The Power And The Glory, by Graham Greene
Drawn in large part from the author’s trip to Mexico to report on anticlerical effects of the Mexican Revolution in Tabasco and Chiapas and neighboring areas, this is a compelling novel that also serves, in its own characteristically nuanced way, as effective Catholic propaganda . In large part, the author’s own identity and complexity account for the complexity of this novel. The author is himself a Catholic, if an unconventional one, and this novel is infused with a deeply touching and also deeply felt note of religious devotion, while also remaining somewhat cynical and clear-minded about human failings and human frailty, of which the author was certainly deeply familiar with as well. If most of the characters are taken from real life, and that appears to be the case, the story itself is the sort of tale that could only be found in Graham Greene novel, as his combustible mixture of devout Catholicism, generally leftist sympathies, and moral corruption are a very uncommon mixture among writers and people in general. That the novel takes the reader into a dark corner of 20th century history that is very relevant in our own time is certainly well worth appreciating as well.
The novel itself is a short one of about 200 pages and is divided into several parts. Towards the beginning and end of the story we see a somewhat grouchy English dentist dealing with being stuck in remote Mexico hoping to get back home to England, if not his estranged wife. The rest of the story focuses on the deadly cat and mouse game between a whisky priest whose alcoholism and fathering of an illegitimate child make him a poor example of Catholic religion but who happens to be the only active priest left in his Mexican state and a violently anti-religious police officer who is assigned to kill him by a corrupt police chief. As the priest seeks to obtain rare and expensive communion wine and give communion and absolution to the poor and underground Catholics of the region, he becomes aware that he is hunted and is lured out of safety by a Mestizo Judas who resents the priest’s knowledge of his perfidity. And somehow, despite himself, the corrupt priest who is such a poor example of Christian virtue becomes a martyr to the faith and someone that is remembered warts and all by later generations as Catholicism becomes more openly acknowledged in later days.
Whether or not you appreciate this excellent novel depends on a few qualities. Do you appreciate Greene’s warts and all portrayals of a definitely imperfect saint? Do you have tolerance or understanding of Catholic religion and the vital importance of confession and contrition? If not, it is likely that the religious freedom of Catholicism in the face of revolutionary hostility to God is not going to be very appealing. This novel is a vivid work of intrigue and suspense, and the ending is a glorious one for all of those who believe that God will triumph over evil regimes, whatever power they hold and however many innocent and guilty they slaughter. Given contemporary trends against religious piety, this book is one that Christians of all stripes, and not only Romish ones, would do well to acquaint themselves with. Given the likelihood that future anticlerical regimes will oppress believers and force genuine Christianity underground, something that is already starting to happen in parts of the West, knowing how to handle this and deal with the reality of martyrdom when one is a flawed and imperfect person as we all are is something we could all stand to learn while there is time.
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