Jacques Maritain Center : Readings

Jacques Maritain's Notebooks

Chapter Seven: Love and Friendship

(A Marginal Note to Raissa's Journal)

[Friends whom I specially trust advised me to replace one of my footnotes, in the private edition of the Journal de Raissa printed in 1962, by a much longer and much more detailed note which they wished to see placed as an Appendix to this Journal, in the trade edition of the latter. I allowed myself to be persuaded, but I did not wish to place my new note as an Appendix to the Journal de Raissa, -- it is quite out of the question to weigh down with my explanations, my commentaries and my ideas such a pure text, whose value as direct and living testimony must be respected above all. The long note in question has perhaps some interest in itself I publish it therefore as a chapter of these Notebooks. If it contains something good, it is right to attribute it to what, in the Journal de Raissa, nourished my reflection. If it contains anything controvertible, and even (I would be very sorry about that) erroneous, it must be attributed to me alone.]

In the following pages a first part has for its aim to comment on and to develop certain things which Raissa has said very clearly but very briefly. In a second and a third part I would like to propose my own views on some problems which today preoccupy many minds. I am speaking here, let it be well understood, neither as a philosopher (which I am), nor as a theologian (which I am not). I am merely proposing some reflections drawn from the experience of an old man who has seen many things, and who remembers what Aristotle said of old men whose judgments it is fitting to take into consideration, even if they cannot give the reasons for them (or if they give them wrongly). Raissa had the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. I hope that some of the privileges of the wisdom of great age will be granted to the thoughts expressed here. I have naturally tried to put my reflections into a certain logical order, but this is only an old habit which should not take anyone in. It belongs to others to treat these questions in a systematic form and in the appropriate technical terms.


A necessary distinction within disinterested love{1}

I am referring here above all to page 149 of the Journal{2} (20th of April 1924), I am referring also to other connected passages in which one finds a more or less marked echo of what is said on this page. Raissa distinguishes within disinterested love, or love-for-the-good-itself-of-the-beloved (which St. Thomas calls amor amicitiae{3} as opposed to amor concupiscentiae, that is to say, to love-for-the-good-of-the-subject, or love of covetousness), two kinds of love which she calls, in following quite simply the common and obvious acceptation of current language, love and friendship; but she gives to this common acceptation of current language a rigor and a depth which go beyond current language. “The essence of love is in the communication of oneself, with fulness of joy and delight in the possession of the beloved. The essence of friendship is in desire for the good of one's friend, strong enough to sacrifice oneself for him. God loves us with friendship by providing for all our necessities and by dying for us on the Cross.{4} God loves us with love by making us participate in His nature by grace -- by making the sanctified soul His dwelling.”

The words which are the richest in meaning for human life are always difficult to encompass; they run the risk either of lessening or of surpassing thought. Let us try therefore to enter into a few precisions, be it at the price of a bit of heaviness. All disinterested love is gift of self. But this itself is understood in two typically different manners; there is on the one hand the love of benevolence or of devotion, in which the lover gives himself to the beloved by giving to the beloved his goods or that which he has -- and this more or less completely up to that perfect love of devotion in which one gives all that one has, all one's goods, and one's life itself. This is friendship; and in this friendship the friend, in giving that which he has, no doubt also gives, in a certain manner, at the same stroke that which he is, his own person or subjectivity itself (since what he is has need of what he has, and since he can go as far as to give his life itself) -- he no doubt gives himself, and really, but covertly and indirectly, through something else, in other words through the means and the intermediary of the gifts which hide his gift of himself under signs and more or less parcel it out, and which permit him to more or less reserve his own self as long as he has not given absolutely all that he has.

In love on the contrary, love of truly human dimensions, in which the spirit is engaged -- I say in love envisaged under its extreme and entirely absolute form (for under its ordinary form the process of which I am speaking is indeed there, but only sketched) -- the person or subjectivity gives himself directly, openly or nakedly, without hiding himself under the forms of any other gift less absolutely total, he gives himself wholly from the very first in giving or communicating to the beloved, in ecstasizing in him that which he is. It is the very person of the lover which is the Gift, simple, unique and without any possible reserve, made to the beloved. This is why love, especially in the extreme sense in which we are taking it here, is gift-of-self absolutely and pre-eminently.

The difference between love and friendship is not necessarily a difference in the intensity or the greatness of disinterested love. Such or such friendship can be as intense as, or more intense than, such or such love. The difference between love and friendship is a difference in the intrinsic quality of disinterested love or the ontological level at which it constitutes itself in the soul, in other words, in the power which it has of alienating the soul from itself. In God friendship and love are only two aspects of one and the same infinitely perfect disinterested love, which is the transcendent God Himself -- two aspects which we distinguish according to our human mode of conceiving and by analogy with that which appears in human disinterested love, all of whose qualities and perfections are supereminently contained in their uncreated Exemplar.

In the creature (and to consider things in the natural order) friendship and love between two human beings are two different kinds of disinterested love (and, in love -- because on this wholly human plane where the differences of the sexes enter into play, the flesh is also interested -- the love of covetousness is joined to disinterested love).

The various kinds of human love

I specified a moment ago that in speaking of love I was speaking of love in which the spirit is engaged, love on a level with man and human dignity -- and that I was speaking of it under its extreme and entirely absolute form.

For the fact is that, taking the word in the common acceptation of current language, according as it distinguishes love and friendship, there is in man a kind of love which is of a merely animal and not properly human order -- the love of which it is a question in many masculine conversations and in erotic literature, love exclusively carnal or connoting exclusively the pleasure of the senses. This kind of love relates solely to the love of covetousness, and has nothing to do with disinterested love. We shall not consider it here.

Love of the properly human order begins when to the attraction of the senses there is joined, at least in outline, that gift of the person himself, direct and open, of which we were speaking above, and which proceeds from disinterested love. One can say that the moment this threshold is crossed, and from the very fact of the gift through which the lover gives himself to the beloved, the meaning of the word “to exist” splits into two: the beloved alone exists fully and absolutely for the lover, the existence of all the rest being struck with a kind of invalidity.

This love of the properly human order includes in itself many different forms, which there is no reason to analyze here. Let us be content with three typical cases.

There is first that which can be called love-passion, which can also be called, in its most sublimated form, romantic love. This love plays a central role in human life, it is a mirage in which a nostalgia inherent in the human being is going to be caught, it has its initials intertwined on all the trees of the world. It lives on a lie and an illusion; it is the mirage or the semblance of entirely true love (“amour fou” -- “mad, boundless love”). It believes itself eternal and it is ephemeral. The lover gives himself to his beloved (and she gives herself to him), true enough, but in imagination or in dream more than in reality; it is the love of covetousness or of carnal desire which occupies here (often without one knowing it) the essential and preponderant place; the total gift of oneself that with the utmost sincerity one imagines oneself to have made is not real but dreamed, and as a matter of fact a disguise by which our spirit covers with a royal adornment the desire of the senses, and which the species uses for its own ends in deceiving the individual. It is good for the human being to pass through this exultation, which evokes the nuptial songs and the nuptial dances of the birds -- provided one does not claim to remain in it, for a man is not a bird.

There is in the second place authentic love, into which it is rare (though not impossible) to emerge at once. Man ordinarily attains to it only after a certain maturation in the experience of life and in suffering. It is the love in which one really gives to the other, not only what he has, but what he is (his person itself). Under the ordinary form of this authentic love (let us call it quite simply bel amour) such a gift is no doubt made, but as begun or outlined (always in outline, at all degrees of more and less), not as made to the very end.

Finally, when such a gift is made to the very end, one has, in the third place, authentic love under its extreme or entirely absolute form. This love in which the very person of each gives itself to the other in all truth and reality is, in the order of the ontological perfections of nature, the summit of love between Man and Woman. Then the lover truly gives himself to his beloved, and she truly gives herself to him, as to his or her Whole, in other words, ecstasizes in her or in him, makes himself or herself -- although remaining ontologically a person -- a part which no longer exists except through and in this Whole which is his or her Whole. This extreme love is amour fou (mad, boundless love); and such a name properly befits it, because it accomplishes (in the special order or, if you will, in the magic and spiritual “superexistence” of love) precisely that which is in itself impossible and insane in the order of mere existence or simply of being, in which each person continues to be a whole and cannot become mere part of another whole. This is the proper paradox of love: it requires on the one hand the ontologically indestructible duality of persons, and on the other hand it demands, and in its own way accomplishes the unbroken unity, the actually consummated unity of these same persons (“in a single spirit and love,” St. John of the Cross will say apropos of supernatural mystical union, but this is already true, on an altogether different plane and in an analogical sense, of the natural union between man and woman{5} in mad, boundless love). On the plane which we are considering just now, and which is the earthly plane, mad, boundless love (human), unlike mad, boundless love for God, relates to the merely natural order; moreover, in this order itself, it is, as I noted above, an ontological perfection of nature -- available from the moral point of view to the best and to the worst. Hence its splendor and its ambiguity. Its object is a created object. He who loves with mad, boundless love gives himself totally; the object of his love is a limited, fragile, and mortal creature. It would be to ignore the grandeurs of our nature to believe that this creature loved with mad, boundless love necessarily becomes an idol for the lover, and is necessarily loved by him more than God. But it would be to ignore the miseries of our nature to believe that she cannot be loved more than God by him who loves her with mad, boundless love, and cannot become an idol for him. Human mad, boundless love can radiate within a life morally upright and submissive to the order of charity.{6} It can likewise radiate (and not only outside marriage, but in the state of marriage also) within a life of sin.

