Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 349
In his novel, Georges Bernanos takes the reader into the mind of a young cleric in early twentieth century, rural France. Despite his own illness, the priest ministers to his parish, coming to understand himself as he gains knowledge of their diverse spiritual journeys.
Seeking guidance from his superior, he must get beyond his negative impressions to hear the content. The older man tells him:
We’re here to teach the truth . . . Teaching is no joke, sonny! I’m not talking about those who get out of it with a lot of eyewash . . . Comforting truths, they call it! Truth is meant to save you first, and the comfort comes afterwards.
Some parishioners completely resist his ministrations, while others appreciate the intent if not the application of his guidance. The priest struggles with his own demons as well, especially temptations of the flesh inspired by the young women around him.
Lust is a mysterious wound in the side of humanity, or rather at the very source of its life. To confound this lust in man with that desire which unites the sexes is like confusing a tumor with the very organ it devours, a tumor whose very deformity horribly reproduces the shape.
Confronting the realities of temptation, the priest muses on the ways Satan presents himself.
Satan is too hard a master. He would never command as did the Other with divine simplicity: “Do likewise.” The devil will have no victims resemble him. He permits only a rough caricature, impotent, abject, which has to serve as food for eternal irony, the mordant irony of the depths.
Throughout the book, the priest experiences many crises of faith, causing him to reflect on the very definition of “faith.”
The expression “to lose one's faith,” as one might a purse or a ring of keys, has always seemed to me rather foolish. It must be one of those sayings of bourgeois piety, a legacy of those wretched priests of the eighteenth century who talked so much. Faith is not a thing which one 'loses,” we merely cease to shape our lives by it.