Study Guide

The Power and the Glory Quotes

  • Lies and Deceit

    "Going in her?"

    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?" (1.1.22-23)

    The priest, called the little man here, intends to board the boat and escape the area. If he would be doing so openly, albeit without revealing his identity, why evade the question? Does his evasion make him seem more suspicious or less?

    […] 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… (1.2.50)

    Notice how the married priest, Padre José, functions as an anti-martyr—he's a witness to the lies of the faith he practiced. As we learn elsewhere, he thinks of himself as the biggest martyr of all because he'll have to suffer indefinitely. Where the executed priests blink and get executed, he gets to continue living in this sick sad world. No, he's not a giant like Fezzik from The Princess Bride. He's the star witness of the secular state: the living testament that Catholicism is a lie.

    "[…] I don't believe all that they write in these books. We are human." (1.2.81)

    We wonder if this is Graham Greene secretly voicing his opinion about popular books about saints, which tend to highlight their heroism while keeping the less savory aspects of their lives in the dark. We might call The Power and the Glory an attempt to write a more human saint story.

    "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." (1.3.125-6)

    The priest doesn't hesitate to hide his identity to deceive the government soldiers and police, but he flat out refuses to renounce his faith as a deception. Does he see a moral difference between these two lies? Do we ever get a clear sense of where he draws the line? What wouldn't the priest lie about to keep his identity secret? And most importantly—will he be on Santa's naughty list this Christmas?

    He was the only priest the children could remember: it was from him they would take their ideas of the faith. (2.1.51)

    The priest knows he's not a holy man, but a man of vice whose sinful behavior teaches more than his saintly words. He makes his faith seem like a lie, but he's the only one who can speak with authority on its truth. Nelly and Kelly might call this a dilemma.

    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. (2.1.95)

    It was this sort of hypocrisy that inspired the lieutenant to purge the state of priests, but in effect the lieutenant has made them more sincere witnesses. Under oppression, the priests have to live poor and under the threat of death—just like Jesus and many of the early Christians.

    "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." (2.1.117)

    The lieutenant should remember Westley's line from The Princess Bride: "We are men of action. Lies do not become us." He's speaking in the same simplistic caricatures he so despises in the clergy.

    "Have you ever seen the priest?"



    "Are you married?"

    "Yes." (2.1.122-7)

    This exchange between the lieutenant and the priest is peculiar because the priest, who usually deceives others indirectly, makes statements that are flatly untrue.

    "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." (2.1.287-290)

    The priest and the half-caste are both deceiving each other and know they're each being deceived. Are they both wrong to lie? Does it matter that the priest deceives with evasion while the half-caste tells blatant lies? Is there a moral difference between these two deceptions?

    He had always been worried by the fate of pious women. As much as politicians, they fed on illusion. (2.3.79)

    Greene is describing a common phenomenon in Catholic parish life: a false reverence for the Church and its clergy. In Catholic theology, the Church acts in the world on behalf of God, but it is also a human institution run by sinners. The priest isn't necessarily the holiest person in a congregation (kind of like how a teacher isn't necessarily the smartest person in a class), and it's an illusion to believe that he is. Notice the woman the priest is speaking to in the prison has a pure image of him because he's a priest. When he shatters her illusion, she wishes him dead.

  • Fear

    "Don't mention him," the mother said. "How dare you? That despicable man. A traitor to God." (1.2.66)

    Parents often want to shield their children from unsavory influences and characters. The pious parents in The Power and the Glory are in the unhappy position of wanting their children to have contact with the Church when the only representatives of the Church are unsavory characters. It's like wanting to eat candy, even though it'll give you cavities. In this passage, the priest under discussion is Padre José who abandoned the faith. The mother doesn't want her children even thinking about him.

    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. (1.2.91)

    Padre José is envious, but he's also afraid. He could still share the quick death of his fellow clergyman, but he fears the bullets too much. So he lives on in fear and envy, and complains the whole way through.

