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Sacred Dread

Raïssa Maritain, the Allure of Suffering, and the French Catholic Revival (1905-1944)

Brenna Moore

Publication Year: 2012

In early twentieth-century France, a vast network of artists, writers, and religious seekers were drawn to Roman Catholicism’s elaborate panoply of symbols centered on suffering. A preoccupation with affliction dominated the movement now known as the French Catholic revival, or the renouveau catholique—considered a watershed in the history of the modern Catholic Church and the “golden age” of French Catholicism. In Sacred Dread, Brenna Moore examines the life and writings of Raïssa Maritain (1883-1960), one of the few women to contribute to this intellectual movement. Moore explores the reasons why Maritain, a nonpracticing Jew, was attracted to this suffering-centered theological imagination and how she and other advocates transformed it in the wake of the Holocaust. Sacred Dread offers readers a new understanding of a radical Catholic piety that was embraced by a wide range of pre-war intellectuals. By combining late-modern French intellectual and cultural history, Catholic theology, biography, and an analysis of Maritain’s published and unpublished writings, Moore also identifies two major factors in this Catholic revival—gender and Judaism—that have not received adequate attention. Discourses of femininity and Judaism were central to the French Catholic articulation and idealization of suffering. Moore argues that Maritain, as a Jewish convert and one of the few women in this intellectual community, embodied symbolic associations of suffering, holiness, women, and Jews; indeed, for her husband, godfather, confessors, friends, and godchildren, Raïssa Maritain was herself the articulation of this abject ideal. Caught as she was in a web of meaning, Raïssa Maritain was an intellectual whose legacy deepens but also subverts the centrality of femininity and Judaism in French Catholic elaborations of suffering.

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xiv

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pp. 1-24

“Can there be a mystical life without death?”1Writing in 1931, the French Catholic intellectual Raïssa Maritain (1883–1960) named this the “question essentielle” in her private notebooks. She had raised this issue twenty-five...

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Chapter 1: That “Strange Thing, So Unknown to Us—Catholicism”

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pp. 25-58

How did a Jewish atheist come to embrace Catholicism, to the point of converting, and go on to have a major impact on the intellectual and artistic revivals in French Catholicism, a world made up mainly of men? Consider where she started out...

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Chapter 2: “She Who Weeps”

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pp. 59-96

In December 1906, six months after their conversion, Léon Bloy introduced Jacques and Raïssa to his beloved devotion to the Virgin Mary of La Salette.La Salette is the name of the French village where, on September 19, 1846...

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Chapter 3: Building a New Tribe in the Gathering Storm

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pp. 97-122

Nearly every Sunday, from 1923 to 1939, men and women from all walks of life took the forty-five-minute train ride from Paris to attend the famous salon Jacques and Raïssa hosted at their home in Meudon, France...

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Chapter 4: Poetry “in the Storm of Life”

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pp. 123-148

In 1931, at the height of the Meudon years and four years before Histoire d’Abraham went to press, Raïssa Maritain published her first poem, entitled “La couronne d’épines” (The Crown of Thorns), a vivid rendering of Jesus’s fear on the Mount of Olives before his crucifixion. In describing...

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Chapter 5: Holy Suffering, Memory, and the Irredeemable Present

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pp. 149-188

From New York on July 6, 1940, just weeks after Germany started its occupation of France, Raïssa Maritain composed the preface to her famous two-volume memoir, Les grandes amitiés. She was explicit that the unbearable...

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pp. 189-204

Raïssa Maritain witnessed Les grandes amitiés on its way toward becoming a classic: twenty thousand copies were sold in the first three years, forty thousand in the 1950s, fifty thousand in 1960. After she died, new editions...


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pp. 205-250


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pp. 251-276


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pp. 277-294

E-ISBN-13: 9780268086893
E-ISBN-10: 0268086893
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268035297
Print-ISBN-10: 0268035296

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: NA
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 828734994
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Sacred Dread

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Subject Headings

  • Maritain, Raïssa.
  • Suffering -- Religious aspects -- Catholic Church.
  • Catholic Church -- France -- History -- 20th century.
  • Authors, French -- 20th century -- Biography.
  • France -- Intellectual life -- 20th century.
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