religious beliefs could be philosophically demonstrated. There are many ways for human beings to approach God, Maritain says, but in Approaches to God he insisted on the importance of restating the five ways of St. Thomas for the modern mind and of discovering new approaches based on poetic and other concrete experiences. In addition to developing a 'sixth way,' Maritain argued that human beings also have a prephilosophical knowledge or intuition of God that, while rational, cannot be expressed in words.

Art and Poetry. In the areas of art and poetry, on which he reflected over his lifetime, Maritain's major work is undoubtedly Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry. Here, he sought to shed light on the "mysterious nature of poetry" and on the process of creativity with its sources in "the spiritual unconscious." In this book, and in Art and Scholasticism, Maritain drew frequently on the artistic and poetic opinions of Raïssa, herself an artist and poet.

Influence. At the time of his death, Maritain was likely the best-known Catholic philosopher in the world. The breadth of his philosophical work, his influence on the social teachings of the Catholic Church, and his ardent defenses of human rights made him one of the central figures of his times.

Maritain's philosophy is marked by a deeply religious impulse and on occasion takes on a theological and even contemplative dimension. His calling, as Yves Simon pointed out, is that of the Christian philosopher who examines philosophical issues without losing sight of their relation to faith and theology. Maritain was "scarcely enchanted" by the expression "Christian philosophy," but accepted the notion as legitimate so far as it indicates a philosophy that exists in a climate of explicit faith. Neverthelessand this is a point Maritain himself stressed in his later workshis own work is philosophical, not theological; it pursues philosophical ends by means of strictly philosophical methods. His work is intended to bear witness on behalf of the autonomy of philosophy and to investigate "the mystery of created existence." At the same time, he says, philosophy cannot be isolated from concrete life and faith. It achieves its goals only when totally united to every source of light and experience in the human mind. Only a Christian philosophy that conceives and pursues such an ideal is capable of "ransoming the time and of redeeming every human search after truth."

Maritain's philosophical work has been translated into some twenty languages. Its popularity was due, in part, to it being written for a general, rather than an academic, audience. Some of Maritain's writings are polemical and, because his concern was often to address very specific issues of his time, they occasionally have a rather dated tone. In his own time, controversy swirled around the following topics in particular: the distinction between personality and individuality in relation to the common good (e.g., Charles de Koninck), the empiriological vs. ontological distinction within the first degree of abstraction (see philosophy and science), the independence of moral philosophy from theology, and the notion of Christian philosophy itself (e.g., Étienne gilson). Other topics to which Maritain made valuable contributions include authority and freedom in a pluralistic society, the nature and exercise of free will, the existential intuition of subjectivity, the intentional being of love, and the analogy of being and its perfectionswhich Maritain saw as a principle operating in the most diverse regions of reality and thought. He himself hoped that he made some contribution to a deeper understanding of the mystery of evil (God and the Permission of Evil ).

Nevertheless, it is not easy to place Maritain's thought within the history of philosophy in the 20th century. Clearly, the impact of his work was strongest in those countries where Catholicism was influential. Although his political philosophy led him, at least in his time, to be considered a liberal and even a social democrat, he eschewed socialism and, in The Peasant of the Garonne, was an early critic of many of the religious reforms that followed the Second Vatican Council. He is therefore often considered by contemporary liberals as too conservative, and by many conservatives as too liberal. Again, though generally considered to be a Thomist, according to Gilson, Maritain's "Thomism" was really an epistemology and, hence, not a real Thomism at all.

Since 1958, the Jacques Maritain Center has operated at the University of Notre Dame in the United States; the Cercle d'Études Jacques et Raïssa Maritain, in Kolbsheim, France, also holds an extensive collection of manuscripts, and has been active in producing both books and articles on Maritain's work and the Oeuvres complètes de Jacques et Raïssa Maritain, 15 vols. (Fribourg, Switzerland: Éditions universitaires, 1982-95). There are several academic journals devoted to Maritain's work, such as Études maritainiennes/Maritain Studies, the Cahiers Jacques Maritain (edited by the Cercle d'Études in Kolbsheim), and Notes et documents (in international and in Brasilian editions). In addition to the Institut International Jacques Maritain (Rome), there are currently some twenty national associations which meet regularly to discuss Maritain's work. The continuity of interest in Maritain's thought in the English-speaking world has led to the publication of a 20-volume set, in English, of The Collected Works of Jacques Maritain under auspices of the University of Notre Dame Press.

