Saturday, December 26, 2009

J. Maritain and N. Berdyaev on the Meaning of History

It appears I am on a philosophy of history kick this holiday season. I just read J. Maritain and N. Berdyaev on the Meaning of History and liked it. It is a comparison between Jacques Maritain and Nicolas Berdyaev's Christian philosophy of history and their impact on the Christian views of history and of mankind's future. It was written by Boris. L. Goubman of Tver State University.

Works covered include Amato J. Mounier and Maritain: a French Catholic Understanding of the Modern World. N.Y., 1975, Berdyaev N. Samopoznanie. M., 1991, Berdyaev N. Smysl istoriji. M., 1990, Berdyaev. N. Smysl tvorchestva  // Philosophia svobodi. Smysl tvorchestva. M., 1989, Berdyaev N. O naznacheniji cheloveka // O naznacheniji cheloveka. M., 1993, Maritain J. Humanisme integral. P., 1968, Maritain J. On the Philosophy of History. N.Y., 1957, Maritain J. Le paysan de la Garonne. P., 1966, Maritain J. Le personne et le bien commun // Oeuvres, 1940-1963. P., 1979, Maritain J. Religion et culture // Oeuvres, 1912-1939. P., 1975, Nicolas J.- H. Le Christ - centre et fin de l’histoire // Revue thomiste. 1981.

From the site:

Engaged in a prolific philosophical dialogue, both Jacques Maritain and Nicolas Berdyaev made a significant contribution to the formation of the twentieth century religious vision of history. Despite differences in the philosophical background of their doctrines and differences regarding various metaphysical issues, there is a striking similarity in their understanding of the meaning of history. No less interesting is the coincidence of their interpretation of particular phenomena of modernity and contemporary world. A nonbiased analyst of their doctrines may find an evidence of mutual influence in their treatment of different stages of history as well as in their analysis of the significance of contemporary political and cultural events. The affinity between their visions of history should be considered not only as a result of their mutual involvement in a common cultural and political situation, but also of their desire to find a new philosophical approach to the meaning of history without leaving the platform of religious belief.

Raised in a non-similar cultural and social milieu, Berdyaev and Maritain met at ecumenical discussions in Paris in 1925. After his expulsion from Russia, Berdyaev became quite popular in Europe and had a growing influence in the circles of Christian intellectuals permitting him to create contacts with a number of important Catholic and Protestant thinkers. Berdyaev thought that the inter-confessional discussions in the Boulevard Montparnasse organized by the Russian diaspora provided an opportunity for both Catholics and Protestants to get together and debate significant philosophical issues, creating the climate of mutual respect and recognition. This was a step forward, he believed, to the formation of a Christian philosophical milieu in the “non-religious desert” of early twentieth century Europe (Berdyaev 1991: 232). Despite confessional and philosophical discord regarding some issues, Berdyaev and Maritain felt certain sympathy to each other and found common approaches to some problems of mutual concern.

At the time they met, Maritain was an evident leader in the neo-Thomist movement. Although he pretended to be an orthodox follower of Aquinas, “a paleo-Thomist”, Berdyaev suspected him to be “a modernist under the guise of Thomism”. The Russian philosopher rightly remarked that Maritain was deeply interested in Aristotle and Aquinas, but at the same time his understanding of the world was deeply colored by a mystical gift. This mystical feeling was in reality at the origin of Maritain’s existential interpretation of Thomism and his decision to carry over from Bergson an emphasis on the role of intuition in human knowledge which was otherwise foreign to the Thomist project. It finally made possible a rapprochement between Berdyaev and Maritain. Their contacts were also facilitated by the mutual interest in the current cultural and social situation demanding new philosophical approaches to a variety of issues. Berdyaev thought that Maritain was very sensitive to “the new trends” in the area of cultural and social change. Among his main achievements was an ability to “adjust new problems to Thomism and Thomism to new problems” (Berdyaev 1991:237). Among the philosophical issues that attracted attention of both thinkers was the problem of man’s cultural creativity in history. This common ground was, of course, an essential premise of their prolific cooperation and philosophical dialogue paving the way to a certain common vision of a number of cultural, social, and political problems. Their collaboration in L’Esprit published by Emmanuel Mounier looks symptomatic in this respect.

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