    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. (1.3.19)

    We get the impression that Mrs. Fellows suffers from some sort of mental illness. Whatever it is that she fears most—we suspect death—it's worse than vermin and poverty. She can't escape the terror that's always with her, so she copes by focusing her fear on things she has the strength to face.

    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. (1.3.69)

    As every parent knows, you can't love your children without also fearing for them. This is a truth learned the hard way by Mr. and Mrs. Fellows, the mother who reads to her three children, and the priest himself. He has a daughter whose life is beyond his power to influence. It tears him up inside, like a fork in a garbage disposal.

    […] the word "life" was taboo: it reminded you of death. (1.3.101)

    What is Greene up to with the extremely terrified character of Mrs. Fellows? Why create this character whose heart beats anxiously at the word "life" because it reminds her of its opposite?

    But that was the trouble—he could trust no one. As soon as they got back home one or other of them would certainty begin to boast. (1.4.18)

    Here Padre José is hesitant to offer a simple blessing for dead child. His fear of sanction (and possibly death) breeds distrust of others. If trust is necessary for a social order, then you arguably can't build a social order on fear. The lieutenant seems to understand this: he tries several times to appeal to the children of the city so as to get them on his side.

    He knew he was in the grip of the unforgivable sin: despair. (1.4.19)

    In Catholic moral theology, despair is one of the worst of sins. Someone in despair has given up hope and ceased to seek God, making repentance and conversion more difficult than they otherwise would be. Someone in despair won't make the effort for redemption, just like someone who's lazy won't make the effort to get up off the couch.

    He prayed silently, "O God, give me any kind of death—without contrition, in a state of sin—only save this child." (2.1.207)

    The priest prays for his daughter, who doesn't appear to be on a path toward holiness. Given that the priest flees from her to save his own life, do you believe that his prayer here is sincere?

    Hope is an instinct only the reasoning human mind can kill. An animal never knows despair. (2.4.5)

    Someone hasn't seen Toy Story 3. Lots-O'-Huggin' Bear, anyone? To the narrator's point: despair is more than a feeling of resignation or frustration. It's a frame of mind. It has to be reasoned into.

    The officer stepped aside, the rifles went up, and the little man suddenly made jerky movements with his arms. (4.83)

    Is the priest's martyrdom diminished at all because he doesn't face death with the fearlessness of Juan? Without explicitly asking it, Greene leaves us with this question.

  • Mortality

    Mr Tench went out to look for his ether cylinder, into the blazing Mexican sun and the bleaching dust. A few vultures looked down from the roof with shabby indifference: he wasn't carrion yet. A faint feeling of rebellion stirred in Mr Tench's heart, and he wrenched up a piece of the road with splintering finger-nails and tossed it feebly towards them. One rose and flapped across town: over the tiny plaza, over the bust of an ex-president, ex-general, ex-human being, over the two stalls that sold mineral water, towards the river and the sea. (1.1.1)

    The novel opens with a feeble protest against death, which is followed by a quick reminder that death always has the last word. Mr. Tench doesn't hit any of the birds, and only one of them bothers to take flight. The rest are like, "Whatever, dude." The vulture in the air flies over as if to say, "You look like you'd make a good dinner."

    The General Obregon was about thirty yards long. A few feet of damaged rail, one lifeboat, a bell hanging on a rotten cord, an oil-lamp in the bow, she looked as if she might weather two or three more Atlantic years, if she didn't strike a Norther in the gulf. (1.1.4)

    The boat—a chance for the priest's escape—is itself an image of death and impending doom. Heck, it's in such bad shape that it might not even make it out of the Gulf of Mexico still afloat. Stay or go, death awaits the priest as it awaits us all.

    The man's dark suit reminded him uncomfortably of a coffin, and death was in his carious mouth already. (1.1.75)

    In this world, a dentist's observations are more often about the Pearly Gates than pearly whites. Mr. Tench can see death approaching from afar, but this foresight hasn't made him any wiser.

