(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Graham Greene, baptized an Anglican, became an atheist at Oxford University and converted to Catholicism at the age of twenty-one. He preferred to say he was not a Catholic novelist but rather a novelist who happened to be Catholic; nevertheless, his faith informed his work. As a journalist, he traveled to Mexico to write The Lawless Roads: A Mexican Journal (1939), a nonfiction account of religious persecution in the states of Tabasco and Chiapas. Antireligious laws were most severe in Tabasco, where all Catholic churches were destroyed and the celebration of Mass, confession, and rites for the dying were forbidden. The governor decreed that all priests must leave the state, marry, or be shot. There, Greene encountered stories of the hunted, alcoholic priest who became his protagonist in The Power and the Glory.

Greene’s “whiskey priest” is a questionable hero. He has evaded the authorities for ten years, yet he still feels a pastoral duty: Without him, the people cannot receive God through the sacrament of Communion. Fear dominates his life. A small man, he dreads pain; only brandy can give him courage when necessary. He has sinned, for in a moment of loneliness he has fathered a child. He knows he is unworthy of the priesthood but cannot abandon those who need him, even though he wants to—unlike Padre José, a disgraced old priest who chose to marry his housekeeper rather than die and who faces continual humiliation.

The whiskey priest’s pursuer is an ascetic police lieutenant, a priest of the new order, whose real life began with the socialist revolution a few years before. He wholeheartedly believes that religion has had a corrupting influence on the lives of his people. Although he has destroyed lives and property for his ideals, he views...

(The entire section is 734 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The setting of The Power and the Glory is Mexico during the late 1930’s, when President Plutarco Elias Calles, in the name of revolution, was closing down the churches and murdering or exiling priests and practicing Catholics. The hero is an unnamed whiskey priest who is pursued through the countryside by an unnamed lieutenant. The fact that the protagonists are not named gives the novel the form of a parable. The priest represents a human, Christlike figure persecuted by the lieutenant, who embodies the ruthless, secular ideals of socialism.

In his continuous search for safety and food, the priest takes refuge in a barn owned by Captain Fellows, an English banana planter. His thirteen-year-old daughter, Coral, risks her and her family’s safety in attending to the priest’s needs during his stay. She stands in vivid contrast to the priest’s own illegitimate daughter, Brigita. Coral is still an innocent and later appears to the priest in a comforting dream moments before he is executed. Brigita, on the other hand, despite her youth, has lost her innocence amid her squalid poverty. The priest is overcome by his guilt for having brought a hopeless child into the world and prays that God will take his faith and life in exchange for the salvation of his daughter. Along his travels the priest meets up with a mestizo, a grotesque Judas figure who leads the priest to his capture by the lieutenant. Awaiting execution in prison, the priest reveals a...

(The entire section is 479 words.)