I have not forgotten the importance and the gravity of the Centennial that commenced this past summer. In these early days of September the initial German offensive into France was stopped outside of Paris in the "Battle of the Marne." But within this battle, we must recall the 100th anniversary of what seemed at that time only one of a multitude of tragic but otherwise unremarkable battlefield deaths.
It was a brave death, leading an offensive charge, taken out by a single bullet to the brain. He was a brave man, a soldier who loved his country and defended his homeland, a Frenchman, a man of peasant stock, a recently mobilized reserve Lieutenant who owned a book shop and printing press. He was a craftsman who chose and cut his book pages and set his type with great care. But not many people appreciated it.
He was only 41 years old, but the world and life and death and eternity and the deep sky and the stones of cathedrals filled his head and his heart, and he had written passionately in essays and poetry that very few people read or cared about in his lifetime.
No one knew that from his pen the French language sang in ways it had never sung before. No one knew that while he wrote, perched atop stacks of old page proofs, an entire movement of literature was being born. Indeed, it was more; it was a new Esprit.
It would inspire a great revival in French literature, poetry, philosophy, and even theology. It was a flame that would spread out into many lights in the darkness of the coming generations -- rays of hope in the terrible, desperate darkness.
But when the great poet Charles Peguy fell in the Battle of the Marne on September 5, 1914, he was as little known as the times and the turmoil that were destined to fall upon Europe; as little known as the grandeur and the heroism of so many people who would come after him -- who would read his work from out of the ashes of the Great War, and find therein the humble courage of the human person held in the hands of God.
From the poem Freedom [n.b. God is the speaker]:
Such is the mystery, such the secret, such the price
Of all freedom.
That freedom of that creature is the most beautiful reflection in this world
Of the Creator's freedom. That is why we are so attached to it,
And set a proper price on it.
A salvation that was not free, that was not, that did not come from a free man could in no wise be attractive to us. What would it amount to?
What would it mean?
What interest would such a salvation have to offer?
A beatitude of slaves, a salvation of slaves, a slavish beatitude, how do you expect me to interested in that kind of thing? Does one care to be loved by slaves?
If it were only a matter of proving my might, my might has no need of those slaves, my might is well enough known, it is sufficiently known that I am the Almighty.
My might is manifest enough in all matter and in all events.
My might is manifest enough in the sands of the sea and in the stars of heaven.
It is not questioned, it is known, it is manifest enough in inanimate creation.
It is manifest enough in the government,
In the very event that is man.
But in my creation which is endued with life, says God, I wanted something more.
Infinitely better. Infinitely more. For I wanted that freedom.
I created that very freedom. There are several degrees to my throne.
When you once have known what it is to be loved freely, submission no longer has any taste.
All the prostrations in the world
Are not worth the beautiful upright attitude of a free man as he kneels. All the submission, all the dejection in the world
Are not equal in value to the soaring up point,
The beautiful straight soaring up of one single invocation
From a love that is free.