Art and Scholasticism by Jacques Maritain

Appendix IV

Apropos an Article by Montgomery Belgion

The following lines are taken from a letter addressed to Algar Thorold, editor of The Dublin Review (and published in the January -- March, 1931, issue), in answer to an article by Montgomery Belgion ("Art and Mr. Maritain," ibid., October-December, 1930).

. . . Unquestionably Montgomery Belgion's point of view and my own point of view are too different for us to be able to enter into a useful dialogue. My honorable critic has analysed the text of Art and Scholasticism with a patience and a care that I admire; the spirit of this book has unfortunately escaped him. Mr. Belgion seems persuaded that a disciple of the Schoolmen owes it to himself and to them to repeat only what they have already written. My conception is different, and my avowed intention was to go a little further than the mediaeval Schoolmen while relying on their principles. But everything that moves seems to shock Mr. Belgion. Like that Beauty chanted by the poet whose name cited after those of Aristotle, Plotinus, Denis the Areopogite, etc., makes Mr. Belgion so amusingly surprised, and the quotation from whom on p. 49 started plunging my book into the abysses of romanticism,

Il hait le mouvement qui déplace les lignes.

Certainly no one will reproach him with "shifting his ground." As for me, whom many fickle minds accuse of giving too much credit to the Middle Ages, I find it a consolation to be accused by a serious mind of giving too much credit to the moderns.

Would there be any point now in explaining that if Mr. Belgion had formed an accurate idea of what I conceive beauty to be, and what I meant by speaking of the analogical character of beauty, he would not be astonished that in my view there are for beauty, in art as well as in nature, very different ways in which it may be realized? He would understand that the religious values inherent in the tragedies of Aeschylus or in the Passions of Bach are precisely for me integral parts of the beauty peculiar to these works; and also that the intuition which begets aesthetic joy is indeed human and in no way angelic, since it comes to the mind through the medium of the senses.

I should further explain that I did not assert that the fine arts were ordered exclusively to beauty and that the other arts produced nothing beautiful (I even said the contrary, observing, as Mr. Belgion moreover has noted, that this division remains an "accidental" division). I think however that what distinguishes the fine arts from the other arts is not solely the social situation of the artist who practices them, it is above all the fact that in the fine arts the spiritual element introduced by the contact with beauty becomes preponderant. Besides I am persuaded that a growth in consciousness of the nature of art has taken place in the course of modern times (this I tried to show in Frontières de la Poésie). I find it hard not to regard it as a mark of a certain coarseness of manners to harbor the conviction that the destiny of the artist consists, as was the belief in the 17th century, in entertaining the genteel.

If this growth in consciousness was experienced by romanticism in the form of a deification of the artist and the passions, it is not the first time that something true has been conveyed and distorted by a heresy. Moreover, I regard the dispute between classicism and romanticism as outmoded. Shall I confess that despite certain defenders of the eternal principles of classicism, I find the charms of romanticism alluring? May T. S. Eliot pardon me; I have great admiration and affection for him. Besides he knows well that it is not of him that I am thinking here.[*l]

The Frontiers of Poetry