Jean-Luc Barre’s biography of Jacques and Raïssa Maritain presents a lyrical account of two of the most significant Catholic intellectuals of the twentieth century. From the time the two first met as students in Paris, one could not imagine a more implausible couple. Jacques was a scion of an old French family (one of his ancestors was an early companion of Ignatius of Loyola), while Raïssa was a Russian Jew. Their conversion to Catholicism (1906) was facilitated by Léon Bloy, whose approach to the faith, as Barre puts it, was one “of sanctity, of suffering, of trials, of illuminations.”
Jacques & Raïssa Maritain
Beggars for Heaven
University of Notre Dame Press, $50, 536 pp.
Indeed, it was not easy to be a Catholic intellectual in prewar France. The French intellectual elite was deeply skeptical, if not hostile, to people of faith, and the church was suspicious of thinkers who sympathized with modern ideas. When the Maritains sought to bring writers like Jean Cocteau and Julien Green (both homosexual) into the church, they were accused of chasing after “effeminate souls.” They did not receive much support from their Dominican spiritual advisors, first the old monarchist Humbert Clerissac, and next Reginald Garrigou-LaGrange, who later would be Maritan’s antagonist in Rome over the former’...