Pillar of Fire

I was just reading Tia’s blog in which she mentioned Jacques Maritain. This recalled to me a passage from a book I read last year, Pillar of Fire by Karl Stern. Stern was a high profile Jewish German scientist who eventually ended up in the USA and converted to Christianity (Roman Catholic). This passage is a recollection of a meeting he had with Maritain. It made my heart beat fast. Of course, I copied it word for word into my journal.

“[Maritain] implored me not to allow the precious fruit of my spiritual experience to be corroded by psychological self-analysis, to believe in the genuineness of these insights which occur quite on a plane apart from that of primitive motivations. He spoke of the bleeding wounds on the visible body of the Church; of the divinity of Christ as a stumbling block for the Jews. He spoke in a peculiarly sketchy way, in hints rather than statements. Yet there was an impression of substance and clarity about everything he said. He held his hands compact and made movements with his fingers as if he were kneading materials into thoughts. His head was attentively bent, his eyes had a remote gaze; although it was warm in the room he wore loosely around his shoulder a muffler which had no function as a piece of clothing.

“Since I spoke almost in a whisper he had moved up closely and spoke also in a whisper. He asked me the most personal questions about my spiritual life but there was not for a moment the feeling of obtrusiveness or indiscretion. I had from the first moment the deep impression of a strange and pleasant form of personal directness which was the result of a great charity and humility. As we sat in the somber salon in the midst of velvet draperies and whispered about the shekinah and the divinity of Christ, I became aware of the uniqueness of the situation. We were stripped of accidentals of national and social origin, and circumstances found strange neighbors huddling. In moments of great intensity historical time ceases. I could just as well have been inside the catacombs, a helpless catachumen whispering to an apostle.”

There are some other amazing passages in this book. Rather than copy them out (again), I should perhaps be satisfied to say, please read this book! Pub. information: Doubleday & Company, Garden City, 1959.
I found it at the public library.

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