    "A man like that," the lieutenant said, "does not real harm. A few men dead. We all have to die…" (1.2.34)

    Got that? The police lieutenant believes a murderer does no real harm. Um…huh? His reasoning is interesting: because death is inevitable it's not such bad a thing. Suffering is inevitable as well, but he actually thinks he can alter that fact. Which he totally could, if he'd just stop, you know, the whole killing random villagers thing. This dude is a trip.

    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. (1.2.48)

    The lieutenant's beliefs differ radically from the priests, but they share the same strong conviction and, in some matters, an absence of doubt. The lieutenant is religiously anti-religious, but don't go telling him we said that. Seriously. He'd be on our tail faster than green grass through a goose.

    You do not always say goodbye to those you love beside a deathbed, in an atmosphere of leisure and incense. (2.1.85)

    This is straight up Hallmark card material. Just saying.

    Death was not the end of pain—to believe in peace was a kind of heresy. (2.1.138)

    For the priest to think of death as a moment's pain followed by everlasting peace would require him to dismiss the possibility, and for him likelihood, of hell. He cannot talk himself into believing that his death will be a restful end to his troubles because deep down he believes he's damned to everlasting fire. Cheerful.

    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. (2.3.124)

    The implication here is that if the priest were a better man, he would be more troubled by his own faults and failings and less anxious about his mortality. His fears highlight his weakness like a spark in the dark.

    "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." (3.3.60-1)

    The lieutenant tells the priest, now in his custody, that he doesn't try to alter facts like death. But wait—what does he mean by a "fact"? He clearly wants to erase the historical fact that the Church once existed in his state (1.2.49), and he believes suffering—a fact of life—is wrong and should be stopped (3.3.55-57). So what's the deal? Is he being inconsistent or does he just have a very specific definition of a fact?

    He knew now that at the end there was only one thing that counted—to be a saint. (3.4.94)

    The priest has an idea of sainthood: living according to God's will to the point of death and beyond. What might the lieutenant's version of sainthood be? How would his version of a saint relate to death?

  • Duty

    "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." (1.3.120-1)

    Now that he's the only one left in the state, the priest's sense of responsibility has only heightened. No one can take his place or share the burden. There's no Justice League here, folks. It's all on him.

    "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. (1.3.196)

    Just because the priest has a strong sense of duty doesn't mean he likes it. In this case, though, his frustration is understandable. He's exhausted to the point of tears, but the faithful want their confessions. Well, one of them does, and he's rather insistent. Jeez dude, get a clue.

    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. (1.4.70)

    Coral Fellows has grown up much too quickly. Adulthood for her has more to do with taking on responsibilities than it does with the number of years since her birth. You'll often see this theme in coming-of-age stories: the passage from childhood to adulthood runs through responsibility, like an Olympic torch of stress and obligation that nobody is too excited to carry.

    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. (2.1.46)

    The priest's primary duty isn't clear to him. Should he stay and minister or flee for the safety of his parishioners? Now that the people want him to go, is he more duty-bound to do what they want? Talk about being between a rock and a hard place.

    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. (2.1.51)

    The problem would be less enormous if the priest was a good man, but then we'd have a very different story. With his bad manners and penchant for drinking, the whisky priest perverts the very faith he preaches, but he is the only connection to the church these people have. What's a priest to do?

    "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." (2.1.291)

    A good villain knows how to use people's responsibilities against them. An old Hitchcock movie called I Confess had a villain who used the seal of the confessional to place blame on a priest. In more recent movie fare, think the Joker in The Dark Knight, who plays with people's sense of duty, right, and wrong.

    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. (2.2.222)

    We'll say this much for Padré Jose: he isn't subtle. He's speaking to the priest here, but we have to wonder if his words are also directed towards himself. It wasn't his job to renounce the faith, but to preach it. As a priest, Padré Jose is symbolically married to the Church, meaning that he owes it his devotion till death do them part. His decision to leave Mexico is in many ways a death in itself. The death of his faith, his duty, and his strength. No wonder he's thinking of dying quickly—it might be what he desires most.

