Book Discussion: Ever Read The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene? January 24, 2017Posted by Tantumblogo in General Catholic, Holy suffering, horror, mortification, persecution, priests, reading, Revolution, sadness, secularism, Society.
Ever read The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene? What did you think of it? Apparently, it was criticized by the pre-conciliar Holy Office, but I am not certain whether it ever appeared on the Index of Forbidden Books. I am not certain I found anything in the book that was sufficient to merit being banned by the Holy Office, but I do agree that the book was in some respects “paradoxical.” It was not a typical Saint’s story.
For those who are not familiar, The Power and the Glory tells the semi-fictional story of a hunted, persecuted Mexican priest in the state of Tabasco during the darkest days of the Cristiada. This priest is the last functioning priest left in the entire state. In fact, since the book was set in 1940, he has been the only priest in the state for nearly a decade. All other priests fled, were shot, or apostatized, married, and given government pensions to live on. He has lived deep in the jungles, always hiding, always hunted and hounded by the law. This horrid persecution had persisted, by the time the book was set, for nearly two full decades.
This lead character around which the story revolves is morally ambiguous, in a sense. He frequently in the book performs acts of practically heroic virtue, while at the same time being a near alcoholic with a strong desire for drink and having fathered a child in a one-time fall into lust while lonely, depressed, and drunk. At times I felt the priest too hard on himself, as he judged that he had done little worthwhile even as he served as the only priest an entire region of Mexico knew for nearly a decade. He was terrified of his salvation over his sins and his inability to go to confession. There is a sort of priest remaining in the state, in the capital of Villahermosa, a man who renounced his priestly mission, “married” a woman at government behest (even though the marriage was never consummated), and lives on a government pension, growing steadily more obese as he has nothing to do all day except eat, loathe himself, and be tormented by neighborhood children who constantly belittle him. At the climax of the book, the moral cowardice of this bad former priest is plainly revealed.
Nevertheless, regarding the main character, he has several opportunities to escape, but is prevented from doing so for a long time (I won’t ruin the story by telling you whether he finally escapes in the end, or not) by the untimely, or timely, intervention of someone needing his sacramental services. Even though it likely means his death, in every instance the priest chooses to remain and serve the people calling out to him, but with an often begrudging heart which steals away some of the virtue of his choosing to stay. But who save for great Saints would not be somewhat conflicted over choosing to stay or go under such oppressive circumstances. There is an ugly Judas character also involved in this priest’s sufferings. He shadows the priest through half or more of the book and is hideous in his ability to constantly justify his black heart.
I don’t want to share any more of the plot as I don’t want to ruin it for those who haven’t read it, but I am very interested to know if any blog commenters have read the book and what they thought of it. My
conclusions were two-fold: I’ve read several books on the state persecution of the Church in Mexico, books that were full of statistics and tales of cruelty and suffering, but never one that made me feel as if I could really understand what living under such conditions on a day to day basis would have really been like. This book did that in spades. For that, I strongly recommend the book. But, on the other hand, there is some unfortunate moral ambiguity surrounding the main character of the unnamed priest – I don’t know if author Greene was trying to be “realistic” by not giving a “sanitized” version of a man’s character, or if he was trying to get people to think about what really constitutes holiness, and whether this priest’s destiny was a happy or unhappy one.
Because of that ambiguity, I can only recommend this book for those well formed and committed to the Faith, which naturally includes most readers of this blog. It is not suitable, for several reasons, for children or for those who are struggling to hold onto their Faith or who are very new to the Church (perhaps). In many ways, it’s a beautiful story and a very sober appraisal of how people conduct themselves under extremely difficult circumstances. I don’t read much fiction because it frequently bores me, but The Power and the Glory is very well written and really grabbed my attention. But there are certain scenes I wish were not present in the book, where the author perhaps let his personal bias against certain types of pious souls tell too much. On the other hand, there are some really cutting scenes dealing with protestants and their love of comfort. The priest does rather adroitly defend the Faith against his most cruel persecutor, too.
One thing the book is great for: informing readers of the hellish reality of life under that kind of severe, state-sponsored persecution. There are myriad small ways people are forced to surrender their beliefs, to modify their behaviors……..it reveals how horrid an empty, soulless, secularist existence is. Definite food for thought as we see our own culture and Church, Trump and Brexit, et. al., notwithstanding, heading in a similar direction.
Anyway, I’m interested to know what you guys think, if you’ve read the book. I’m kind of on the fence. Would the book be as effective if it had a different ending? Could it have been more so? Was it realistic, or unnecessarily harsh? I’m really on the fence, and very interested to hear what you think. Hopefully some of you have read it, and are willing to take some time to share your thoughts.