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Book Discussion: Ever Read The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene? January 24, 2017

Posted 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, download-14 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

The book was made into a 1947 movie called "The Fugitive"

The book was made into a 1947 movie called “The Fugitive”

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.





1. Brian Springer - January 25, 2017

It’s been on my to-read list for awhile.

I’m glad that you enjoyed it though. From what I just read, it sounds like what I expected it to be. Though you didn’t really talk much about the novel’s other main character, the priest’s persecutor: the lieutenant. I’d be interested in reading more about that. If the author presents secularism as reducing it’s subjects to an empty existence, then how does he portray its devoted enforcers?

2. Dismas - January 25, 2017

Yup. Worth readin’.

Tantumblogo - January 25, 2017

I tend to agree. It’s pretty good. Also gives a good description of what life was like in rural Mexico then, and maybe to some extent now. You could probably comment on that much better than I.

Tantumblogo - January 25, 2017


So how do you think the priest made out in the end, then? Heaven, or hell? He had no access to Confession. He had unconfessed mortal sins on his soul. But he wanted Confession. Did he make a good act of contrition? I’m kind of giving away the end here. Greene leaves his fate very vague. The book does end on a hopeful note, overall.

Dismas - January 25, 2017

Who am I to judge?

3. Dismas - January 25, 2017

Well, it did remind me a lot of what rural Mexico – in them thar parts – the very south – was like back in the early 70s. Today? Well, Mexico is firmly upon the materialistic merry-go-round.

But I only read that book because you recommended it back when.

Tantumblogo - January 25, 2017

I like it. I’m a bit reticent to give it a wholehearted endorsement because some people may take exception to parts of the book, but for me, I thought it very good. I’ve been meaning to discuss it for some time.

4. tg - January 25, 2017

I haven’t read the book but it sounds interesting. Right now I’m into Catholic fiction. I hope you don’t mind me recommending a good fiction book – Marrano – written by Randy Engel. I bought the kindle version as soon as I learned about. I bought it because Randy Engel wrote it. I read her blog from Renew America and have read parts of the Rite of Sodomy. I thought anything she writes would be intriguing.

5. Michelle - January 25, 2017

A master piece of literature. Unfortunately, some don’t read it as such. Rather they read it like pulp fiction, superficially, and end up disappointed and depressed. Catholic archetypes and symbols litter the book. For example the girl IS a type of ‘Mary’. Pretty much every character falls into such an catholic archetype Also, a major theme is how God makes us saints according to his plan, which doesn’t take into account how we see ourselves, our feelings or our failures, but somehow works with even the tiniest bit of cooperation even if we feel hopeless while we are obedient. Grace prevails! Possibly best book ever. Another theme is sacrifice especially, the sacrifice of the priest vs the protestant missionaries in their comfort etc. For those who don’t want to miss the real meaning of the book, but aren’t literature savvy, Cliff’s notes does a good job of explaining some of these treasures hidden in plain sight. This book is like the Eucharist, the faithless will see stale bread, but the faithful will see Christ. It is a double edge sword.

Michelle - January 25, 2017

One more thing, this book is the Via Crucis, the actualization of “en persona Christi”. I will say no more. Love love loved it!

Michelle - January 25, 2017

OK couldn’t help myself, a little symbolic nugget: he is the last priest, ok, google the name of the beer the girl brings him while she is sheltering him. It’s named after the last…? Ah, the symbols!

Michelle - January 25, 2017

Just one more, the girl is ‘Mary’ her parents are ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’. OK now I’m mums the word.

6. Mary - January 25, 2017

I read it a long time ago and I liked it very much. Highly recommended. In fact, I like many of Graham Greene’s novels. In a similar vein, I also recommend Death Comes For the Archbishop by Willa Cather.
( Sorry – I can’t figure out how to make this keyboard underline the title!) It is a semi historical account of the first Archbishop of the American Southwest.

Tantumblogo - January 25, 2017

I will check that out.

7. oakesspalding - January 25, 2017

I liked it and thought it was quite powerful in its way. The fact that the priest was “flawed” didn’t bother me. People are flawed and a flawed hero is often more interesting than a perfect one. Plus, of course, the book had a naturalistic tone that would not have been consistent with having a superman priest.

We might usefully compare it with Silence, with which it shared many superficial similarities. Both novels describe different sorts of anti-Catholic hells, both have flawed characters, both are relatively “matter-of-fact”. But there’s something about Silence, including of course its ending that (not to exaggerate) almost drips evil to me. Not so with The Power and the Glory. I think it’s 90% a fully orthodox Catholic book.

My main criticism (that missing 10%) is that while the novel brilliantly sketches the evil banality of an anti-Catholic state, it doesn’t do enough to describe WHY anyone should be a Catholic. So we see desperation for the sacraments and even heroism to give them, but to me there isn’t much in the novel that would tell the reader WHY people find the Faith so compelling. Contrast that with Endo’s Silence where Endo paints a fairly robust (though dangerously false) picture of what Christ or Christianity has to offer.

8. Michelle - January 25, 2017

This book has to be read at the mystogogical level. Look for the Sacraments! Otherwise, its about as useful to faith and the Catholic imagination as reading the bible in the historical critical method. The uninitiated and the untried will be repelled by what they presume as the imperfect priest while missing the Action of the Perfect God working through sinners, the author did that on purpose. It is a litmus test. Anyone who has actually wrestled with faith, sin, and made actual serious sacrifice in their life in spite of feelings will get this book. Anyone who can look back and see God mysteriously at work in their life in those moments when they seemed to have gotten it right even in spite of themselves and by the skin of their teeth will get this book. God is with us, he never abandons us. Dying as a saint is the ultimate desire God has for us. All else is worldly rags and keeps us from that destiny. How merciful is God (the author) who allowed the bullet to come at the perfect time, just before the priest in his weakness could talk his executor out of killing him. God did not let the priests attachments to the false comfort of the world nor even to his own life rule his destiny and deprive him of his moment of martyrdom and sainthood. God is good! The question should not be simply about about perfect contrition, but rather, the greater destiny, martyrdom. And how do we know for sure that that was the authors point? Look at the fruits of course. People were converted by the grace flowing through this priest. Catholics have forgotten that God wants us to be saints above all and getting there is his plan, and that Way is the Via Crucis, and it is for everyone. Dare I say that the author suggests that if you haven’t experience the Via Crucis, you are not on The Path. This is the real mercy of God the likes of which we don’t see discussed anymore even at the highest levels. This book gives me hope.

9. frankljs - January 25, 2017

Read it. Loved it. Michelle’s assessments are pretty spot on. Its available on audible.com, which makes it pleasant to listen to.

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