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