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The Power and the Glory – Graham Greene

May 14, 2016

TPATGMany priests were asked: “If you had to choose one book to help a person embarking on pastoral ministry, what would it be? One responded: What emerges is a picture of ministry shorn of all romanticism, polite piety, and social support, of ministry sustained only by Christ, who died not “for what was good or beautiful, . . . [but] for the half-hearted and the corrupt.” The novel wrests priestly ministry from a naive doctrine of progress and points it toward a profound theology of hope.

If Graham Greene hadn’t called Shirley Temple a “totsy,”this novel wouldn’t exist. In 1937, the British magazine Night and Day published a review of the Shirley Temple movie Wee Willie Winkie. The author of the review was Graham Greene, a relatively unknown novelist and the magazine’s literary editor. Just a few weeks later, Greene and Night and Day were slapped with a libel suit for damaging the names of Temple and the film’s studio, Twentieth Century Fox. Temple “is going to cost me £250 if I’m lucky,” Greene wrote to his brother. She cost him more than that: Night and Day, which had been plagued by financial problems since its inception, crumbled in the face of the libel suit, leaving Greene without a day job. In March, the King’s Bench heard the case. Calling Greene’s libel “a gross outrage,” Chief Justice Gordon Hewart awarded Twentieth Century Fox £3,500 in damages, £3,000 of which was to be paid by Night and Day and the remainder by Greene himself. But Greene wasn’t around to hear the ruling. Weeks earlier, on January 29, he and his wife, Vivien, had fled London on the hulking cruise liner Normandie. It was the start of a journey that would take Greene from Manhattan to New Orleans to San Antonio and then deep into the jungles of Mexico—and eventually, after much suffering and pain, provide him with the material needed to write this novel.

Greene found the dirt and heat of Villahermosa unbearable. Everywhere, he was watched by police, who “ambled drearily across in the yard in the great heat with their trousers open.” Greene equated these horrors with the absence of faith. “One felt one was drawing near to the centre of something,” he wrote, “if it was only of darkness and abandonment.” “Mass was said without the Sanctus bell,” Greene noted. “Silence was a relic of the worst penal days when discovery probably meant death.” Now, Catholicism was practiced quasi-openly—although a complex system of bribes was required to keep police at bay. After the ceremony, Greene hobbled across the plaza and ducked into the Santo Domingo cathedral. At the altar knelt an Indian couple. As Greene watched, the pair sang a slow duet in a language that he did not understand. “I wondered,” he later wrote, “what prayers they had said and what answers they could hope to get in this world of mountains, hunger and irresponsibility.” That question was still on his mind a year later, as he sat at his London desk to write this book.

The title is an allusion to the doxology often recited at the end of the Lord’s Prayer: “For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever,

It’s the story of the “whisky priest” in Mexico during the time of persecution of the Church in the last century. Churches are burned. Relics, medals, and crosses are banned. The price for disobedience is death. While many clerics give up their beliefs and accept their government pensions, the unnamed priest travels in secret, celebrating Mass and hearing confessions under the cover of night. Yet he’s also a gluttonous, stubborn, and angry man drowning in vices, and the religious ambition of his earlier years has been replaced with a constant desire to drink, hence Greene’s term for him: the “whiskey priest.” Tired of risking his life, the priest even prays to be caught.

The story starts with the arrival of the priest in a country town in an area where Catholicism is outlawed, and then follows him on his trip through Mexico, where he tries to minister to the people as best as he can. He is also haunted by his personal demons, especially by the fact that he fathered a child in his parish some years before. He meets the child, but is unable to feel repentant about what happened. Rather, he feels a deep love for the evil-looking and awkward little girl and decides to do everything in his power to save her from damnation. The priest’s opposite player among the clericals is Padre José, a priest who has been forced by the government to renounce his faith and marry a woman and lives as a state pensioner.