Bibliography: The most comprehensive list of books and articles on Maritain's philosophy and life is found in j.-l. allard and p. germain, Répertoire bibliographique sur la vie et l'oeuvre de Jacques et Raïssa Maritain (Ottawa, 1994). The Achievement of Jacques and Raïssa Maritain: A Bibliography, 19061961 (Garden City, N.Y. 1962), by d. and i. gallagher, also lists approximately 1,600 items by and about the Maritains in many languages. An exhaustive list of the various editions of Maritain's writings and of their translations is being compiled in occasional supplementary volumes of the Cahiers Jacques Maritain. Principal Works. Bergsonian Philosophy and Thomism, tr. m. l. and j. g. andison (New York 1955); Art and Scholasticism and The Frontiers of Poetry, tr. j. w. evans (New York 1962); Distinguish to Unite, or The Degrees of Knowledge, tr. g. b. phelan (New York 1959); An Essay on Christian Philosophy, tr. e. flannery (New York 1955); A Preface to Metaphysics: Seven Lectures on Being (New York 1939); Philosophy of Nature, tr. i. c. byrne (New York 1951); Integral Humanism: Temporal and Spiritual Problems of a New Christendom, tr. j. w. evans (New York 1968); Education at the Crossroads (New Haven 1943); Existence and the Existent, tr. l. galantiÈre and g. b. phelan (New York 1948); The Person and the Common Good, tr. j. j. fitzgerald (New York 1947); The Range of Reason (New York 1952); Man and the State (Chicago 1951); An Introduction to Basic Problems of Moral Philosophy (Albany, N.Y. 1990); Approaches to God, tr. p. o'reilly (New York 1954); Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry (New York 1953); On the Philosophy of History (New York 1957, London 1959); Moral Philosophy: An Historical and Crtical Survey of the Great Systems, tr. m. suther et al. (New York 1964); The Peasant of the Garonne, tr. m. cuddihy and e. hughes (New York 1968); Lectures on Natural Law, tr. w. sweet (Notre Dame 2002).

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Maritain, Jacques

views updated May 23 2018


MARITAIN, JACQUES (18821973), French Neo-Thomist philosopher. Born in Paris, he was baptized in the French Reformed church and received religious instruction from the liberal Protestant theologian Jean Réville. During his youth, Maritain considered himself an unbeliever. He studied at the Sorbonne (19011906) but found the dominant positivism and rationalismepitomized in the influence of the philosopher Auguste Comte and the historian and writer Ernest Renanspiritually barren. At the Sorbonne, Maritain joined a circle of friends that included the writer Charles Péguy and a young Russian Jew, Raïssa Oumansoff. He also attended the lectures of the philosopher Henri Bergson at the Collège de France. Bergson's vitalistic philosophy liberated Maritain from positivism and made possible for him the rehabilitation of metaphysical thinking.

In 1904 Maritain married Raïssa Oumansoff, and soon they came under the influence of the fiery, uncompromising Catholic writer Léon Bloy. Primarily through Bloy's tutorship and personal example, they were baptized in the Roman Catholic church in 1906. Maritain spent the next two years in Heidelberg studying with the distinguished biologist and neovitalist Hans Dreisch. On returning to France he began reading the Summa theologiae of Thomas Aquinas. Thomas's philosophical realism became for Maritain a second and more decisive intellectual deliverance. For the rest of his long life, he revered Thomas as his master and saw as his own vocation the application of the perennial wisdom of Thomism to contemporary philosophy, art, politics, and education. "Woe unto me," he wrote, "should I not thomistize!"

Maritain served as professor of philosophy at the Institut Catholique de Paris (19141933), the Institute of Medieval Studies in Toronto (19331945), and Princeton University (19481952), as well as at other North American universities. At the invitation of Charles de Gaulle, he served as French ambassador to the Vatican from 1945 to 1948. During his years in North America, Maritain's influence on Catholic thought, as well as on arts and letters, was enormous.

Raïssa Maritain died in 1960, and the following year Maritain returned to France and retired to Toulouse to live with the Little Brothers of Jesus, a Dominican monastic order. In 1969 he entered the order. In 1966 Maritain published The Peasant of the Garonne, a sharp warning to the post-Vatican II reformers in the Roman church. Because Maritain had championed some liberal influences in the church, especially in the field of politics, the book surprised many and provoked widespread discussion. However, the work reflects a long-standing tension in Maritain between adherence to tradition and openness to new ideas, as well as his disdain of any modern ways that deviate from Thomas.

Maritain's literary output was prodigious, including about forty books published over a span of some sixty years. He ranged over almost every aspect of philosophy, and all his worksfrom La philosophie bergsonienne (1914) to his penultimate book, On the Church of Christ (1970)are in formed by the thought of Thomas Aquinas. Maritain traces what he perceives to be a cultural breakdown in the West to a disease of the mind. That disease has its beginnings in the early modern repudiation of Thomistic philosophy, first in William of Ockham's nominalism and rejection of Aristotelian metaphysics; then in Luther's severing of faith from reason; in Descartes's rationalism, in which reason is divorced from sensory experience and existing things; and, finally, in Rousseau's sentimental appeal to the inner feelings of the heart. Maritain sees metaphysical thinking brought to a close with Kant, and the future turned over to scientism and positivism on the one hand and subjectivism and relativism on the other.