Three remarks now: 1) Mad, boundless love always implies and presupposes (not necessarily as prior in time, but as necessarily prior in being) the love of devotion or friendship, while going far beyond it. -- 2) It goes beyond friendship because it constitutes itself at a more profound -- absolutely radical -- level in the soul, from the very fact that it is the direct, open, naked, gift of the person himself in his entirety, making himself one in spirit with the other. But by virtue of the very nature of the human being, who is flesh and spirit, it implies in itself{7} union in the flesh also, at least in desire, along with carnal joy, the pre-eminent pleasure of the senses, which is linked with it. A human person can give himself to another, or ecstasize in another, to the point of making of the latter his Whole, only if he gives to the other or is ready to give to the other his body while giving to her his soul. -- 3) Nevertheless mad, boundless love is infinitely more than the desire of the senses. It is by essence, primordially and principally, disinterested love; the love of covetousness (for the advantage or the joy of the loving subject himself, not of the thing loved) is secondary in it, entirely subordinated to disinterested love. The person is above all and principally spirit, and it is therefore as spirit that he gives himself above all and principally in giving himself in his entirety. In the same way as the spirit is elevated above the flesh, mad, boundless love, authentic love under its extreme form, is elevated above love-passion.

The love of charity and uncreated Love

In distinguishing love and friendship, it was above all of mad, boundless love, of love under its extreme form, that Raissa was thinking in the notes of what I have called her Journal. And, further more, it was in an analogical and transcendent sense that she took this word, for she was thinking above all not of the human mad, boundless love on which I have just insisted, but of the love of God for man (uncreated Love) and of the love of man for God (love of charity). In the love of charity, whose object is the Spirit subsisting through Himself in His transcendent infinity, the inscrutable deity itself, the three uncreated Persons{8} -- and which is a gift of grace and belongs to the supernatural order -- friendship and love (mad, boundless love) are clearly not two distinct species, they are two different degrees (not necessarily in intensity, but as to the power of alienating the soul from itself) -- and, at least in a certain sense, inseparable -- of one and the same disinterested love. Does not mad, boundless love still imply here, though in an analogical sense, a certain love of covetousness, this time of the wholly spiritual order, the desire of possessing the Beloved and of becoming intoxicated with Him, and of feeling oneself loved by Him? Yes, doubtless: this love requires in itself “fulness of joy and delight in the possession of the beloved.” But then not only is the desire, having God for its object, absolutely pure of any carnal element; and not only is it subordinated to disinterested love; but further, it has ceased and must completely cease to have for its justification (as in the love of covetousness properly so called) the good of the subject himself; it is not for itself, it is for God first loved that the soul wishes God to itself or desires to possess Him, and the more this is so the more this desire is bewildered. And here on earth it cannot be completely accomplished. And it will have to traverse perhaps terrifying nights, and instead of joy and of delight it is perhaps agony and death which will be offered to it, precisely because disinterested love requires total and absolute sovereignty, and relentlessly breaks one after another all the roots which the desire to possess the beloved can have in the lover insofar as he naturally loves himself.

As to the love of God for man, I have already remarked that in God friendship and love are only two aspects, distinguished according to our human mode of understanding, of a single love, perfectly one, which is God Himself. The notes which characterize in us what I call mad, boundless love are found again in God in a supereminent manner, infinitely purified and analogically transposed according to what is compatible with divine transcendence.

In God there is absolutely no love of covetousness, because God has absolutely no need of anything. There is only disinterested love: friendship certainly, and infinitely generous, but also mad, boundless love, in which He gives Himself to a whole (the created person) other than Himself, whom He has rendered through His grace capable of receiving Him, and of loving Him in return -- so that the created person, in this free boundless gift by which he gives himself entirely in return, can become a single spirit and love with the Love by which God eternally loves Himself, and thus reverberate to Him, so to speak, the Joy by which He eternally exults in Himself.

And if God requests our love in return for His love, it is purely by virtue of disinterested love itself: not because He had need of being loved by us, but because He loves us. It is for us, not for Himself, says St. Thomas Aquinas, that God seeks His glory.{9} It is for us, not for Himself, that He asks that we give Him our heart. Praebe mihi cor tuum [Give me your heart].{10} “It astonishes me to think of the value the Lord attaches to our poor love. One would really think that possessing our hearts is the end He proposed to Himself in creating us; and He seriously pursues what He has proposed to attain: 'It's no laughing matter that I have loved thee!' Is there not in this, as it were, a metaphysical necessity? Uncreated love, in pouring itself out on creatures, remains love and consequently is not satisfied unless another expansion responds to its expansion and makes union possible.”{11}

Human mad, boundless love and mad, boundless love for God

Let us return now to human love. We have said that in us mad, boundless love is there, like Venus emerging from the sea, when the person gives himself, openly or nakedly, in his entirety to another person as to his Whole, in which he ecstasizes and of which he makes himself a part. The Journal of Raissa brings to light in this connection a central truth on which I must insist, in the language which I am using here. A warning however, which I indicate once and for all: a condition is presupposed in the following remarks, namely, that we are considering in the human being not what can spring up in him momentarily from time to time -- or, if this is lasting, suffers obstacles and contradictions -- but what is for him a habitual state, a way of life in which he can constantly progress.

Well, account being taken of what I have just mentioned, it is necessary to say that it is possible for a man or a woman who has for her or him whom he or she loves a perfect and complete friendship (love of devotion), and an authentic love in its ordinary form, to have at the same time mad, boundless love for God, but that a human being cannot give himself at one and the same time to the very end, in an absolute manner, to two objects as each constituting his Whole; in other words if a soul has entered into mad, boundless love for God, then it is necessary for it to renounce human mad, boundless love -- whether, as in the religious state, it completely renounces the flesh -- or, whether, remaining in the bonds of marriage it does not renounce this unique and sacred love in which man and woman are two in a single flesh, but renounces that which, in the order of the ontological perfections of nature, is the summit and the perfection of conjugal love, namely, mad, boundless love. Because disinterested love of such a kind that the Beloved is truly and really given the Whole of the Lover, has to be unique in the soul, and if such a love (mad, boundless love) is given to God, it has to be given only to Him.{12}

The human soul can have only a single Bridegroom, if we understand this word of the supreme nuptials in which mad, boundless love reigns as master. This is why, if it is God who is this Bridegroom, His love is jealous. It is necessary that God, it is necessary that Jesus be the Only Beloved, the Only One loved with mad, boundless love. “How can I prove my love to Him? -- By giving myself to Him from the bottom of my heart, in such a way that no other love ever dwells in it. . . . God is jealous of that particular gift of the heart which is love, and which is total and exclusive in its nature.”{13}


Love and friendship in charity

I said above that in the love of charity, friendship and love (mad, boundless love) are two different degrees (not necessarily in intensity, but as to the power of alienating the soul from itself) -- and, at least in a certain sense, inseparable -- of one and the same disinterested love. Let us try to explain our thought on this point. By charity you love God “with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind.”{14} It is evident that such a love does not only comprise friendship, in which, as I said at the outset, friend gives himself to friend, really but covertly and indirectly, through something else, in other words through the means and the intermediary of the goods which he gives and which hide his gift of himself under signs and more or less parcel it out as long as he has not given absolutely all that he has; love of charity also comprises mad, boundless love, in which the lover gives his person itself and his subjectivity in its entirety, the very depth of his being, directly, openly or nakedly, without any possible reserve, while ecstasizing in the beloved as in his Whole. Mad, boundless love in which God is loved not only as Friend, but as Bridegroom. However, here an important distinction must be made. With regard to God there is not possible, as there is with human beings, any mere friendship which would exclude mad, boundless love. But it is possible for a love to exist with regard to God which appears more as friendship than as mad, boundless love, a friendship in which mad, boundless love is also present, but buried in it, and not manifested except at times. More precisely it is possible that as to the ordinary regime of life charity may exist in a soul especially to the degree of friendship -- then the degree of mad, boundless love will also exist in it, either in such a way that, perhaps by reason of a kind of reverential fear, it is not or is scarcely conscious, or in such a way that it reveals itself, so to speak, by flashes only at certain moments, even if at the last instant of life. In this case, in order to simplify language, we shall say that this soul lives under the predominant regime of friendship (implicitly including mad, boundless love). It is under this regime at least that every authentically Christian soul, every soul which has received and which keeps charity, finds itself.

