Everything Begins in Mysticism
This month marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of a great modern Catholic genius. Like many such geniuses, he and his legacy have been all but forgotten. But Charles Péguy will return – for some of us he never left – because his words and the witness of his life offer a vitally original perspective on the modern Church and the contemporary world: a perspective that, paradoxically, also becomes more and more relevant – and perhaps a way out of our accelerating crises – with each passing day.
Long before the term “political correctness” became a media shibboleth, for instance, Péguy noted how certain attitudes were becoming obligatory at political demonstrations: “If you don’t take that line you don’t look sufficiently progressive. . .and it will never be known what acts of cowardice have been motivated by the fear of looking insufficiently progressive.”
Coming from a young socialist – until he experienced being “canceled” (avant la lettre) by the party’s nomenklatura – this reflects the unwavering honesty and decency of a man who refused to lie just because it reflected badly on his own party. He paid the price: poverty (a heavy burden for someone with a wife and four children) and marginalization by former friends.
This all occurred over the closing of Catholic schools and monasteries by the anti-Catholic French President Émile Combes, in theory because of the Church’s role in the Dreyfus Affair. Péguy was not a Catholic at the time, but it was simply clear to him that the injustice against Dreyfus (a false charge of treason) didn’t justify another injustice – against Catholics.