A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
How we cite our quotes:
The fellows all were silent. Stephen stood among them, afraid to speak, listening. A faint sickness of awe made him feel weak. How could they have done that? He thought of the dark silent sacristy. There were dark wooden presses there where the crimped surplices lay quietly folded. It was not the chapel but still you had to speak under your breath. It was a holy place. (1.4.8)
Stephen and the other boys are discussing a mysterious crime some older students committed. After Wells suggests that they stole the altar wine and drank it, Stephen is horrified. This is his first encounter with sin, and it is inconceivable to him.
Wells had said that they had drunk some of the altar wine out of the press in the sacristy and that it had been found out who had done it by the smell. […] That must have been a terrible sin, to go in there quietly at night, to open the dark press and steal the flashing gold thing into which God was put on the altar in the middle of flowers and candles at benediction while the incense went up in clouds at both sides as the fellow swung the censer and Dominic Kelly sang the first part by himself in the choir. But God was not in it of course when they stole it. But still it was a strange and a great sin even to touch it. He thought of it with deep awe; a terrible and strange sin: it thrilled him to think of it in the silence when the pens scraped lightly. But to drink the altar wine out of the press and be found out by the smell was a sin too: but it was not terrible and strange. (1.4.34)
Now Stephen’s thoughts get more complicated; he understands that some sins are worse than others, but he can’t come up with precise reasons why this should be so.
Was that a sin for Father Arnall to be in a wax or was he allowed to get into a wax when the boys were idle because that made them study better or was he only letting on to be in a wax? It was because he was allowed, because a priest would know what a sin was and would not do it. But if he did it one time by mistake what would he do to go to confession? Perhaps he would go to confession to the minister. And if the minister did it he would go to the rector: and the rector to the provincial: and the provincial to the general of the Jesuits. (1.4.38)
This is an interesting and provocative thought for someone of any age: what do priests do when they sin? Who do they confess to? And ultimately, who decides what is a sin and what is not?