Raissa Maritain and the Fourth Notebook 1924-1926

In 1924 Raissa was in her early 40s and suffering from repeated ill health but dedicated to her contemplative and intellectual life. She writes how she awaits all from God: ‘For from me to Him, it seems that all the bridges are cut. But not from Him to me … Direction and light from God alone …  entirely open to God’. Her experiences have deepened so she can write about the ‘reassuring darkness / insensible delight / incomprehensible communion’. In this darkness the soul can only subsist on the sole will of God. She interpreted her illnesses as ‘salutary’.

She distinguishes between love and friendship between humans and then from again her own deepest experiences in solitude with God, she writes how God loves us with friendship:

‘by providing for all our necessities and by dying for us on the Cross. God loves us with love by making us participate in his nature by grace – by making the sanctified soul his dwelling. By making himself known to us through supernatural Revelation … And what does he demand of us ourselves? Our heart.’

Raissa was repeatedly drawn inwards and became withdrawn – an inwardness that set her apart from others.

Judith Suther interprets Raissa’s long spells of illness (and Jacques Maritain said that illness became the constant trial of their household – he and Vera Raissa’s sister were also not spared) as setting the pace of the salutary withdrawals from the world which illness allowed. It was the prolonged effects of illness, not illness itself, that established the pattern of meditation and prayer that made possible the rather extraordinary record of her spiritual life. Suther writes: ‘She [Raissa] made constructive use of the body’s fragility and transformed suffering into a holy state, an imitatio Christi. Once experienced, extended convalescence began to alternate with physical well-being, defining thereby an essential condition of her survival.’ The battleground between the physical material body and the spiritual meant that over time she became ‘a pilgrim of the Absolute’ and a spiritual exile – praying along even from those she loved most. She did emerge to connect with people from time to time but not for long and with only limited endurance – she referred to herself as ‘a bird with broken wings.’ She died in 1960 leaving her journals, a wonderful book Les Grandes Amities – translated into English by Julie Kernan We Have been Friends Together, and many poems – some of which have been translated by Thomas Merton into English.

Raissa with Jacques Maritain in later life

In the preface to her journal Rene Voillaume a follower of Charles de Foucauld and the founder of the Little Brothers of Jesus, writes:

‘What distinguishes Raissa’s witness and what makes it rare is that it proceeds from an authentic experience of God’s mystery, as well as simply human realities, with unfailing precision of thought. The clarity of an extraordinarily vigilant intelligence, guided by the love for truth, is always there.’