The Sin of the Angel
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By Jacques Maritain
Disparaging pictures of the Scholastic era commonly portray its figures as hard at work in calculating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. The true account of Scholasticism is quite different, as Jacques Maritain’s study in miniature, The Sin of the Angel, deftly demonstrates. The question of the angel’s sin is eminently practical, not esoteric: it revolves around the primordial points of free will, eternal destiny, and the unique nature of God himself. “With a world including intelligent beings,” Maritain writes, “it was metaphysically impossible…to have intelligent and free creatures immune from the possibility of falling into sin. This is a basic verity, whose impact on the way in which we consider the mystery of evil is of primary importance.”
Adjudged by Maritain himself as an admirable translation of the French original, The Sin of the Angel is a highly technical discussion of an intimidating topic. Yet, in the words of its translator, William L. Rossner, S.J., it stands as “an elevated and luminous vision of the evil and the good intellectual creature,” the fruit of a profound appreciation for immense intricacies of Thomistic thought.
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Jacques Maritain (1882–1973) was perhaps the greatest Catholic philosopher of the twentieth century. A convert, along with his wife Raïssa, from agnosticism to Catholicism, Maritain wrote extensively on metaphysics, aesthetics, epistemology, ethics, social and political philosophy, and the philosophy of history—all with the guiding inspiration of the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas.