Born in Saint-Étienne, Loire, he studied at the Lycée du Parc in Lyon and was accepted at the École normale supérieure in Paris. His principal religious and intellectual influence was from a blind priest, Francois Pouget. He finished his philosophical studies in the early 1920s and later became a professor in many French universities. During World War II, he was made a war prisoner by the Nazis. In the year 1954, he earned a literary award from the Académie française. From 1955 to 1968 he continued his works as a professor at the Sorbonne. He became a member of the Académie française in 1961.