The Schmooze

Jacques Maritain: How Righteous a Gentile?

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.”

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Jacques Maritain: How Righteous a Gentile?

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