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Daniel-Rops (pseudonym of Henry Jules Charles Petiot) (1901-1965)

WHEN I FIRST RECEIVED THIS INVITATION TO WRITE about myself, I was greatly disturbed. Many authors enjoy writing about themselves; I suppose it is a matter of temperament. But as for myself, it does not come easy. "The ego is hateful." I hope the classicist will pardon me if I break the rule. Besides this, I fear that I shall be the first victim, as I do not feel that I will be able to accomplish this task with any great degree of success.

As to my family origins, what can I say? It is somewhat difficult to trace my ancestry as my family roots have taken hold in many parts of France. On my father's side, Vendéan and Parisian, and on my mother's (née Odile Grosperrin), Juracic and Franc-Comptois. My father was an officer in the artillery, and I was born by chance in the garrison quarters at Epinal in the Vosges (in the first year of this century). We moved to Grenoble in the Alps when I was but a few weeks old. flere I went to school up to the time I received my agrégé in history in 1922, for which I had prepared in Lyon; and finally, it is at Tresserve in Savoy on the shores of Lake Bourget, that I have now settled down. The reader can see how involved all this is.

There are, meanwhile, two dominant characteristics in my background. All my grandparents were peasants; some from near Meaux, on the Tie de France, some from the Vendéan Marsh, and still others from the high plateau of Pontarlier. To these ancestors, without a doubt, I owe a certain energy and power of application to the task at hand that is so pronounced in me. To them also, I owe my loyalty to the Catholicism which is so deeply ingrained in many French families. From a very early age I had heard of my great-aunt, a Benedictine abbess who had been guillotined during the French Revolution; and I often visited my wise old uncle, a canon who had been vicar-general of the Archdiocese of Besancon. Besides this, all of my early education had been Christian, and I often recall the admirable priest, chaplain of the Lycée at Grenoble, who prepared me for my First Communion.

Then came that troubled period of life, adolescence. I have told at some length elsewhere that finding my
going difficult, I would spend entire days alone in the mountains which stretched from Belledonne to Oisons, and which reached heights of 2000 to 2500 meters, bringing with me my pocket-edition of Pascal's Penses as well as some food. Absurd time, that of adolescence! One seeks and gropes along life's highway, then discovers that the road is really quite easy and well defined. Without doubt God wishes us to find Him ourselves even though en route we scratch our hands on the thorns; with- doubt God wishes us when we come upon errors in the books we read, to discover only His reality, His truth, His presence. And so that is the way it was with me, but this is not the place to dwell at length upon it. The reader who wishes to learn more of my search will discover the successive landmarks in the earlier books which came from my pen: Notre Inquietude (1926), l'Ame Obscure (1929), le Monde sans Âme (1932), and the more recent Nocturnes (1956), in which are to be found certain revealing confidences. It must be said, however, that all of these things have been said much better than I have said them: like the experiences in a Cistercian abbey such as Thomas Merton loves, like the meditations in Assisi at the feet of the Poverello, like the discussions, like the friendships. A saying of Cardinal Newman's startles me each time I read it: "God is the One Who says to me: Thou." When I related in Mort, ou est 1(1 Victoire? (1934) the pathetic story of Laure Malaussne, I did not yet know that word, but it was He who gave the novel its true meaning and its secret significance.

I have spoken of some of my novels and some of my other early books. Perhaps it would be a good idea for me to go back a little further to explain to the reader. As long ago as I can remember I had the desire to become a writer. At the age of twelve I had already begun a novel and an historical novel at that! By the time I was sixteen I had finished four or five which lost their claim to becoming masterpieces only because they were cast into the fire. During this time I was making my studies in history and geography in order to have a source of income which would enable me to make my living without depending upon a precarious literary livelihood. As a teacher of history for some twenty years I managed quite successfully. Then a chance meeting shortened my period of waiting: the distinguished novelist Edouard Estaunié, the author of Choses Voient and of l'Infirme aux Mains de Lumière, graciously introduced me to his publisher who issued my first book, in 1926.

From then on, my desire to write was intensified, and is one reads in the biographical dictionary "his life became bounded by the list of his books."