    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 … (2.4.52)

    Concerned with his own needs, and not unjustly, the priest left a woman and her dead son alone in the wild. Now he feels guilty. To be priest is to have responsibility for everyone—they call him Father for a reason, after all.

    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. (3.1.192)

    This is as close as the priest gets to the saintly Juan, the character from the religious storybook the mother reads to her children. The cheerfulness won't last, but in this moment—the moment of his choice to give himself over—he's earned a little happiness.

    "I never believed that you would return." "Oh well, lieutenant, you know how it is. Even a coward has a sense of duty." (3.3.8-9)

    Ironically, the priest speaks of duty here as a minimal expectation for good behavior, when his return to danger, while done because it was his duty, was arguably heroic. We'd say so, even if the priest won't.

  • Power

    "Why, I could guarantee to fetch this man in, inside a month if …"

    "If what?"

    "If I had the power."

    "It's easy to talk," the chief said. What would you do?"

    "This is a small state. Mountains on the north, the sea on the south. I'd beat it as you beat a street, house by house." (1.2.36-40)

    As an officer of the law, the lieutenant obviously has power over others, but he wants more. Power doesn't come to the passive—he has to reach for it. He's not a cartoonish power-hungry Big Bad Wolf, though. He has a clear if unrealistic purpose for that power: destroy the church. For him power is a means, not an end.

    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. (1.2.92)

    With great power comes great responsibility. Does that mean that those with power who neglect their responsibility are worse than neglectful people with less power? What would Spiderman say?

    He was scared, and yet a curious pride bubbled in his throat because he was being treated as a priest again, with respect. (1.4.18)

    Being a priest carries a responsibility to serve, but it's also a position of power. When Padre José renounced the priesthood, he gave up both, but his old ways still carry influence over true believers who still see him as a priest. You know the saying, "Once a priest, always a priest." (Okay, you might not actually know that saying because we just made it up. You heard it here first!)

    The jefe was silent. He studied the lieutenant unobtrusively with little astute eyes. Then he said, "You know I trust you. Do what you think best."

    "Will you put that in writing?"

    "Oh—not necessarily. We know each other."

    All the way up the road they fenced warily for positions.

    "Didn't the governor give you anything in writing?" the lieutenant asked.

    "No. He said we knew each other."

    It was the lieutenant who gave way because it was he who really cared. He was indifferent to his personal future. He said, "I shall take hostages from every village." (1.4.90-6)

    Ah, politics. Everybody trying to cover their rears…and for good reason. If things go downhill, there must be someone to blame. There's always got to be someone to blame.

    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. (2.1.3)

    Within the institutional church, the bishop has authority over the priests in his diocese. Technically, the whisky priest's bishop is still in charge of him, despite the distance and total absence of communication. In practice, however, the persecution has pretty much made the power of the bishop and his policies meaningless.

    Out of the huts the villagers were reluctantly emerging—the children first: they were inquisitive and unfrightened. The men and women had the air already of people condemned by authority—authority was never wrong. (2.1.110)

    It's important for authoritarian regimes to nurture a belief that they can do no wrong. If they can be wrong, then they can be questioned. If it can be questioned, then it can be corrected and potentially replaced. It's similar to why dogs wield so much power over their owners—they can do no wrong, and you can't question them even if you want to. Is it a coincidence that dog is God spelled backwards? We don't think so. Anyways, back to the story.

    "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." (2.3.70-75)

    By shaping people's beliefs, you shape their behavior. Part of shaping people's beliefs is controlling the definition (and the way people think) of certain terms and words. Can you think of ways that politicians do this?

    The priest waited: there was nothing else to do; he was at the man's mercy—a silly phrase, for those malarial eyes had never known what mercy was. He was saved at any rate from the indignity of pleading. (2.3.156)

    The phrase is silly, isn't it? The half-caste knows that the priest is a priest and under the circumstances, this gives him power over the priest and the opportunity to cause him great harm. Mercy indeed.

