Three Reformers. An unsigned review of Three Reformers: Luther, Descartes, Rousseau, by Jacques Maritain
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504 ] Three Reformers An unsigned review of Three Reformers: Luther, Descartes, Rousseau, by Jacques Maritain London: Sheed and Ward, 1928. Pp. 234. The Times Literary Supplement, 1397 (8 Nov 1928) 818 This is the second of M. Maritain’s books to be translated, Messrs. Sheed and Ward having this year brought out a translation of the small Vie d’OraisonbyMr.AlgarThorold.1 TheFrencheditionsofotherofMaritain’s workssuchasRéflexionssurl’Intelligencehavealsobeenreviewed.2 Maritain’s name, at least, is becoming known in England as that of the most popular and influential exponent of neo-Thomism; but there has not been hitherto the matter available to make possible for us any critical scrutiny of his position in contemporary France. The present book, which consists of three essays – on Luther, on Descartes and on Rousseau – makes such a scrutiny desirable. The word “neo-Thomism” may be taken with more than one meaning. It can be applied to the philosophic work of Dominicans and members of other Orders which has gone on at least since the pronouncement of Leo XIII in favour of Aquinas, including the work of such men as Rousselot, Sertillanges, and Garrigou-Lagrange.3 Or it can be applied to the popularization of intellectual Catholicism in the life of contemporary Paris. In the latter aspect, if we consider it only as an aspect, neo-Thomism has some of the appearance of a literary and philosophic mode.4 It represents, beyond its strictly theological import, a reaction against such philosophies as that of Bergson, against Romanticism in literature and against democracy in government. These three reactions, which naturally cooperate, account for M. Maritain’s temporary association with the group of the Action Française, and also for a good deal of the force which neo-Thomism has exercised outside of its strictly Catholic sphere of influence. They have also carried into the fold of the Church, for longer or shorter periods, men whose interests were primarily philosophical, or literary, or political. The influence of neo-Thomism has reached many persons who have probably never read a word of St. Thomas. Of this influence in the wider sense M. Maritain [ 505 Three Reformers is the leading propagator and he occupies a dignified and distinguished position. It is important to recognize that M. Maritain, though a brilliant and accomplished scholar, is more important as a popularizer of ideas than as an original thinker. He owes his place partly to charm of personality and beauty of character, to great enthusiasm, and to a vigorous and vivacious style. His process of development is interesting and significant. He was born of a Protestant family in France, and was a student of modern philosophy before his conversion to Rome. He was a student, even a disciple, of Bergson, a mathematician and a biologist. Before the War he had studied biology in Germany for two years, under Hans Driesch and others.5 Only after his marriage was he converted to Catholicism; and his conversion was due, not to the study of Christian philosophy, but to the influence of that extraordinary personage, the violent and rhapsodical novelist Léon Bloy.6 After this conversion he took up in earnest the study of Thomism, which has brought him to the Chair of Philosophy at the Institut Catholique.7 And he became a friend of Charles Péguy.8 He has written some charming pages about Bloy, and has recently edited a volume of the letters which Bloy wrote to him and to Mme. Maritain, Bloy’s godchildren.9 In estimating Maritain’s place and value we must recognize in his prose a poetic quality, which probably derives from the great influence upon him of Bloy, and perhaps also of Péguy. Maritain is the lyrist of Thomism. The champion of intellectualism, he found his own way to Christianity by a different route; he is an emotional rather than an intellectual Catholic. To say this is not to accuse him of inconsistency or incompetence, or to attempt to undermine his position. It is merely to assign him a place rather different from that of the technical philosopher. His work, too, always stimulates the intellectual appetite, even though it does not always give intellectual satisfaction .Thethreeessaysinthisbookareall,aswouldbeexpected,thoroughgoing denunciations of their subjects. They are a tour de force – though it is quite possible to arrive at right conclusions by a tour de force. Compare the third – that on Rousseau – with Irving Babbitt’s masterly book Rousseau and Romanticism.10 The latter is a patient and detailed and...


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