First at Neuilly, at the gates of Paris, later at Savoy, in Tresserve, I continued to write as an apple tree continues, each year, to produce apples. There is nothing particularly original about all this. My wife helped me in all other matters. (These were quite numerous, so I will leave discussion of them to my future biography) Some fifty books, several paper-backs, and innumerable articles: this is a great deal of writing, perhaps too much. However, one cannot ask the apple tree to stop producing apples

Perhaps this is a good time to explain how it happened that while I was an essayist and novelist up to 1939, I then found myself orientated in an entirely new direction, that of religious history. Here again, it was a providential introduction to someone that changed the course of my writing career. In January of 1941, a friend of mine, the historian Octave Aubry, asked me if I would care to write a volume of history for a series he was editing. From the outset I was very interested, but I was uncertain what subject I should choose. This was at the time when the Nazis had forced the Jews to wear the yellow star to distinguish them from the other races. That had made me very angry, especially when I thought of all the Jews who were my friends. And so my answer to Octave Aubry was: "I accept, on condition that I may write a history of Israel." He immediately agreed to my choice of subject.

I must say here that I had long regretted the fact that in our schools we study the Greek and Roman classics but neglect the important if not basic classic of our western civilization, the Bible. At last I was offered the opportunity of making an extensive study of it. And so I wrote l'Histoire Saints (Sacred History). It was published in Paris on July 1, 1943, just twenty days before the Nazis arrived, when it was immediately confiscated by the Gestapo and the plates destroyed, without doubt because Hitler recognized himself in Nabuchodonosor!

From that time on, this historical series became my constant preoccupation. Begun on January 19, 1941--on my fortieth birthday--this series is still in progress and, God willing, it will continue for at least five more years. If anyone had mentioned to me in the beginning that I would write seven thousand pages, there is no doubt in my mind that I would have hesitated to undertake such a task. But, as I said, it was Providence that prompted me; one is guided thus.

Preoccupation, did I say . . . . After l'Histoire Sainte came Jesus et Son Temps, the success of which greatly Surprised me: actually in France alone 400,000 copies have been sold mid the work has been translated into fourteen languages.

Having written of Jesus, was it possible not to be moved to write of the work born of the Son of God and which is His visible sign upon earth, the Church? And so L'Histoire de I'Eglise du Christ came slowly into being. Without being too egotistical, may I say that the response which I have received for this work has been most encouraging for me in the long and arduous writing of the series. I would like at this time to especially acknowledge the kindness of the late Pope Pius XII who often asked me about my writing and who was most generous in counseling me, and also His Holiness Pope John XXIII who likewise conferred a papal honor upon me.

Let me repeat that I am enthused with my work as well as completely immersed in it. In my future there was to be a little book, Missa Est. Under the title of This is the Mass, thanks to the promotion of my American publisher, Hawthorn Books, and the kindly cooperation of the Most Reverend Bishop Fulton Sheen, it has also been very well received.

And there was to come the founding of my monthly review, Ecclesia [similar to The Catholic Digest in 1949 and so now is more than twelve years old. There was to come, too, L 'Encyclopedie du Catholique au XXeme siècle (The Twentieth Century Encyclopedia of Catholicism), "Je sais, Je crois." For me to conceive, to organize and to launch this last work fulfilled one of my highest ambitions.

And so you see the apple tree continues to produce its apples. Of what value are these apples it is not for the tree to say. But how can one do other, dear God, than try to produce good fruit, keeping in mind the fig tree of the Gospels which, when it was found to be barren, was fit only to be cast into the fire?

But I have already spoken too long about myself. Nevertheless this backward glance, which I have been asked to make, has enabled me to take stock of what I have tried to do. And I feel that my work will not have been in vain if the reader, after pouring over so many pages, will find in them just one sentence which will influence him for eternity, one sentence which will move him to forgive and forget all that is worthless in them and so destined to disappear some day one sentence which will send him back to the words of the Evangelist who summed it all up: 'To whom shall we go, Lord? You alone have the words of eternal life."


EDITOR'S NOTE: Daniel- Rops adopted his pseudonym from the name of a character in one of his early short stories, and he used it on all of his books, he taught history in Lyces at Chambéry, 1923-28, at Amiens, 1928-30, and at Neuilly sur Seine, 1930-44, when he resigned to become a publisher's literary adviser, and to write, was editor-in-chief of the publishing firm of Fayard, in Paris. He married Madeleine Bouvier in 1924; they had an adopted son, Francis. Daniel-Rops won the Grand Prix de la Littdrature of the French Academy in 1946, was made a Knight of the Legion of Honor by the French Government in 1948, was elected to the French Academy

Originally published in The Book of Catholic Authors, Walter Romig, Sixth Series, 1960.


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