During his journey the priest also encounters a mestizo who later reveals himself to be a Judas figure. The lieutenant, on the other hand, is morally irreproachable, yet cold and inhumane. While he is supposedly “living for the people”, he puts into practice a diabolic plan of taking hostages from villages and shooting them, if it proves that the priest has sojourned in a village but is not denounced. The lieutenant has also had bad experiences with the church in his youth, and as a result there is a personal element in his search for the whisky priest. The lieutenant thinks that all members of the clergy are fundamentally evil, and believes that the church is corrupt, and does nothing but provide delusion to the people.

In his flight from the lieutenant and his posse, the priest escapes into a neighbouring province, only to re-connect with the mestizo, who persuades the priest to return to hear the confession of a dying man. Though the priest suspects that it is a trap, he feels compelled to fulfil his priestly duty. Although he finds the dying man, it is a trap and the lieutenant captures the priest. The lieutenant admits he has nothing against the priest as a man, but he must be shot “as a danger”. On the eve of the execution, the lieutenant shows mercy and attempts to enlist Padre José to hear the condemned man’s confession, but the effort is thwarted by Padre José’s wife. The lieutenant is convinced that he has “cleared the province of priests”. In the final scene, however, another priest arrives in the town – which, among other possible readings, suggests that the Catholic Church cannot be destroyed.

He is a typical Greene anti-hero, a drunkard with an illegitimate child: but whereas other, possibly better, priests have fled the country, and others even weaker have simply conformed to the law, he has continued to minister the sacraments, moving secretly from village to village. He is trapped by a bogus call to hear the confession of a dying man, a message that he realises is almost certainly a trap. He is arrested, tried, and sentenced to be shot. The only other available priest, who has conformed, refuses to hear his confession. As the morning for his execution dawns, “He was not at that moment afraid of damnation… He felt only an immense disappointment because he had to go to God empty handed, with nothing done at all. It seemed to him, at that moment, that it would have been quite easy to be a saint. It would only have needed a little self-restraint and a little courage…. He knew now that at the end there was only one thing that counted- to be a saint.”

Greene he refuses to spare us the priest’s less-than-noble side, and yet also convincingly shows him overcoming his weaknesses and performing acts of great heroism. The most important single act comes near the end of the novel, when he decides to accompany the mestizo back across the border, to the state in which he is being hunted, in order to hear the confession of a dying man. The priest does not recognize the real value of his actions, nor does he fully comprehend what kind of impact he has had on people’s lives. He tends to hear only from those people who have been hurt or disappointed by him in some way: Maria, Brigida, the pious woman. He does not see the many people whose lives have been touched merely by coming into contact with him or hearing about his death; Mr. Tench and the boy are the two most notable examples. Because this positive influence remains hidden to him, the priest does not have a true conception of the value of his life, and therefore, remains an extremely humble man to the day of his death. He also feels that he can never be truly penitent for his sexual relationship with Maria, since it produced Brigida, his daughter, whom he loves very deeply.

Although the priest never wavers in his belief that as a priest he has the power to save souls, and to communicate, through the Mass, the essence of God, the novel is so bleak that it raises questions about whether God is active in the world at all, or even if He exists.
The question is posed through imagery of insects, which are mentioned frequently in the novel. In one incident, the lieutenant sees a tiny insect racing across the page of a book in front of him. He crushes it with his finger. Another insect appears on the book, “scurrying for refuge: in this heat there was no end to life” (Part II, Chapter 3). In another passage, beetles rush around aimlessly and get crushed or injured; insects seem to be everywhere. The imagery seems to raise the possibility that human life has no more purpose or value than that of an insect, and is easily crushed by a superior power. At least in part, this is what the lieutenant believes. He looks on the earth as a “dying, cooling world, of human beings who had evolved from animals for no purpose at all”
The episode with the dog abandoned by the Fellows, in which the dog and the priest struggle over a bone, shows life reduced to its essentials, the struggle for survival. This is not a pretty world—everything in it is in pain or want of some kind.
Seen against this bleak background, the priest’s attempt to cling on to some higher meaning and purpose to human life may seem either heroic or a contradiction of the facts, according to one’s point of view.

