Charles Péguy

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Charles Péguy
Jean-Pierre Laurens-Péguy.jpg
Portrait of Charles Péguy, by Jean-Pierre Laurens, 1908
Born Charles Pierre Péguy
(1873-01-07)7 January 1873
Orléans, France
Died Script error: The function "death_date_and_age" does not exist.
Villeroy, France
Occupation Writer
Nationality French
Alma mater École Normale Supérieure

Charles Pierre Péguy (French: [ʃaʁl peɡi]; 7 January 1873 – 5 September 1914) was a noted French poet, essayist, and editor. His two main philosophies were socialism and nationalism, but by 1908 at the latest, after years of uneasy agnosticism, he had become a believing but non-practicing Roman Catholic.[1][2][3] From that time, Catholicism strongly influenced his works.


Péguy was born to poverty in Orléans.[4] His mother Cécile, widowed when he was an infant, mended chairs for a living. His father Désiré Péguy was a cabinet maker, who died in 1874 as a result of combat wounds. Péguy studied at the Lycée Lakanal in Sceaux, winning a scholarship at the École normale supérieure (Paris), where he attended notably the lectures of Henri Bergson and Romain Rolland, whom he befriended. He formally left without graduating, in 1897, though he continued attending some lectures in 1898. Influenced by Lucien Herr, librarian of the École Normale Supérieure, he became an ardent Dreyfusard.

In 1897, Péguy married Charlotte-Françoise Baudoin; they had one daughter and three sons, one of whom was born after Péguy's death. Around 1910 he fell deeply in love with Blanche Raphael, a young Jewish friend; however, he was faithful to his wife.

From his earliest years, he was influenced by socialism. He joined the Socialist Party in 1895. From 1900 until his death in 1914, he was the main contributor to and the editor of the literary magazine Les Cahiers de la Quinzaine, which at first supported the Socialist Party director Jean Jaurès. However, Péguy ultimately ended this support after he began viewing Jaurès as a traitor to the nation and to socialism. In the Cahiers, Péguy published not only his own essays and poetry, but also works by important contemporary authors such as Romain Rolland.

His free-verse poem, "Portico of the Mystery of the Second Virtue", has gone through more than 60 editions in France. It was a favorite book of Charles de Gaulle.

Péguy, photo by Eugène Pirou

When the Great War broke out, Péguy became a lieutenant in the 19th company of the French 276th Infantry Regiment. He died in battle, shot in the forehead, near Villeroy, Seine-et-Marne on the day before the beginning of the Battle of the Marne.[5] There is a memorial to Péguy near the field where he was killed.


Cover of Die Aktion with Péguy's portrait by Egon Schiele

Benito Mussolini referred to Péguy as a "source" for Fascism; Péguy would have likely been horrified by this appropriation.[6][7] During the Second World War both supporters and opponents of Vichy France cited Péguy. Edmond Michelet was the first of many members of the French Resistance to quote Péguy; de Gaulle, familiar with Péguy's writing, quoted him a 1942 speech. Those who opposed Vichy's anti-Semitism laws often cited him. By contrast, Robert Brasillach praised Péguy as a "French National Socialist", and Péguy's sons Pierre and Marcel wrote that their father was an inspiration for Vichy's National Revolution ideology and "above all, a racist".[8]

The English novelist Graham Greene alluded to Péguy in Brighton Rock, while The Heart of the Matter has as its epigraph a quotation from Péguy.[9] In The Lawless Roads Greene refers to Péguy "challenging God in the cause of the damned".[10]

The Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, in the course of describing the history of art as an ongoing, sometimes more and sometimes less successful approximation of God's creativeness, noted that Peguy's Eve was a "theological redemption of the project of Proust", meaning that where Proust was gifted with memory and charity, the Eve of Peguy – not necessarily Peguy himself – was gifted with memory, charity, and direct knowledge of the redemption of God.[11]

Charles Péguy Memorial

Geoffrey Hill published a poem in 1983 as a homage to Péguy, entitled The Mystery of the Charity of Charles Péguy.[12]

Famous quotations

"The sinner is at the very heart of Christianity. Nobody is so competent as the sinner in matters of Christianity. Nobody, except the saint." This is the epigraph to Graham Greene's novel The Heart of the Matter (1951).[13]

"It will never be known what acts of cowardice have been committed for fear of not looking sufficiently progressive." (Notre Patrie, 1905)

"Tyranny is always better organised than freedom".[14]

"Kantian ethics has clean hands but, in a manner of speaking, actually no hands."[15]

