Lecture 6

[The Fugitive, dir. John Ford (1947)]

Graham Greene:
The Power and the Glory (1940)


Anthology Texts:

History of the Ban:

Denunciation or inquiry was the usual means by which news reached Rome of a book that deserved investigation. In the case of The Power and the Glory, the news traveled circuitously. Its point of departure was Einsiedeln, in Switzerland. There, in 1949, the Catholic publisher Benziger was planning to bring out a German translation of the novel. Alarmed by the "polemic" that he claimed Greene's book was raising in France, a Swiss priest asked the Holy Office for its opinion. Pressure slowly mounted over the years from other parts of Europe, and finally, in April of 1953, Rome looked into the matter closely. Greene's case was examined (as were similar cases involving Evelyn Waugh and Bruce Marshall). The Holy Office appointed two consultants to consider The Power and the Glory. The first of these wrote in Italian, and he displayed his bewilderment at differences of culture and outlook. Greene's mentality was "odd and paradoxical, a true product of the disturbed, confused, and audacious character of today's civilization," he wrote. "For me, the book is sad." Sadness and sorrow, rather than anger and indignation, colored his tone. The work's title implies an emphasis on God's power and glory, but as the consultant read the book itself, he found only a barren landscape of despair. "Immoral" or married priests; the ambiguity with which the central figure refers to God and the doctrines of the faith; the conviction or the virtue attributed to Protestants and atheists — all this made it impossible for Greene's first reader in the Holy Office to see why the book was regarded as excellent literature. "Troubling the spirit of calm that should prevail in a Christian," The Power and the Glory, in his judgment, ought never to have been written. Since the novel had been written, and published, and widely disseminated, the consultant hoped that its fame was already in decline. A condemnation would do no good, because the author, with his "paradoxical modes of thought," would probably not accept it, and the repercussions of an intellectual condemnation could be dangerous, given the author's fame. Better, the consultant recommended, to have Graham Greene "admonished" by his bishop and "exhorted to write other books in a different tone, attempting to correct the defects of this one."

The opinion of the second consultant, delivered in Latin, supported that of the first. Both readers acknowledged that Greene was not only the leading Catholic novelist in England but also a convert from Protestantism. Despite his many failings, the comfort he offered to enemies of the Church, and his "abnormal propensity toward ... situations in which one kind of sexual immorality or another plays a role," it would not do to put him on the Index, because his book was a best seller. The second censor therefore concurred that Greene should be told that "literature of this kind does harm to the cause of the true religion," and that "in the future he should behave more cautiously when he writes."

The mindset of Rome's censors was not malevolent. It is difficult, however, to resist the conclusion that it was dim. Defensive about their authority (which they desired to assert even as they doubted its efficacy), and incapable of grasping the conceptual problems posed by Greene's writing, they could be checked in their course only by intervention from above. That intervention came on October 1, 1953, in the form of a confidential letter written by a highly placed colleague in the Vatican's Secretariat of State. It was a protest addressed to Giuseppe Cardinal Pizzardo, the secretary of the Holy Office.

Years ago, I had occasion to read [The Power and the Glory] which a priest had pointed out to me as a highly significant work of contemporary romantic literature. It is indeed a book of singular literary value.

I see that it is judged a sad book. I have no objection to make to the just observations in the [censure of] this work. But it seems to me that, in such a judgment, there is lacking a sense of the work's substantial merits. They lie, fundamentally, in its high quality of vindication, by revealing a heroic fidelity to his own ministry within the innermost soul of a priest who is in many respects reprehensible; and the reader is led to esteem the priesthood even if exercised by abject representatives ... I venture this opinion because I incline to think that it would be well to have the book examined by another consultant (Monsignor De Luca?) before passing a negative judgment on it, not least because author and book are known worldwide ...