And it is possible for charity to exist in a soul, as to the regime of life of the latter, especially to the degree (which presupposes that of friendship) of mad, boundless love itself taking possession of the human being and ruling his action in a habitual and permanent manner. In this case, in order to simplify language, we shall say that this soul lives under the predominant regime of mad, boundless love (implying and presupposing friendship).

The regime of mad, boundless love and the regime of friendship

These things being granted, it immediately appears that a definition of what is called the mystical state{15} -- equivalent to the one which describes it as a life under the habitual regime of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but less technical and more accessible to current language -- is possible: one will say that a soul passes to the mystical state when it passes under the regime of mad, boundless love for God. And it is of the very nature of charity that it thus tends to pass from the regime of friendship to the regime of mad, boundless love. This is why one can say that de iure by right every human soul, being called to charity, is called at the same stroke to the mystical life, in a proximate manner or in a remote manner.

But this is a wholly theoretical truth, in which only the internal exigencies of charity taken in itself are considered. If one considers on the contrary the concrete state in which such or such a given soul finds itself, then it is necessary to say that those are called de facto to the mystical life who can find their reason for living only in mad, boundless love for God; those are not called de facto to the mystical life who can find their reason for living either outside of God, or, if they have charity, in a love for God in which mad, boundless love remains buried in friendship.

The perfection of human life or the perfection of charity considered in the pure and simple sense, or under all relations, clearly presupposes the passage to the predominant regime of mad, boundless love for God, or to the mystical life; then the love of charity expands fully and freely in the soul, as well with regard to its power of alienating the soul from itself (it is openly, nakedly, directly, that the person or subjectivity itself is given to God) as with regard to its intensity.

But we remarked above that in the love of charity the degree of friendship and the degree of love do not necessarily differ as to intensity. We must therefore say now that if it has remained under the predominant regime of friendship, in which it has not crossed the threshold of the mystical life, the soul can still attain here on earth a certain perfection of human life and of charity (perfection under a certain relation) -- then the love of charity expands without obstacle in the soul, as to intensity{16} but not as to the power of alienating the soul from itself. And it is in Heaven that such a soul will know the perfection of charity in the absolute sense of the word.

Let us not forget moreover that when it lives under the regime of friendship with its God the soul has already, like every soul in the state of grace, a mad, boundless love for God, although buried in the unconscious and revealing itself only through flashes, from time to time. This soul does not live in the mystical state or under the regime of mad, boundless love, but it receives in its life touches of mystical inspiration and of mad, boundless love for God. Does not St. Thomas teach that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are necessary for salvation? So much the more are they necessary for the perfection, even if only in one respect, of charity.

The instant of death

Now, what about the preparation or disposition of the soul with regard to the instant of death? A soul which, after having entered into the mystical life or the regime of mad, boundless love for God, has gone to the very end of its road and has attained, as much as it is possible here on earth, the perfection of charity, purely and simply or under all relations, is ready or disposed not only to be saved in perhaps passing through Purgatory, but to rejoin Jesus in Paradise at the very instant in which it will leave its body. If therefore it perseveres in this disposition and crosses the threshold of death in a perfect act of mad, boundless love for God, it enters directly into Heaven.

A soul which, having remained under the regime of friendship, and not having entered into the mystical state, has gone to the very end of its road and has attained here on earth the perfection of charity under a certain relation (under the relation of intensity, not as to the power of alienating the soul from itself) is ready or disposed not only to be saved in perhaps passing through Purgatory, but to rejoin Jesus at the very instant in which it will leave its body. If it perseveres in this disposition the instant of death will be also the instant in which mad, boundless love will proclaim in it its empire and its sovereignty, it is in a perfect act of mad, boundless love for God that it will cross the threshold of death, and it will enter directly into Heaven.

A soul which has charity but has not reached here on earth the perfection of charity (neither absolutely speaking, nor under a certain relation) is prepared or disposed to be saved in perhaps passing through Purgatory, but not to rejoin Jesus at the very instant in which it will leave its body. We know however that it can rejoin Him at that instant. If it crosses the threshold of death in a perfect act of charity (which can then be only an act of mad, boundless love for God), it will enter directly into Heaven.

A soul, finally, which does not have charity and which lives in evil is prepared or disposed neither to be saved nor to rejoin Jesus at the very instant in which it will leave its body. We know nevertheless that in a supreme leap of charity it can be saved at this last instant, nay more, that it can immediately rejoin Jesus. Hodie mecum ens in paradiso. [Today you will be with me in paradise.]

Open contemplation and masked contemplation

Now, what of infused contemplation with regard to the perfection of charity? I know that the subject is much debated -- but this itself gives everyone more liberty to propose the opinion that he thinks is true.

I would like to remark first that the expression “mystical life” and the expression “contemplative life” are not synonymous. The first is broader than the second. There is mystical life when the soul has passed under the regime of mad, boundless love for God: but men who devote themselves to the active life can pass under this regime as well as men dedicated to the contemplative life. In other words, there is mystical life when a soul has passed under the habitual regime of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. But among the seven gifts it is to the two highest -- to the two first ones -- the gift of Wisdom and the gift of Understanding (and also, as to the knowledge of creatures tasted in union with God, to the gift of Knowledge), that the contemplative life relates above all. The other gifts have more or less to do with the active life, it is to them principally that this life relates if it has passed under the habitual regime of the gifts of the Spirit, in other words if it is dependent upon the mystical state and mystical inspiration.

But at the same time it is necessary to immediately remark that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are connected among themselves, and that the gift of Counsel or of Fear, for example, cannot exercise themselves without the gifts of Wisdom and of Understanding being also at work. The difference will be due to the manner in which the exercise of such or such a gift will appear or will manifest itself more, at once in the soul and in behavior. In the man engaged in the active life the inspirations concerning the decisions to be reached will have a central role, those concerning the taste of divine things a perhaps merely marginal role as to the field of visibility, the exercise of the gift of Wisdom and of the gift of Understanding will remain more or less occult or unapparent.

It follows from this that in those who have passed the threshold of the spirit, or of the mystical life, the grace of contemplation, of the loving and felt entry into the states of Jesus, will ordinarily operate in a very different manner according as they will be contemplatives or actives. For there is, as I once noted, a masked infused contemplation, of an atypical, mitigated or discontinuous mode (with which the “actives” will very often have to be content), as there is an open, typical or manifest, infused contemplation (more proper to “contemplatjves”). Among souls delivered to the liberty of the Spirit of God, those “whose style of life is active will have the grace of contemplation, but most often of a masked and unapparent contemplation; perhaps they will be capable only of saying rosaries, and mental prayer will bring them only headaches or sleep. Mysterious contemplation will not be in their way of praying, but in their sweet-minded hands perhaps or in their way of walking, or in their way of looking at a poor man or at suffering.”{17}

Let us conclude from these considerations that to say that a man is devoted to contemplation or that he leads the contemplative life, and to say that he is nourished, even though unconsciously, by a more or less masked infused contemplation (and that he spreads about him, without knowing it, the fragrance or sweetness of this contemplation) are very different things. But in the two cases the man in question will have entered under the regime of the mystical life or of mad, boundless love for God, and he will tend to the perfection of charity considered absolutely speaking and under all relations; and contemplation, on one ground or on another, even though secretly, will have a habitual directing role in his life.

One thus understands that, as Raissa and I wrote in Liturgy and Contemplation, “what seems to follow from experience is, in the first place, that higher infused contemplation seems to be always linked to a high perfection; but, in the second place, that high perfection does not seem to be always linked to higher infused contemplation, in the sense of the typical forms expounded by the masters.”{18} In advancing towards the perfection of charity considered absolutely speaking and under all relations (under the relation of the power of alienating the soul from itself as also under the relation of intensity), one goes his way in one manner (contemplative life in which the gifts of Wisdom and of Understanding exercise themselves in a predominant manner and in which a more complete testimony, the only absolutely necessary one, is rendered to the supreme source of all perfection among us: the mad, boundless love of God for men and His desire that the soul become a single spirit and love with Him) -- another goes his way in another manner (active life in which the exercise of the other gifts is predominant but in which those of Wisdom and of Understanding are indeed there, although often more or less hidden, and in which more complete testimony is rendered, let us not say to fraternal love, let us say to the service of one's neighbor, with respect to the soul and with respect to the body, which is a consequence of this love, and to which this love wishes that some will devote themselves).

Contemplative life and active life in the regime of mad, boundless love

As to the mission of contemplatives, both in what concerns their role of witnesses among men, above all by their example, but also, when they have received the grace for it, by their word, I would be very presumptuous to say anything after what Raissa has said about it. To this mission all the rest is suspended.

