Raïssa Maritain, the Allure of Suffering, and the French Catholic Revival (1905-1944)
308 pages, 6.00 x 9.00
Paperback | 9780268035297 | January 2013
eBook (Web PDF) | 9780268086893 | December 2012
In early twentieth-century France, a vast network of artists, writers, and religious seekers were drawn to Roman Catholicism's elaborate panoply of symbols centered on suffering. A preoccupation with affliction dominated the movement now known as the French Catholic revival, or the renouveau catholique—considered a watershed in the history of the modern Catholic Church and the "golden age" of French Catholicism. In Sacred Dread, Brenna Moore examines the life and writings of Raïssa Maritain (1883-1960), one of the few women to contribute to this intellectual movement. Moore explores the reasons why Maritain, a nonpracticing Jew, was attracted to this suffering-centered theological imagination and how she and other advocates transformed it in the wake of the Holocaust. Sacred Dread offers readers a new understanding of a radical Catholic piety that was embraced by a wide range of pre-war intellectuals.
By combining late-modern French intellectual and cultural history, Catholic theology, biography, and an analysis of Maritain's published and unpublished writings, Moore also identifies two major factors in this Catholic revival—gender and Judaism—that have not received adequate attention. Discourses of femininity and Judaism were central to the French Catholic articulation and idealization of suffering. Moore argues that Maritain, as a Jewish convert and one of the few women in this intellectual community, embodied symbolic associations of suffering, holiness, women, and Jews; indeed, for her husband, godfather, confessors, friends, and godchildren, Raïssa Maritain was herself the articulation of this abject ideal. Caught as she was in a web of meaning, Raïssa Maritain was an intellectual whose legacy deepens but also subverts the centrality of femininity and Judaism in French Catholic elaborations of suffering.
Brenna Moore is assistant professor of theology at Fordham University.
"Sacred Dread is a remarkable achievement, especially considering it is the author's first book. It weaves history, biography and theology together in a profoundly captivating narrative that is both interesting and inspiring . . . Though the theme of suffering may no longer exercise the same allure on spiritual practice and theological thinking, it remains a constitutive dimension of Christian identity. Moore's book and Maritain's life offer us a powerful reminder of this." —America Magazine
“A great satisfaction of Sacred Dread is that it is about far more than its proximate subject of Raïssa Maritain. Moore also confronts methodological issues challenging historians and scholars of religious history today, such as how agents negotiate the power and limits of discourses and available identity positions.” —Journal of the American Academy of Religion
“Sacred Dread is a rewarding, indispensable study. It offers readers a historically informed account of Maritain’s life and works; situates her as someone other than a mere spectator in the cultural flowering of the Catholic Revival; and re-establishes her reputation as more than the contemplative, withdrawn, ever-ailing partner of one of the twentieth century’s greatest Catholic public intellectuals.” —The Catholic Historical Review
“Sacred Dread is an ambitious and learned book written by a theologian steeped in the most recent historical scholarship on French Catholicism and France in the first half of the twentieth century, as well as in the current feminist historical scholarship on religion and gender. . . . Moore’s historical sensitivity and her ability to evoke and illuminate key moments in twentieth-century French Catholic (and Jewish) history ought to make the book of considerable interest to historians of modern French Catholicism and twentieth-century France.” —H-France Review
"Sacred Dread is both a historically informed and theologically acute account of Raïssa Maritain's poetry, mysticism, and friendships . . . [and] an indispensable study of a luminous moment in the history of 20th-century Catholicism." —Theological Studies
"In five chapters arranged roughly chronologically in order to make the work also function as a detailed biography of Maritain's life, [Moore] addresses Maritain's understanding of suffering from a variety of angles which provide a wealth of new resources both for understanding Maritain herself and, more broadly, for understanding the role of suffering in piety." —Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality
"Brenna Moore's book Sacred Dread, focused as it is on Raïssa Maritain, examines in particular two key questions that underlie much of the piety and theology of the [Catholic] Revival and yet go largely unsaid: the place of suffering and the role of women. In so doing, it makes important contributions to the study of this movement on the whole, to Maritain in particular, and to the ongoing theological analysis of how Christianity has treated both the Jews and the suffering of women." —Collegium
"Sacred Dread offers readers a historically informed account of Raïssa Maritain's life and works, a theologically perceptive examination of her mysticism, and a gendered analysis of her suffering that eschews caricature for rewarding insight." —Horizons
"This elegant account of Raïssa Maritain's contribution to the twentieth-century French Catholic revival helps to correct the imbalance in scholarly attention that has disproportionately favored her husband, often ignoring Raïssa or treating her work as a mere extension of Jacques's project. Moore instead repositions Raïssa's as a central voice in the turn-of-the-century revival that saw an unprecedented wave of French intellectuals convert to Catholicism at the very moment when the Republic was systematically dismantling the Church's legal privileges." —Modern Intellectual History
“Like any good dissertation that transforms into a better book, Sacred Dread demonstrates far more than its stated thesis avers. It explores the interrelationships between Christianity, Judaism, gender, suffering, nationality, nationalism, friendship, exile, and the Holocaust. At the same time, Sacred Dread balances these diverse topics with a clear focus on one woman and one theme in her evolving theology: ‘feminized suffering’.”—Church History