Maritain's genius lay not only in his skill in demonstrating the inadequacies of a good deal of modern philosophy but also in exhibiting how the authentic truths of modern thought are consistent with, and conceptually more adequate when understood in terms of, Thomistic realism. Existentialism is a case in point. Its emphasis on action, and on what Maritain calls its "imprecatory posture," isolates the idea of existence from a genuine knowledge of being, since it involves philosophizing in a posture of dramatic singularity. Maritain argues that one can never know pure subjective existence. Objective philosophic knowledge necessarily involves a distinction between essence and existence, for the essence of a thing is what makes it intelligible as a being, what defines its nature. Essence and existence are correlative and inseparable. Maritain therefore insists that an "authentic" existentialism must go beyond the cry and agony of the subject to a genuine analysis of being.

Such an analysis will lead reflection beyond finite existence to that being whose essence is to exist, who exists necessarily (God). In works such as Approaches to God (1954), Maritain attempts to show that the Thomistic cosmological proofs of the existence of God are the development of a primordial, prephilosophical intuition of being. Furthermore, he seeks to demonstrate that Kant's widely approved critique of the Thomistic cosmological proofswhich holds that they imply the ontological argumentis in error. Maritain reconceives the five Thomistic proofs by appropriating ideas from modern physics and the philosophy of science. However, the philosophical critics of natural theology remain largely unconvinced.

Among modern religious philosophers, Maritain stands preeminent in his reflections on aesthetics, for example, in works such as Art and Scholasticism (1920; Eng. ed., 1962) and Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry (1953). Maritain's discussion of poetic intuition and knowledge and of the relationship between art and morality are profound and have influenced numerous writers and critics.

In Scholasticism and Politics (1940), True Humanism (1936; Eng. ed., 1938), and Man and the State (1951), Maritain argues eloquently for the dignity of the person, for human rights and liberty, and for what is essentially an American model of church-state relations. Maritain's writings on the person and on society and politics have had wide influence and are reflected in the documents of Vatican II.

Maritain represents, perhaps better than any other thinker, the intellectual confidence, indeed the aggressiveness, of Roman Catholicism in the 1940s and 1950s. Like the Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, Maritain was a brilliant critic of secular culture and a superb apologist for the Christian life. He was also, like Niebuhr, a "relative" pessimist who nevertheless held out hope for the recovery of an integral, Christian humanisma humanism permeated by works of genuine sanctity.

Many Catholic intellectuals consider Maritain's Thomism as no longer an adequate guide and call instead for a philosophical pluralism in the church. The form of Thomism that does continue to have a wide following, the "transcendental" Thomism associated with Joseph Maréchal (18781944) and, more recently, with Karl Rahner, was repudiated by Maritain. While his work is presently in eclipse and his future influence is uncertain, Maritain will be remembered as one of the intellectual giants in the period between the two world wars.


Maritain's greatest work on metaphysics and the theory of knowledge is Distinguish to Unite, or the Degrees of Knowledge, translated under the supervision of Gerald B. Phelen (New York, 1959). In Approaches to God, translated by Peter O'Reilly (New York, 1954), Maritain restates the five ways of Thomas Aquinas to demonstrate the existence of God and proposes a "sixth way." True Humanism, translated by Margot Adamson (New York, 1938), is Maritain's most important work in social philosophy, and Man and the State (Chicago, 1951) is his most comprehensive examination of political philosophy. Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry (New York, 1953) is Maritain's masterpiece in the philosophy of art. Challenges and Renewals, edited by Joseph W. Evans and Leo R. Ward (Notre Dame, Ind., 1966), is a useful selection of writings by Maritain covering all aspects of his philosophy.

No definitive critical study of Maritain has been written. Joseph W. Evans's Jacques Maritain: The Man and His Achievement (New York, 1963) includes a variety of essays on aspects of Maritain's work. Julie Kernan's Our Friend, Jacques Maritain: A Personal Memoir (Garden City, N. Y., 1975) is a rather full biographical account. The definitive bibliography of works by and about Maritain up to 1961 is Donald Gallagher and Idella Gallagher's The Achievement of Jacques and Raïssa Maritain: A Bibliography, 19061961 (New York, 1962).

James C. Livingston (1987)

Jacques Maritain

views updated Jun 27 2018

Jacques Maritain

The French Roman Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain (1882-1973) was the leading figure in the 20th-century renascence of Thomism.

