The Arty Semite

Jacques Maritain: How Righteous a Gentile?

By Benjamin Ivry

  • Print
  • Share Share

For many years, the influential philosopher Jacques Maritain has been seen as a rare philosemite among the French Catholics of his day (Maritain died at age 90 in 1973). Robert Royal’s 1993 study, “Jacques Maritain and the Jews” (University of Notre Dame Press) is an account of Maritain’s friendship with the painter Marc Chagall and other Jews, not least of whom was Maritain’s own Jewish-born wife Raïssa, who converted to Catholicism in 1906, as did the Protestant-born Maritain himself.

Now a nuanced new book by Richard Francis Crane, a Professor of History at Greensboro College, “Passion of Israel: Jacques Maritain, Catholic Conscience, and the Holocaust” (University of Scranton Press) looks likely to revise estimations of Maritain’s love for the Jews.

Crane plausibly describes Maritain’s “ambivalent philosemitism based on Jewish stereotypes both positive and negative.” In 1921’s “On the Jewish Question,” Maritain declared that people “should expect from the Jews something other than a real attachment to the common good of western, and Christian, civilization.” He later noted the “evident necessity of a struggle for public safety against secret Jewish-Masonic societies and against cosmopolitan finance.”

The bright side, for Maritain, was how many Jews had lately converted to Catholicism, a reason for optimism according to this theologian, whose main preoccupation was “those depraved Jews who, along with apostate Christians, are leading the anti-Christian Revolution.” Maritain eventually broke with the right-wing Action française movement, earning the ire of such reactionary Catholics as the writer Georges Bernanos, who claimed that Maritain’s views were only shared with a “tiny number of esthetes and epileptic Jews.”

By 1936 Maritain was scorning what he called the “absurd Hitlerian medievalist parody” of antisemitism, yet by doing so, observes Crane, he revises a “series of anti-Jewish stereotypes even as he repudiated antisemitism itself.” Maritain’s “fidelity to basic theological presuppositions bonded his philosemitism in fundamentally anti-Judaic stereotypes,” adds Crane.

In 1938, the French Fascist writer Lucien Rebatet wrote: “Maritain is married to a Jewess. He has Jew-ified his life, and his doctrine, his theology, are falsified like the passport of a Jewish spy.” At a time when Jews had few friends, Maritain declared in 1941 that the “mass murder of Jewish children is an attempt to kill the Christ Child.” As Crane underlines, even though Maritain’s “view of Jewish identity renders it an instrument of Christian history, it nevertheless avoids a denigration of Jewishness.” Which in those days was something genuinely remarkable — almost a miracle.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Jacques Maritain, Richard Francis Crane, Righteous Gentiles

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.