Yves Simon’s Correspondence with Charles de Koninck and Jacques Maritain on the Common Good

My last post reminded me of a correspondence between Yves Simon and both de Koninck and Maritain on the common good that my father translated some years ago. So I got permission from my father to post it at The Charles De Koninck Project. It’s a fascinating correspondence, and gives a lot of details about the controversy over de Koninck’s book. Consider, for example, this description of a party at Simon’s house in South Bend:

After the lecture there was a party at my house. I had told W[aldemar Gurian] to open fire. He didn’t delay. Hardly had De Koninck sat down when he got the fatal question right in the solar plexus: Who are these personalists? De K[oninck] hesitated visibly and showed a little less Belgian good nature and a little more reserve. He mentioned a Californian review (do you remember, The Personalist, which Mounier discovered four or five years after launching Esprit); Adler and Farrel; Garrigou-Lagrange (with insistence), Fr. Schwalm, the author of lessons in social philosophy. As for Esprit—he did not know it; Maritain—he did not know him. When we insisted that the whole world believed Primacy of the Common Good was directed against you, he asked if the ideas of Maritain are such that one could recognize them in the personalism he described: the common good as mere instrument, etc. We insisted that many readers have the impression that you shared these idiocies. In private conversation I told De K[oninck] twice that, whatever his intentions may have been his book was being exploited “as an instrument of defamation,” that I would not want to have this on my conscience, and that he should publish an article or a note to put an end to this. His objection: “But then I would have to read Maritain! I don’t have the time.” Gurian could not believe that he has not read you. As for me, I believe it readily.

13 thoughts on “Yves Simon’s Correspondence with Charles de Koninck and Jacques Maritain on the Common Good

  1. Also, do you have any information on the “forthcoming” book on the common good? As in when it will publish and who will publish it? I’d be very interested in reading/reviewing it.


  2. I, for possibly contingent reasons, have read quite a bit of Maritain, and have absorbed his anti-integrist thinking. For me integrism is not, thus, a nice sounding word. But that is neither here nor there. It is like Father Waldstein telling us, in an as yet incompletd piece, that he thinks Islam is an ugly religion and at the same time that he doesn’t feel himself called overcome his essential ignorance about that same religion. It may be that these are truly his sentiments regarding Islam. It is just that I don’t feel that he is helping anyone by making them public. It is like telling the world that one thinks about one’s personal conviction that oriental people look funny. Are we to be integrists then or not? Or are we just talking about a question of style, and about pleasing those whom you happen to hang out with? Pope Francis has told us that the confessional state is to be avoided as an evil, that the time of the confessional state has passed, and thank God. This seems to reflect the ideas of Maritain regarding democracy and human rights before the fact of a factually pluralist world. I feel that Maritain and Pope Francis are on the right track. The discourse of St. John Paul II about human rights and the dignity of the person also seems to take much from Maritain. So, integrists, help me out. What exactly is this integrism that you defend? I understand your idea this way: that integrism means that the state/polis must serve the common good, which at the deepest level is the final end of man, eternal salvation. That the state will finally have to be measured by that standard. And thus the confessional state should always be regarded as the ideal. and can never be rejected as such. Maritain would say, I believe, that such ideas confuse the political and the ecclesial, and represent theocratic conceptions which have never been authentically Christian. it is obviously true that the state ought to serve the common good; the problem lies in what understands by “must” and how one will defend the sanctuary of conscience, democracy and religious freedom. If one looks at the recent documents of Papal Magisterium regarding the social doctrine of the Church, they seem to represent a position very far from integrism. Have they endorsed Maritain’s positions? In one way they have not: these documents are increasingly Evangelical in their tone and their motivations. They do not sing the praises of the Secular State. They give us an Evangelical vision of social existence. He who would be the greatest among you must be the servant of all. This seems to be the right way forward.


    • Perhaps because my conscience is bothering me and because I am chaotic, I sometimes go back to read my comments and in this case I have noticed an error. The unfinished essay “Islamophiliosis” to which I referred, was hastily “read” and drastically misread. My apologies for what I implied in refering to it. The non-rigorist and decent attitude toward Islam expressed in that article does not harmonize with my conception of “integralism” but perhaps it does harmonize with Father Edmund’s conception. I still do not think that I grasp entirely that conception of his. It is not clear in my mind.


        • As to what integrism is, you are right that it means that “the state/polis must serve the common good.” But this is in fact deeply rooted in Evangelical teaching. In Luke 22 we read:

          «And he said to them: When I sent you forth without purse or bag or shoes, surely you did not lack for any­thing? They said: Nothing. But he said to them: But now, let him who has a purse, take it; let him who has a bag, likewise; let him who has no sword sell his coat and buy one. For I tell you, this that has been written must be fulfilled in me: He was even counted among the outlaws. For what is said about me comes to fulfillment. They said: Lord, here are two swords. But he said to them: It is enough.»

