There are a lot of things in this book, but no power and absolutely no glory. I read it years ago and to be honest completely didn’t remember what it is about, so I decided to re-read it.
Based in Mexico in 1930s, it is a story of ‘whisky priest’ being hunted down by the police lieutenant. The state has abolished practices of Catholic Church, all priests are being judged and sentenced to death. When the story begins the state had pretty much won the war against church, there are just two priests remaining, but one was forced to marry his housekeeper, by that denying his faith and becoming laughable; the other is our ‘whisky priest’.
It’s one of those books where plot is not the most important part, which explains why I completely forgot it. What matters are the questions Greene poses about morality and faith, our priest is a drunk, he has a daughter, the services he performs are rushed, at times even he is not sure of his faith anymore, and he is all that is left of the once powerful church. The priest knows his weakness, he despises himself, but is not a martyr material, he knows he is a fake but he also knows his short visits in the villages are important to people, or they are until the police starts taking and executing hostages to hunt him down. Then he is still accepted in the villages but the cost and risk associated with his visits is made clear to him. He doesn’t consider himself worthy of other people sacrifices and tries to flee to another state, where rules are a bit more lax. On his way he meets Judas figure, he knows the man will betray him, yet he lets him travel with him.
On the other hand the police lieutenant truly believes in creating new world without church. He has faith in the new order, but he can also admire faith in others, even if it’s faith in the church. He respects readiness for sacrifice, even if he thinks it’s done for all the wrong reasons.
This book reminded me why I liked Graham Greene’s novels, they touch on important subject, but at the same time are written in a way that transports me. This book was bleak, and still I couldn’t stop reading it, I was feeling the stifling heat of Mexico, the fear, the pettiness of everything and at the same time the most important questions coming up at all the wrong times, because that is exactly how the most important decisions in life are made.
It was a short book, but for me it was a meditation on morality, values, on how the power and the glory is often superficial, it once belonged to church, now it belongs to the state, but is there really any power and glory? Is there any objective morality, or only subjective judgement of what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s important and what’s not?
What do you think?
Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska