Jacques César Ellul (ehl-luhl) was one of the most provocative and prolific writers among twentieth century French intellectuals. He was born on January 6, 1912, in Bordeaux, France, the son of an impoverished Serbo-Italian father and a French mother. Although forced to support himself by age sixteen, Ellul performed brilliantly in school, earning degrees in history, sociology, and law.
At age nineteen, he read Karl Marx’s Das Kapital (1867-1894).“I plunged into Marx’s thinking with an incredible joy,” he recalled.“I had finally found the explanation.” Marx taught him lasting lessons, especially the dialectical method of analysis, and he briefly belonged to the Communist Party. He believed, however, that Marx did not have the answers to the existential questions of life, death, and love. Ellul began reading the Bible and in 1932 experienced “a very brutal and very sudden conversion.” He then joined the French Reformed church. Ellul refused to choose between Marxism and Christianity, incorporating into the foundations of his intellectual life a dialectical interplay of these contradictory totalities.
In 1937 Ellul received a law degree but decided to teach, since that would allow him to work with the young. With Fascism growing in Europe, he joined the Popular Front in 1936 and participated in the Spanish Civil War in 1937. During World War II he supported his family by farming and joined the resistance. In 1944 he became professor of law at the University of Bordeaux, and he was deputy mayor of Bordeaux from then to 1946.
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