Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Bread and Wine, set in Roman Catholic Italy of the 1930’s, focuses predominantly on the struggles of the peasants to survive with dignity in the face of the worldwide depression that followed World War I along with the rise to power of a Fascist government. Don Benedetto is presented as an ideal man and churchman, a follower of the Jesus who loved sinners, challenged the entrenched powers of His time, and held out the promise that the poor shall inherit the earth. In contrast, most of the official Church finds accommodation with the repressive Fascist government.

Pietro Spina is the spiritual son of Don Benedetto. He is an idealistic young man who dedicates his life entirely to the project of universal brotherhood, to creating a just society. From the very beginning of the story, there are parallels between his life and that of Jesus and of the Apostles. When he returns to his home village, he is hidden in a barn reminiscent of Jesus’ birthplace; when he leaves, he takes the apostolic name Paolo (Paul) to begin his new ministry; he “raises” Bianchina from the dead; later, Bianchina jokingly refers to herself as the “handmaiden of the Lord”; before his darkest hour, he enters a church and stands by an engraving of Christ being turned over by Pontius Pilate to be scourged.

As Spina is the spiritual heir to Don Benedetto, so is Luigi Murica the true heir to Pietro Spina. Murica’s arrest, torture, and murder at the hands of the police echo Christ’s agony and crucifixion. When he learns of Murica’s death, Spina utters the words “Consummatum est.” Finally, Murica’s father offers bread and wine to Spina in a scene deliberately reminiscent of the Last Supper.

The many biblical parallels and allusions in the story emphasize a fundamental theme of the novel: that the world is always a place where evil threatens to overwhelm good and therefore the sacrifice of Christ, giving oneself for others, must be repeated in every age in order to keep alive the promise of dignity, brotherhood, and peace.