Driven by an obsessive hatred for the Catholic Church, the lieutenant will stop at nothing to apprehend and execute the priest, who, he believes, is the last remaining clergyman in the state. The lieutenant is a principled, disciplined man with a strong sense of justice. He is committed to political ideals that he thinks will help the poor and create equality and tolerance in the state. Unfortunately, he oftentimes allows his focus on his noble goal to obscure questions about the means he is employing to reach that goal. The most striking example of this is his decision to round up hostages and execute people if the villagers lie to him about the priest’s whereabouts. As we see, the selection process is entirely arbitrary, hardly just, and extremely violent. It is easy to see why the people are as sceptical of the state as they are of the church. But even this person is capable of change. From time to time throughout the novel he shows that he is not an unkind person. After his conversation with the captured priest, he softens considerably, trying to find someone to hear the priest’s confession and bringing him a bottle of brandy to quiet his fears. The political movement to which he belongs has taught him to look at people in generalized terms: that is, all priests are bad and all those working for the lieutenant’s cause are good. The priest, who proves himself to be modest, intelligent and compassionate, disrupts the lieutenant’s habitual way of looking at the Catholic clergy. By the end of the novel, he has accomplished his mission, but he feels a strange sense of emptiness and despondency. Without a target, his life has no meaning or sense of purpose and Greene suggests that lingering doubts fill the lieutenant’s mind troubling him about whether he has done the right thing by killing the priest.

The lieutenant is a ruthless and perhaps even hypocritical figure. He despises priests for exploiting the people, yet he lets this feeling so overwhelm him that he declares himself prepared to execute those very people in order to rid the state of priests for good. The lieutenant, however, is far from being a simple character, and it would be a mistake to view him purely in negative terms. While he avows his opposition to the priest and to the priesthood, Greene’s description of him often emphasizes the subtle similarities that exist between the lieutenant and his prey. He lives an austere, almost monastic life in his bare room, and he pursues his mission with a single-minded zeal based on principles and a concern for the poor. That his zeal often leads him to commit horrific acts is undeniable but, then again, many people in the novel would argue that the problem with the clergy is that, somewhere along the line, they too lost sight of their ideals.

The mestizo, who functions as a “Judas” figure of the novel, appears at significant points throughout the priest’s journey. The irony is that although he means the priest nothing but harm, he actually provides opportunities for the priest to commit heroic acts. It begins with the small sacrifice after the two first meet: the priest refuses to abandon the mestizo when he falls ill, finally putting him on the back of a mule and sending him towards a town. When the mestizo tracks him down on the other side of the border, the trap he has set becomes an opportunity for the priest to turn away from the life of leisure, and recommit himself to his ideals and his duties. The mestizo, always interested in getting something for nothing, asks the captured priest to pray for him. The priest tells him that forgiveness cannot be given out, but must be worked for, and that he had better do some true soul-searching if he is concerned about the sins he has committed. The mestizo is in many ways the mirror image of the priest: the priest has done this soul-searching but despairs over having no third-party to hear his confession. But, while the priest attempts to root out all self-interested motivations from his mind, the mestizo is concerned only with his own advantage. Nevertheless, the priest’s actions towards the mestizo make the mestizo a sympathetic character.

Mr. Tench is a portrait of mental and spiritual numbness. It is fitting, therefore, that his errand is to pick up a canister of anesthetic. Indifferent, detached, absent-minded, almost vacant, Tench is a kind of spiritual thermometer for the novel, an indicator of the general atmosphere of quietude and apathy. Tench also serves here as something of a contrast to the priest, arguing that it is useless for him to journey with the boy to visit his dying mother. She is going to die anyway, he reasons, so what would be the point? Mired in a feeling of utter futility, Tench attaches little importance to action of any kind, indicated by his inability to complete a simple errand, as well as his curious refusal to leave Mexico, a place he dislikes. Although he accompanies the boy reluctantly, the priest still feels a sense of duty and retains a feeling that his actions are of some importance and consequence.

In a cell full of murderers and thieves, it is ironic that it is the pious woman who turns out to be the least admirable figure. Actually, this is a classic Christian story, reminiscent of many stories in the New Testament. Although it is not an exact parallel by any means, this scene resonates thematically with the gospel story in which Christ intervenes between a mob of self-righteous people and a woman whom they are about to stone to death for adultery. Jesus, alarmed at this violent display of self-righteousness, tells the crowd that only those who are without sin are allowed to condemn her. As both the Christian story and this scene in the novel seem to indicate, hypocritical confidence and pride in one’s own moral rectitude are in many ways worse than sins of the flesh.

