Fragments of Light

On the Charity of Charles Péguy, Part Two

I am, God says, the​ Master of Three Virtues.
​​Faith is a soldier, a captain who defends a fortress.
A town belonging to the King,
On the marches of Gascony, on the marches of Lorraine.
Charity is a doctor, a Little Sister of the poor,
Who nurses the sick, who nurses the wounded,
The poor subjects of the King,
On the marches of Gascony, on the marches of Lorraine.
But it is my little hope
Who says good-day to the poor man and the orphan.

I am, God says, the Lord of the Virtues.
Faith is a church, a cathedral rooted in the soil of France
Charity is a hospital, an alms-house which gathers up wretchedness of the world.
But without hope it would be nothing but a cemetery.

I am, God says, the Lord of the Virtues.
It is Faith who watches through centuries of centuries.
It is Charity who watches through centuries of centuries.
But it is my little hope
who lies down every evening
and gets up every morning
and really has very good nights.

I am, God says, the Lord of that virtue.

It is my little ​hope
who goes to sleep every evening,
in her child’s bed,
after having said a good prayer,
and who wakes every morning and gets up
and says her prayers with new attention.

I am, God says, Lord of the Three Virtues.
Faith is a great tree, an oak rooted in the heart of France,
And under the wings of that tree,
Charity, my daughter Charity shelters all the distress of the world.
And my little hope is only that little promise of a bud which shows itself at the very beginning of April.

—Charles Péguy, ​The Mystery of the Holy Innocents​

​In another of his works, Portal of the Mystery of Hope, the French poet, Charles Péguy continues his theme of hope:

“The faith that I love best, says God, is hope.
Faith doesn’t surprise me.
Its not surprising
I am so resplendent in my creation. . . .
That in order really not to see me these poor people would have to be blind.
Charity says God, that doesn’t surprise me.
Its not surprising.
These poor creatures are so miserable that unless they had a heart of stone, how could they not have love for one another.
How could they not love their brothers.
How could they not take the bread from their own mouth, their daily bread, in order to give it to the unhappy children who pass by.
And my son had such love for them. . . .
But hope, says God, that is something that surprises me.
Even me.
That is surprising.
That these poor children see how things are going and believe that tomorrow things will go better.
That they see how things are going today and believe that they will go better tomorrow morning.
That is surprising and its by far the greatest marvel of our grace.
And I’m surprised by it myself.
And my grace must indeed be an incredible force.”

Writing about Portal of the Mystery of Hope, Jean Bastaire notes: “Carried by hope, poetry here fulfills its highest office: not embellishment, but conversion, resurrection from death, and a drawing from misery into the light. At the same time, it rediscovers a theological and mystical function: . . . the flesh of the religious experience, the breath of contact with the ontological. Theological poetry renews a relationship with the great symbolical tradition. (. . . ) This is not to say that it thinks by means of myths, those vast mother-images that are an intensification of a fundamental experience. Instead, it thinks by means of symbols. And rather than being borrowed from the abstract universals of concepts, these symbols are drawn from concrete, phenomenological, and historical reality. Péguy is a faithful reader who unveils the divine reality from within the human reality. With his crafty tone and his gros sabots, he comprehends the language of God.”

Like his character little Hope, Péguy was rooted in the simple, powerless things of this world but in his poetry he kept his gaze heavenward.
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