    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. (3.1.71)

    As Shakespeare's King Henry V knew, the powerful are the makers of manners. Having good manners means obeying standards set by the powerful. Shmoop Disclaimer: We're not giving you pointers on how to be an effective rebel. Really.

    One didn't trust one's superiors when one was more successful than they were. (3.4.1)

    The lieutenant is playing the game of thrones. And he knows it. His chief doesn't seem all that interested in the game, but who knows when the higher ups begin to recognize the lieutenant's accomplishments, or when the lieutenant turns his ire on the chief.

  • Sin

    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. (2.1.2)

    The priest has avoided his daughter because he believes it would be wrong of him to enjoy the company of his child. He feels this enjoyment would mean that he disregards the sin that brought her into the world. But since he's going to the village out of necessity, his conscience isn't troubled this time. Intentions matter.

    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. (2.1.4)

    A little theology background: Catholicism doesn't hesitate to define certain actions as sins, but it refuses to judge individuals as definitely condemned. The Church has its official list of saints—i.e., souls in heaven—but it has no alternative list naming the residents of hell (which would probably be quite the roster). The priest suspects he's headed there, but he doesn't know that for sure.

    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. (2.1.76)

    As a first year philosophy major might say say, "That's deep." Do you think the priest is seeing something really there or is this perception all in his head?

    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. (2.1.331)

    In Catholicism, sin is a sign of weakness, powerlessness, and limitation. The more you sin, the more you are possessed by sin. It becomes a bad habit, like leaving dirty laundry on the floor, texting while talking to people, or picking your nose. Ewwwww.

    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… (2.3.173)

    Some more background: Catholic moral theology distinguishes between venial sins and mortal sins. The first are the kinds of wrongs that are minor and easily passed with an apology. The second are the evils that severely injure the relationship one has with God and necessitate major repairs (contrition, confession). The priest believes he's in a state of mortal sin and therefore likely cut off from God and the hope of heaven; however, he also senses that he's a better person now. He isn't rejecting the Catholic understanding of sin, but recognizing that such strict distinctions don't quite capture the mystery.

    "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." (3.1.109)

    This statement helps us understand why the priest believes himself damned. He can't bring himself to be sorry for his sin of fornication because he loves what his sin brought into the world—his child. He doesn't think he can love his child and hate the means that gave her life. Do you think he's conflating the two?

    What was the good of confession when you loved the result of your crime? (3.1.142)

    Being the only active priest left in the state, our protagonist hasn't had a chance to confess his mortal sins but he isn't sure this even matters since he's not entirely sorry for one of those sins. Even if he could speak the words of confession to another priest, he wouldn't be making a full act of contrition. Consequently, the confession wouldn't restore his relationship with God.

    "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." (3.3.55-57)

    Like some other religions, Catholicism doesn't see suffering as inherently wrong. If it did, it wouldn't require fasting and abstinence during Lent. For the Lieutenant, suffering is the Big Bad, to use Buffy-speak. He's a moral absolutist when it comes to the evil of suffering. He'd probably outlaw suffering if he could.

    "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." (3.3.64)

    Throughout much of his ministry after the persecution began, the priest was troubled that his sinful life undermined the good he was able to do as a priest. Here, though, he recognizes that every priest will be a sinner. The piety that insists on morally pure priests is a false piety.

    "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." (3.3.72)

    They don't call pride the root of all sins for nothing. But here's a question: if pride is the worst of sins, then why does the priest name it as one of the venial, lesser sins? So many questions, such few answers.

  • Hate

    He knew what it meant: the ship had kept to timetable: he was abandoned. He felt an unwilling hatred of the child ahead of him and the sick woman—he was unworthy of what he carried. (1.1.125)

    The priest isn't just a little vexed; he's infuriated. He's mad as Hello Kitty's evil twin and…he's…just going to keep taking it. We're introduced to the priest as a man who will grudgingly make a sacrifice, despise the people he's sacrificing for, but go along because that's what he's been doing. Not exactly magnanimity.

