THROUGH APPARENT DEFEAT THE SUPERNATURAL TRIUMPHS
Graham Greene's great navel
The Power and the Glory. By Graham Greene. (Heinemann, 8s. 3d.)
Reviewed by FRANCIS BURDETT
IT is good, sometimes, to get a book that goes down to the raw when dealing with God and IIis creatures. Stull a book is The. Power and the Glory. When Graham Greene is the author, we may be sere that any sensitiveness towards a reader's fastidiousness will he repressed. We know, or at least we have been told, that the Cross must be to many a scandal and a stumbling block. But the Cross
exactly is the symbol, and more than the symbol, of God's dealing with the world and man's reaction to it.
The Power and the Glory deals with the paradoxical love of God and the paradoxical frailty, and worse than frailty, of man. The scene is a Mexican province. The fallen and heroic priest is talking with the atheistical lieutenant who is so soon to shoot him, about " love " and also about the Catholic belief that " God is love." The lieutenant is, in his own way, on fire with love for the poor and downtrodden; that is why he so mercilessly fights both God and hypocrisy.
(( the priest said, `that's
another thing altogether—God is lour. I don't say the heart doesn't feel and taste of it, but what a taste. The smallest glass of love mixed ivith a pint pot of ditch-water. We wouldn't recognise that love. It might even look like hate. It would be enough to scare us—God's love, It set fire to a bush in the desert, didn't it, and smashed open graves and set the dead walking in the dark. Oh, a man like me would run a mile to get away if he felt that love around.'"
And then we get to the heart of this fallen priest, this " whisky priest." "`I don't know a thing about the mercy of God: I don't know how awful the human heart looks to Him. But I do know this --that if there's ever been a single man in this State damned, then I'll he damned too.' He said slowly: wouldn't want it to be any different. just want justice, that's all.'" HE had failed in a thousand ways; he was a coward, as he thought; he drank, he had flouted ecclesiastical laws and forsaken his breviary; he had a child. The persecution of Christians was intense; any priest was shot who did not conform and marry. That, at least, he had not done, and he had laboured where and as he could. Mass had been said, at peril of his life, Communions given, confessions heard, baptisms conferred, and he, starved, ragged, frightened and sometimes drunk. yet was ever conscious that he lived in mortal sin.
He sought repeatedly to escape from the State, yet each time he was summoned back by some demand on his priestly office. He was bound irrevocably to his cross; bound by faith and sincerity and the devotion of the people that never betrayed him. No reward tempted their poverty; no shot hostages Intimidated them.
IN every sense the situation in the Mexican State was a frightful one. The heat, the flies, the mosquitoes. The cruel and crude bestiality of man; the savagery of the dominant party, the poverty and fear of the people, the sordid failure of the occasional Europeans. But never is God absent from the scene; it may be hatred or it may be love that. sees Him, but at least He is never ignored. And the failure, on either side, to rise to the height of that Presence is impartially shown. Theri is a terrible irony in the good Cath5lic mother reading aloud to her children one of the holy books that get smuggled into the State.
Like a commentary on the tragic life of the priest is the pious belittlement of the lives of the Mexican martyrs. They conform to a pattern; they are diluted with edifying comments and surmises; they are unreal and hide the starkness and shame of the Cross. But the Cross was as stark and triumphant in their lives as in the life of this poor priest. " He knew now that at the end there was only one thing that counted to be a saint." So he fell, frightened and loving, under their shots, against the prison wall.
Mr Graham Greene never falters throughout this splendid book. He perceives the paradoxical triumph of the supernatural through its apparent defeat. It is ever there, active, In this poor world; as pervasive as sin.