Tact, sensitivity, insight — this letter reflects a different order of intelligence from that displayed in the censures on which it comments. Its author was the Vatican's pro-Secretary of State for ordinary affairs. His name was Giovanni Battista Montini, and in 1963 he would become Pope Paul VI.

Why did Montini stand up for Greene? An intellectual whom John XXIII is said to have likened to Hamlet, Montini was alive to the problem of moral ambiguity. He was capable of discerning links between apparent contraries where less perceptive others saw none. Montini was not only a reader of refined literary tastes but also a collector of literary manuscripts. Among them figured the handwritten original of a booklet on Saint Dominic by Georges Bernanos, which ends with the sentence "There is only one sadness — not to be a saint." Montini treasured that work, echoes of which he cannot have failed to hear in The Power and the Glory. The words "He knew now that ... there was only one thing that counted — to be a saint" come at the very end of the penultimate chapter of Greene's novel.

As Montini recommended, Greene's case was forwarded to Monsignor Giuseppe De Luca for a second opinion. De Luca was a loyal churchman (in 1952 he had drafted the condemnation of André Gide) but also a maverick (he wrote articles for an Italian Communist newspaper). He found the Holy Office stultifying. "In this suffocating atmosphere of unctuous and arrogant imbecility," De Luca wrote to Montini in June of 1953, "perhaps a scream — chaotic but Christian — would do some good." On November 30, 1953, De Luca addressed the following memorandum to the Holy Office.

Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh, according to expert opinion, are to be considered the two major living English novelists: being Catholic they do credit to Rome's faith, and they do credit to it in a country that is of Protestant civilization and culture. How can Rome be gruff and cruel? They are the successors of Chesterton and Belloc and, like them, rather than attempting to convert the small fry, strive to influence superior intelligences and the spirit of the age in a manner favorable to Catholicism. Their level, unlike that of a Bruce Marshall, is not that of average I.Q.s or, like the clergy in general, that of uneducated readers or pure professionals. Their level is the higher intelligentsia in the contemporary world which they sway and influence towards Rome ...

This is not a matter of heresy or even a scandal; it has nothing to do with theologians or depraved persons. We are dealing with great writers, who are often naïve and obstinate like children, in states of mind that are, from time to time, not inclined to praise but gloomy, not exultant but insistent, and such states of mind are familiar to everyone. To see them being expressed with such crudeness may occasionally cause surprise and even consternation, but in the end it is a delight.
To condemn or even to deplore them would be looked askance at in England, and would deal a grievous blow to our prestige: it would demonstrate not only that we are behind the times but also that our judgment is lightweight, undermining significantly the authority of the clergy which is regarded — rightly — as unlettered bondslaves to puerile literature in bad taste. The crew should not be confused with the pilot: today great writers are the real pilots of much of mankind and when the Lord, in His mercy, sends us one, even if he is a nuisance, let's not make a Jonah of him; let's not throw him to the fishes. At the right moment (for they are not bad men), they will yield place to the true pilots — i.e.: to the priests.

In the case of Graham Greene, his harsh and acerbic art touches the hearts of the least receptive and reminds them, however gloomy they be, of the awe-inspiring presence of God and the poisonous bite of sin. He addresses those who are most distant and hostile—those whom we will never reach ...

This priest in touch with contemporary culture inveighed against those in the Holy Office who were not. His arguments, however, came too late. The Holy Office had already written, on November 17, to Cardinal Griffin of Westminster. Griffin was instructed to inform Graham Greene of the Holy Office's "negative judgment," to "exhort him to lend a more constructive tone to his books, from a Catholic point of view," and to advise him not to authorize reprints or translations of The Power and the Glory without making "suitable corrections ... in light of the preceding observations."

Griffin immediately issued a pastoral letter deploring "certain trends in contemporary literature." Without mentioning Greene's name, the cardinal continued,

It is sadly true that a number of Catholic writers appear to have fallen into this error. Indeed, novels which purport to be the vehicle for Catholic doctrine frequently contain passages which, by their unrestrained portrayal of immoral conduct, prove a source of temptation to many of their readers. Though it may well be that such literature can be read in safety by the select few, so great is the danger to the virtue of the majority that its general publication is most undesirable.