"How maddening, says God, it will be when there are no longer any Frenchmen."[16]

"There will be things that I do that no one will be left to understand." (Le Mystère des saints Innocents)

"It is impossible to write ancient history because we do not have enough sources, and impossible to write modern history because we have too many". (Clio, 1909)

"Everything begins in mysticism and ends in politics." (Notre Jeunesse, 1909)



  • (1901). De la Raison.
  • (1902). De Jean Coste.
  • (1905). Notre Patrie.
  • (1907–08). Situations.
  • (1910). Notre Jeunesse.
  • (1910). Victor-Marie, Comte Hugo.
  • (1911). Un Nouveau Théologien.
  • (1913). L'Argent.
  • (1913). L'Argent Suite.
  • (1914). Note sur M. Bergson et la Philosophie Bergsonienne.
  • (1914). Note Conjointe sur M. Descartes et la Philosophie Cartésienne (posth.)
  • (1931). Clio. Dialogue de l'Histoire et de l'âme Païenne (posth.)
  • (1972). Véronique. Dialogue de l'Histoire et de l'âme Charnelle. Paris: Gallimard (posth.)


  • (1912). Le Porche du Mystère de la Deuxième Vertu.
  • (1913). La Tapisserie de Sainte Geneviève et de Jeanne d'Arc.
  • (1913). La Tapisserie de Notre-Dame.
  • (1913). Ève.


  • (1897). Jeanne d'Arc. Paris: Librairie de la Revue Socialiste.
  • (1910). Le Mystère de la Charité de Jeanne d'Arc.
  • (1912). Le Mystère des Saints Innocents.


  • (1927). Lettres et Entretiens (posth.)
  • (1980). Correspondance, 1905–1914: Charles Péguy – Pierre Marcel. Paris: Minard (posth.)

Collected Works

  • (1916–55). Œuvres Complètes de Charles-Péguy. Paris: Gallimard (20 vols.)
  • (1941). Œuvres Poétiques Complètes. Bibliothèque de la Pléiade: Gallimard.
  • (1987–92). Œuvres en Prose Complètes:
    • Tome I. Bibliothèque de la Pléiade: Gallimard, 1987.
    • Tome II. Bibliothèque de la Pléiade: Gallimard, 1988.
    • Tome III. Bibliothèque de la Pléiade: Gallimard, 1992.

Works in English translation

  • (1943). "Freedom," Commonweal, 8 January, p. 293.
  • (1943). Basic Verities. Prose and Poetry, Trans. by Ann and Julien Green. New York: Pantheon Books Inc.
  • (1944). Man and Saints. Prose and Poetry, Trans. by Ann and Julien Green. New York: Pantheon Books Inc.
  • (1950). The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc, Trans. by Julien Green. New York: Pantheon Books Inc. [London: Hollis & Carter, 1950; Carcanet, 1986].
  • (1956). The Mystery of the Holy Innocents, Trans. by Pansy Pakenham. London: The Harvill Press [New York: Harper, 1956].
    • (1999). "The Mystery of the Holy Innocents," Communio 26 (2).
  • (1958). Temporal and Eternal, Tran. by Alexander Dru. London: The Harvill Press [New York: Harper, 1958; Liberty Fund, 2001].
  • (1964). A Vision of Prayer. Mount Saint Bernard Abbey: Saint Bernard Press.
  • (1965). God Speaks. New York: Pantheon Books Inc.
  • (1970). The Portico of the Mystery of the Second Virtue, Trans. by Dorothy Brown Aspinwall. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press.
    • (1994). "On the Mystery of Hope," Communio 21 (3).
    • (1996). The Portal of the Mystery of Hope, Trans. by David Louis Schindler Jr. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark [Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003; Continuum, 2005].
  • (2009). "On Money," Communio 36 (3).