I always wondered where I got the idea from, that venial sins were more often a sign of one’s state of grace than mortal sins. It’s from this book and I agree. It’s why sacramental confession without spiritual direction often spiritually infantilises.

In a cell full of murderers and thieves, it is ironic that it is the pious woman who turns out to be the least admirable figure. Actually, this is a classic Christian story, reminiscent of many stories in the New Testament. Although it is not an exact parallel by any means, this scene resonates thematically with the gospel story in which Christ intervenes between a mob of self-righteous people and a woman whom they are about to stone to death for adultery. Jesus, alarmed at this violent display of self-righteousness, tells the crowd that only those who are without sin are allowed to condemn her. As both the Christian story and this scene in the novel seem to indicate, hypocritical confidence and pride in one’s own moral rectitude are in many ways worse than sins of the flesh.

This novel is filled with people who are either tormented with self-doubt, anxiety, and a hyper self-consciousness, or leading lives of complacency.

The novel contains many striking similes that also point to the inherent corruption in human life. The priest believes that “evil ran like malaria in his veins”; of his daughter he believes that “The knowledge of the world lay in her like the dark explicable spot in an X-ray photograph”; and again he observes of his daughter, “The world was in her heart already, like the small spot of decay in a fruit”.

Other similes are equally striking, each in their own way, as when the priest reflects on his faith: “He was on the defensive all the time about his faith, as if he was perpetually conscious of some friction, like that of an ill-fitting shoe”. When the priest hears the mestizo’s story that the dying American asked for him, he disbelieves most of it, but the note from the American convinces him: “But what remained was this note, like a memorial stone you couldn’t overlook”. The image contained in that simile is especially appropriate, since a memorial stone records someone’s life and death, like a tombstone. By going back to attend to the American, the priest is effectively ensuring his own death.

A self-described “Catholic agnostic,” Greene had believed in “nothing supernatural” until his future wife pointed out his misunderstanding of the Virgin Mary in one of his film reviews. “I was interested that anyone took these subtle distinctions of an unbelievable theology seriously,” he said. After their engagement, he concluded “that if I were to marry a Catholic I ought at least to learn the nature and limits of the beliefs she held … Besides, I thought, it would kill the time.” Greene “fought and fought hard” against belief on the “ground of a dogmatic atheism,” comparing his struggle to a “fight for personal survival.” In 1926, there was no grand epiphany, but a quiet shift: Greene took the baptismal name of St. Thomas the doubter.

TPATG 4In 1953, Cardinal Bernard Griffin of Westminster summoned Greene and read him a pastoral letter condemning the novel. According to Greene: The Archbishop of Westminster read me a letter from the Holy Office condemning my novel because it was “paradoxical” and “dealt with extraordinary circumstances.” The price of liberty, even within a Church, is eternal vigilance, but I wonder whether any of the totalitarian states … would have treated me as gently when I refused to revise the book on the casuistical ground that the copyright was in the hands of my publishers. There was no public condemnation, and the affair was allowed to drop into that peaceful oblivion which the Church wisely reserves for unimportant issues.

But years later, during an audience with Pope Paul VI, Greene brought up Griffin’s words. The Pope, who had read The Power and the Glory, reportedly smiled. “Mr. Greene,” he said, “some parts of your books are certain to offend some Catholics, but you should pay no attention to that.”

In his introduction, John Updike calls The Power and the Glory, “Graham Greene’s masterpiece…. The energy and grandeur of his finest novel derive from the…will toward compassion, an ideal communism even more Christian than Communist.” He also told Greene: One day I gave The Power and the Glory to…a native of Mexico who had lived through the worst persecutions…. She confessed that your descriptions were so vivid, your priest so real, that she found herself praying for him at Mass. I understand how she felt. Last year, on a trip through Mexico. I found myself peering into mud huts, through village streets, and across impassible mountain ranges, half-believing that I would glimpse a dim figure stumbling in the rain on his way to the border. There is no greater tribute possible to your creation…

TPATG 3Quotations:

That was another mystery: it sometimes seemed to him that venial sins—impatience, an unimportant lie, pride, a neglected opportunity—cut off from grace more completely than the worst sins of all. Then, in his innocence, he had felt no love for anyone: now in his corruption he had learnt…

“Because suddenly we discover that our sins have so much beauty.”