Jacques Maritain was born in Paris on Nov. 18, 1882. Under the auspices of his mother, Mauritain's religious training was Protestant and his education rationalistic and humanitarian; his Catholic father played little part in these aspects of his upbringing. Maritain attended the Lycée Henri IV and the Sorbonne, where he devoted himself to studying modern thought in philosophy, literature, biology, and social questions. At the Sorbonne he met Raïssa Oumansoff, a Jewish Russian émigré, whom he married in 1904. A highly creative person who later established a career and a reputation in her own right, working closely with her husband on several of his books and publishing a number of her own, she attended with Maritain the lectures of the famous philosopher Henri Bergson while both were university students, and for a time they were influenced by his thought.

Shortly after their marriage the Maritains came under the influence of Léon Bloy, a tempestuous intellectual and ardent Roman Catholic. Disillusioned in their intense quest for knowledge by the alternatives offered by modern thought, they were converted to Catholicism and baptized in 1906. Their conversion became the vanguard of a return to Catholicism among some leading French intellectuals.

After completing his work at the Sorbonne, Maritain studied biology for 2 years at the University of Heidelberg (1907-1908) under the distinguished biologist Hans Driesch. Upon his return to France he studied the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, fulfilling an interest which had begun while he was in Heidelberg. Maritain found the fullest satisfaction of both the intellect and the soul in the thought of St. Thomas, with its harmonizing of revelation and reason and its holistic and realistic description of reality. At this time Maritain decided to dedicate his career to the communication of Thomistic ideas and their application to modern problems. While he was studying, he supported himself by editing a lexicon for a French publisher.

From 1912 to 1914 Maritain taught philosophy at the Collège Stanislas. In 1914 he was appointed to the chair of the history of modern philosophy at the Institut Catholique, continuing also his teaching at the Collège. For his Introduction to Philosophy (1921) he was awarded the title doctor ad honorem by the Congregation of Studies in Rome.

In the years that followed, Maritain was enormously productive as a teacher, lecturer, writer, reviewer, editor, and organizer of Thomistic study, as well as a political philosopher and champion of social justice. During World War II Maritain lived in the United States, his "second home," where he taught at Princeton, Columbia, and the University of Chicago. From 1945 to 1948 Maritain was French ambassador to the Vatican. He spent the remainder of his active career teaching at Princeton. After his retirement in 1953 he returned to Paris to live. He died on April 28, 1973, at the age of 90. He received many honors both from universities and from the Church.

Of Maritain's many books perhaps the best-known and most significant are Art and Scholasticism (1920), the first of several works on art which constitute one of his major contributions; The Angelic Doctor (1929), a study of the life and thought of St. Thomas; The Degrees of Knowledge (1932), probably his single most important writing and the fullest statement of his philosophical position; Scholasticism and Politics (1940); Existence and the Existent (1947); The Person and the Common Good (1947); Man and the State (1951); and Moral Philosophy (1960). The Peasant of the Garonne (1968) is a sharply critical look at a number of trends in the Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council.

Maritain's work continued to be published by academic and scholarly presses even two decades after his death. Recent works include Integral Humanism, Freedom in the Modern World, and a Letter on Independence (1996) and The Degrees of Knowledge (1995)

Further Reading

The best biography of Jacques Maritain is his wife's memoirs, Raïssa Maritain, We Have Been Friends Together (trans. 1942) and Adventures in Grace (trans. 1945); A short but very useful biographical account appears in Donald and Idella Gallagher, The Achievement of Jacques and Raïssa Maritain: A Bibliography, 1906-1961 (1962); DiJoseph, John Jacques Maritain and the Moral Foundation of Democracy, Rowman 1996. □

Maritain, Jacques

views updated May 29 2018

Maritain, Jacques (1882–1973). French neo-Thomist philosopher. After he and his wife Raïssa became Roman Catholics in 1906, he devoted most of his life to studying and writing about the works of St Thomas Aquinas and their application to life, society, art, and politics. His achievements include his elucidation of the different forms of knowledge (The Degrees of Knowledge, 1932; Eng. 1937), outlining a new form of Christian humanism (True Humanism, 1936; Eng. 1938) and developing a philosophy of art (Art and Scholasticism, 1920; Eng. 1923). He also helped to foster interest in Christian democracy. Shortly before he died, he exemplified that simplicity which he believed to be at the heart of a good life by becoming a Little Brother (see DE FOUCAULD) in Toulouse.

Maritain argued that confusion has arisen because ‘knowledge’ and ‘empirical knowledge’ have been regarded as synonyms: empirical knowledge is one way of knowing amongst many others (including perhaps mysticism); consequently, there is a hierarchy of ways of knowing, each of which arises from, and opens up, a different perspective on what is real. Human beings, as ensouled essences, depend constantly on the creative work of God for their existence, with the ‘gap’ between humans and God to be closed by grace: ‘Grace, while leaving us infinitely distant from pure Act [i.e. God] in the order of being, is still, in the order of spiritual operation and relation to its object, a formal participation in the Divine Nature.’ This is ‘knowledge by connaturality’, and can only be attained by the very act of knowing in this mode.

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