Academic journal article Christianity and Literature

Georges Bernanos: The Vocation of the Christian Writer

Academic journal article Christianity and Literature

Georges Bernanos: The Vocation of the Christian Writer

Article excerpt

In The Diary of a Country Priest (Le Journal d'un cure de campagne), the best-known of Georges Bernanos's novels, the Cure of Torcy, an older priest, serves as mentor or guide to the Cure of Ambricout, a young priest in charge of a parish for the first time. At one point in the novel, he explains to the younger man his understanding of the Christian vocation. He states: "Nous sommes tous appeles, soit, seulement pas de la meme maniere" (Oeuvres romanesques 1186; "We're all called to the priesthood, I agree, but not always in the same way" [Country Priest 202]). According to the Cure of Torcy, each one of us has his or her own special role in the gospel setting. Christ has already met us somewhere along a road in Galilee, and, he declares, "Un jour entre les jours, ses yeux se sont fixes sur nous, et selon le lieu, l'heure, la conjoncture, notre vocation a pris son caractere particulier" (Oeuvres romanesques 1187; "And one day among all the other days, His eyes happened to rest upon you and me and so we were called, each in his own particular way, according to the time, place, and circumstance" [Country Priest 203]). Reflecting on his friend's words, the Cure of Ambricourt perceives the particular nature of his vocation to be that of accompanying Christ in his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.

This type of discussion of the Christian vocation is not an uncommon one in Bernanos's writings, for, as the renowned German theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar, notes, the word "vocation" appears constantly in the author's works (Chretien 124; Ecclesial 156). Perhaps one of the most famous passages in which it occurs is in the Preface to A Diary of My Times (Les Grands Cimetieres sous la lune), Bernanos's great critique of the Spanish Civil War. Discussing his own vocation as a writer, Bernanos notes that "Toute vocation est un appel--vocatus--et tout appel veut etre transmis" (Essais et ecrits 354; "A vocation is always a call to action--vocatus--and every call must be passed on" [My Times 19]). In another example, the author points out that the Christian vocation "est le risque meme de la vie. ... Vocation--vocatus--Dieu nous appelle, rien de plus vrai" (Francais 315; "is the challenge of life itself.... Vocation--vocatus--God is calling us and that is all there is to it.") (1) Why, we are tempted to ask, does Bernanos draw his readers' attention so frequently to the concept of Christian vocation? And why does he use the Latin term "vocatus" in doing so? Plagued with numerous financial worries, he certainly realized that the meager earnings he received from his writings helped to put food on the table for his family; yet Bernanos did not really think of himself as a writer, for in the same Preface he states: "Non, je ne suis pas ecrivain. Si je l'etais, je n'eusse pas attendu la quarantaine pour publier mon premier livre ..." (Essais et ecrits 354; "No--I'm not an 'author.' Had I been a real one, I never should have waited till I was forty before I published my first book" [My Times 19]). Bernanos believed he had to write not because he considered himself an author but because God wanted him to write.

Even from his early years, Bernanos's correspondence reveals him to be very much aware of the presence of Christ in his life and of the importance of his vocation as a Christian. One such letter written at the age of seventeen recounts how on the day of his First Communion he asked God to give him the gift of a religious vocation. As time passed, however, he came to realize that God was calling him to be a lay person and not a missionary priest: "Si je n'ai pas l'intention de me faire pretre, c'est d'abord parce qu'il me semble ne pas en avoir la vocation, et qu'ensuite un laique peut lutter sur bien des terrains ou l'ecclesiastique ne peut pas grand-chose" (Correspondance I 79; "If I don't intend to become a priest it is first of all because it doesn't seem to me that I have a vocation to the priesthood, and, secondly, a lay person is able to debate many issues about which a priest knows very little"). …

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