True personality Print
By Jacques Maritain   
Thursday, 19 January 2012

Pascal asserts that “the self is detestable.” This expression is a commonplace of Pascalian literature. In every-day language when we represent someone as “self-assertive,” do we not mean that he is self-centered, imperious and dominating – scarcely capable of friendship? A distinguished contemporary artist once remarked, “I do not like others;” a remark that reveals a strongly asserted personality. In this sense, we might construe personality to consist in self-realization achieved at the expense of others. So construed, personality would always imply a certain selfishness or imperviousness because no place remains for anything or anyone else in the man who is busy with himself.

On the other hand, is it not a serious reproach to assert of a man that he has no personality? Do not heroes and saints impress us as men who have reached the heights of personality as well as generosity? Nothing great is accomplished in the world save through a heroic fidelity to some truth which a man who says “I” sees and proclaims; a heroic fidelity to some mission which he, himself, a human person, must fulfill; of which, perhaps, he alone is aware and for which he lays down his life.

But let us turn to the Gospel; no personality is more magnificently asserted than that of Christ. Revealed dogma tells us that it is the personality itself of the Uncreated Word.
Here, in contrast to the expression of Pascal that “the self is detestable,” the words of St. Thomas come to mind; “the person is that which is most noble and most perfect in all of nature.” Whereas Pascal teaches that “the self is detestable,” St. Thomas teaches that whosoever loves God must love himself for the sake of God, must love his own soul and body with a love of charity. Concern for self – or what contemporary psychology calls introversion – can wreak much havoc. Those who have been reared in a strict Puritanism are said to complain of a suffering, a kind of interior paralysis, created by self-consciousness. On the other hand, philosophers, above all St. Augustine and in modern times Hegel, teach that self-knowledge is a privilege of the spirit; that much human progress consists in the progress of consciousness of self.

What do these contradictions mean? They mean that the human being is caught between two poles; a material pole, which, in reality, does not concern the true person but rather the shadow of personality or what, in the strict sense, is called individuality, and a spiritual pole, which does concern true personality.


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