Page 6, 24th May 1968

24th May 1968
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Page 6, 24th May 1968 — acques Maritain: Bluntness or betrayal?
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acques Maritain: Bluntness or betrayal?

By Fr. PETER HEBBLETHWAITE S.J.

The Peasant of the Garonne by Jacques Maritain (Geoffrey Chapman 42s).

yEARS AGO, Jacques Maritain published a book called "Three Reformers." It was illustrated. It had two contrasting pictures of Luther. In the first, the young Augustinian friar looked relatively lithe and *althy. In the second, painted many years later, he Was obese and gross-looking. Bernanos, for one, was furi°Us with this polemical tctic "Three Reformers" is not o e of his vintage books and my reason for recalling it now is` that the ungenerous, polemical Maritain reappears in the present work. When it ewe out in France there was au affaire Maritain. That is to say a lot of fuss was made. It sdemed that the old gentleman had played himself into the binds of the French right-wing integriste movement (Michel de Saint Pierre and all that).

And there is no more in

temperate, articulate a n d obstinate right-wing than in France: it has a long tradition stoning (at least) with the offaire Dreyfus. To be exploited by them at the age of eightyfive is a most ironical fate for a Man like Maritain. He is a man of honour and his political options have often been courageous.

There is a flash of the younger Maritain when he defines the pure man of the right as one who "detests justice and charity, always preferring, in principle, in the words of Goethe . . injustice M disorder." True. But is he jest to Teilhard de Chardin? I don't mean "does he agree" but has he tried to understand Thlhard's project? And is he jest to the whole tribe of existentialists (a bit dated by the espy) who are bundled out of the way in four dismissive pages? Did he have any idea, down there in his retreat at Toulouse, that these passages would be seized upon and explaited? The old man is

n body's fool.

1 have not seen any signs of ere being another affaire aritain here. Having affaires is most unEnglish. Perhaps the etyle has something to do with it: "the sheep of Panurge and the Ruminators of the Holy Alliance" are neither vivid nor illuminating as insults when they have crossed the Channel.

Another reason for the quiet reception is the obscurity of his targets. Apart from Teilhard, he attacks not particular thinkers but only general C a tegories: "theologians," -"professors," "clerical Freudians" end so on. Test question: How many clerical Freudians do you know?

-Moreover, the book is shapeless and garrulous, with abounding digressions end repetitions. The persona assumed is supposed to justify this anti-method. "The Peasant of the Garonne," the old man who has seen it all, the plain man who boldly calls a spade a spade, has in the end the same degree of monotony that "plain begins to wonder whether they are not a little insecure. L'eloquence continue ennuie.

There is, however, one splendid chapter. It is Chapter 7, "The True New Fire" which is a prolonged, savoured mediation on the constitution On the Church. "The Church is a mystery as profound as the Incarnation" he says, and proceeds to show it. The whole chapter bears the mark of the genuine contemplative and one is reminded again of the importance of his wife Raissa in his thinking — and in his prayer.

But even here, there is no mention of collegiality. And he has an unacknowledged problem which all those who simultaneously denounce modern theology and claim to embrace Vatican II have to solve: if the theology of the sixties is so deplorably bad, what is one to make of a Council which reflects (and it must) the theology of the sixties?

To expect the Holy Spirit to "plug the gap" and save the Council from ruin, seems to betray a lack of any sense of history and of the way language is in history. But that Maritain, Frere Jacques, has always lacked, and it is the chief ground of his quarrel with, and his misunderstanding of, the modern world.




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