Such, we may be sure, was also the tenor of Griffin's private remarks to Greene at the audience Griffin granted the novelist a few months later, in April of 1954. Greene commented on that meeting in the ... introduction to The Power and the Glory. In the archives of the Holy Office is an intriguing letter from Greene to Cardinal Pizzardo, written less than a month after the meeting with Griffin. It is a skillful political document, written in a tone of submission that I believe was feigned (the delicious slyness of Greene's paragraph suggesting that the Vatican take the matter up with his publishers gives the game away), and taking pains to refer to communism in a way that would be certain to register positively with both Pizzardo and his superior, Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviano.

It is not without hesitation that I presume to address Your Eminence: but, in the present delicate situation, I have grounds, it seems to me, to present you with an account of the facts.

On 9 April, during an audience which His Eminence Cardinal Griffin, Archbishop of Westminster, granted me, he handed me the copy of a letter which Your Eminence had written to him on 16 November. The delay in the communication of this document is due to my absence from London: I was in Indochina, where I was doing my utmost to make world opinion, for which my articles are intended, understand the difficulties faced by the heroic Catholics of Indochina confronted with the Communist menace.
I wish to emphasize that, throughout my life as a Catholic, I have never ceased to feel deep sentiments of personal attachment to the Vicar of Christ, fostered in particular by admiration for the wisdom with which the Holy Father has constantly guided God's Church. I have always been vividly impressed by the high spirituality which characterizes the Government of Pius XII. Your Eminence knows that I had the honor of a private audience during the holy year 1950. I shall retain my impression of it until my last breath. Your Eminence will therefore understand how distraught I am to learn that my book The Power and the Glory has been the object of criticism from the Holy Office. The aim of the book was to oppose the power of the sacraments and the indestructibility of the Church on the one hand with, on the other, the merely temporal power of an essentially Communist state.

May I remind Your Eminence that this book was written in 1938-39 before the menace which I myself witnessed in Mexico spread to Western Europe?

I beg Your Eminence, in conclusion, to consider the fact that the book was published 14 years ago and, consequently, the rights have passed from my hands into those of publishers in different countries. In addition, the translations to which Your Eminence's letter refers appeared for the most part several years ago and no new translation is envisaged.

I am sending His Eminence the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster the names of the publishers concerned. They alone have the right to reprint.

I wish to assure Your Eminence of my profound respect for any communication emanating from the Sacred Congregation of the Index ...

Your most humble and devoted servant

Graham Greene

Three weeks after Greene had written his letter, Cardinal Ottaviano — he who had gleefully proclaimed his readiness to excommunicate any Catholic who voted for the Communists — scrawled on it that Cardinal Griffin had told him that the Holy Office should "understand and excuse" this right-thinking convert. And that is what was done.

– Peter Godman, "Graham Greene's Vatican Dossier" Atlantic (July / August 2001).


"In a riddle whose answer is chess, what is the only word that must not be used?"

I thought for a moment.

The word 'chess'," I replied.

"Exactly," Albert said. "The Garden of Forking Paths is a huge riddle, or parable, whose subject is time; that secret purpose forbids Ts'ui Pen the merest mention of its name. To always omit one word, to employ awkward metaphors and obvious circumlocutions, is perhaps the most emphatic way of calling attention to that word. ... I have compared hundreds of manuscripts, I have corrected the errors introduced through the negligence of copyists, I have reached a hypothesis for the plan of that chaos, I have reestablished, or believe I've reestablished, its fundamental order - I have translated the entire work; and I know that not once does the word 'time' appear."
- Jorge Luis Borges, "The Garden of Forking Paths." Collected Fictions. Trans. Andrew Hurley. New York: Penguin, 1999. 119-28.