As for the actives, it indeed seems that the greatest are those who, better enlightened about the secret springs of their own life, and paying more reverent attention to the inspirations from above which pass in them, are raised, in the very midst of the requirements of fraternal devotion or of the apostolate, to a contemplation not only masked, but open and typical{19} and, just like the pure contemplatives, put in a particularly vivid light the major observation stated by Father Lallement: “Without contemplation we will never advance far toward virtue . . . we will never break free of our weaknesses and our imperfections. We will always be attached to the earth, and will never raise ourselves much above the sentiments of nature. We will never be able to offer a perfect service to God. But with contemplation we will do more in a month, for ourselves and for others, than we would have been able to do without it in ten years. It produces . . . acts of sublime love for God such as one can hardly ever accomplish without this gift . . . and finally, it perfects faith and all the virtues.”{20} It's the honest truth. And it is true also, however, that for a great number of those whom the Spirit leads, this blessed contemplation remains, as was remarked above, more or less unapparent and hidden. And it is possible also that, dedicated, by the state which it has chosen, to the contemplative life or to the active life, a soul often believes (because contemplation can be entirely masked, and because love, even mad, boundless love -- this is already true in the merely human order -- is not necessarily conscious) that it has not crossed the threshold of the mystical state or of the regime of mad, boundless love, whereas it has for a long time crossed this threshold. It does not much matter; what appears or not to consciousness is in such a case very secondary. The fact remains that for all those who in reality have crossed the threshold in question there is but a single road, but one goes there in one manner, another in another (alius sic, alius sic ibat, as St. Augustine said). And on this road towards the perfection of love considered absolutely or under all relations, finally action, in one way or another,{21} superabounds from contemplation -- open contemplation or masked contemplation, whose sapiential savor passes secretly through inspirations which concern more especially the active life, and through the exercise of the corresponding gifts; finally, whether it leads an active life or a contemplative life, and whether in one state of life as in the other it has the grace of an open contemplation, the soul raised to the mystical state habitually participates in a contemplative influx, it refreshes itself in one manner or another in the sources of contemplation, whether it drinks there long draughts or whether the living water reaches it drop by drop and through intermediaries. It is the road of mad, boundless love.

The regime of friendship

In actual fact however, we have seen (it is a de facto question, not a de iure one), there is another family -- and doubtless much more numerous -- of authentically Christian souls who also advance here on earth towards the perfection of charity, but this time considered under a certain relation only. In their relations with God these souls are not under the regime of mad, boundless love, but under the regime of friendship. It is on the road of friendship{22} that they progress here on earth towards the perfection of love considered under the relation of intensity, not under its power of alienating the soul from itself; and in following this road they can open, in the evening of their life here on earth, directly on to Heaven -- but it is at this instant only, then all through their eternity, that they will have passed in a total and complete manner under the empire of mad, boundless love. In their life here on earth they do not enter under the habitual regime of the gifts, they do not cross the threshold of the mystical life. In the concrete situation or circumstances in which their existence is placed, they are not called, in actual fact, to infused contemplation; they do not drink at the sources of contemplation.{23}

However, we have also seen that these souls, which have mad, boundless love, though more or less buried in the unconscious and revealing itself only by flashes, from time to time, receive in the course of their life touches of mystical inspiration or of mad, boundless love for God. For if the higher inspiration of the Spirit did not come, be it only at certain particularly decisive moments, perhaps very rare (but there is always, in any case, the instant of the first act of liberty, in which a man opts for his last end, and the last instant of life, in which he throws himself or not into the eternal Mercy), to elevate our action above the powers of our reason even enlightened by faith, there would be no salvation for us -- all the more reason to progress towards the perfection of charity.

Consequently it is necessary to say that the persons of whom we are speaking receive at the same stroke more or less profound fugitive touches of the gift of wisdom, and therefore more or less profound fugitive touches of contemplation. All of which does not signify certainly that they should make desperate efforts to strive to attain to contemplation, but does signify that it is necessary for them to be faithful to vocal prayer, and, if they have the time for it, to meditation, and to keep themselves available to any moment of passive recollection which some day could be given to them. For who knows if some day contemplation will not come without their knowledge to hide itself in their vocal prayer, in order habitually to spread its influence on their life? Who knows if some day mad, boundless love for God will not surge up from the depth of their soul with an irresistible force to take control of how they govern themselves, so that they find themselves brought from the regime of friendship to the regime of mad, boundless love? Everything depends in these things on the liberty of the Spirit of God, which is an absolute liberty -- and which can cause anyone, whatever his state of life may be, to pass under the regime of the gifts, perhaps by modifying (perhaps by overthrowing) such or such elements of the situation or such or such concrete circumstances which are an obstacle in actual fact, for such or such a given soul, to the proximate or remote call to which by right, and theoretically speaking, every human soul, and especially every soul vivified by charity, is subject with regard to the mystical life and to contemplation (open or masked).

The fact remains that the obstacle which I have just mentioned comes into play for multitudes of souls, even of authentically Christian souls; the given situations and the concrete circumstances to which such obstacle is due can sometimes spring from the negligence of the soul, but as a general rule they depend on the human condition itself, which is to say that divine Providence accepts responsibility for them. And the fact remains that all the souls for which the Spirit of God has not removed the obstacle in question can -- and should -- advance towards the perfection of love to be attained here on earth, be it only under the relation of intensity and while proceeding only under the predominant regime of friendship. And if many show themselves incapable of even this, and are too weak to practice the law of God in all its precepts, at least they know or they should know that love is the true face of God, and that this love never ceases to have pity on them and to ask them for their love, and to wait for the time when they will turn towards Mercy.

On the word "contemplation"

One will find perhaps that in the whole preceding discussion the word “contemplation” has been employed in a somewhat too elastic manner. I shall reply that this elasticity was objectively necessary. Why? Because the word “contemplation” is a word which it is indeed necessary to use, for want of a better one, but which itself is not good. There is no word to express something which takes place in man and which nevertheless transcends every human concept -- that passio divinorum, that knowledge of God which is more experience than knowledge and yet supreme knowledge, and which comes about through love and the union of love, and which is miles from the theoria of the Greeks and from philosophical speculation or contemplation. The word “contemplation” was kept by Christian tradition because at least it saved the characteristic of supreme knowledge proper to the experience in question. But to tell the truth it survived only because it let itself be conquered by a meaning too heavy to carry, and because by virtue of an unconditional surrender it consented to become ambiguous, with a fortunate ambiguity moreover, and fruitful, and profitable to minds, except for those which do not know how to dominate the signs which they use.

Exemplary saints and unapparent saints

There are doubtless in Heaven many more, immensely more saints than we can imagine. This is true first of saints in the ordinary sense of this word, I mean of exemplary saints, of the heroes of the moral and spiritual life whose practice and example (be it in the final period of their existence here on earth, as in the case of certain martyrs who before bearing the witness of blood may have committed serious faults, or in the case of the Good Thief, who made his great act of love just before breathing his last) passed beyond the ordinary life of men and are fit to exercise on humanity that sovereign attraction of which Bergson spoke. These exemplary saints do not live like everybody, in this sense, that even sometimes in their external behavior the measure of their action, being that of the gifts of the Spirit, surpasses that of the acquired or infused moral virtues, they surprise us, always baffle us in some manner; their heroism, however secret its sources may be, cannot not manifest itself in some way. They are canonizable saints. A certain number have been canonized. Others, who form an incomparable greater multitude, will never be canonized. All passed, at a certain moment of their life, under the regime of mad, boundless love, and consequently advanced towards the perfection of charity considered absolutely or under all relations. All at the same stroke, be it in the final period of their existence, passed the threshold of the mystical state and received the manna of infused contemplation (open or masked); all were co-redeemers with Christ, because they were already united with Him here on earth, not only by their belonging to the Mystical Body, but also in an immediate relation or immediate mutual donation of person to person -- as to the Bridegroom of their soul.

