Charles Péguy, that strange, early-twentieth-century French polemicist and poet, stood both inside and outside the Church. Much of his work, too, stands in a strange place: that sort of halflight in which theology and literature are no longer readily distinguishable, and sometimes, as in his triptych, The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc, The Portal of the Mystery of Hope, and The Mystery of the Holy Innocents, we do not really know who is speaking, the poet or God. Péguy was a difficult man who wished to stand in the most difficult place: the place of purification where the word of man, that is, the poet’s word, prayer, and ultimately the word of fidelity to God and to neighbor that gathers up the whole of man, encounters the word of God, where man himself encounters God and undergoes the painful shaping worked upon him by grace. He wished to stand at that point where prayer, dialogue, the human word, meet and are assumed into the source of all dialogue: God, who is three and one. He also meant to take the mystery of the Incarnation seriously, and thereby to gaze upon the world and man in such a way that they are, at last, given all their weight. It is not clear if he meant, in so doing, to discover from within this “earthly earth” the source of hope and thereby of life, but this is in fact what he did. In allowing himself to be stripped for the sake of his poetical-theological task, in the painful experience of failure, public and private, Péguy became a remarkable expositor of what Benedict calls “the true shape of Christian hope.” We will follow Péguy’s slow discovery of the ground of our hope as it takes place in the progression of the three Mysteries, in order to discern with him, through the difficult school of prayer and suffering to which both he and his Joan of Arc (the main character of the Mysteries) were subjected, the virtue that makes this worn-out world somehow continuously resplendent with its original purity and perfection, makes it come to us ever-new, in all the light of that judgment in which it was first seen and pronounced good. Hope can do this, as we will come to see, because it is also the virtue that somehow, mysteriously, guarantees the archetypical, eternal “newness,” purity, and perfection of God.
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