What's the missing word in Greene's novel? Certainly not "time" ...

In physics and other sciences, time is considered one of the few fundamental quantities. Time is used to define other quantities – such as velocity – and defining time in terms of such quantities would result in circularity of definition.

An operational definition of time, wherein one says that observing a certain number of repetitions of one or another standard cyclical event (such as the passage of a free-swinging pendulum) constitutes one standard unit such as the second, has a high utility value in the conduct of both advanced experiments and everyday affairs of life. The operational definition leaves aside the question whether there is something called time, apart from the counting activity just mentioned, that flows and that can be measured.

Among prominent philosophers, there are two distinct viewpoints on time. One view is that time is part of the fundamental structure of the universe, a dimension in which events occur in sequence. Time travel, in this view, becomes a possibility as other "times" persist like frames of a film strip, spread out across the time line. Sir Isaac Newton subscribed to this realist view, and hence it is sometimes referred to as Newtonian time.

The opposing view is that time does not refer to any kind of "container" that events and objects "move through", nor to any entity that "flows", but that it is instead part of a fundamental intellectual structure (together with space and number) within which humans sequence and compare events. This second view, in the tradition of Gottfried Leibniz and Immanuel Kant, holds that time is neither an event nor a thing, and thus is not itself measurable nor can it be traveled.

Quotes from Errol Morris, dir. A Brief History of Time (1991):
  • Where did the universe come from?
  • Will time ever come to an end?
  • Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

This documentary is a biographical exploration of the life of Stephen Hawking, not a version of his 1988 bestseller of the same name.

Narrative Time

  • How do you represent duration?
  • Does the time spent exeriencing it equal the time elapsed in a narrative?
  • Why does Greene use an unmediated present tense for the then, and a mixture of past and present tense for the now in his book?

"If there are recurrent themes in my novels it is perhaps only because there have been recurrent themes in my life. Failure seemed then to be one of them."

- Graham Greene, A Sort of Life, 1971 (Penguin, 1974) 154.

The Other

For once, let's take an author at his word.

One theme easy to detect in Graham Greene's life and work is the Double.

In fact, the epilogue to the second volume of his autobiography, Ways of Escape (1980), entitled "The Other," explores this idea at length.

This "other" who goes around impersonating Graham Greene is:

  • of indeterminate age
  • financially insolvent
  • of dubious morals (sexual and otherwise)

Having been psychoanalysed while still in his teens (as described in the first volume of autobiography, A Sort of Life (1971), there's little possibility that he would introduce such an idea naively or unknowingly: "For years, after my analysis, I could take no interest in any visual thing: staring at a sight that others assured me was beautiful I felt nothing. I was fixed, like a negative in a chemical bath." (93)

Note that highly-charged image - "a negative in a chemical bath."

If I were to choose an epigraph for all the novels I have written, it would be from [Robert Browning's] Bishop Blougram's Apology:
'Our interest's on the dangerous edge of things.
The honest thief, the tender murderer,
The superstitious atheist ...
We watch while these in equilibrium keep
The giddy line midway.

- Greene, A Sort of Life, 85.

In terms of reading the book, though, character doubles will only take us part of the way. We have to examine its setting, also.

I couldn't help smiling when I thought of all the readers who have asked me why I sometimes write thrillers, as though a writer chooses his subject instead of the subject choosing him. Our whole planet since the war has swung into the fog-belt of melodrama, and, perhaps, if one doesn't ask questions, one can escape the knowledge of the route we are on.

- Graham Greene, Ways of Escape, 1980 (Penguin, 1981) 170-71.

One of the great strengths of Greene as a writer is his choice of subject matter - and the fact that he was able to change and adapt in the second half of his career not only to the banal realities of Cold War politics, but also to the immense human issues brought up by the end of European colonialism and the establishment of a postcolonial consciousness.