“Saints talk about the beauty of suffering. Well, we are not saints, you and I. Suffering to us is just ugly. Stench and crowding and pain. That is beautiful in that corner—to them.”

Heat stood in the room like an enemy. But he believed against the evidence of his senses in the cold empty ether spaces. A radio was playing somewhere: music from Mexico City, or perhaps even from London or New York filtered into this obscure neglected state. It seemed to him like a weakness: this was his own land, and he would have walled it in with steel if he could, until he had eradicated from it everything which reminded him of how it had once appeared to a miserable child. He wanted to destroy everything: to be alone without any memories at all.

One mustn’t have human affections—or rather one must love every soul as if it were one’s own child. The passion to protect must extend itself over a world—but he felt it tethered and aching like a hobbling animal to the tree trunk. He turned his mule south.

He dreamed that the priest whom they had shot that morning was back in the house dressed in the clothes his father had lent him and laid out stiffly for burial. The boy sat beside the bed and his mother read out of a very long book all about how the priest had acted in front of the bishop the part of Julius Caesar: there was a fish basket at her feet, and the fish were bleeding, wrapped in her handkerchief. He was very bored and very tired and somebody was hammering nails into a coffin in the passage. Suddenly the dead priest winked at him—an unmistakable flicker of the eyelid, just like that.

“Wasn’t it his duty to stay, even if they despised him, even if they were murdered for his sake, even if they were corrupted by his example?”

“That’s another difference between us. It’s no good your working for your end unless you’re a good man yourself. And there won’t always be good men in your party.”

“I am not a barbarian. You will be tried…properly.”

“…suppose you die. You’ll be a martyr, won’t you? What kind of martyr do you think you’ll make? It’s enough to make people mock.'”

The lieutenant said in a tone of fury: “Well, you’re going to be a martyr—you’ve got that satisfaction.” “Oh, no. Martyrs are not like me. They don’t think all the time—if I had drunk more brandy I shouldn’t be so afraid.”

The little man seemed to evade the question, but then as if some explanation were required: “I was just looking,” he said. “I suppose she’ll be sailing soon?”

[…] one man had conformed to the Governor’s law that all priests must marry. He lived now near the river with his housekeeper. That, of course, was the best solution of all, to leave the living witness to the weakness of their faith. It showed the deception they had practiced all these years. For if they really believed in heaven or hell, they wouldn’t mind a little pain now, in return for what immensities…

“[…] I don’t believe all that they write in these books. We are human.”

“Renounce your faith,” she explained, using the words of her European history. “He said, “It’s impossible. There’s no way. I’m a priest. It’s out of my power.”

He was the only priest the children could remember: it was from him they would take their ideas of the faith.

For a matter of seconds he felt an immense satisfaction that he could talk of suffering to them now without hypocrisy—it is hard for the sleek and well-fed priest to praise poverty.

“You’re fools if you still believe what the priests tell you. All they want is your money. What has God ever done for you? […] Oh, everything will be fine when you are dead, they say. I tell you, everything will be fine when they are dead, and you must help.”

Won’t you say a prayer, father, before we sleep?”

“Why do you call me that?” he asked sharply, peering across the shadowy floor to where the half-caste sat against the door.

“Oh, I guessed, of course. But you needn’t be afraid of me. I’m a good Christian.”

“You’re wrong.”

He had always been worried by the fate of pious women. As much as politicians, they fed on illusion.

He thought with envy of the men who had died: it was over so soon. They were taken up there to the cemetery and shot against the wall: in two minutes life was extinct. And they called that martyrdom.

Terror was always just behind her shoulder: she was wasted by the effort of not turning around. She dressed up her fear, so that she could look at it—in the form of fever, rats, unemployment.

