Charles Péguy (Photo: Eugène Pirou/Wikimedia Commons)

What moves God is to see hope in men

Every age has those "two parties": the party of those who work, build, love, create, who must endure the other party, that of those who destroy, demolish, use violence, hate. Charles Péguy's words on hope (from "Libero" newspaper, December 17)
Antonio Socci

The devastation of the "Hundred Years' War" was as immense as the desolation of Charles Péguy's Joan of Arc. His words (in the Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc) overflow with the despair of all wars and all destruction: "All our efforts are in vain. War has more power than anything when it comes to making people suffer.” The girl – who is still only an unknown shepherdess – seems annihilated by its disproportion: "All that is needed to set a farm ablaze is a flint. It takes, it took two years to build it…. It takes months and months, it took work and more work to make the crop grow. And all that is needed to set a crop ablaze is a flint. It takes years and years to make a man grow, it took bread and more bread to feed him, and work and more work, and all kinds of work. And all that is needed to kill him is one blow...."

Then – bitterly – she notes, "We people will always be the weaker ones. We will always go more slowly…. We are the party of those who build up. They are the party of those who pull down. We are the party of the plough. They are the party of the sword. We will always be beaten. They will always get the better of us." These are the desolate words that Péguy makes the girl say. Yet she is the person who, shortly thereafter, will be called by God: she will leave the countryside, get on a horse and – without killing – will raise her people, up leading them to liberation. A resounding story of holiness (which ends at the stake on which the young martyr will be burned). Every age has those "two parties": the party of those who work, build, love, create, who must endure another party, that of those who destroy, demolish, use violence, hate and devastate. The usual bipartisanship. But where did the people of the plough come from? The Mysteries that Péguy dedicated to Joan of Arc – one of the most astonishing literary masterpieces of the 20th century – wonderfully shows what the strength of the powerless is, what leads the "powerless" to victory: Hope. Hope is the true protagonist of the lives of all human beings who face the toil of living every day, who work, build, give birth to children, who face pain and especially the most immense pain (which Péguy experienced): the suffering of children, the pain of the innocent. Hope has a divine origin, to such an extent that it is one of the three theological virtues, the virtues that are aroused by divine grace. It is little Hope, say Péguy's poems, that little girl who takes her two older sisters by the hand and leads them, with luminous eyes: Charity, which is the great hospital where the wounds of humanity are healed, and Faith, the great oak planted like a cathedral on the soil of France.

To understand and enjoy Péguy's stupendous Mysteries, one can read a small and valuable book just published by Paolo Prosperi, Mistero dei misteri. La speranza secondo Péguy [Mystery of Mysteries. Hope According to Péguy]. Prosperi begins with this pearl by Péguy: God himself is moved by us, by the hope of men, He is amazed at the beauty and strength that His grace stirs in the souls of His poor children. This daily miracle touches His heart. Not long ago, the Italian Center for Sociological studies defined the state of mind today's Italians with the word "melancholy." That is present too, but what amazes and moves God is the hope of so many who build and love every day. The silent people of the plough.

(from Libero newspaper, December 17)