In saying that in Heaven there are immensely more saints than we can imagine, I am thinking also of the saints whom one could call unapparent, because, except as regards the secret of hearts, they led among us a life like everyone else. If there is heroism in their life, and there is without any doubt, it is a perfectly hidden heroism. The name of saints befits them however, in this sense, that from this earthly life they passed directly into Heaven,{24} having proceeded with perseverance on the road of friendship with God as far as to attain here on earth the perfection of charity (under the relation of intensity). Then, as I have already noted, their last instant was an instant of triumph of mad, boundless love, which will continue for eternity. These saints (who are not canonizable) form, I do not doubt it, a still much greater multitude than the canonizable saints who will never be canonized. And for them also, for them especially, the Church celebrates each year All Saints' day. It is the immense mass of the poor and the little people of God that we must first think of here, I am speaking of all those among them who practiced to the very end self-abnegation, devotion to others and firmness in the virtues. There were for centuries (this is only one example among others) peasant families in which work was sanctified by the sacraments, common prayer and the daily reading of the lives of the saints, and in which the fear of God, the virtue of religion and a certain strictness of manners served as a sanctuary or as a tabernacle for the theological virtues: such families must have produced a substantial percentage of saints who, after having “lived like everyone else,” passed directly into Heaven. Père Lamy, whom we used to call “the holy Curé,” did not fail to insist in this point. The saints of whom I am speaking here had doubtless, for the most part, neither crossed the threshold of the mystical state nor experienced contemplation, even diffuse or masked (except through the fugitive touches, more or less rare, and generally unnoticed by them, which I mentioned above). They, too, had however -- not doubtless with the full liberty and the supreme sacrifices of mad, boundless love which are the privilege of canonizable saints, but like them in carrying their cross with Jesus, and as members and parts of that unimaginably great human-divine Whole which is the Mystical Body of Christ -- satisfied for their part, like every Christian who has charity, the co-redemptive vocation which baptism imprints on souls. Is it true to say that in proportion as evening descends and as the old Christendoms come apart it becomes more difficult for the mass of men to keep charity and to remain faithful to the very end under the mere regime of friendship with the Lord, and to populate Heaven with saints who have “lived like everyone else”; whereas at the same time, in order to compensate and supercompensate for the losses, there is growth, whether in quantity or in quality, on the side of souls who live under the regime of mad, boundless love, and whose role in the economy of salvation increases in importance, because (and this is especially true, however small their number may be in comparison, of those in whom infused contemplation freely expands) their lived intimacy with Jesus, their renunciation and their self-abasements are more and more necessary to pay for the salvation of many, and to render present among the unfortunate, and accessible to their eyes, the depths of the goodness, of the innocence and of the love of God?

I would readily think so. I wrote a long time ago that a day would come when the world would no longer be habitable except by beasts or by saints -- great saints.


Marriage, friendship and love

I have already proposed elsewhere{25} some more or less random reflections on marriage. I permit myself to take up some of them again here, as a beginning, while stating them a bit more accurately.

I noted first that it would be a great illusion to think that marriage must be the perfect accomplishment of love-passion or of romantic love. For love-passion and romantic love, being nothing other in reality than animal desire disguised as pure love by the imagination are in themselves impermanent and perishable, apt to pass from one object to another, and therefore unfaithful, in short, intrinsically torn between love for the other, which they have awakened, and their own essentially egoistic nature.

No doubt love as desire and passion, and romantic love -- or, at least something of it -- should be present as much as possible in marriage as an initial stimulant and starting point. But far from having as its essential aim “to bring romantic love to perfect fulfillment, marriage has to perform in human hearts quite another work -- an infinitely deeper and more mysterious, alchemical operation: I mean to say, it has to transmute romantic love, or what existed of it in the beginning, into real and indestructible human love, and really disinterested love”{26} which certainly does not exclude carnal passion and desire but which rises more and more above them, because in itself and by essence it is principally spiritual -- a complete and irrevocable gift of one to the other, for the love of the other.

The love of which I am speaking here is above all a disinterested love. It is not necessarily mad, boundless love; but it is necessarily and primordially a love of devotion and of friendship -- that entirely unique friendship between spouses one of whose essential ends is the spiritual companionship between the man and the woman in order to help each other to accomplish their destiny here on earth, and it is thus a love (I am speaking of love in its ordinary form, what I called at the beginning quite simply “bel amour”){27} which is truly in the measure of man, and in which the soul as well as the senses are involved,{28} so that in this love, in which desire is there with all its power, disinterestedness really takes precedence over covetousness. Finally, actual carnal intercourse is also normally implied there,{29} since the other essential end of marriage is the perpetuation of the human species; this is why each spouse has a right over the body of the other.

In the unique and sacred friendship of which I have just spoken, together with (when it is there) the love, the bel amour, equally unique and sacred, which is joined to it or should normally be joined to it, consists the essence of conjugal love. It is through it that marriage “can be between man and woman a true community of love, built not on sand, but on rock, because it is built on genuinely human, not animal, and genuinely spiritual, genuinely personal love -- through the hard discipline of self-sacrifice and by dint of renouncements and purifications. Then in a free and unceasing ebb and flow of emotion, feeling, and thought, each one really participates, by virtue of love, in that personal life of the other which is, by nature, the other's incommunicable possession. And then each one may become a sort of guardian Angel for the other -- prepared, as guardian Angels have to be, to forgive the other a great deal,” in short, a being “really dedicated to the good and salvation of the other,” and consenting “to be entrusted with the revelation of, and the care for, all that the other is in his or her deepest human depths. . .”{30}

To such a fundamentally and primarily required friendship, to such a love of entire devotion, together with the carnal intercourse implied by marriage, and with the love of the senses and of the soul, the bel amour which it entails or should normally entail, there can be joined mad, boundless love, in which there is brought to its extreme and absolutely complete form the direct gift, open and naked, of the person or subjectivity in its entirety -- and not only in its body, but in absolutely all that it is -- so that it makes itself truly part of the other as its Whole. Mad, boundless love arises in this case as surplus, but in response to a radical desire inscribed in the human being, since, as we have seen above, mad, boundless love, in which the loving male ecstasizes in the loved female, and the loved female in the loving male, and becomes flesh of her or his flesh and a single spirit with her or him, is the summit and the perfection of love between Man and Woman. It is therefore by this very fact the summit and the perfection of love between spouses.

I do not think that this summit is often attained -- far from it! But when it is attained, by virtue of an extraordinary luck, which is a special and gratuitous gift, it is the glory and the heaven of the here-below in which a dream from the depths of the ages consubstantial with human nature assumes reality, and whose nostalgia inherent in poor humanity is revealed by all the songs of marriage sung throughout the bygone centuries.

The state of marriage, the regime of friendship with God, and the regime of mad, boundless love for God

What about the relation of marriage and conjugal love with regard to the spiritual life, and to that perfection of charity to which every Christian is prescribed to tend according to his condition and his possibilities?

It is well known that statistically speaking few institutions among men are subject to so many social servitudes varying with time and the areas of civilization, to so many accidents, hazards and miseries, to so many habits of egoism and of rudeness, nay of lie or of pretence, and exposed to so many failures as marriage. This is not surprising, since the state of marriage is the condition of the very great majority of human beings. The fact remains that there are actually many good marriages, in which human nature attains a real happiness proportionate to the here-below, and through which, in causing God to create immortal souls and new human Persons to come into the world, man and woman accomplish the work of propagation commanded by Him to our race in such a manner that it is truly for them and for their children what it is in the purpose of God -- the great and primordial earthly blessing.

And the fact remains that the state of marriage, as Christianity sees it, and as the grace of the sacraments makes it possible to be lived, is neither that resolutely accepted state of imperfection to which a Pseudo-theology at work in the imagination of certain laymen seemed sometimes to want to pledge them, nor that caricature of self-styled Christian union in which a husband saw in his wife only a flesh destined for him so that he might put his concupiscence in conformity with the law of God. The state of marriage is a holy or consecrated state, in which, companions on earth in the afflictions and the joys of life, as in their mission towards their children, the two spouses are always (by the very fact of their differences, and of the accommodation they require) mutually freeing themselves from the hereditary fatalities which their departed ancestors make weigh on each, and should normally help one another to advance, against winds and tides, towards the perfection of human life and of charity: so that for the soul of each, in the measure in which it is faithful to grace, the state of marriage can finally open not only into that ante-chamber of beatitude which is the purification of Purgatory, but directly into the vision of God and blessed eternity.

If we refer now to what was indicated above about the regime of friendship in the relations of the soul with God, and if we remember that given the human condition this is what, in actual fact, one must expect to find most frequently in the great multitude of souls who have charity and advance in it as best they can, we must say that it is under this regime of friendship with God that no doubt in actual fact the greatest number of souls who advance towards the perfection of charity in the state of marriage find themselves. These souls do not cross the threshold of the mystical life; nor do they refresh themselves, if only by drinking there drop by drop, at the sources of contemplation, if only atypical and masked, if they do receive fugitive touches of the latter, it is in a wholly intermittent and generally wholly unnoticed manner. But they advance faithfully in love and can attain its perfection{31} here on earth, if not as to its power of alienating the soul from itself, at least as to intensity (and provided to be sure that God spares them too crushing trials). They can supply Heaven with many unapparent saints.

Do I mean to imply that in the state of marriage the human soul could not, in its relations with God, pass under the regime of mad, boundless love? Nonsense! Not only can it, but the history of the saints shows that in actual fact such has been the case for many spouses (and it speaks only of canonized saints, but there are also the non-canonized canonizable saints. . . How could it be otherwise, since all are called de iure to the perfection of charity considered absolutely speaking, under the relation of its power of alienating the soul from itself as under the relation of intensity -- and therefore to the mystical life, and there-fore to contemplation, either open or masked?

