Project Canterbury

Discerning the Lord's Body
The Rationale of a Catholic Democracy

By Frederic Hastings Smyth, Ph.D.
Superior of the Society of the Catholic Commonwealth

Louisville, Kentucky: The Cloister Press, 1946.

Appendix VII. An Instance of Neo-Thomist Misunderstanding

M. Jacques Maritain in a brief but interesting discussion of the corporate social-individual personal problem (The Rights of Man [213/214] and Natural Law, New York, 1943), seems to think that what we have here attributed to a human compromise conditioned by the fact that the world is fallen, is actually and fundamentally the only final solution. He accepts as satisfactory a permanently pluralistic temporal social order, within which there may always be various kinds of relatively autonomous corporate associations. These may be those of the political state (M. Maritain rather significantly omits all mention of a possible economic structure as having a separable corporate existence), the family, certain fraternal lodges, etc. To any or all of these men may give themselves socially for certain specifically delimited corporate ends. They will distribute their various allegiances among these by virtue of certain kinds of selected personal potentialities for development, for action, for further self-realization. But other potentialities, those which are incompatible with the specific corporate allegiance under consideration, will be withheld in order to be bestowed elsewhere. In particular, personal potentialities for relationships with God have to be withheld from all corporate entities constituted within the temporal level of this world. The reason for this is that these can never be properly realized within any temporal order whatever.

M. Maritain admits that in a sense an individual may give himself in complete allegiance to a political state, but only by virtue of certain elements which are in him. No man may give his total allegiance to any human corporate group by virtue of all that is within him. And that which is not so given is reserved to the individual for some other end. His authority for this is cited from St. Thomas Aquinas, Sum. Theol., II-II, 64, 2 and I-II, 21, 4, ad. 3. This seems to be an acceptance of what we have called "corporateness with reservations." M. Maritain knows nothing of the possible incorporation of the political structure into the Incarnational.

Those potentialities of individual persons which cannot be realized within any temporal society (because they have an eternal reference), must be given directly and supratemporally to God. To this latter end, according to M. Maritain, there exists the Church which transcends every human and temporal order. The Church is not of this world (italics are those of M. Maritain). The Church is that transcendent social entity through which alone the deepest and finest elements of personal human life (reserved from all human social entanglements) may be given to God.

This view seems to assert that a full corporate social realization of man can never be entirely and inclusively coincident with individual personal self-realization, even within the Incarnation. On the other hand, the contention of our present argument is that in an unfallen world, and also within a redeemed world, that is, within the social structure of the Divine Community, there would be precisely this perfect and all-inclusive coincidence. In passing it may be [214/215] remarked that this is also the Classic view, namely that in a perfectly ordered world, the individual and the social goods would be completely coincident.

But M. Maritain says that certain elements within individual persons (the deepest and finest) have to by-pass all human (temporal) social structures and must be realized "vertically" (M. Maritain's word), by a kind of off-side route, through the transcendent Church. He seems, therefore, to think that the Church Transcendent can be entered apart from the temporally initiated Offertory. Our contention is, instead, that in an integrated (redeemed) social order, every element of personal individual life may be given unreservedly to the social body of Our Lord's humanity, even as this takes form in the level of this world. Those elements of human nature which cannot he fully realized within the temporal level (and which, according to M. Maritain have to be by-passed to God through a transcendent Church) can in fact be given totally to Our Lord within His Offertory. That all the elements of human personality are not consummated there in a final sense does not mean that they must be withheld or personally reserved. It means, instead, that they do not find their final ends within the level of the Offertory. Nevertheless, it is in and through the Offertory (where they are unreservedly given) that they are carried to their final ends in the transit of the Cross. M. Maritain's solution, on the other hand, would seem logically fearful of giving all that is within man to God through the channel of the Offertory, because the Offertory is temporally initiated. He suggests that at least some things in personal man must be "short-circuited" into the divine level, the very notion which we have here decried.

We contend that everything in man must be ordered within the temporal order of the Incarnation--within the human social body of Our Lord--so that in and through this complete social integration at the temporal level it may pass beyond to the level of an eternal consummation in its Consecration, and that it may then be returned to a fully redeemed personal realization in the Holy Communion. Our view seems equally well in agreement with that of St. Thomas's statement that "man is not ordered to political society by reason of himself as a whole and by reason of all that is within him." This is true in that there is much in every human being which cannot be finally realized within a political (or any other merely human) social structure. Man may not give all that is in him to any non-Sacramental temporal social entity as if it could find there its final end or resting point. That way lies fascism. But in a Sacramentally ordered world, the elements of human nature which cannot find their ends in this world (and what such elements ultimately can there find their ends in any case?) do not need to be withheld from the social whole of the Offertory. On the contrary, they must all first take their integrally ordered places within the structure of the Offertory, because [215/216] by moving through it (not "vertically" past it) they enter into the transit of the Cross and are then realized in an ultimate sense within the level of Our Lord's divine nature. Only in and through the Offertory does time pass into eternity.

M. Maritain's solution, by accepting as an unavoidable fact that certain elements of human nature can never be integrated within any temporal structure (i.e. logically, therefore, that these must be withheld even from the Offertory) and must always be by-passed "vertically" through a transcendent Church to God, cuts the ground from under Our Lord's full Incarnational and Sacramental action. In such a case, the deepest elements of the human person would always be withheld from the Offertory and then lifted up to God (through prayer and private sclf-oblation?) into the transcendent Church, quite apart from Our Lord's Memorial.

In the interpretation of M. Maritain, the possibility of a total Sacramental integration of human life in its entirety is gravely compromised. For if, on the one hand, there are (as he suggests) certain things of Caesar which may properly be given to various pluralistic, relatively autonomous temporal social structures persisting outside the Offertory, then these elements would seem by this fact to be lost to the Offertory. They would have already found another and a final end within this world! On the other hand, if there are deeper individual elements of personal life which one might say are "too good" (i.e. "too eternal") to be given even within the temporally initiated Offertory itself, and which need therefore to be by-passed to God, then this leaves the road open to all the evils of a permanently dualistic view of the redemption of human life. The temporal order is then not to be redeemed integrally as a basis for its eternal consummation. It is, rather, to be largely left behind to its temporal fate. It is merely the temporal framework within which the eternal elements of the human person get their "practice" for eternal existence. The highest potentialities of man are to be realized, not through an Incarnational redemption of this world, but by an extrication from this world into eternity. From Zoroaster we learn of a dualism of light and darkness; from the Gnostic East we have a dualism of matter and spirit. It would seem that M. Maritain would now present us with a new dualism, that of the horizontal and the vertical. On this point we here take sharp issue with M. Maritain. His view seems colored with that false next-worldliness which characterizes the contemporary Roman Communion. His is a highly non-liturgical solution of the problem.

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