Daniel-Rops, Henri

views updated


French ecclesiastical historian, essayist, novelist, editor; b. Epinal (Vosges), Jan. 19, 1901; d. Chambéry (Savoie), July 27, 1965. Henri, whose family name was Petiot, was the son of an artillery officer. After attending the Lycée Champollion in Grenoble, he made his higher studies in the faculties of letters and of law at the University of Grenoble. In 1922 he obtained his degree (agrégé ) in history after working under Henri Foçillon and Léon Homo. From then until 1946 he taught history in secondary schools (lycées ) in Chambéry, Amiens, and Neuillysur-Seine. When his writings began to appear he adopted the pseudonym Daniel-Rops, the name of a character in one of his short stories; he did so to avoid the difficulties of obtaining the permission from the ministry of education required of public school teachers who wished to publish. During the four decades preceding his sudden death from a cerebral hemorrhage, his literary output was enormous. Besides numerous short stories, essays, and articles, he published about 70 books, 20 of them novels. Several of his works have been translated into English.

Notre inquiétude (1926) was an appropriate title for his first book, a series of essays, which revealed an unrest characteristic of those who approached maturity during World War I and the disturbed period following it. Although he was reared as a Catholic, his adherence to his faith was for some years nominal. Later he became a devout, zealous Catholic. His next books, La vent dans la nuit (1927), Carte d'Europe (1929), L'âme obscure (1929), Edouard Estain (1931), and Péguy (1933), demonstrated his intelligence and literary skill.

In 1932 he joined a movement, called the New Order, started by three young intellectuals, Arbaud Dandieu, Denis de Rougement, and Robert Aron. Its aim was to supply young Frenchmen, faced with dictatorships, with a political doctrine based on democratic humanism. Daniel-Rops was the principal author of the movement's manifesto in 1934: "Against the declining powers, against absurd and criminal economic regimes, the necessary protestations no longer suffice. A constructive will is required. We want a revolution in the present order."

Soon he passed beyond the small circle of the New Order. In 1934 he asserted himself as a Catholic author with his best-known novel, Mort où est ta victoire? (Death, Where Is Thy Victory? 1946), which was immensely popular and was made into a moving picture. In 1937 appeared Tournant de la France and Ce qui meurt et ce qui naît, two collections of essays whose thesis was that Christianity is the safeguard of the world. L'Épée de feu (1939), his second most famous novel, maintained that the anguish of individuals and of society throughout the course of history makes sense only if one accepts the gospel message. Daniel-Rops was thus clearly outside the action franÇaise movement but very close to Esprit, a more radical movement, and also to the Popular Republicans, the spiritual heirs of Marc sangnier and Sillon. Daniel-Rops became the voice of thoughtful, right minded persons. He maintained a balance that relied above all on Christian values.

In 1941 Octave Aubry asked Daniel-Rops to contribute a volume for the collection Grandes Études historiques, published by the Parisian firm of Fayard, and thereby enabled Daniel-Rops to discover the role best suited to him as a Catholic thinker by returning to his profession as an historian. The volume, entitled Le Peuple de la Bible, appeared July 1, 1943. The Gestapo confiscated and suppressed the book on July 20; but it proved to be the first of 12 volumes on Biblical and ecclesiastical history, completed only on the eve of the author's death, that made its author world famous. It was soon translated into English and other languages. In English this first volume was translated in 1949 as Sacred History (or as Israel and the Ancient World ); it was followed by the enormously popular, Jesus and His Times (1954) and by the ten-volume History of the Church of Christ (1957).

Meanwhile Daniel-Rops had become editor of the popular periodical Ecclesia (1949) and of the collection of texts entitled Textes pour l'histoire sacrée. He drew up plans for and then acted as editor for the 150-volume series, Je sais, je crois (1956), translated as Twentieth Century Encyclopedia of Catholicism (1958). In addition he wrote numerous hagiographical, devotional, and other religious books, illustrated volumes, and essays intended for wide popular consumption. He also delivered many lectures. In 1955 he was elected to the French Academy.

The historical synthesis by Daniel-Rops was not an original one, but it had the merit of placing at the disposal of a vast audience a very readable work whose contents and judgments were sound. The long narrative revealed a Catholic optimist who found in the course of ecclesiastical history much less reason for scandal than for admiration.

[e. jarry]