Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Jacques and Raissa Maritain

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Jacques and Raissa Maritain

Article excerpt

JACQUES AND RAISSA MARITAIN by JEAN-LUC BARRÉ Notre Dame University Press, 528 pages, $50

First published ten years ago, this was the first true biography of Jacques Maritain, and it has had no rivals since. There have been memoirs, there have been monographs, there have been studies galore of this or that aspect of his thought, but the man himself has had to be sought in his wife Raissa's lovely wartime memoirs, We Have Been Friends Together and Adventures in Grace. These remain beautifully evocative and over the years have added posthumous friends to those Raïssa wrote of so movingly. It is rare for a wife to treat her husband so reverently, and it was mutual. Early in their soon-to-be-white marriage, Jacques planned to write a life of Raïssa. After her death, he published her diary. As university students, they had accepted the maxim that there is only one tragedy: not to be a saint. Each clearly thought the other had made the mark. Raïssa was the daughter of Russian Jews who had moved to France. Jacques was the grandson of an eminent politician, and when his mother divorced his father, who would commit suicide, she resumed her maiden name. He was raised more or less as a Protestant, but by the time he was at the Sorbonne, he, like Raïssa, had lost any faith he had. The story of their conversion to Catholicism has become legend. What marked their lives was the conviction that the intellectual life and the spiritual life must go hand in hand. Did their political radicalism die with their conversion? Barré provides a good account of Jacques' long association with Action Française but more or less accepts Raïssa's claim that the association was due to spiritual advisers. …

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