You cannot control what you love—you watch it driving recklessly towards the broken bridge, the torn-up track, the horror of seventy years ahead.

the word “life” was taboo: it reminded you of death.

He knew he was in the grip of the unforgivable sin: despair.

Hope is an instinct only the reasoning human mind can kill. An animal never knows despair.

He prayed silently, “O God, give me any kind of death—without contrition, in a state of sin—only save this child.”

The officer stepped aside, the rifles went up, and the little man suddenly made jerky movements with his arms.

The man’s dark suit reminded him uncomfortably of a coffin, and death was in his carious mouth already.

“A man like that,” the lieutenant said, “does not real harm. A few men dead. We all have to die…”

TPATG 2 It infuriated him to think that there were still people in the state who believed in a loving and merciful God. There are mystics who are said to have experienced God directly. He was a mystic, too, and what he had experienced was vacancy—a complete certainty in the existence of a dying, cooling world, of human beings who had evolved from animals with no purpose at all.

You do not always say goodbye to those you love beside a deathbed, in an atmosphere of leisure and incense.

Death was not the end of pain—to believe in peace was a kind of heresy.

Suddenly, he realized that he could see a face, and then another; he had begun to forget that it would ever be another day, just as one forgets that one will ever die. It comes suddenly on one in a screeching break or a whistle in the air, the knowledge that time moves and comes to an end. […] He began formally to pay his farewell to the world: he couldn’t put any heart into it. His corruption was less evident to his senses than his death. […] He wasn’t a saint. Nothing in life was as ugly as death.

“And what happens afterwards? I mean after everybody has got enough to eat and can read the right books—the books you let them read?”

“Nothing. Death’s a fact. We don’t try to alter facts.”

“But can’t you,” she said logically, “just give yourself up?”

He had answers as plain and understandable as her questions. He said, “There’s the pain. To choose pain like that—it’s not possible. And it’s my duty not to be caught. You see, my bishop is no longer here.” Curious pedantries moved him. “This is my parish.”

“Oh, let them come. Let them all come,” the priest cried angrily. “I am your servant.” He put his hand over his eyes and began to weep.

She felt no resentment at all at being there, looking after things: the word “play” had no meaning to her at all—the whole of life was adult.

Had it become his duty then to run away? He had tried to escape several times, but he had always been prevented … now they wanted him to go. Nobody would stop him, saying a woman was ill or a man dying. He was a sickness now.

If he left them, they would be safe, and they would be free from his example. He was the only priest the children could remember: it was from him that they would take their ideas of the faith. But it was from him too they took God—in their mouths. When he was gone it would be as if God in all this space between the sea and the mountains ceased to exist. Wasn’t it his duty to stay, even if they despised him, even if they were murdered for his sake? Even if they were corrupted by his example? He was shaken with the enormity of the problem.

“I could easily find out, couldn’t I?” the half-caste said. “I’d just have to say—father, hear my confession. You couldn’t refuse a man in mortal sin.”

He tried to gather up his venom into spittle and shot it feebly at the other’s face: it didn’t even reach, but fell impotently through the air. He said, “Go and die quickly. That’s your job,” and slammed the door to

He thought: I shouldn’t have left her alone like that. God forgive me. I have no sense of responsibility: what can you expect of a whisky priest? and he struggled to his feet and began to climb back towards the plateau. He was tormented by ideas; it wasn’t only the woman: he was responsible for the American as well …

He thought of the deserted banana station where something had happened and the Indian child lay dead on the maize: there was no question at all that he was needed. A man with all that on his soul … The oddest thing of all was that he felt quite cheerful; he had never really believed in this peace.

He shivered: he knew that he was a buffoon. An old man who married was grotesque enough, but an old priest. […] That was what made him worthy of damnation—the power he still had of turning the wafer into the flesh and blood of God.

He was scared, and yet a curious pride bubbled in his throat because he was being treated as a priest again, with respect.

Then the altar stone went—too dangerous to carry with him. He had no business to say Mass without it; he was probably liable to suspension, but penalties of the ecclesiastical kind began to seem unreal in a state where the only penalty was the civil one of death.