We can see the beginnings of this in The Power and Glory, as he himself suggests in the letter to Cardinal Pizzardo quoted above:

... The aim of the book was to oppose the power of the sacraments and the indestructibility of the Church on the one hand with, on the other, the merely temporal power of an essentially Communist state.

May I remind Your Eminence that this book was written in 1938-39 before the menace which I myself witnessed in Mexico spread to Western Europe?

Interestingly, another motive, involving yet another censorship scandal, has recently been alleged for Greene's trip to Mexico:

In 1937 Greene was a film reviewer for Night and Day magazine. In a review of the Shirley Temple vehicle Wee Willie Winkie, he wrote: "Her admirers - middle-aged men and clergymen - respond to her dubious coquetry, to the sight of her well-shaped and desirable little body, packed with enormous vitality, only because the safety curtain of story and dialogue drops between their intelligence and their desire."

Twentieth Century Fox sued on behalf of Temple, then aged eight, on the grounds that Greene had implied she played deliberately to "a public of licentious old men, ready to enjoy the fine flavour of such an unripe, charming little creature", Cavalcanti wrote. He added: "Thanks to vigilant, quick-witted friends, Graham was warned that the Americans producing the film had introduced a writ of libel against him, meaning that not only would the backers of Night and Day pay a large fine, but he, Graham himself, faced a prison sentence. The only solution was to find a country without extradition. They chose Mexico and our poor Graham went away very quickly indeed. Very likely Shirley Temple never learned that it was partly thanks to her that, during his exile, Graham Greene wrote one of his best books."

The trial was held on 22 March 1938. Greene had left for Mexico on 29 January and did not return to Britain until May. The judge, who fined the magazine a crippling 3,500, lamented it was a shame Greene was out of the court's reach, said Cavalcanti.

- Andrew Johnson, "Shirley Temple scandal was real reason Graham Greene fled to Mexico." The Independent on Sunday (November 18, 2007).

The magazine folded shortly after this verdict was handed down. Was Greene himself, then, the true prototype for the cowardly "whisky priest"?

[The Lawless Roads]

Workshop 6:
The Lawless Roads

We'll begin with the book report on The Power and the Glory, then move on to do the class exercise in pairs or small groups.

Exercise 6:
Paradoxes of Faith

Can these propositions be reconciled with one another?

Urged by faith, we are obliged to believe and to maintain that the Church is one, holy, catholic, and also apostolic. We believe in her firmly and we confess with simplicity that outside of her there is neither salvation nor the remission of sins... Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff. (Beginning and end of Unam Sanctam, Pope Boniface VIII, November 18, 1302)

It firmly believes, professes and preaches that all those who are outside the catholic church, not only pagans but also Jews or heretics and schismatics, cannot share in eternal life and will go into the everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless they are joined to the Catholic Church before the end of their lives; that the unity of the ecclesiastical body is of such importance that only for those who abide in it do the church's sacraments contribute to salvation and do fasts, almsgiving and other works of piety and practices of the Christian militia produce eternal rewards; and that nobody can be saved, no matter how much he has given away in alms and even if he has shed his blood in the name of Christ, unless he has persevered in the bosom and the unity of the Catholic Church. (Cantate Domino, Council of Florence, February 4, 1442)

Even in the beginnings of this one and only Church of God there arose certain rifts, which the Apostle strongly condemned...But even in spite of them it remains true that all who have been justified by faith in Baptism are members of Christ's body, and have a right to be called Christian, and so are correctly accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church. (Unitatis Redintegratio, Second Vatican Council, November 21, 1964)

Condemned Proposition (of Martin Luther, Number 33): That heretics be burned is against the will of the Spirit. (Exsurge Domine, Pope Leo X, Condemnation of Martin Luther, June 15, 1520)

This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits. (Dignitatis Humanae, Second Vatican Council, December 7, 1965)

You might also examine Contradictions in the Christian Bible and What the Christian Fundamentalist Doesn't Want You to Know.

Next week:

Group 1: Book report on Lolita due.

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