Summary: A bad priest suffers persecution in Mexico in the 1920-30s.
I can’t really review or even comment on a book that is on almost every best of the 20th century list. The Power and the Glory is not long and I spend a week pretty much only reading it. I can not help but compare it to Shūsaku Endo’s Silence. Endo’s book was written later, but I read it first and I have read it twice. Greene has one of the most famous endorsements ever included in the book Silence, “Endo, to my mind, is one of the finest living novelists.”
Both books are about persecution, but the level of persecution did not rise to the same level in The Power and the Glory as it did in Silence. The real story that Silence is based on, there were likely around 300,000 Christians killed. The Mexican persecution, while serious, was much more limited and as mentioned in the book was also much more regional. The church, alcohol, and jazz were all banned.
The strength of the book I think hinges on the discussion about what motivates the self-admitted bad priest (he has fathered a child, is an alcoholic, and a coward, facing a crisis of faith), in spite of it all, to stay in the area of the persecution and continue to minister to the Catholics there. I find the discussion both realistic to faith and fascinating. But I can also see how apart from faith, the motivation is ridiculous.
The story is fairly simple. There are a number of characters for a simple story and the movement is not quite wrapped up in all of the threads. The priest is being sought by the police. He is considered much more dangerous than an American serial killer, who is also being pursued, because the priest is a traitor to the state, while the killer is just killing people. The police eventually start taking captives and killing them in order to motivate someone to turn the Priest in. But as much as the priest would like to escape, someone’s spiritual need keeps pulling him back.
The unnamed priest may be a bad priest, but he has a calling and he has real faith. Silence is a bigger book about what persecution means in a larger sense to the Christian church. The Power and the Glory is a smaller book about what it means to follow your calling whether you are particularly faithful or good or not. As a smaller book I think it is more approachable. The audiobook does not have great reviews. But it is cheap so I probably will pick it up and listen to it again.
Both books are very Catholic in perspective. There have been a number of discussions about sinful church leaders recently. In some ways, it is not that sinful leadership is unimportant in the Catholic church, but that the nature of how it impacts the people is different. In The Power and the Glory, without a priest, even a sinful one, there is no access to the sacraments. No one’s child can be baptized and no one can receive the eucharist without a priest. The Protestant world focuses more on the teaching role of a pastor. The sin of a pastor I think matters more directly to the work of the Protestant Pastor because their teaching ability is wrapped up in their public persona. However, the Catholic persecution in Mexico was started at least in part because of the general corruption of the Catholic church at the time. The Power and the Glory certainly comments on how access to God through the priest took money. Corruption was real at the time and systemic corruption will always be a part of any human institution. But it is interesting to me about how in some ways, the individual sinfulness of a Catholic priest is less important than it is for most Protestants.
The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audible.com Audiobook (Right now the Kindle Edition is on sale for $2.99 and the Audiobook is only $3.49 with purchase of the Kindle Edition)