Maritain on Unity of Person

Author of Integral Humanism

In a previous post I quoted Theodore White (The Making of the President 1960) who praised John F. Kennedy because he “had for the first time more fully and explicitly than any other thinker  of his faith defined the personal doctrine of a Catholic in a democratic society.” (cited in The Making of a Catholic President, p. 176).

That claim does not at all bear up under serious scrutiny, and in fact, Kennedy’s speech proves to be the opposite, “reactionary” as Fr. Murray suggested about his principles. It was Fr. Murray who well articulated the basis for the relationship of Church and state in a modern democratic society. Vatican II endorsed some of his thinking on the matter.

I would argue that it was Jacques Maritain, in Integral Humanism and Man and the State, who best developed an account of the relationship of Church and state through understanding the concrete unity of the person.

The human person is characterized by a unity or integrity – although living in various orders with various pursuits, he has one conscience. The person is simultaneously a member of the body politic and a member of the Church. Hence “he would be cut in two if his temporal membership were cut off from his spiritual membership.” (Integral Humanism, p. 176)  Some aspect of personal integrity must suffer, some part of the self must be denied. The Kennedy position will live with a person “cut in two.” So too many contemporary Catholics in U.S. politics today accept the duality and division. Maritain said the wholeness of the person should incline us towards cooperation rather than antagonism and “absolute separation” between Church and state.

The teachers of the Church proclaim the truth of faith and morals. A Catholic gladly embraces that teaching; fundamental principles of justice, human dignity, and a profound respect for the moral order deeply form the Catholic conscience. These principles are rooted in a dynamic relationship of faith and reason. The Catholic should act in the political realm with confidence in the truth of the faith and the reasonableness of the fundamental principles. The formation of policy requires moral principles, knowledge of empirical fact and law, dialogue with fellow citizens, and tremendous prudence. The full weight of conscience must make itself felt throughout the process of political policy making and legislation, lest the person become a technocrat, a hypocrite, or a self-serving manipulator.

Maritain also argues the religious quest is essential to the “pursuit of happiness.” Our hearts are restless until they rest in God. Therefore the common good of society, which includes the flourishing of its members, cannot but be favorable towards religious practice.

Third, through the influence on conscience “Christian truths and incentives” would pass into the sphere of temporal existence and thereby assist the democratic state in rousing the “inner strength and spiritual stronghold of democracy.” The religious beliefs and practices will have a “leavening effect.” They should uplift morality and sensitive moral conscience. The civil rights movement of the 1960s would be an example that Maritain has in mind. Justice and peace, great aims of democratic society, find tremendous support in the religious commitment of its citizens.

Pope Benedict XVI said in his most recent encyclical: “Charity in truth, to which Jesus Christ bore witness by his earthly life and especially by his death and resurrection, is the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity. Love — caritas — is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace. It is a force that has its origin in God, Eternal Love and Absolute Truth.”

The various religious traditions can provide a more full-bodied understanding and defense of the principles at a higher level. The educational efforts of the Church are very important for the well being of the political society. The students could see “the entire convictions” and personal inspiration behind their principles of government and social practice and embrace them more deeply. This is particularly true in the field of education where secularism has run rampant and where Kennedy was adamant in holding to an “absolutist” position. Maritain says that the isolation or separation of Church and State would “simply spell suicide” for the society that would attempt such a thing..

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