    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. (1.2.24)

    The lieutenant has some deep wounds. We don't know exactly what happened to him as a child, but we're sure it's left him jaded. And as we learn from the old lifestyle of the priest—full of pomp and circumstance and unearned deference—the lieutenant's assessment has some merit, even if his actions do not.

    It seemed to him like a weakness: this was his own land, and he would have walled it in if he could with steel 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. Life began five years ago. (1.2.49)

    The lieutenant is something of a tragic figure. He could only find purpose once he was in a position to suppress the Church he grew to loathe, and his purpose is as fantastic as he deems the promises of heaven. In his heart, he's a Final Fantasy villain. In reality, he's just a man.

    A woman screamed. "That's my boy. That's Miguel. You can't take my boy." He said dully, "Every man here is somebody's husband or somebody's son. I know that." The priest stood silently with his hands clasped; his knuckles whitened as he gripped … He could feel all around him the beginning of hate. Because he was no one's husband or son. He said, "Lieutenant…" (2.1.145-147)

    Why do the villagers refuse to turn the priest over—even to save themselves? Is it honor? Superstition? Fear of God?

    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. (2.3.117)

    No wonder traitors opt to stab people in the back. Do you agree with this? If people were more imaginative, would they hate less? If so, can artists and musicians and poets help make the work less hateful?

    "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." (3.1.115)

    Do we detect a little self-loathing on the part of the priest here? He sees the love of God as an internal conflict: wanting to be with God and away from God at the same time. It's like an addiction, or an abusive relationship. Either way, it doesn't sound like very much fun.

    These were heretics—it never occurred to them that he was not a good man: they hadn't the prying insight of fellow Catholics. (3.1.130)

    Does hate usually more personal when it's hatred of one's own? The Lehrs don't hold with the priest's religious ideas, but, unlike of the Catholics the priest encounters, they have no interest in measuring how good or bad a Catholic he is.

    "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." (3.1.138)

    Mr. Lehr and the lieutenant have this commonality: they both really dislike the priest's ideas and find them harmful. We might say Mr. Lehr is tolerant while the lieutenant is intolerant, but we suspect that the German protestant wouldn't mind seeing some aspects of Catholicism disappear. If he had the power of the lieutenant, what do you think he'd do?

    "You hate the rich and love the poor. Isn't that right?"


    "Well, if I hated you, I wouldn't want to bring up my child to be like you. It's not sense." (3.3.103-105)

    Oh snap. In the lieutenant's favor, however, the priest's argument doesn't quite get at the desires of the policeman. He seems to hate the disparity between rich and poor and the suffering it causes most of all. We're not sure why he thinks getting rid of the Church will do away with this all, but there's no stopping him.

    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."

    Notice the variation in the priest's voice. At first he's speaking objectively about God's love and what it is, but then he gets all personal, noting how someone like him would react to such love. So when he says that God's love might look like hate, is he speaking about the reality of God's love or his own perception of it?

  • Violence

    "We've shot him half a dozen times," he said. (1.2.14)

    The lieutenant says this looking at a picture of the priest. He doesn't mean that they've shot this priest half a dozen times. He's speaking figuratively. To him, all priests are the same: they're all bad and they all need shooting. They're not individual persons, but a singular symbol of what's wrong with the world. We might call this an oversimplified way of looking at things, but don't tell the Lieutenant we said anything.

    The lieutenant said suddenly, "I will tell you what I'd do. I would take a man from every village in the state as a hostage. If the villagers didn't report the man when he came, the hostage would be shot—and then we'd take another."

    "A lot of them would die, of course."

    "Wouldn't it be worth it?" the lieutenant demanded. "To be rid of those people forever."

    "You know," the chief said, "you've got something there." (1.2.42-45)

    The lieutenant argues to his chief that this violence is acceptable because the ends justify the means. This reasoning puts him further outside a Christian worldview, which has traditionally rejected this moral reasoning. For traditional Christianity, the ends do not justify the means. And some actions are always and everywhere wrong.

