Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Q. Recently, I came across the name of a 20th-century French author whom I had never heard of before. His name was Léon Bloy, and he was evidently a major figure in literature. Where can I find more information about him?

A. Léon Bloy (d. 1917) continues to fascinate Catholics not only for his ability to write, but also his faith, courage, zeal and penetrating intellect. Rarely does anyone like him appear on the world’s horizon. Bloy lost his faith as a young man, and like his contemporary compatriot, the great Charles Péguy (d.1914), returned to belief and to the Church specifically by means of hope. (One of Péguy’s most lofty works is entitled Mystery of Hope.) Bloy once explained in a letter: "I call myself in my book ‘the despairer’; that is an ironic title, for there has never been a more incurable hoper than me."

Bloy’s return to faith resulted in his becoming a "Pilgrim of the Absolute." Actually perceiving himself as a prophet "impatient to see God’s justice revealed on earth" (in the words of the incomparable philosopher, Jacques Maritain), he viewed his role as among those "who cry in the wilderness." Whether "people listen to me or not," he said, "whether they are with me or insult me, so long as they do not kill me, I shall be the spokesman of revenge and the very obedient servant of a higher wrath that commands me to speak …"

Bloy confessed to having suffered intensely for what he perceived as his vocation. What especially angered him was mediocrity of faith among those who claimed to be Catholics, yet did not practise their faith sincerely. In 1902 he noted in his diary:

"Present events are really horrifying. We are at the prologue of a drama of a sort that will not have been seen for twenty centuries, and I urge you to a certain measure of recollection."

And of nonchalant Catholics he once observed: "Today we need apostles, not conference attendees; witnesses, not word-spinners."

Much of what Bloy wrote is quite mysterious; sometimes shocking, almost always disturbing. One of his novels, entitled The Woman Who Was Poor, is widely regarded as among the most beautiful novels ever written. Raïssa Maritain, the wife of Neo-Thomist Jacques and a philosopher in her own right, acknowledged that in this novel she confronted "the reality of Christianity for the first time." (Bloy was Raïssa’s godfather when she came into the Catholic Church.)

Bloy is usually cited as among those who re-created French Catholic literature in the 20th century.

As a Catholic witness, Bloy had a strong international influence; even the Russian philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev admitted Bloy’s significance on the 20th century. And writers like Francois Mauriac, Georges Bernanos, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene and Heinrich Böll all reflected his spirit in one way or another.

As a college seminarian, I studied Bloy (and envied those who were capable of reading him in French). I just happen to be now rereading The Woman Who Was Poor.

There is a solid article about Bloy in the New Catholic Encyclopedia. Another excellent source is Modern Christian Literature by Gisbert Kranz (N.Y., Hawthorn).This latter source is one I have especially used for this article.

Bloy is, of course, much read and studied today because of the confused state of the world and waning faith.