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Péguy, Charles-Pierre°


PÉGUY, CHARLES-PIERRE ° (1873–1914), French Catholic poet, editor, and essayist. Born in Orleans, Péguy studied at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, where he came under the influence of Henri *Bergson. Politically a radical, he puzzled men of both the left and the right with his unique fusion of socialism and Catholicism. His abiding sympathy for the Jewish people is to be seen in his activities, his writings, and his circle of friends. From 1893, he helped to rally student support for the retrial of *Dreyfus, for socialism, and for the defense of the republic. In 1900 he launched his celebrated Cahiers de la Quinzaine, which popularized the works of many Jewish authors, including André *Spire, Edmond *Fleg, André *Suarès, and the English novelist Israel *Zangwill. Jewish subscribers played a major part in keeping the journal alive. Péguy's bookshop near the Sorbonne became a rendezvous for liberal writers and intellectuals. A man of stern convictions, Péguy cherished four great spiritual traditions: Hebrew, Greek, Christian, and French. He believed that, while the Catholics had read for only two centuries and the Protestants since Calvin, Israel – the "eternally anguished people" – had read for 2,000 years. He adhered to the Catholic view that the Old Testament prefigured the New, but regarded the Jewish people as "the only race to have given prophets… to be of the race of prophets." Thus, Péguy considered his friend, Bernard *Lazare, though an atheist, "a prophet of Israel," because of his quest for justice. For Péguy, Israel's vocation was to remain faithful to itself and pursue its historic mission of prophecy, and he hinted that Israel's divine mission had not ended with the Christian revelation. In Notre jeunesse (1910), Péguy criticized the reactionary turncoat Daniel *Halévy, who had once been his friend. Notre Patrie (1905), Portrait de Bernard Lazare (1928), and L'Argent (1913) reflect other aspects of his philo-Semitism. Péguy's thought seems to have been influenced by Jewish messianism. This is particularly apparent in his poem, Le Mystère de la Charité de Jeanne d'Arc (1910 and many subsequent editions), in which Joan, fighting for both the soul and the homesteads of France, becomes the symbol of mankind's struggle for temporal salvation and his "eternal need for spiritual salvation." Péguy died in action on the Marne at the beginning of World War i.


A. Salomon, In Praise of Enlightenment (1963), 375–86; A. Suarès, Péguy (Fr., 1915); D. Halévy, Charles Péguy et les Cahiers de la Quinzaine (1918); Rabi, in: Esprit, 32 no. 8–9 (1964), 331–42; Prajs, in: Cahiers Paul Claudel, no. 7 (1968), 387–404.

[Jacqueline Kahanoff]

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