- Passion of Israel: Jacques Maritain, Catholic Conscience and the Holocaust
The French philosopher Jacques Maritain (1882-1973) has come to be considered a dissident Catholic voice in his outspoken criticism of antisemitism. In their "Declaration of Repentance" (1997), France's bishops singled him out as an exception meriting praise. However, other recent assessments have qualified or questioned his position (pp. 65, 144n21). Crane aims to rescue Maritain from such "oversimplifications" by analyzing his response to antisemitism "not simply in contrast to a prevailing blindness within the Christian world . . . but also as indicative of the ambiguous, conflicted, and still unresolved attitudes" during this time (p. 3). This revisionist project echoes Ruth Harris's contemporaneously published Dreyfus (2010). Harris's complex characters include antisemitic Dreyfusards and philosemitic anti-Dreyfusards (several of [End Page 193] whom are essential to understanding Maritain's early intellectual formation), all acting out of idiosyncratic, indeterminate, and hence unpredictable motives. Crane's work fits into this broader historiographical context.
Crane arranges his dramatic narrative into four acts during which, as unfolding events confront Maritain with ever deepening and darkening challenges, he repeatedly revises interpretations of Judaism's salvific role in history. From 1921 to 1937, he first engages the postwar "Jewish Question" from the political right, then obeys the 1926 papal mandate forbidding Catholic involvement in the Action Française, and finally ends up on the political left, opposing Franco during the Spanish Civil War. As world war threatens and arrives in 1938-1941, Maritain takes refuge (along with his wife Raïssa and her sister Vera, both originally Russian Jewish emigres) in New York City; there he writes a book-length attempt to make theological sense of Saint Paul, especially the notion that Christians have been "grafted into" the chosen vine of Israel. During the climactic period of 1942-1944, beginning with the news reports (in June 1942) of one million Jewish deaths, Maritain's thought becomes increasingly apocalyptic as he interprets the massacre using the paradigm "The Passion of Israel." Finally, during the postwar and Cold War era of 1945-1970, Maritain attempts to change the terms of Catholic discourse—a task largely achieved in 1965 at the Second Vatican Council—and to formulate a philosophy of history adequate to what he has witnessed. By assembling Maritain's writings, situating them chronologically within their historical contexts, and subjecting them to trenchant philosophical and theological analyses, Crane has produced an indispensable volume.
More important, however, Crane's intellectual biography also provides an invaluable interpretive key that unifies the philosopher's thought and life. For Maritain seems to have had a profound need to maintain two propositions: first, there is reason in history (history is not absurd); second, God has agency in history (and is ultimately victorious).
Philosophically, history must be rational: this conviction emerged out of Maritain's basic Aristotelian-Thomistic presuppositions. Additionally, although his name doesn't appear explicitly, the ghost of Hegel (and the traumatic French Revolution) haunts Crane's story. Like him, Maritain formulated a dialectical solution that maintained reason in history, a "double law of the degradation and revitalization of the energy of history" (p. 77). Theologically, God must be an agent in history: this conviction emerged out of Maritain's religious beliefs, themselves undergirded by metaphysical presuppositions of continuity between history and eternity. Maritain was not intellectually capable of formulating God's apparent absence from history in Protestant terms—as, for example, Karl Barth did after the First World War (The Epistle to the Romans, [End Page 194] 1919) and Reinhold Niebuhr after the Second (The Irony of American History, 1952); nor were gnostic or pantheistic strains developed during the interwar period (recently elaborated in Benjamin Lazier's God Interrupted ) going to be of any help. Beneath Crane's finely detailed surface narrative flows this powerful subterranean stream revealing an otherwise obscure coherence: as unimaginable horrors continued to unfold, Maritain had a deep need—perhaps a profoundly anxious one—for both reason and God in history.
This need accounts for Maritain's...