Jacques Maritain

From Academic Kids

Jacques Maritain (November 18, 1882April 28, 1973) was a French Catholic philosopher. He was a convert to Catholicism and the author of more than 60 books. He is responsible for reviving St. Thomas Aquinas for modern times. Pope Paul VI, a long time friend and mentor of Maritain, presented his “Message to Men of Thought and of Science” at the close of Vatican II to Maritain.



Maritain was born in Paris, the son of Paul Maritain who was a lawyer and his wife Geneviève Favre, the daughter of Jules Favre and was reared in a liberal Protestant milieu. He was sent to the school, Lycée Henri IV. Later, he attended the Sorbonne, studying the natural sciences; chemistry, biology and physics.

At the Sorbonne, he met Raïssa Oumansoff a Russian Jewish émigré. They married in 1904. Furthermore, she was his intellectual partner who participated with his search for truth.

Soon, he became disenchanted with scientism at the Sorbonne for it could not, for him, address the larger existential issues of life. At the urging of Charles Peguy, Jacques and Raïssa attended the lectures of Henri Bergson at the Collège de France. Along with his deconstructionism of scientism, Bergson instilled in them “the sense of the absolute”. Then, through and under the influence of Léon Bloy, they converted to the Roman Catholic faith in 1906.

The Maritains then moved to Heidelberg in the fall of 1907, where Jacques studied biology under Hans Driesch. Hans Driesch’s theory of neo-vitalism attracted Jacques because of its affinity with Henri Bergson. During this time, Raïssa fell ill and during her convalescence, their spiritual advisor, a Dominican friar named Fr. Humbert Clérissac, introduced her to the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas. So enthused, she, in turn, exhorted her husband to examine the saint’s writings. In Thomas, he found a number of insights and ideas that he had believed all along, he wrote:

”Thenceforth, in affirming to myself, without chicanery or dimunition, the authentic value of the reality of our human instruments of knowledge, I was already a Thomist without knowing it…When several months later I came to the Summa Theologica, I would construct no impediment to its luminous flood.”

From the Angelic Doctor (the nickname of St. Aquinas), he was led to “The Philosopher” as St. Thomas christened him, Aristotle. Still later to further his intellectual development, he read the neo-scholastics.

Beginning in 1912, Maritain taught at the Collège Stanislas and later moved to the Institut Catholique de Paris. For the 1916–1917 academic year, he taught at the Petit Séminaire de Versailles. In 1933, he gave his first lectures in North America in Toronto at the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies. He also taught at Columbia University; at the Committee on Social Thought, University of Chicago; at the University of Notre Dame, and at Princeton University.

From 1945 to 1948, he was the French ambassador to the Vatican. Afterwards, he returned to Princeton University where he achieved the “Elysian status” (as he puts it) as a professor emeritus in 1956.

From 1961, Maritain lived with the Little Brothers of Jesus in Toulouse, France. He long had an influence in the order since its foundation in 1933 and eventually became a Little Brother in 1970.


The foundation of Maritain’s thought is Aristotle and St. Thomas. He is eclectic in his use of them both. Maritain’s philosophy is one based, like his champions, on evidence of being first by the senses and second that which is acquired by an understanding of first principles (metaphysics). Fundamentally, Maritain is a metaphysician who defended philosophy as a science against those who would degrade it and promoted philosophy as the Queen of sciences that has the duty to correct errors of the secondary hence materialistic sciences.

In 1910, Jacques Maritain’s completed his first contribution to modern philosophy, a 28 page article titled, “Reason and Modern Science” published in Revue de Philosophie, (June issue). In it, he warned that science was becoming a divinity and it methodology usurping the role of reason and philosophy. Science was supplanting the humanities in importance.

In 1917, a committee of French bishops commissioned Jacques to write a series of textbooks to be used in Catholic colleges and seminaries. He wrote and completed only one of these projects titled Elements de Philosophie (Introduction of Philosophy) in 1920. It has been a standard text ever since in many Catholic seminaries. He wrote in his introduction:

"If the philosophy of Aristotle, as revived and enriched by St. Thomas and his school, may rightly be called the Christian philosophy, both because the church is never weary of putting it forward as the only true philosophy and because it harmonizes perfectly with the truths of faith, nevertheless it is not proposed here for the reader's acceptance because it is Christian, but because it is demonstrably true. This agreement between a philosophic system founded by a pagan and the dogmas of revelation is no doubt an external sign, an extra-philosophic guarantee of its truth; but from its own rational evidence, that it derives its authority as a philosophy".

Up to and during WWII, Jacques Maritain protested the policies of the Vichy government while teaching at the Pontifical Institute for Medieval Studies in Canada. "Moving to New York, Maritain became deeply involved in rescue activities, seeking to bring persecuted and threatened academics, many of them Jews, to America. He was instrumental in founding the Ecole Libre des Hautes Etudes, a kind of university in exile that was, at the same time, the center of Guallist resistance in the United States". (1) After the war, he tried unsuccessfully to have the Pope speak on the issue of anti-semitism and the evils of the Holocaust.

His papers are held by the University of Notre Dame which established The Jacques Maritain Center in 1957. The purpose of the center is to encourage study and research of Maritain’s thought and expand upon them. It is also absorbed in translating and editing his writings.


  • ”Vae mihi si non Thomistizavero”[Woe to me if I do not Thomistize].
  • ”Je n’adore que Dieu” [I adore only God].


  • Catholic Encyclopaedia Vol XVI Supplement 1967–1974, by J.W. Evans
  • ”Forward” in Introduction to Philosophy, by Stephen J. Vicchio.
  • "The Ambassador & The Pope; Pius XII, Jacques Maritain & the Jews", Michael R. Marrus, Commonweal, Oct. 22, 2004
  • Maritain en notre temps, H. Bars, Paris, 1959.
  • Jacques Maritain: The Man and His Achievement, J. W. Evans, ed., NY, 1963.
  • The Philosophy of Jacques Maritain, C. A. Fecher, Westminister, MD, 1963.
  • The Achievement of Jacques and Raïssa Maritain: A Bibliography, 1906–1961, D. and I. Gallagher, NY, 1962.
  • Jacques Maritain, G. B. Phelan, NY, 1937.

Writings of Maritain

(His most important and influential works.)
  • The Degrees of Knowledge,
  • Integral Humanism,
  • A Preface to Metaphysics,
  • Education at the Crossroads,
  • The Range of Reason,
  • The Person and the Common Good,
  • Approaches to God,
  • Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry,
  • Moral Philosophy,
  • Introduction to Philosophy, Christian Classics, Inc., Westminster, MD, 1st. 1930, 1991.
  • Existence and the Existent, An Essay on Christian Existentialism, trans. by Lewis Galantiere and Gerald B. Phelan, Image Books division of Doubleday & Co., Inc., Garden City, NY, 1948, Image book, 1956.
  • Man and The State, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, ILL, 1951.
  • The Peasant of the Garonne, An Old Layman Questions Himself about the Present Time, trans. Michael Cuddihy and Elizabeth Hughes, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, NY, 1968.
  • God and the Permission of Evil, trans. Joseph W. Evans, The Bruce Publishing Company, Milwaukee, WI, 1966.

See also

External links


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