A God Who Trembles

Fear & Hope in the Poetry of Péguy

Benedict XVI’s encyclical Spe salvi, published a year ago, is magnificent as a theological lesson on the virtue of hope, drawing on Scripture and the church fathers to challenge the misplaced hopes of the modern world.

Nearly a century prior to Benedict’s letter, Charles Péguy (1873–1914) published The Porch of the Mystery of the Second Virtue—also a meditation on hope, but this one by a poet and unlikely mystic in the middle of a harrowing personal drama. Where Benedict speaks to the intellect, Péguy speaks to the heart; where Benedict strives for clarity, Péguy hints at mystery, and does so with an irresistible tenderness.

Charles Péguy was born in Orléans, the son of a carpenter. His father was killed in the Franco-Prussian War when Charles was ten months old. His mother supported herself and her child by mending chairs. Charles received the customary religious education, made his first Communion, and excelled in his studies. In 1895, he enthusiastically “converted” to socialism and became a militant atheist. In 1897, he married Charlotte Baudouin, the sister of a close friend who had died prematurely. With her dowry, Péguy founded a socialist publishing house. While still believing firmly in the socialist ideal, Péguy became...

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About the Author

Jerry Ryan joined the Little Brothers of Jesus in 1959. He lived and worked with them for more than two decades in Europe and South America. He and his family now live in Massachusetts.