“Better not to believe—and be a brave man.”

“I see—yes. And of course, if one believed the Governor did not exist or the jefe, if we could pretend that this prison was not a prison at all but a garden, how brave we could be then.”
“That’s just foolishness.”

“But when we found that the prison was a prison, and the Governor up there in the square undoubtedly existed, well, it wouldn’t much matter if we’d been brave for an hour or two.”
“Nobody could say that this prison was not a prison.”

“No? You don’t think so? I can see that you don’t listen to the politicians.”

After all these years, it was like wealth. He felt respect all the way up the street: men took their hats off as he passed: it was as if he had got back to the days before the persecution.

He was driven by the presence of soldiers to the very place where he most wanted to be. He had avoided it for six years, but now it wasn’t his fault—it was his duty to go there—it couldn’t count as sin.

Now that he no longer despaired it didn’t mean, of course, that he wasn’t damned—it was simply that after a time the mystery became too great, a damned man putting God into the mouths of men: an odd sort of servant, that, for the devil.

He caught the look in the child’s eyes which frightened him—it was as if a grown woman was there before her time, making her plans, aware of far too much. It was like seeing his own mortal sin look back at him, without contrition.

How often the priest had heard the same confession—Man was so limited he hadn’t even the ingenuity to invent a new vice: the animals knew as much.

What an unbearable creature he must have been in those days—and yet in those days he had been comparatively innocent. That was another mystery: it sometimes seemed to him that venial sins—impatience, an unimportant lie, pride, a neglected opportunity—cut you off from grace more completely than the worst sins of all. Then, in his innocence, he had felt no love for anyone; now in his corruption he had learnt…

“Lust is not the worst thing. It is because any day, any time, lust may turn into love that we have to avoid it. When we love our sin then we are damned indeed.”

What was the good of confession when you loved the result of your crime?

“We’ll give people food instead, teach them to read, give them books. We’ll see they don’t suffer.”

“But if they want to suffer…”

“A man may want to rape a woman. Are we to allow it because he wants to? Suffering is wrong.”

TPATG 5“But it doesn’t matter so much my being a coward—and all the rest. I can put God into a man’s mouth just the same—and I can give him God’s pardon. It wouldn’t make any difference to that if every priest in the Church was like me.”

“Pride was what made the angels fall. Pride’s the worst thing of all. I thought I was a fine fellow to have stayed when the others had gone. And then I thought I was so grand I could make my own rules.” (

Something you could almost have called horror moved him when he looked at the white muslin dresses—he remembered the smell of incense in the churches of his boyhood, the candles and the laciness and the self-esteem, the immense demands made from the altar steps by men who didn’t know the meaning of sacrifice. (

When you visualized a man or woman carefully, you could always begin to feel pity—that was a quality God’s image carried with it. When you saw the lines at the corners of the eyes, the shape of the mouth, how the hair grew, it was impossible to hate. Hate was just a failure of imagination.

“Loving God isn’t any different from loving a man—or a child. It’s wanting to be with Him, to be near Him.” He made a hopeless gesture with his hands. “It’s wanting to protect Him from yourself.”

These were heretics—it never occurred to them that he was not a good man: they hadn’t the prying insight of fellow Catholics.

“My brother gets so angry,” Miss Lehr said, “if he sees somebody go on his knees to a priest, but I don’t see that it does any harm.”

They lay quiet for a while in the hut. The priest thought the lieutenant was asleep until he spoke again. “You never talk straight. You say one thing to me—but to another man, or a woman, you say ‘God is love.’ But you think that stuff won’t go down with me, so you say different things. Things you think I’ll agree with.”

“Oh,” the priest said, “that’s another thing altogether—God is love. I don’t say the heart doesn’t feel a taste of it, but what a taste. The smallest glass of loved mixed with a pint pot of ditch water. We wouldn’t recognize that love. It might even look like hate. It would be enough to scare us—God’s love. It set fire to a bush in the desert, didn’t it, and smashed open graces and set the dead walking in the dark. Oh, a man like me would run a mile to get away if he felt that love around.”