There are even probably particular cases in which the state of marriage -- supposing that the spouses, or one of them, are the object of a proximate call from God, and respond to it -- offers to certain married persons, at the same time as greater risks owing to all the allurements of the world, more propitious moral conditions than the state of religion offers to certain religious for the passage of the soul under the habitual regime of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, given the perpetual mutual attentions and the daily sacrifices which marriage requires, and the human experience and the innumerable occasions for compassion and for fraternal help which life in the midst of men entails. And this remark can be true, when exceptional circumstances lighten somewhat the crushing material burden of the father and mother of a family, with regard to contemplative life itself, I mean in the renunciation and the simplicity of the “little way” taught by St. Theresa of Lisieux rather than with the great typical signs described by St. John of the Cross and St. Theresa of Avila.

“Indeed,” wrote Raissa in Liturgy and Contemplation, “contemplation is not given only to the Carthusians, the Poor Clares, the Carmelites. . . . It is frequently the treasure of persons hidden in the world, known only to some few -- to their directors, to a few of their friends. Sometimes, in a certain manner this treasure is hidden from the souls themselves who possess it -- souls who live by it in all simplicity, without visions, without miracles, but with such a flame of love for God and neighbor that good happens all around them without noise and without agitation.

“It is of this that our age has to become aware, and of the ways through which contemplation communicates itself through the world, under one form or the other, to the great multitude of souls who thirst for it (often without knowing it), and who are called to it at least in a remote manner. The great need of our age, in what concerns the spiritual life, is to put contemplation on the roads of the world.”{32}

One must always reach for the highest. Accordingly, it is desirable that among the young spouses who wish to devote themselves to the Christian life with all their soul (much more numerous than, as a result of certain prejudices, it now seems to be) there be some who, without laboring under delusions concerning the roughness of the path, aspire to the highest ideal of Christian marriage, and to a common life in which the two of them, in advancing towards the perfection of charity, do not stop in their relations with God at the regime of friendship, but pass to the regime of mad, boundless love.

The state of a father or of a mother of a family is compatible with progress in infused contemplation and in mad, boundless love for God

Let us note here that although Christianity recognizes in the chastity of the body{33} the mark of a more exclusive consecration to God, and even sees, as I shall indicate further on, not, certainly, a necessary link, but a certain particular suitability between it and specifically Christian contemplation, carnal intercourse between spouses is not at all an obstacle to the mystical life or to contemplation, even very high, for the spouse (or for the two spouses) who has (or have) entered into the ways of the spirit. This is evident if one thinks on the one hand of the fundamental and universal importance which marriage and the fecundity of marriage had in the Old Law (and still have in Judaism), and on the other hand of the great and holy contemplatives, of the contemplatives of great caliber who lived under the Old Law, as also of the mystics who have not been lacking among the Jews in modern times, in particular among the Hassidim. The Moslem mystics (I am thinking, as for the Hassidim, of those among them who went beyond natural mysticism and knew infused contemplation) could also be called in testimony -- we know that Hallaj, the most sublime and the most heroic of them, tortured and put to death on the gibbet for having taught contemplation through a union of mutual love between God and man, was married and left two sons.

Finally, examples are not lacking either among Christian contemplatives. Their number is relatively small among the canonized saints (it is not the custom, it seems, to canonize mere laymen, with the exception of some great leaders of the people). However, some holy widows, such as St. Bridget, St. Frances of Rome, St. Jeanne de Chantal, Venerable Marie de l'Incarnation (Ursuline), clearly did not await their widowhood to enter into the ways of infused contemplation; nor did St. Nicholas of Flue await for this to leave his family and to become a hermit; all were first great contemplatives. Blessed Anne-Marie Taigi was the mother of a family. And the case of married persons who lived with infused contemplation without being beatified or canonized for all that, as in the sixteenth and in the seventeenth century (I cite Brémond at random), Marie de Valence and Mme Acarie, Marguerite Romanet, Mme du Houx, Mme Helyot and her husband, or in our time Lucie-Christine, Madeleine Sémer or Elizabeth Leseur, is certainly much more frequent.

Spouses who have passed under the regime of mad, boundless love for God, and more particularly under that of infused contemplation are certainly not obliged for this reason{34} to renounce giving themselves carnally to each other and engendering offspring.

Human mad, boundless love is not compatible with progress in infused contemplation and in mad, boundless love for God

There is however (I have already touched on this point in passing, I would like now to insist on it more) a renunciation, and a much more serious one to tell the truth, to which they are obliged. They are obliged to renounce, if ever they have known it, mad, boundless love for each other. Living under the regime of mad, boundless love for God they cannot live at the same time -- at least without a contradiction and a rending which would prevent them from advancing as God wishes, and would block their path -- under the regime of mad, boundless love for a created being. In mad, boundless love does not the lover give himself to the beloved as to his Whole, of which he makes himself a part? My Whole is my Unique. Already in the natural order, in human mad, boundless love, the total gift that the lover makes of himself entails and requires an absolute exclusiveness. How much more so is this the case in the supernatural order, in the mad, boundless love whose object is God! Doubtless it remains psychologically possible (because one has to do now with two different and incommensurable orders) that along with this divine mad, boundless love, and at its expense, and in what an irreconcilable conflict with it, there exists in the soul, at least for a time, a mad, boundless love for a creature. But this will be all the more dearly paid for; for it is then the Beloved Himself who, jealous of every other attachment, and all the more of another mad, boundless love in the soul which loves Him, will undertake to destroy in it what is still an obstacle to mad, boundless love for Him. If a human person gives himself truly and absolutely to another human person as to his Unique and to his Whole, because he loves this person with mad, boundless love, he can indeed, certainly, love God more, as the order of charity requires -- as to the sovereign lovability, to the sovereign perfection and to the sovereign rights which he recognizes in Him, and to the obedience which he is ready to render to Him willy-nilly -- in short, he can love God with friendship, more than the human being whom he loves with mad, boundless love{35} (then, we know, he also loves God with mad, boundless love, at least with a mad, boundless love buried in friendship, and perhaps with a mad, boundless love which has already begun to freely expand); he cannot however go to the very end of what mad, boundless love for God requires as to the integrity of the gift which he makes to God, I do not say only as regards himself, I say as regards the one whom he loves more than himself.{36} There is something which he will give, but only up to a certain point, not as far as certain extreme instances of the divine demands, not as far as immolation:{37} him or her precisely to whom he has absolutely given himself as to his Unique and his Whole. The paternal love of Abraham was not a mad, boundless love. The maternal love of Mary for Jesus -- the most tender and the most perfect maternal love which can be conceived -- was not a mad, boundless love.{38} Mad, boundless love is mad, boundless. If a man loves a woman with mad, boundless love, he will not consent to give her so far as immolation, even to God. (He will struggle against God, he will be broken.) If the two spouses who pass under the regime of mad, boundless love for God know what they are doing, they know that it is necessary for them to renounce at the same stroke mad, boundless love for each other, to renounce that which in the natural order is the summit and the glory of conjugal love, but in the supernatural order is much less than the unique and perfect friendship rooted in charity and the grace of the sacraments. It can happen that a man or a woman who has made his or her Whole of another human being loved with mad, boundless love may enter into the authentic ways of contemplation. A day will come, very late perhaps, when they will understand that an internal division renders progress in these ways impossible for them. It is necessary for them to sacrifice, not, certainly, their love for this human being, but their mad, boundless love for him or her.{39}

The author of the Song

The Song of Songs is not a song of profane love, a song of human marriage which one would have to plagiarize in order to apply it to divine love. Its original object, as the tradition of the Synagogue maintains, and as the best Christian exegetes maintain, was to extol the love between God and His people -- and, more truly still, to extol in a prophetical light the nuptial love, the mad, boundless love, between God and His Church, and, inseparably, between God and the soul who has arrived at mystical union with Him.

But it is clear, at the same time, that the author of the Song of Songs was a man profoundly versed, much more than Dante himself,{40} in the things of profane love, the experience of human mad, boundless love, and of the carnal love which is normally linked to it. Had he, when he wrote his Song, renounced the flesh -- no one, I think, can say anything on this subject. But one thing is certain, it is that at this moment, in which he extolled from experience (and from what a marvellously unitive experience, in the rapture of a total gift!) mad, boundless love between God and the creature, he had renounced human mad, boundless love.

Although Christian contemplation does not require chastity of the body it has however an affinity with it

I noted just now that if the contemplative life does not require in itself chastity of the body, the latter however (whatever many Christians of today -- more or less intoxicated with bad psychology -- think of it, and with whom it does not have a good press) has a certain relation of suitability or of affinity with specifically Christian contemplation, and that in any case Christianity recognizes in it the mark of a more exclusive consecration to God.

Moreover it happened formerly that spouses, at a given moment of their conjugal life,{41} not only renounced mad, boundless love for each other, but further sometimes made a vow to renounce the flesh itself in order to devote themselves more exclusively to Jesus. These were doubtless very infrequent cases, and ones due to a clearly manifested particular vocation. In actual fact, no one was astonished at it. One knew that the sacrament of marriage was only more profoundly lived by them, because one of the essential ends of marriage, the spiritual companionship between spouses in order to mutually help themselves to advance towards God, found itself strengthened and realized in a higher manner in mad, boundless love for God. As to the other essential end, procreation, it was not denied but transferred to another plane, it was a spiritual progeniture that these spouses awaited from God, and it was to it that they devoted themselves.

