The Diary of a Country Priest

by Georges Bernanos
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Themes

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 272

The Diary of a Country Priest by Georges Bernanos has three prominent themes. The first one is the duality of materialism and spiritual experience. The priest—who sees himself as an intellectual—has a habit of making assumptions about other people, specifically judging whether one is following or not following Christian principles. This is illustrated by his tense relations with a young woman whom he tries to guide towards a more Christian way of living.

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The second theme is the devotion to seeking divinity in the material mortal world. The priest is so devoted to his theological pursuits that his physical health deteriorates. The young woman aides him back to health, but it is not enough. When the young priest dies, the scene is reminiscent of Christ's final seconds on the cross, and the priest sees "God's grace" all around him. He believes he has fulfilled his duty as a priest during his short time on Earth.

The other theme is the concept of understanding. This begins with misunderstanding between the priest and those around him, which stems from contradictions of individual personal beliefs. This is evident in his philosophical debate with Chantal. In the end, Chantal is able to see the priest's theological perspective despite deciding that she will do as she wishes. The message of the author is conveyed before the story ends: one must have the courage to carve their own paths in life despite the opinions of others. This is illustrated by both the priest and the young woman, respectively. The priest sticks to his convictions despite almost being fired from his post, and Chantal remains fiercely independent.

Christian Themes

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Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 212

The major theme in the novel is that nothing is as it seems on the surface or as it seems after being explored in depth. Only God can judge. The villagers observe their new priest and judge him as too young. The aristocrats view him as unsophisticated; the commoners view him as remote and harsh. At times both groups attribute to him the ability to see into souls and to discern a person’s innermost secrets.

The priest observes the villagers and often attributes to them a depth and sophistication that could not be further from the truth. He judges the children by adult standards and assigns to them motives far beyond the childhood whims that dictate their actions.

The priest judges with his head, through his philosophy, logic, and debated alternatives. The villagers judge from what they observe, assuming that things are always as they seem. The priest is young and a drunkard to the villagers, and the villagers are willful and unrepentant to the priest.

At his death, the priest concludes that God’s grace is everywhere. Readers are led to hope that when the villagers learn of the death of the priest and its cause, they too will realize that God’s grace has been and remains among them.

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