    "And I shall shoot as often as it's necessary."

    "The jefe said with facetious brightness, "A little blood never hurt anyone. Where will you start?" (1.4.100-1)

    Serving and protecting aren't on this police chief's radar, are they? We admit, he's sort of joking, but to even tell such a ghastly joke speaks volumes.

    An empty gaseosa bottle sailed through the air and smashed at the lieutenant's feet. His hand went to his holster and he turned; he caught a look of consternation on a boy's face.

    "Did you throw that bottle?"

    The heavy brown eyes stared sullenly back at him.

    "What were you doing?"

    "It was a bomb."

    "Were you throwing it at me?


    "What then?"

    "A gringo."

    The lieutenant smiled—an awkward movement of the lips. (1.4.107-115)

    They didn't have Grand Theft Auto back then, but the children made do. You'll notice that the lieutenant doesn't want to stifle their violence; he encourages it with a smile. He appeals to the boy's violent play because he wants them to appreciate and share his worldview. If this doesn't make him a villain, we don't know what would.

    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. (1.4.129)

    A few shootings here and there doesn't trouble the lieutenant; he wants to pulverize the world and make something new. Too bad the world isn't his to mold. We wonder how that's all going to turn out for him…

    "No, but as I was saying—life has such irony. It was my painful duty to watch the priest who gave me that communion shot—an old man. I am not ashamed to say that I wept." (2.2.156)

    Whatever guilt the chief had overseeing the shooting of a priest he personally knew has since left him. He's not as violent a man as the lieutenant is, but he's happy to pass the dirty work on to others. Mostly he just complains about his tooth.

    The priest said, "He only killed and robbed. He hasn't betrayed his friends." (3.1.162)

    This is interesting: both the priest and the lieutenant believe that killing and robbing are minor wrongs relative to others. For the priest, this worse sin is betrayal. For the lieutenant, it's deception. For us, it's skipping lunch. Nothing is worse.

    "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." (3.2.61)

    The life of the American criminal has turned out to be meaningless rather than glorious. Intent on violence to the last, his life ends with a bang and then a whimper.  Another one bites the dust.

    "You're a danger. That's why we kill you. I have nothing against you, you understand, as a man." (3.3.49)

    If the lieutenant knew the priest as a man rather than as an idea, would he be less prone to kill him? We suspect not. As Michael Corleone famously said, "It's not personal, Sonny, it's strictly business," and he sentenced his own brother to death.

    "I hate your reasons," the lieutenant said. "I don't want reasons. If you see somebody in pain, people like you reason and reason. You say—pain's a good thing, perhaps he'll be better for it one day. I want to let my heart speak."

    "At the end of a gun?"

    "Yes. At the end of a gun." (3.3.108-110)

    At least he admits it. That's the lieutenant, though. He's sincere, and he doesn't like lies.

  • Society and Class

    "Some food."

    "We have no food."

    "Never mind."

    The boy came out of the hut and watched them: everybody watched. It was like a bull-fight. The animal was tired and they waited for the next move. They were not hard-hearted; they were watching the rare spectacle of something worse off than themselves. (1.3.166-9)

    This explains the Jerry Springer show.

    "The boy, father, has not been baptized. The last priest who was here wanted two pesos. I had only one peso. Now I have only fifty centavos." (1.3.176)

    Pope Francis would not be pleased. The lieutenant certainly isn't. And such actions help support his argument that the Church serves the rich at the expense of the poor.

    "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." (2.1.8-14)

    Notice the cultural and social expectation: a priest should not look like a common man. The priesthood is a higher class, and by looking poor, the priest dishonors it. Even in the house of God, it seems you've got to dress to impress.