          St. Bernard of Clairvaux, commenting on this passage writes:

          «Wherefore should thou try again to wield that sword which thou wert commanded of old to replace in its scabbard? Nevertheless, he who would deny that the sword belongs to thee, has not, as I conceive sufficiently weighed the words of the Lord, where He said, speaking to Peter, ‘put up thy sword into the scabbard’. For it is here plainly implied that even the material sword is thine, to be drawn at thy bidding, though not by thy hand. Besides, unless this sword also appertained to thee in some sense, when the disciples said to Christ, ‘Lord, behold here are two swords’, He would never have answered as He did, ‘it is enough’, but rather, ‘it is too much.’ We can therefore conclude that both swords, namely the spiritual and the material, belong to the Church, and that although only the former is to be wielded by her own hand, the two are to be employed in her service. It is for the priest to use the sword of the word, but to strike with the sword of steel belongs to the soldier, yet this must be by the authority and will of the priest and the direct command of the emperor, as I have said elsewhere.»

          And his interpretation was confirmed by the solemn, ex cathedra teaching of Pope Boniface VIII in Unam Sanctam.


          • Thanks for these citations (from the Gospel, St. Bernard, and Pope Boniface VIII). I am not yet sure of the argument that connects them to what you hold to be the esence of integrism. Certainly there is present the idea that the Church has “two swords”: the sword of spiritual power and the sword of temporal power. I am very interested in the question of the political theology of St. Bernard, because I have great respect for his spiritual and theological depth on one hand, and because of his relation to the Crusades. (I have trouble, however, with people who try to enlist the spiritual masters of the Middle Ages in support of the Politics of Trump, Geert Wilders, Marie Le Pen and so forth; I prefer Maritain, who sees the development of democracy, with its distinction without separation of Church and State as something fundamentally positive.) The Church has two swords, not just one. If it had just one it would be like any other Power System, any other Totalitarian Idea, any other theocracy. What does it mean to say that the Church has two swords? Here you need authentic Ecclesiology, and the best place to go for that is to Vatican II, and to the Gospel. This does not mean forgetting Boniface VIII. (I remember how Etienne Gilson defends Boniface VIII and St. Thomas against the political theology of Dante, who advocated a separation of Church and State (i.e. Empire.). The distinction of the spiritual sword and the temporal sword is, if one thinks in Thomisitc terms, one of the manifold expressions of the distinctio realis. I have no trouble in accepting, from a purely practical point of view, that it would be better if world leaders referred themselves to Papal Authority before entering into war. If Bush had followed the advice of John Paul II and not invaded Iraq. If Obama and other world powers had not left unheeded the cry for help coming out of Syria, from her victims of genocidal violence and her refugees, as expressed by Pope Francis. (Aggression and indifference being two sides of the same coin.) I am more convinced than ever of the value of the Social Doctrine of the Church, as expression of valid universal principles. I am more convinced than ever that the Vicar of Christ has something to say to the nations. (Think of the marvelous discourses of the recent popes before diverse national parliaments and before the United Nations.) If integralism simply means that we should take the Social Doctrine of the Church, more seriously, then count me in with integralism. The trouble is that this doctrine is not taken seriously at all, and remains divested of its moral force. Yet I am afraid that integralism encodes some form of nostalgia and restorationism and rejection of the principle of decentralization as articulated by Pope Francis. (Pope Benedict in the most recent interview book expresses his fundamental agreeement with Pope Francis as to this matter.). (Pope Francis recently spoke disparagingly of new restorationist orders with lots of vocations and with founders who all of a sudden appear to be involved in some scandal; as a Legionary of Christ I can’t help but thinking that he is talking (also) about us. All of which makes me long for wisdom in these matters.) With my friendly greetings in Christ.


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  4. The Evangelical phrase about the two swords makes sense within the Evangelical way of speaking about the Church. The Church in the Gospel is not just a part, but is rather the whole. This idea occured to me when considering the meaning of Euchristic pro multis. The multis refers to the Church, but the Church is not “just some.” For Jesus the Church is Everything. This is the perspective of The Divine Lover. Thus there are scriptural passages which speak of Christ dying for many (the Church), but also of his dying for all, but the all is still the Church, and the many does not mean less than all men but more than all men. It is an expression charged with Divine Love and Generosity. Christ speaks in a totalizing and Eschatological sense. But the Church as it passes through time, the Pilgrim Church, will have both a temporal sword and a spritual sword, because the Church is a complex reality (See the phrases of Lumen Gentium that speak of the Church as Comples Reality) and as a complex reality it is also a seed of the Eschatological Future in which God will be all in all.


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