There was, in the friendship that he brought, something definitive, which stood the test. It was much more than faithfulness: permanent, solid, an abundance always readily available. His generosity went beyond virtue, but was rather a whole hearted radiance and self-giving of mind and heart. He was generous in this other sense that he had ‘the passion of humanity’, as he told me one day. It was, without doubt, love in the Christian sense of the word- but also the respect and emotion in front of each person’s ‘drama’. And certainly, he interpreted that in the light of his faith, – but deep down, there was in him, by spontaneous impulse, that sense which sets all humans apart.
I hardly dare speak about his thought. I was present during certain stages of his development. I can still hear, around 1920, in the streets of Rheims in ruins, Maury outraged with certain strict styles of worship, which tend to put God on our level and more accessible to us, a comfortable God responsive to all, when our first instinct should be one of worship and humility before the divine glory and majesty. I hear him speaking of the honour of God: the fundamental theme of his theology, which he was to later develop and expand. I remember our discussions seven or eight years later in Marseille and Geneva. Through his contact with Karl Barth, his thought had matured: he put it to the test by the very practice of his ministry. As a hardened Cartesian I tried to resist him. I wasn’t up to it. I didn’t like the fact that his testimony contained a pathos that both seduced and brought me low. He had a way of making his thought so penetrating, charged as it was with references to biblical and theological reflections. That gave it a wonderful eloquence, which expressed itself in a simple language, but with an astonishing richness and fullness.
And that wasn’t the only greatness of Pierre Maury. I use that word deliberately: I believe that Maury has been one of the exceptional men of our generation. There was in literature, in humanity, in his time, a wealth of information which few of his contemporaries were able to acquire, but he did due to his huge output and powers of assimilation. And he was able to draw from so much accumulated wealth thus bringing so much that was new and personal in his works, his sermons, and his private conversations.
But it was perhaps the drama of Pierre Maury to carry within himself much more than he was ever able to express or give. He suffered cruelly the double treachery of the setting in which he lived and the state of his physical health, both working together to limit and compromise the respite and silence indispensable to work, meditation and creation. That was the ‘drama’ of Pierre Maury, of all the great ones, thinkers or artists, who carry with them much more than they have contributed, and whose lives have been corroded by the feeling of what might have been. We were surprised to see that Pierre Maury at certain times had that far away absent air about him, where you could detect a flicker of impatience and sadness: he mused about what was essential, what there would be to think about and do, and time slipped away, undermining his strength and dissipating it in doubtful obligations.
All this, aggravated by the Parisian context in which he lived which excites and dissipates, and which finishes by enslaving until burnout, overtaken by oppressive tiredness. This burnout got the better of Pierre Maury: it is with bitter regret that one thinks about the work that he could have given us and which it has denied us.
But I see the smile of Maury, that is if he heard such sentiments, that smile in which he put all the warmth of his heart, that smile- and that look- which so often reassured us, each of us for whom the memory remains a viaticum (a last rite and blessing, lit. a provision for our journey) for our lives. In his smile he would say to us that the essential thing was not the knowledgeable commentary of St Paul, Luther or Barth, but it was to have been able so many times to extend a helping hand to those who faltered, and to help them to continue on their way by showing them, on the horizon, the light which shall never fade away.
(Bulletin d’Information de l’Eglise Réformée de France). Also appeared in Foi et Vie, May 1956.
Who was Gustave Monod you might ask?
Gustave Adolphe Monod (1885 – 1968) was a teacher and senior French government official. He was Chief of Staff of the Minister of Education, Inspector General of Education and responsible for the management of secondary education in the Ministry after the Second World War. He came from Mazamet, a protestant town in SW France famous for its de-fleecing industry, and a well known family of Protestant ministers/pastors .
Like Maury he was drafted in 1914. He served as a nurse under conditions which earned him five citations and (also like Maury) the Croix de Guerre . He was seriously injured at the end of the war, and lost a leg.
In 1933, he became Chief of Staff of the Minister of Education Anatole de Monzie. Then in 1936, he was appointed deputy director of secondary education.
In 1940 he was dismissed from his rank of inspector general for refusing to apply the anti-Jewish measures taken by the Vichy government. As a parting gesture he wrote a brilliant letter of denunciation of Vichy policies.
As mentioned above after the liberation he was made national director of secondary education and contributed to many significant reforms. He was very much involved in the Scout movement.