Cahiers Péguy


Péguy: “after Jesus, without Jesus”

In Generating Traces in the History of the World, Msgr. Giussani quotes Charles Péguy's judgment:

"For the first time, for the first time after Jesus, we have seen, before our eyes, we are about to see before our eyes a new world arising, if not a city; a new society forming, if not a city – modern society, the modern world. A world, a society in formation, or at least assembling, growing, after Jesus, without Jesus. And the most terrible thing, my friends, we mustn't deny it, is that they have managed. What gives a capital importance to our generation and to the time we live in, my friends, is what puts you at a unique watershed in the history of the world, is what puts you in a tragic, unique situation. You are the first. You are the first of the modern men, your are the first before whom, before whose eyes this has happened, and you have caused to happen, this singular work, this foundation of the modern world, this establishment of the intellectual party of the modern world" (qtd 100-101).  

And then Fr. Giussani adds his comments:

"For the first time since Jesus came the world is no longer Christian. The man who ran to Jesus's enemies to accuse him when Lazarus was raised from the tomb, this man has managed to create a world and a society without Christ. He has managed with our connivance, with our collaboration. The awful problem is that ours is a world – a society – without Christ; the family, school, work, life and social initiatives, government, war and peace, without Christ" (101).

Since Summer time, the awareness of this tragic watershed has been with me like the dropping of a "perception filter." It's tragic to find ourselves in many ways back at the beginning (John 1:10), in which the "historical reality of Christian culture" is of little help in itself, and to some degree may even inoculate people from encountering Christ. We are hardly the first generation now, and it's not unusual to read books or listen to music written by those who have lived their whole lives without having been significantly impacted by the Christian experience. Many of these people are sensitive, thoughtful people, moral people in the best sense of the word: people who grow and change by allowing themselves to be impacted by reality. In many ways, these people are in the best position to recognize a true novelty in the world. Well, if we are again at the beginning, we have to turn again to Jesus and allow him to draw everything into the event horizon of his person.

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About Fred

Kansas City metro area, in Kansas. Father of three. Masters in English (mainly Chaucer through Donne) from Fordham. Work as Customer Service Manager in software specializing in successful implementation and training: bridging people with business requirements and technical specialists.
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  1. Thanks, Fred. This is very thought-provoking. “Many of these people” are indeed “sensitive, thoughtful, moral, allowing themselves to be impacted by reality.” This is one cause for hope. Another great sign of hope is our Pope. I am eager to follow Benedict in 2011, which he has declared a year of the new evangelization.

  2. And yet, we three are Christian. Ad there are others.

    Pretend for a moment that there is a perfect world, where all mankind are Christians, and even that there is only one Church. Would that world be any less fallen today? Would mankind stop sinning?

    No. Until the return of the King, this world is a trial, and the Church and her members would still be full of sinful men, just like you and me and my friend Webster. Sinners who are saved by Grace, but still enduring the temptations, and sometimes succumbing to them. Then we, as Christians, must repent again, ask forgiveness for our sins, and be made clean again. And continue on the journey, until Christ comes, either by His glorious return, or through our own singular death. But despair not for,

    “Even as a man just recovering from illness, walks only so far as he is obliged to go, with a slow and weary step, so the converted sinner journeys along as far as God commands him but slowly and wearily, until he attains a true spirit of devotion, and then, like a sound man, he not only gets along, but he runs and leaps in the way of God’s Commands, and hastens gladly along the paths of heavenly counsels and inspirations. The difference between love and devotion is just that which exists between fire and flame;–love being a spiritual fire which becomes devotion when it is fanned into a flame;–and what devotion adds to the fire of love is that flame which makes it eager, energetic and diligent, not merely in obeying God’s Commandments, but in fulfilling His Divine Counsels and inspirations.” _St. Francis de Sales

    *Golly, that sounds like a post* ;)

  3. Frank, the tragic watershed is not that people continue to sin, but that the world does not know Christ: “He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him.” The western world fell in love with Christ, and allowed him to change everything: infanticide, slavery, the treatment of the sick and old, work, travel, the beauty of a woman’s face. And now this world has grown tired and fickle of Him who makes all things new. Like falling in love and forgetting about it the next day.

  4. And that world will pass away. Fredo, see? This is a thought provoking post!

    Last time I checked, though, the Catholic Church still exists. I detect no “tragic watershed” or any insurmountable obstacle that will trouble me or my faith in Christ’s Church in the slightest.

    The Church will keep slogging, until the Bridegroom returns, even if I personally “buy the farm” while attempting to take Hill 255 (Pork Chop Hill), or if I’m killed like Charles Péguy was, from a lone snipers bullet to the head.

    But what are we to do? St. Peter gave us marching orders to follow what Our King commanded: share the Good News. Don’t despair that many don’t hear it, or don’t want to believe it.

    “While Kings of eternal evil
    Yet darken the hills about,
    Thy part is with broken saber
    To rise on the last redoubt.”

    -Louise Imogen Guistey.

    Take heart lad!

    “These are the times that try men’s souls” -Thomas Paine

  5. “How, then, modern life being what it is, can the Catholic Spirit in art become effective? It is quite true that it cannot exercise its power to the fullest extent. The connection between us and the mediaeval tradition has been broken, and we could not go back if we would. The reasonable man everywhere is a lover of his time. He may see its manysided error, its engulfing materialism, the weakness and the sin of its institutional life; he may even believe that the whole structure of modern civilization is built upon injustice, that it cannot create beauty because it was conceived in ugliness. But he will not, unless he is blind, overlook the patient striving for light and loveliness of which our world is full. Living in an age that has been shaped ruthlessly by war, all of us have witnessed the surging idealism, the courage, of the multitude, and have seen, too, their bitter disillusionment in the outcome of the struggle. It is not so far from earth to Sirius as it is from Péguy and even Brooke to cynical books on the Peace Conference. For better or for worse, our world has dreamed of a crusade; you cannot satisfy it with a protective tariff.”

    -George Nauman Shuster The Catholic spirit in modern English literature (1922)

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