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CHARLESPEGUY

WhenhesatoffonfootforChartreshewasamanwhoprobablythought ofhimselfasanallaroundfailure.

In1912,asparemanwithaspadebeardsetoffonfootfromParis, hisdestinationthecathedralofChartres.HisnamewasCharlesPeguy,he wasjustshyoffortyyearsofage,hewasapoet,pamphleteer,patriotand, aboveall,aCatholicwhocherishedhisfaiththemorebecauseoftheyears hehadspentawayfromit.Twoyearslaterhewouldbeoneofthefirstto fallforFranceinWorldWarI.Eightyyearslaterheismentionedoften, writtenofsome,readlittle.WhowasCharlesPeguy? ManyfirstencounteredhiminRaissaMaritain'smemoirs.Heenters theMaritains'lifeasownerofabookstore,CahiersdelaQuinzaine,which canstillbeseenontheRuedelaSorbonne,avestigialrebuketothe institutionacrossthestreet.Raissapresentsuswiththeportraitofaslightly olderman,married,withchildrenhehadnothadbaptized,asocialist,a manofenormousintegritywhohadbrokenwithhisformerpoliticalallies, livingaprecariouslife. Inhersecondbookofmemoirs,AdventuresinGrace,Raissa discussesPeguy'sreligiousdifficulties.Heraccountbeginswithaquotation fromPeguy,"IhavefoundtheFaithagain,IamaCatholic."Thushecame beforetheAmericanCatholicreaderasawriterwho,havingwanderedin

RalphMcInerny,2005.

thebywaysofsocialismanduneasyagnosticism,returnedtothefaithand foundinJoanofArctheoverwhelmingsymbolofFrance. ThefactisthathewroteJeanned'Arcalmostadecadebeforehis returntotheChurchin1907anditistemptingtothinkthatsheattracted himbecauseofherfailure,hermartyrdom,hervictoryindefeat.Peguy's ownlifedidnotdescribearisingline.Itwasnotexactlyaspiraldownward either,butaloopingprogressionfromhopethroughhalfaccomplishment toreversal.WhenhesatoffonfootforChartreshewasamanwho probablythoughtofhimselfasanallaroundfailure. Withwriters,itiscustomarytotradeoffadissatisfyinglifeforthe storiesorpoemsthatcomeoutofit,countingthesacrificeofthepoet smallpricetopayforhispoetry.Thisromanticconceptionoftheartistdies hard.Inanycase,Peguywouldhaverepudiateditwithdisdain.Hewanted recognitionandacclaim.Hefelthedeservedit.Hedidnotreceiveit.Is theresuccessinfailure? TheChristiansignsuponhimselfthecrosswhichsymbolizesthe cruelexecutionofhispubliclydiscreditedLord.Inhocsignovinces?But victoryunderthissignalmostalwayslookslikeworldlydefeat.Oneofthe fascinationsofPeguyisthathesoughtworldlyacclaimbywritingon themeswhichcallintoquestionworldlyacclaim. Onlyyouknowourloveliestsentiments Lastnomorethanthespaceofaday RalphMcInerny,2005.

Andthestrongestandmostlastinglove Lastsnomorethanmoments. Thoselinesarefrom,Eve,saidtobethelongestpoeminFrench,one thousand,ninehundredquatrains,orseventhousandsixhundredfortyfour lines.Thatisthesizeofagoodsizednovel.Aprettyheftybidforattention. Hisprosewritingsarestuddedwith mots."Therearelotsofhonest men.Youcantellthembythewaytheydobadthingsbadly.""Expertson youtharealmostassadasexpertsonlove.""Kantianismhaspurehands, butithasnohands.""Oneisnolongerapoetaftertwelveyearsofage." "Onewordisalwaysbetterthanmany."And,fairwarningperhaps,"One shouldneverbelievewhatapoetsays." TheMaritains,intheirfervorasconverts,confidedinPeguywhat hadhappenedtothem."ButItoohavecometothat,"hecried.Whatdid thepoetmean?JacqueswasnotedifiedtolearnthatPeguymissedMasson SundayaswellasAscensionDay.Whatkindoffaithwasthisthatdidnot expressitselfinthepracticesthefaithrequired?ButPeguy'smarriagewas notblessedandhischildrenwereunbaptizedandhiswifewasopposedto rectifyingeither.Theyhadmarriedinacivilceremony,shecameof revolutionarystock,andPeguyappearstohavefeltboundbythenatureof thecompacttheyhadenteredinto,consideringitamatterofjustice.Togo toMasswouldbetoendurethesufferingofseparatinghimselffromhis family,andtobeunabletoreceivecommunion.ThiswasPeguy'sagonizing RalphMcInerny,2005.

