Term Paper: Greene's the Power

Pages: 8 (2878 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Mythology - Religion  ·  Buy This Paper

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[. . .] This was therefore a time of suffering for religious officials.

The suffering was however used for the purpose of resistance, and Catholic organizations were brought about to resist the harsh measures of the government that attempted to destroy them (Tuck). The National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty (Spanish acronym LNDLR), founded in 1924, the Mexican Association of Catholic Youth (ACJM), started in 1913, and the Popular Union (UP), a political party founded in 1925, counted as the most prominent of these. Once again, religious organization provided military forces with officers to provide resistance.

In contrast to this fighting spirit, Greene's priest fought a much more personal battle. Instead of military resistance, he attempted to save himself by fleeing the harsh political measures, while again and again being thwarted in his effort by people in need that he could not refuse. In the end this inability to refuse means his death. It is perhaps indicative of the humility bred by an acute awareness of his own shortcomings that the priest never realizes the impact of his compassion. Indeed, throughout the novel it is he that carries out the Catholic priestly paradigm to the best of his ability. It is because he dies for this ideal that he is recognized and celebrated as a martyr in the end.

Greene's priest can then be seen as representing the opposite of the rich Catholics condemned for their lack of support to the rest of the Church in its effort at rebellion against Calles. The rich for example undermined rebel efforts by paying the federal army for protection and by betraying their fellow Catholics to the police whenever an effort at boycotts was made. This is representative of the self-interest that the mestizo in Graham Greene's novel displays.

The martyrdom of Greene's priest can be seen as parallel to that of Father Luis Batiz. He acted as the spiritual adviser to the ACJM chapter of Zacatecas town of Chalchihuites. He was executed by government agents. Like the death of the priest in the novel, Father Batiz's death led had a large amount of consequences, including the seizure of the Chalchihuites municipal treasury.

In Greene's novel on the other hand, the priest is not as politically involved as those mentioned above. He was murdered not for his political rebellion, but for the fact that he was unable to resist a request for help. He was executed for no more than his religious fervor in a country where this fervor was forbidden. Despite this contrast, the paradigm is the same. The martyrs mentioned above are priests who refuse to back away from their religious calling for the sake of a murderous and unfair government.

This is one of the elements that accumulated with the rest of the atrocities to begin the Cristero Rebellion. This began with a manifesto issued by Rene Capistran Garza in 1927, declaring the beginning of battle in the name of God (Tuck). Some of the priests during the rebel wars proved themselves to be brilliant military strategists, and defeated the Army-agrarista force at San Francisco del Rinc n on February 23, 1927. Later during the same year, however, it is said that a priest, Father Jose Reyes Vega burned 51 civilian train passengers alive in revenge for the death of his brother in a shootout with an Army escort. This nearly broke the rebellion, as it undermined public support for the rebel forces. Indeed, Vega could be seen as the opposite of Greene's priest, in that he was known for his drinking, womanizing and cruelty. While the priest in the novel might see himself as similarly immoral in terms of his relationship with Maria, those who knew him and were helped by him had a far different view.

Perhaps it is also in response to this tendency of some of the clergy to be corrupt that Greene portrayed a different caliber of priest in his novel. While acknowledging humanity in his priest, he also showed how his devotion to his calling helped him, at least in the eyes of others, to transcend his own human weaknesses. If not himself, at least others were able to learn and benefit from the priest's sacrifice. Whereas the LNDLR also sacrificed much of their principles in favor of pragmatism by hiring a non-Catholic to help them in battle, Greene's priest never does this. The practical thing for him to do would have been to ignore all calls for help and flee the state in the beginning. Yet he never does this, even when knowing that this would be his downfall.

When looking at the historical context of this and the other works written by Greene, it is clear that he writes from a basis of his own experiences and social conscience. In The Power and the Glory two elements are prominent: the Catholic Church, and the social situation in Mexico at the time. Greene's faith deepened with time (D'Souza), and this is evident in his novel. He is obviously deeply concerned for the plight of Catholic priests, not only in Mexico where the situation had become intolerable, but also in their personal lives. He gives the reader a basis from which to understand and identify with, rather than condemn the main character. The main character is condemned only by himself and by political leaders. He condemns himself for his personal and moral shortcomings, whereas the government condemns him to death for his faith. This forms an interesting paradox. The priest himself believes that he is not worthy of salvation because he lacks devotion to his religion, whereas the government condemns him for the very faith that he believes is lacking.

Through the conflict that the priest experiences, both in trying to flee the state and his own indiscretion with Maria, Graham shows the priest as a flawed, but courageous man. As seen above, he continually puts the needs of others above his own. Ironically however he does not see his own courage and condemns himself for a lack of morality, however brief. In his eyes, no act of courage, help or sacrifice could absolve him from the few moments of pleasure that produced the daughter he loved more than life itself. It is this love that in the priest's eyes condemns him, because he cannot face denying it even for his faith.

Through this plight and the ultimate execution of the priest, Greene demonstrates not only the unfairness imposed upon the Church by the Mexican government, but also the strains to which the priesthood itself is subjected to as a result of the Church it serves. Yet the characterization of the priest does not condemn the Church or any of its institutions. Instead the author shows the priest as a sincere devotee of his faith. It is this devotion that makes him unaware of his own goodness, and that makes him a hero in the eyes of those he touches. This is the tragedy and the beauty of the priest's life. And this is the realism and understanding with which Graham Greene portrayed his own faith in the face of outrageous injustice.

Bibliography

Bloom, Harold. Graham Greene. Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.

D'Souza Santosh. "Graham Greene, Biography, His Works, Other Web Resources." 6 November 2001. http://www.geocities.com/Ahtens/Parthenon/1608/greene.htm

Greene, Graham. The Lawless Roads. New York: Viking Press, 1939.

Lenchek, Shep. "the Catholic Church in Mexico, Triumphs and Traumas." (2000): 13 November 2001. Http://www.mexconnect.com/mex_/travel/slenchek/slcatholic1.html.

McEwan, Neil. Graham Greene. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1988.

Miller, R.H. Understanding Graham Greene. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1990.

Murray, Paul V. "The Role and the Mission of the Catholic Church in Mexico." Mexico, privately printed (1963), 2nd edition (1972): 7 November 2001. http://historicaltextarchive.com/sections.php?op=viearticle&artid=136.

Quirk, Robert E. The Mexican Revolution and the Catholic Church 1910-1929. Ontario: Indiana University Press, 1973.

Tuck, Jim. "The Cristero Rebellion - Part 1." Mexico Connect Magazine. Pt. 1 of a series, The Cristero Rebellion. 7 November 2001. http://www.mexconnect.com/mex_/history/jtuck/jtcristero1.html.

The Cristero Rebellion - Part 2." Mexico Connect Magazine. Pt. 2 of a series, The Cristero Rebellion. 7 November 2001. http://www.mexconnect.com/mex_/history/jtuck/jtcristero1.html http://www.mexconnect.com/mex_/history/jtuck/jtcristero2.html. [END OF PREVIEW]

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