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JACQUES MARITAIN: A PROPHET FOR OUR TIMEl Sir ROBERT FALCONER M MARITAIN is a many-sided man~ He is a Christian • philosopher, a social reformer, a critic of the principl,es of the arts of painting and poetry, and an expert in the theories and fundamentals of the modern sciences. But all these phases of his activity are aspects of a powerfully' religious personality. My purpose is to speak of him as a prophet of the Christian faith. More and more he is being listened to by those of all shades of' opinion who are in sympathy with a spiritual interpretation of life. I have called him a prophet, for, as an eminent scholar has said, "the final mission of Old Testament prophecy was to liberate tlte eternal truths of're1igion from their temporal national embodiment and disclose their true foundation in the immutable character of Gad and the essential nature of man." Social righteousness is a central theme of the prophets. That M. Maritain is in the true succession of those prophets is evident to anyone who is even casually acquainted with his more popular writings. In fact it is their religious interpretation of problems of the social order that has given them such a wide 'and varied circle of readers. He is, however, in the succession not oniy of the prophets 6f Israel, but also of the prophets and saints of the Christian Church. Like th~ apostle Paul he entered by a marvellous transition into'a' fulness of spiritual light; like 5t Augustine, he passed from a brilliant human~ istic society into a new hope for a city of God; like Pascal, 'who abandoned the sceptical libertines of seventeenth-century Paris, he consecrated his scientific understanding and liter'ary gifts, when the light flooded his soul, to the integration of mankind in a humanism complete and entire. Out of the most brilliant literary circle of Paris he entered, through travail, into a smal,l company intellectually more humble but spiritually more exalted. An indication of his sense of the change, and of the isolation that he then felt, may possibly be 'detected in a sentence written many years later in True Humanism: "The 'philosopher [who seeks to rescue the truths that have been distorted by the modern world] attempts in vain to arm himself lA lecture delivered in a series on Christian Cult'ure at Assumption College, Windsor, November 15, 1942. 133 134 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY with the perfect instruments of purification, and runs the; risk of having everyone against him." In the France into which he was born in 1882, politics were interwoven with both anti-clerical and religious strands. On the right, at varying distance,s from the centre were royalists and moderate republicans who were for the most part professing Catholics; on ,the left, radicals, socialists, differing in degree, and communists, many of whom were anticlerical . The non-Catholic intellectual circles were saturated with the spirit of rationalism. Nowhere else did the power of the written word sway such an influential society. Humanism reigned in all its glory. The centre of this rationalistic humanism was the Sorbonne , and in that ancient body the pulse,of the religious motive had grown very faint. Of the men of letters who spoke to the world from Paris, perhaps the one who received the widest attention was Ernest Renan. He was an exponent of liberalism in religious, social and political thought. Historical cri'ticism, in his view, had shattered Christianity as a system of supernatural beliefs, 'and, as an eminent French scholar says, "he 'radically destroyed what Voltaire had shaken." As Maritain was only ten years old when , R~nan died, he could not have come under his personal influence, but Re.nan's grandson, Ernest Psichari, who had absorbed his ideas, was one of Maritain's most intimate friends in his young manhood. Maritain's own grandfather was Jules Favre, who died in 1880. A man of brilliant gifts, a moderate republican and a c;onvinced democrat, associated [or a short time with Victor Hugo in the middle of the century, he led the parliamentary opposition against Louis Napoleon first as President and then as Emperor...


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