Centuplum accipietis [He will be repaid a hundred times over].

And after all they had great examples -- even at the heights of creation -- in which humanity was brought to the confines of divinity, and in the most humble, in the most poor and in the most hidden life among men. The love which reigned between Joseph and Mary was conjugal love in the purest plenitude of its essence. However not only had the supreme natural perfection of the love between Man and Woman, mad, boundless love, made room, according to the law of the cross, for a supreme supernatural perfection incomparably higher, the mad, boundless love of the two for their God. But further, one sees there that if chastity of the body, whatever its particular suitability with regard to Christian contemplation, is not at all required in itself for contemplation, it maintains however a primary importance with regard to the state of life -- a state of perfection not only to be acquired, but, if it is a question of Nazareth, already acquired or possessed, where, by a unique privilege, Joseph and Mary found themselves in the state of marriage.

The merits of chastity

Why this importance and these special merits of chastity of the body as well as of the soul?

I shall recall in the first place that if there can be carnal union without mad, boundless love, on the other hand there cannot be any human mad, boundless love which does not also normally entail, at least in desire, carnal union. In renouncing all carnal union, even in desire, the religious who makes a vow of chastity not only sacrifices the flesh, he also makes and at the same stroke a sacrifice which, to tell the truth, goes much further, which attains the depths of the natural aspirations of man, not only in his flesh but in his soul and his spirit. Doubtless he does not renounce (which would be a great loss for the very progress and the refinement of his moral life) all feminine friendship, however subject it should remain to a strict internal vigilance. But he sacrifices all possibility for himself of attaining and of desiring that earthly paradise of nature whose dream haunts the unconscious of our race -- mad, boundless love between man and woman. It is of such a renouncement that the vow of chastity or that of virginity are above all the sign.

I shall say in the second place that in mortifying in himself the carnal instinct, man does not have to do merely with something which properly concerns or affects his person as such, as happens when to perfect himself in virtue he mortifies in himself the instinct of gluttony or of slander. He has to do with an instinct which is first that of his species, much more than that of his own person, and which dwells in the latter as a strange dominator, and which holds it and torments it with a violence all the more tyrannical. Chastity checks a furious force immensely more ancient than the individual through which it passes. Even in the merely natural order it is a liberation -- in one sense and in a certain manner it delivers man from the servitudes of the species. It is a kind of victory, of liberation, which men, unless certain prejudices, either religious or naturalist, cause them to believe is prohibited or impossible, have a natural tendency to envy, be it from a very great distance. Is this not one of the reasons why virginity was honored by the pagans themselves? And is this not why many pagan wise men -- and I am not only speaking of those of India, whose testimony on this point is so striking -- thought that when a husband (nothing was said about women -- they were too despised) had reached a certain age, when it was more fitting for him to devote himself to meditation by retiring into his inner freedom, it was fitting for him also to discontinue carnal relations.

In the third place, and more simply, it is clear that by the very fact that the mysteries of the Christian faith put in a particular relief the importance and the dignity of the flesh and of the body, as also the metaphysical unity of the human person, whose immortal soul is proper to a given body (“individuated” by its relation to it) -- it is only normal that, in the religion which teaches the Incarnation of the Word and the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, he who wishes to consecrate himself to God consecrates to Him not only his soul, but also his body. Did not Jesus give Himself in His entirety, body and soul, to men, in order to save them? He who loves a human person with mad, boundless love gives himself to this person in his body and in his soul. He who enters into a state of life dedicated to mad, boundless love for God must give to God his body as well as his soul. His soul gives itself to Him by love, his body by chastity. And even if one does not especially consider the religious state, it is necessary to say that in general, in insisting on the human person and on his dignity, and in restoring the condition of woman, and in teaching that the redemption of humanity had depended on the consent of a little virgin of Israel, Christianity also restored chastity, under the lights of grace, in the esteem of men.

There is finally a fourth consideration, which this time concerns contemplation itself, I say Christian contemplation, and which furnishes in relation to the latter a certain nuance or attenuation to the statement (however valid it still remains) that the contemplative life in itself does not require chastity of the body. Christian contemplation in reality is inseparably the contemplation of the uncreated Trinity and of Jesus, God and man; the humanity of Christ -- that humanity which belongs to the second divine Person, and all of whose properties are therefore also attributes of this divine Person Himself -- is always present in it in a manifest or hidden manner, and cannot be detached from it. That to which the Christian contemplative has his eyes constantly attached is, at the same time as the one and triune God, a man perfectly chaste, born of the most chaste of Virgins, and who Himself is God. How would the Christian who aspires to contemplation not feel himself drawn also to a life of continence or of chastity -- not, once more, as to a necessary condition (except, for some, because of the religious state), but as to something which better accords with his desires?

Moreover, there is in Christian contemplation a certain innocence of approach, a sweetness and delicacy of the hands, if I may venture to speak thus, a certain candid demeanor and a certain matchless simplicity, and also a certain winged liberty which familiarity with the Holy Spirit gives, and that intimacy with the divine Persons and the heart of Jesus for which without a perfect purity the ardor of love does not suffice -- which, without requiring it however, are, so to speak, connatural with chastity of the body.

The vows of religion

The preceding remarks can help us, I believe, to understand that the vow of chastity, and the two other vows to which it is joined, constitute for the man who consecrates himself to the religious state a veritable holocaust, in which beforehand and for always he gives himself to God body and soul -- and in what expectation, if not in the expectation of advancing here on earth to perfection, under the regime of mad, boundless love for God and for Jesus?

The promise of the subdeacon in the Latin rite

From the vow of chastity, which by essence is for the sake of the one who makes it, for the sake of his own easier and more rapid progress towards the perfection of charity, it is clearly necessary to distinguish the promise which in the Latin Church the subdeacon makes at the moment of his ordination.{42} When the bishop towards whom he has advanced informs him that for the service of God it will henceforth be necessary for him to observe chastity if he perseveres in his intention to receive the subdiaconate, the ordinand simply takes a step forward (he takes the step). In itself this promise{43} is (like the priesthood itself), not for the sake of the one who makes it, but for others (in order that, once he is ordained a priest, the one who has made it may be able to accomplish better -- with an entire devotion which no other attachment and no other obligation impede or diminish -- his mission, his ministry in the service of the souls to whose good he is dedicated). The promise made by the subdeacon is so far from being identical with the vow of chastity that when a man who is already a priest enters into a religious order he makes at this moment the vow of chastity, together with that of obedience and of poverty (it is therefore, very clearly, because he had not already made it). The promise of the subdeacon of the Latin rite is not intended to contribute to a holocaust of the human individual, it is a sacred wound accepted for the better exercise of a function towards others. And it is up to the individual to keep this wound open while putting up with it as best he can (in a difficult life in which he can no doubt be a “good priest,” but also a mediocre priest or even a more or less vanquished priest), or to heal and transform it into a source of graces (for himself and for others) by devoting himself freely, while remaining in the world, to mad, boundless love for God. Then only will he be able to become a “holy priest,” through his personal response to the precept addressed to all to advance towards the perfection of charity, and to the call which this precept contains.

Appendix to Chapter Seven

Two Synoptic Tables

Those who do me the honor of reading me know that I have an immoderate liking for synoptic tables and schemas. It seemed to me that the topics discussed in the seventh chapter of this book, and the distinctions which I propose there, are sufficiently complex to merit that a general view be presented of them in the form of a table. Hence the two synoptic tables -- the first concerning the analogical notion of love, the second relating to the perfection of charity -- which will be found in this Appendix.

Enlarge Image

Enlarge Image

{1} The French words are l'amour de dilection and translate literally as "the love of dilection." Since this is not a common English term the phrase l'amour de dilection has been translated, according to its meaning, as "disinterested love." (ed.)

{2} Paris, Desclée de Brouwer, 1963; Eng. transl.: Raissa's Journal, Albany, N.Y.. Magi Books, Inc., 1974, pp. 162-163.

{3} Amor amicitiae is amor benevolentiae or disinterested love (love for the good of the beloved) that is mutual (Sum. theol., II-II, q. 23, a. 1). In the perspective in which we are placed it is this mutua benevolentia that we have to consider in our discussion; the expression love of friendship is therefore the one which is fitting here.

{4} Cf. John 15:13. "There is no greater love than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends."

{5} "In a single spirit," -- I say spirit, I do not say temperament, character, tastes. etc.

{6} Cf. further on, page 246, note 1, and pages 249-251.

{7} All of which does not mean to say that through an act of his free will a man cannot -- just as he can, if he wishes, mutilate his body -- do violence to nature and disjoin carnal desire from his mad, boundless love, either for a spiritual motive and by renouncing the flesh if she whom he loved, indeed would still love with mad, boundless love, asks it of him, or if both feel themselves called to it by God (one has seen engaged couples separate thus to enter into religion, or spouses make thus a vow of continence) or for some other motive (if for example the woman whom he loves with mad, boundless love is married to another; actually in this case it is more probably in an altogether opposite direction that he will effect the disjunction -- by indulging in debauchery).

