This year marks the 50th anniversary of the death of philosopher Jacques Maritain. A leading exponent of contemporary French philosophy and neo-Thomism, his existential and intellectual contribution was extremely rich in many respects, as evidenced by his breadth of interests, activities and research in many fields (academic, political, ecclesiastical) and, above all, his extensive publications .
Some biographical notes
Jacques Maritain was born in Paris on November 18, 1882, and graduated first in philosophy and then in natural sciences. During his university days he met Raïssa Oumansoff (1883-1960), a Jewess of Russian descent, with whom he would share his life. In spite of their great love, they married in 1904, there remains in both of them a restlessness that nothing seems to assuage, even to the point of entertaining the idea of suicide. In Raïssa’s words, “Our perfect understanding, our personal happiness, all the sweetness of the world, all the human art could not make us admit without reason – in whatever sense one takes this expression – the misery, the unhappiness and the wickedness of humanity. Either the justification of the world was possible, and it could not be done without truthful knowledge, or life was not worth a moment’s attention […], the solution would be suicide; suicide before the years had accumulated their dust, before our young forces had worn out.”
The academic setting of the Sorbonne leaves the two young students completely dissatisfied, because of scientistic materialism and the absence of a perspective capable of justifying hope. This view of life aggravates their deep, desperate pessimism. Some fundamental encounters, with Charles Péguy, Henri Bergson and especially Léon Bloy, lead to a decisive turning point, profoundly marking their spiritual path and the decision to convert to Catholicism. Raïssa will gratefully recall that difficult and intense period in her book We Have Been Friends Together..