They were breathless with interest. He stood with his hand on his holster and watched the brown intent patient eyes: it was for these he was fighting. He would eliminate from their childhood everything which had made him miserable, all that was poor, superstitious, and corrupt. They deserved nothing less than the truth—a vacant universe and a cooling world, the right to be happy in any way they chose. He was quite prepared to make a massacre for their sakes—first the Church and then the foreigner and then the politician—even his own chief would one day have to go. He wanted to begin the world again with them, in a desert.

The priest said, “He only killed and robbed. He hasn’t betrayed his friends.”

“Don’t depend too much on God’s mercy. He has given you this chance. He may not give you another. What sort of life have you led all these years? Does it seem so grand now? You’ve killed a lot of people—that’s about all. Anyone can do that for a while, and then he is killed too. Just as you are killed. Nothing left except pain.”

“You’ve changed.” She looked him up and down with a kind of contempt. She said, “When did you get those clothes, father?” […] “It’s a waste. You look like a common man.”

It had been a happy childhood, except that he had been afraid of too many things, and had hated poverty like a crime; he had believed that when he was a priest he would be rich and proud—that was called having a vocation.

Again he was touched by an extraordinary affection. He was just one criminal among a herd of criminals … He had a sense of companionship which he had never experienced in the old days when pious people came kissing his black cotton glove.

“My sister and I are Lutherans. We don’t hold with your Church, father. Too much luxury, it seems to me, while the people starve.”

“Have you ever told a landlord he shouldn’t beat his peon—oh yes, I know, in the confessional perhaps, and it’s your duty, isn’t it, to forget it at once. You come out and have dinner with him and it’s your duty not to know that he has murdered a peasant. That’s all finished. He’s left it behind in your box.”

“We have facts, too, that we don’t try to alter—that the world’s unhappy whether you are rich or poor—unless you are a saint, and there aren’t many of those. It’s not worth bothering too much about a little pain here. There’s one belief we both of us have—that we’ll all be dead in a hundred years.”

“We’ve always said the poor are blessed and the rich are going to find it hard to get into heaven. Why should we make it hard for the poor man too? Oh, I know that we are told to give to the poor, to see they are not hungry—hunger can make a man do evil just as much as money can. But why should we give the poor power? It’s better to let him lie in dirt and wake in heaven—so long as we don’t push his face in the dirt.”

“You don’t remember the time when the Church was here. I was a bad Catholic, but it meant—well, music, lights, and a place where you could sit out of this heat—and for your mother, well, there was always something for her to do. If we had a theatre, anything at all instead, we shouldn’t feel so—left.”

“Mother,” the child said, “do you believe there is a God?”

The question scared Mrs Fellows. She rocked furiously up and down and said, “Of course.”

“I mean the Virgin Birth—and everything.”

“My dear, what a thing to ask. Who have you been talking to?

“Oh,” she said. “I’ve been thinking, that’s all.”

They walked up the street side by side, the fat one and the lean. It was Sunday and all the shops closed at noon—that was the only relic of the old time. No bells rang anywhere.

“One day they’ll forget there ever was a Church here.”

The Church taught that it was every man’s first duty to save his own soul. The simple ideas of hell and heaven moved in his brain; life without books, without contact with educated men, had peeled away from his memory everything but the simplest outline of the mystery.

“Don’t you understand, father? We don’t want you any more.”

“Oh yes,” he said. “I understand. But it’s not what you want—or I want…”

It was too easy to die for what was good or beautiful, for home or children or a civilization—it needed a God to die for the half-hearted and the corrupt.

One of the oddest things about the world these days was that there were no clocks—you could go a year without hearing one strike. They went with the churches, and you were left with the grey slow dawns and the precipitate nights as the only measurements of time.

When she reached the tallest cross she unhooked the child and held the face against the wood and afterwards the loins; then she crossed herself, not as ordinary Catholics do, but in a curious and complicated pattern which included the nose and ears. Did she expect a miracle? and if she did, why should it not be granted her, the priest wondered? Faith, one was told, could move mountains, and here was faith—faith in the spittle that healed the blind man and the voice that raised the dead. […] When none came, it was as if God had missed an opportunity.

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