{8} This is why the love of charity itself is known by our intellect only by an analogical knowledge, as the superior analogate, in us, of a reality first attained in the human world.

On the notion of love such as I have just tried to analyze it, see the synoptic table No. 1, in the Appendix to Chapter VII.

{9} "Deus suam gloriam non quaerit propter se, sed propter nos" [God does not seek His glory for His own sake, but for ours]. Sum. theol., II-II, 132, 1, ad 1.

{10} Proverbs 23:26.

{11} Raissa's Journal, pp. 75-76.

{12} Cf. further on, pp. 249-251.

{13} Raissa's Journal, p. 163 (20th of April 1924). -- The renouncement (of mad, boundless love) of which there is question here is what in another passage Raissa admirably refers to as "what must be suppressed, or rather surpassed, is the limits of the heart" (Raissa's Journal, p. 239).

{14} Luke 10:27. (Cf. Matt. 22:37; Mark 12:28). -- "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength." Deuter. 6:5.

{15} The word mystical is the accepted word. In a sense it is an unfortunate word (like many of our words), because it frightens many poorly informed persons. In reality it does not relate to any extraordinary privilege (graces gratis datae), but designates only a state in which human life and human conduct are ordinarily aided by the invisible and very secret inspiration of God (a state which in itself, and if everything did not go wrong in the human being since original sin, should be normal in those in whom the three divine Persons dwell through sanctifying grace).

{16} Let us understand that then the intensity of charity is great enough for the latter to fan out without obstacle in the soul, on condition that too crushing a trial is not imposed on it. In the concrete perspective in which we are placed, it is necessary indeed to take into account the trials that God permits, and the measure which He assigns to them. God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb. It is clear that under the regime of mad, boundless love a soul, in the course of its progress, can reach a perfection of charity, in intensity as well as in depth of gift of self, greater than under the regime of friendship. (Let us not forget that the perfection of charity which man can reach here on earth is not an indivisible point, it is a greatness which continues to develop and entails various degrees.)

{17} "Action et Contemplation," in my book Questions de Conscience, 1938, pp. 145-146. -- Thus all souls which have crossed the threshold of the mystical life share at the same stroke "a typical or atypical, manifest or masked contemplation, which is the multiform exercise of the gift of Wisdom, free and unseizable, and transcending all our categories, and capable of all disguises and of all surprises." (Ibid., p. 146.)

{18} Liturgy and Contemplation, p. 45.

{19} This is the proper ideal of those who lead the so-called "mixed" life, (in which action demands in itself to superabound from contemplation), such as an Albert the Great, a Tauler, a Henri Suso. . .

{20} La Doctrine spirituelle, pp. 429-430.

{21} Whether de iure and by virtue of a requirement of its nature itself (as in the case of the preaching of the Gospel or of the teaching of sacra doctrina), or (in the case of any other activity) by virtue of the mode according to which it de facto proceeds under the regime of mad, boundless love.

{22} The two roads -- the road of friendship, and the road of mad, boundless love -- of which I speak here have nothing to do with the theory of the two ways proposed by certain authors, which they maintain as de iure distinct and as leading to a same term, holiness or high perfection. It is only de facto that the road of friendship is contra-distinguished from that of mad, boundless love. And it should open onto the road of mad, boundless love, and the perfection to which it leads is less high than that to which the road of mad, boundless love leads. And if in the evening of this life a soul which has lived under the predominant regime of friendship with God can enter straight into Heaven, it is because in this case it has made at its last instant a perfect act of mad, boundless love.

{23} Owing to the very fact that love for God and love for one's neighbor are two faces of one and the same charity, the distinction between the predominant regime of friendship (in which the active life has not crossed the threshold of the mystical state) and the predominant regime of mad, boundless love (in which contemplation is open in the "contemplatives" -- and masked in the "actives") should be met with again in the attitude of the soul towards its neighbor. How so? One can say, it seems to me, that under the predominant regime of friendship with God it is in trying to love our neighbor as Jesus loved him that we love our brothers; and that under the predominant regime of mad, boundless love for God it is ALSO (and first) in seeing Jesus in our neighbor that we love the latter ("For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink' Matt. 25:35).

On the pursuit of the perfection of charity, and the different distinctions which one must bear in mind when one seeks to form for oneself a sufficiently comprehensive idea of it, see the synoptic table No. 2, in the Appendix to Chapter VII.

{24} One will grant me this definition, although in a more general sense the name of saints clearly befits all those who are in Heaven, even if they had to suffer first the purifications of Purgatory.

{25} Cf. Reflections on America, pp. 137-141; Moral Philosophy, pp. 356-357.

{26} Reflections on America, p. 140.

{27} Gift, still in outline form, more or less advanced, of what the person himself is.

{28} Such a love is normal in marriage, but it is not necessary, it is lacking in actual fact in many marriages whose motive has been above all of the social, not personal, order -- obedience to parents, social conventions, to say nothing of financial advantages and of "hopes," of "status" or of family pride, etc. -- in short, "marriages of convenience."

{29} Even in marriages without love which are mentioned in the preceding note.

{30} Reflections on America, pp. 140-141, 143.

{31} Let us note here that when one proceeds towards perfection under the regime of friendship, one can advance very far on this road without too grave a conflict while loving a human being with mad, boundless love, precisely because under such a regime divine mad, boundless love does not manifest its exigencies to the very end.

But it is not the same when one proceeds towards perfection under the regime of mad, boundless love: then conflicts will arise on the road such that it will be necessary to renounce human mad, boundless love, willy-nilly, or betray the exigencies of divine mad, boundless love.

{32} Liturgy and Contemplation, pp. 74-75. -- The book is by the two of us, but it was Raissa who wrote this page.

{33} I mean abstention from all carnal intercourse (opere et cogitatione). It is clear that the virtue of chastity (part of temperance) in the use itself of the flesh ("conjugal chastity") is, like the other moral virtues, necessarily presupposed by contemplation in the state of marriage.

{34} That certain spouses can decide on such a renunciation by reason of a particular and entirely personal call to follow at all costs, while remaining in the world, at least one of the counsels of the perfect life -- this is an altogether different question -- cf. further on, pp. 252-253.

{35} In this sense human mad, boundless love is then ruled by charity.

{36} In this sense human mad, boundless love cannot be ruled perfectly by charity. One obeys doubtless, but reluctantly, nay, with rage in the heart. One is far from perfect obedience. However is it not true that when he advances towards the perfection of charity under the regime only of friendship with God, man does not have to renounce human mad, boundless love? Unquestionably, but under this regime one does not advance towards the perfection of charity considered absolutely. And the perfection of charity considered under a relation only is not such that the soul can perfectly surmount in it certain too crushing trials. We remarked above (p. 231, note 1) that God measures trials to the capacity of souls, and that under the regime of mad, boundless love the soul can reach a perfection of charity greater, in intensity as well as in depth of gift of self, than under the regime of friendship.

{37} Not every death is death on the cross. "Factus obediens usque ad mortem, mortem autem crucis."

{38} What I mean is that Mary very clearly had mad, boundless love for Jesus, God and man, but that her maternal love for Jesus, man and God, being perfectly ruled by charity, was not a mad, boundless love.

{39} The saints make this sacrifice without delay. I think of St. Elizabeth of Hungary who loved her husband, as Mme Ancelet-Hustache has noted in her beautiful book: L'or dans la Fournaise (p. 44), with a profound love of body and soul. The episode in which we see her, from the first years of her marriage, pass nights in prayer, while Louis holds her hand -- and so long that the two of them finally fall asleep on the rug (ibid. p. 45) -- does not signify only that she wished for a time to do violence to her flesh. Much more profoundly still, I have no doubt, it signifies that during these nights she accomplished a definitive sacrifice, renounced for the mad, boundless love for God, however it may have been with the carnal intercourse between the spouses, the human mad, boundless love which she felt rising in her.

{40} Shelley said that Dante had understood the secrets of love better than any other poet.

{41} Sometimes as early as the reception of the sacrament of marriage, which remained valid after this vow of chastity was made -- the vow of chastity taking place not before, but after the act of mutual consent in which each of them had given to the other full right over their body, and as an effect and a confirmation of this consent. And to tell the truth, these things did not happen only in past times -- I think of two friends very dear to us who married in these conditions. Raissa and I had been the witnesses of their marriage.

{42} At the time when these pages were written, the subdiaconate had not yet been abolished. Today it is in receiving the diaconate that the promise in question is made.

{43} Or this vow, if one prefers to call it thus -- the name matters little. In any case the reality thus designated differs in nature from the vow of chastity properly so called, made with a view to an interior perfection to be acquired.