|By James Arraj. 182pp. $11.95. Printed copies are available. Copyright 1993 James Arraj.
Jacques, Raissa and Vera
The twentieth century has seen a remarkable renewal of interest in Christian mysticism. In its first decades the accent was on the rediscovery and development of a genuine theology of contemplation, while its closing years are seeing a widespread interest in the practice of contemplative prayer.
But much remains to be done. Theology and practice have not always gone hand in hand, to the impoverishment of both. Fine theoretical works appeared in the first half of the century, but they were often read in an atmosphere that said that any personal interest in mysticism was dangerous. Today, the situation has swung in the other direction. The enthusiastic practical interest in all things mystical is too often blind to what the theology and history of mysticism can tell it. What is needed is a bridge between theory and practice, theology and spirituality, and Jacques Maritain can help us construct it. In his work on mysticism we can find a deep grasp of the philosophical and theological foundations of mysticism United with a profound interest in the practice of the life of prayer which expressed itself most visibly in the contemplative vocation of his wife Raissa.
Although I am going to concentrate on Maritain's philosophical and theological treatment of contemplation, it cannot be done at the expense of separating it from the living context out of which it emerged and the ultimate goal it served without perpetuating the very split between theory and practice that we would like to heal.
In an essay entitled, "No Knowledge without Intuition" Jacques Maritain outlines the program that I would like to follow here. Writing of philosophical contemplation he says:
"Let us remark immediately that this philosophical contemplation has as neighbors two other sorts of contemplation - the contemplation proper to supernatural mysticism and the contemplation proper to natural mysticism - from which it is necessary to carefully distinguish it. These three types of contemplation are able, in fact, among this or that person to give rise to different mixtures. Of themselves and by essence they are totally different ."
In Chapter I we will look at Maritain's philosophical contemplation, and how finely interwoven were his life and writings. Chapter 11 examines supernatural or mystical contemplation which is rooted in faith and is a knowledge ledge that comes through love. Chapter III examines what,,, Maritain called natural mysticism and which he felt held great promise for Christian dialogue with other religions, In Chapter IV we will see how Maritain integrates these different kinds of contemplation and situate his metaphysical and mystical thought in the framework of his time and the history of Thomism. Finally, in Chapter V we will look at what Maritain called the spiritual unconscious, the matrix in which these contemplations live, an an idea that could open the door to a deeper understand ing of all of them.
I had looked forward to writing this book and to having the
opportunity to immerse myself in Maritain's metaphysical and mystical writings which had
been my companions for many years. But as I followed the development of his thought I
noticed certain critical turning points which led me in a direction I had not anticipated.
Maritain had worked on until his death at 90 years of age, and he said he was trying to
open up new paths for those who would come after him. It was one of those paths that I
came upon, one he called the spiritual unconscious, and which you will see emerge in the
course of this book and hopefully gain some sense of the powerful possibilities it
"Mysticism, Metaphysics and Maritain is a major contribution to Maritain scholarship... It offers a penetrating examination of the mystical experience, both natural and supernatural, not to mention a brilliant and original discussion of Maritain's thought on mysticism and contemplation. This is a "must-have" book for Maritain scholars and those interested in contemplative spirituality." American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly
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