  1. "Peguy's Catholicism was closely allied with his love of France. Of him, as also of Psichari, it might almost be said that they were Catholics because they were Frenchmen. A non-Catholic Frenchman seemed a monstrosity, something cut off from the true life of his country. Some Catholicism is international or indifferent to country, with almost the motto, 'What matters country so long as the Church survives?' But that is not the Catholicism of these young Frenchmen, nor the Catholicism of the recent religious revival." – Rawlinson, Gerald Christopher (1917). "Charles Péguy," in Recent French Tendencies from Renan to Claudel. London: Robert Scott, p. 121.
  2. "In France the classic type of the fervent but non-practising Catholic was probably best represented by Charles Péguy". — Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Erik von (1952). Liberty or Equality. Caldwell, Idaho: The Caxton Printers, Ltd., p. 194.
  3. Ralph McInerny. "Charles Péguy" Archived 30 May 2010 at the Wayback Machine, 2005.
  4. MacLeod, Catriona (1937). "Charles Péguy (1873–1914)," The Irish Monthly, Vol. 65, No. 770, pp. 529–541.
  5. Schmitt, Hans (1953). "Charles Péguy: The Man and the Legend, 1873–1953," Chicago Review, Vol. 7, No. 1, pp. 24–37.
  6. Sternhell, Zeev (1994). The Birth of Fascist Ideology: From Cultural Rebellion to Political Revolution. Princeton University Press. p. 35. ISBN 0-691-03289-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Zaretsky, Robert (1996). "Fascism: the Wrong Idea," The Virginia Quarterly Review, pp. 149-155.
  8. Jackson, Julian (2001). France: The Dark Years, 1940–1944. Oxford University Press. pp. 4–5. ISBN 0-19-820706-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Grahame C. Jones, "Graham Greene and the Legend of Péguy". Comparative Literature, XXI(2), Spring 1969, pp. 138–40.
  10. Quoted by Grahame C. Jones, in "Graham Greene and the Legend of Péguy", fn2, p. 139.
  11. Nichols, Aidan. The Word Has Been Abroad. p. 125.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Catholic University Press, 1998
  12. Hill, Geoffrey (1985). Notes – Collected Poems. London: Penguin Books.
  13. Mooney, Harry John; Thomas F. Staley (1964). The Shapeless God: Essays on Modern Fiction. University of Pittsburgh Press. p. 51.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Gabay, J. Jonathan (2005). Gabay's Copywriters' Compendium: The Definitive Professional Writer's Guide. Butterworth-Heinemann. p. 524. ISBN 0-7506-8320-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Rrenban, Monad (2005). Wild, Unforgettable Philosophy: In Early Works of Walter Benjamin. Lexington Books. p. 210. ISBN 0-7391-0845-X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Gannon, Martin J.; Rajnandini Pillai; et al. (2013). Understanding Global Cultures: Metaphorical Journeys Through 31 Nations. Sage Publications. p. 231. ISBN 978-1-4129-9593-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Adereth, Maxwell (1967). Commitment in Modern French Literature: A Brief Study of 'Littérature Engagée' in the Works of Péguy, Aragon, and Sartre. London: Victor Gollancz.
  • Drake, William A. (1926). "Charles Péguy". Contemporary European Writers. London: George G. Harrap & Company. pp. 252–59.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Gallie, W.B. (1948). "Péguy the Moralist". French Studies. II (1): 68–82. doi:10.1093/fs/II.1.68.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Jussem-Wilson, Nelly (1965). Charles Péguy. London: Barnes and Barnes.
  • Jorge Molinas Lara (2014). Crisis and commitment: Political ethics on Charles Péguy. The University of Valencia.
  • Moran, Sean Farrell (1989). "Patrick Pearse and the European Revolt Against Reason", The Journal of the History of Ideas,50, 4, 423–66
  • O'Donnell, Donat (1951). "The Temple of Memory: Péguy," The Hudson Review, Vol. 3, No. 4, pp. 548–574.
  • Schmitt, Hans A. (1967). Charles Péguy: The Decline of an Idealist. Louisiana State University Press.
  • Servais, Yvonne (1950). "Charles Peguy and the Sorbonne: 1873–1914," Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, Vol. 39, No. 154, pp. 159–170.
  • Servais, Yvonne (1953). Charles Péguy: The Pursuit of Salvation. Cork University Press.
  • Turquet-Milnes, G. (1921). "Charles Péguy," in Some Modern French Writers. A Study in Bergsonism. New York: Robert M. McBride & Company, pp. 212–241.
  • Villiers, Marjorie (1965). Charles Péguy: A Study in Integrity. Londres: Collins.

Further reading

  • Halévy, Daniel (1918). Charles Péguy et les Cahiers de la Quinzaine. Paris: Payot.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Mounier, Emmanuel (1931). La Pensée de Charles Péguy. Paris: Plon.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Rolland, Romain (1944). Péguy. Paris: A. Michel.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Secrétain, Roger (1941). Péguy, Soldat de la Liberté. Montréal: Valiquette.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Souday, Paul (1913). "Charles Péguy". Les Livres du Temps. 1. Paris: Émile-Paul. pp. 211–22.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links