situation.Hemayserveasakindofpatronforthosecaughtinsimilar seeminglyinsolublecircumstances. JacquesMaritainmadeadisastrousvisittoPeguy'swifeto convinceherthat,sincebaptismwasameaninglessgestureinhereyes,she shouldaccedetoPeguy'sdesires.Thevisitdescendedintotheological wrangling.Raissatriestoputthebestfaceonit,butitisdifficultnottosee thevisitasenormouslyimprudent.ItcausedariftbetweentheMaritains andPeguy. PeguyhadbeenachampionofDreyfus,andfelloutwithhisformer allies.Hewasadifficultfriendandaferociousfoe.Hereturnedtothefaith butnottocommunionanditwasonlyonthebattlefieldthathereentered thesacramentallife.Peguyisapuzzle,nodoubtaboutit.Hispoetry,which translateswithdifficulty,hascomeintoEnglish,buthisprosehasnot.The fifteenyearsofhisCahiers,chockfullofhisgreatpolemicsandcrusades, areexcitingtoread.HisblastagainstDurkheimandsociologymakes tellingpoints.HisfeelingthattheChurch,bytreatingtheapostateErnest Renanwithsuchgentleness,seemedtohaveadoptedtheliberalismthathad ledRenanoutofthepriesthoodandoutoftheChurch,isashrewd analysis. ThereareFrenchwriterswhohavewrittenoutofaCatholic sensibilitybutwhoseliveshavebeenfarfromedifying.Onethinksof ChateaubriandandBarbeyd'Aureyville,tokeepexamplesdiscreetlyinthe RalphMcInerny,2005.

past.Peguydoesnotfallintothiscategory.Farfromit.Withthereturnof faithcameasettledCatholicoutlook,thatpervadedhislifeandeverything hewrote."Itisprobablethathedidnothavethat`illumination'which suddenlyseizedClaudeloneChristmasafternoonatNotreDameduringthe singingoftheMagnificat,butthataninteriorchangetookplacebyslow increments.WhenhemadehisremarktoLotte[thathehadregainedthe faith],hewassureofhimself,andwhenhedeclaredhimselfsubjecttothe absolute`order'ofOurLadyofChartreshehadacceptedthefaithasa gift."(LouisPerche) In1910appearedTheMysteryoftheCharityofJoanofArc.The adoptionofanopenlyCatholicoutlookalienatedmanysubscriberstothe Cahiers,whohadcomeaboardwhenPeguywasasocialist.Hegainednew readers,ofcourse,someofthemasequivocalasthosehehadlost.Hewas embracedasanunquestioningpatriot,aherooftheright.ButPeguy's politicsseemasnonideologicalasthoseofBernanos. PeguydeservesarevivalofinterestonthepartofCatholics. Anyonecanlovethepoetry,buttheprose,shoulditfinditswayinto English,wouldclaim,Ithink,awidereadership.Passionate,provoking,in theworldbutnotofit,livinghislifeinakindoflimbo,Peguyendedasa hero,bothmoralandmilitary.JoanofArcmusthavewelcomedhimhome.

RalphMcInerny,2005.