Academic journal article Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture

Vatican II and Jacques Maritain: Resources for the Future? Approaching the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Council

Academic journal article Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture

Vatican II and Jacques Maritain: Resources for the Future? Approaching the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Council

Article excerpt

  Let us seek with the desire to find, and find with the desire to seek still more.     ST. AUGUSTINE 

ON THE LAST DAY of the Second Vatican Council, December 8, 1965, as part of the council's final pageantry and symbolic conclusion, messages were addressed by Pope Paul VI and the bishops to several groups representative of those segments of the cultural world that the council most hoped to engage. Jacques Maritain was asked to accept the message for "thinkers and academics" ("les hommes de la pensee et de la science"). (1) Not only did Maritain enjoy the personal admiration and support of Paul, not only had Maritain influenced the council in matters such as religious liberty and human rights, but he represented the kind of echo that the council fathers were hoping to elicit from academics and other intellectuals. At the heart of the council's message was the maxim ascribed to Augustine: "Let us seek with the desire to find, and find with the desire to seek still more." (2) The message combined moments of humility and criticism, admitting that the Church was still searching for her own way forward, but also expressing the need for the intellectual world to open its eyes to the light of faith. "Do not forget that, if thinking is something great, it is first a duty. Woe to him who voluntarily closes his eyes to the light. Thinking is also a responsibility, so woe to those who darken the spirit by the thousand tricks which degrade it, make it proud, deceive and deform it." (3)

That mix of hope and warning belonged to what arguably was best about the council. This article argues that where the council and its reception in the postconciliar Church were the weakest, it was caused by a failure to achieve this studied ambivalence, due to an exaggeration and isolation of the hopes for or the suspicions about our times. (4) To ask what Maritain and the council can contribute today to the intellectual and spiritual conditions for renewal is to remember where they got that mix right and to accept today together with Maritain's legacy this conciliar commission to engage the world with both hope and critique.

Admittedly, there are reasons prima facie for skepticism that the search for a renewal of Church or society could profit by the study either of Vatican II or of Maritain, much less of the two in tandem. Haven't these mines been exhausted long ago? Is there anything we could conceivably "desire to find" in them that would intensify "the desire to seek still more"? Were they even in their heyday perhaps more a source of impoverishment than enrichment? Do we need to choose between the spirit of the council and that Garonne Valley peasant who was so dismissive of novel postconciliar developments? All of these reasons for doubting the potential for renewal to be found in Maritain and the council have less to do with individual doctrines than with fundamental perspectives and broader decisions about the hermeneutics of genuine interpretation. As Maritain himself put it in the The Peasant of the Garonne, the decisive questions here have less to do with "particular clarifications" than with "general approach." (5) Correspondingly, this article deals with some of these necessarily broader issues of our "general approach": first, as regards the council; then, as regards Maritain; both, in the context of the question about our potential today to draw upon these two legacies in order to make a contribution to renewal.

I. The Second Vatican Council

As is widely accepted, we no longer can speak "innocently" of the council; innocent, that is, of our views of the postconciliar development and of our own designs to move beyond it. The attempt to unfold so complex a situation in the short space of an article is a task impossible to fulfill well and yet even more impossible to neglect altogether. One aid is provided in this case by John Henry Cardinal Newman's third note of genuine Church development, the power of assimilation, which Newman positions between isolation on the one hand (the inability to assimilate what had originated elsewhere) and, on the other hand, the loss of identity and unity (being assimilated to what must remain alien to one's genuine identity). …

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