    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. (2.1.76)

    Ouch! Actually, this gets at something important, namely the reason why the priest became a priest in the first place. He feared and hated poverty. He wasn't drawn by the honor of service or the splendor of ritual or the truth of the faith; he wanted an escape from what he most despised. Now if only we could figure a way to get out doing homework…

    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. (2.3.89)

    For this priest, at least, being of a higher class was not good for him. It's in a prison with equals that he discovers the Christian love of neighbor. He has to hit rock bottom after sinking into what he most fears before he really gets what the priesthood is all about. Better late than never.

    "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." (3.1.18)

    Coincidentally, it's in the home of the Lehrs that the priest learns that even their relative luxury is too big a temptation for him. Their home is his lion's den—the place where is faith is tested.

    "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." (3.3.53)

    In the lieutenant's mind, the forgiveness of sins that priests offer benefit the rich and corrupt the poor and oppressed—sometimes at their expense. This makes the Church part of the social order he wants to uproot. That explains it.

    "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." (3.3.62)

    The priest doesn't share the lieutenant's belief that empowering the poor will make the world a happier or better place. We wonder what the priest means by a "little" pain. Any pain in this life would seem little in comparison to eternal hellfire.

    "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." (3.3.107)

    The priest disagrees not only with the means the lieutenant uses to raise up the poor, but also with the goal itself. The two men have their similarities, but there's not a lot of common ground between their respective worldviews. It's no surprise that historically Catholicism and atheistic socialism have been at odds.

  • Religion

    "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." (1.4.45)

    The Church was a source of culture, and for some, the only culture they had. The persecution of the faith meant the suppression of events and activities that entertained those who couldn't afford private luxuries. Now they feel deserted.

    "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." (1.4.58-62)

    The witness of the priest does make a difference. Some parents continue to share their faith with their children, but not all do, and an occasional priest is the only instruction some people get. If they hear from a priest at all, it can be years in the waiting.

    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. (1.4.77)

    Only churches had bells ringing to tell the time—a small but significant detail of how the Church shaped the "secular" culture. The oppression of the faith had unintended consequences.

    "One day they'll forget there ever was a Church here." (1.4.86)

    The lieutenant hopes for this, religiously. He desires this not only for others, but for himself. His public policy is deeply rooted in his personal hurts and dreams.

    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. (2.1.49)

    In an effort to appeal to everyone, Catholicism has always instructed the faithful in both simple and complex terms. It teaches with simple prayers, creeds, stained glass images, and stories, but also with dense theological arguments, complicated theories of interpretation, and involved analysis of symbols and metaphors.

    "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…" (2.1.163-4)

    In the Catholic faith, freedom means discerning God's will and living in obedience to it. Freedom is the ability to choose and do good free of hindrance, not the power to act however you will.

    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. (2.1.331)

    Notice the irony? First, very rarely is it easy to sacrifice one's life for anything. We don't call it heroic for nothing. Second, in Catholic theology, the Jesus Christ's sacrifice sets an example to follow. And the priest follows it, riding to certain death in order to help a thief and murderer.

    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. (2.1.352)

    Life before wrist watches and smart phones, eh? Like the absence of bells, the absence of clocks shows just how much the Church had situated itself into everyday life. When it all but vanished, everyday life changed in large ways and small.

    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. (2.4.48)

    There are at least two things to note in this quote. First is the way the woman makes the sign of the cross. Her Catholicism is culturally Native American (Indian in the text), and as is often the case, a universal and global sign of devotion in the Church takes on the peculiarities of a particular place. Second is the priest's questions about faith. He believes in miracles, but believes too that they don't come on command. Nevertheless, he can't understand why God wouldn't answer such faithful prayers. He has his doubts.

    He drank the brandy down like damnation: men like the half-caste could be saved, salvation could strike like lightning at the evil heart, but the habit of piety excluded everything but the evening prayer and the Guild meeting and the feel of humble lips on your gloved hand. (3.1.86)

    The priest feels that he's destined for hell, in part because he hasn't confessed his mortal sin and he loves the result of it (his daughter), in part because he believes his own piety shields him from salvation. He really doesn't think much of himself. Is he too harsh or does he really understand the state of his soul? And as Jewel famously crooned, "Who will save his soul?"