Graham Greene, leading Catholic novelist of the English-speaking world, is an artist provocative and provoking in his apologetics. The Power and the Glory is one of his best novels. Although first published in 1940 (as The Labyrinthine Ways), it still finds a ready market and is widely discussed. Protestant theologians who turn their attention to the modern novelist discover in Greene’s work a vivid story of the paradox of grace (cf. R.W.B. Lewis, The Picaresque Saint, 1959; Horton Davies, A Mirror of the Ministry in Modern Novels, 1959; Gabriel Vahanian. The Death of God, 1961). The novel raises certain crucial problems concerning the dimensions of power—the causes of the Mexican persecution in relation to the sacramental system of the Roman Catholic Church.

Power and Glory of Simplicity

Greene picked up the incident for The Power and the Glory when he traveled in Mexico in the 1930s. He recorded impressions in The Lawless Roads (1939). He mentions a solitary priest fleeing from persecution in the southern state of Tabasco. As he trod the “labyrinthine ways” of Mexico in revolution, Greene found Tabasco a “godless state” void of “forgiveness.”

With this setting in mind, he wrote a poignant tale. The reader may taste, feel, and smell the dusty, dank, dreary Mexican southland. Because of the “obscure, personal neurosis” of Tabasco’s governor, the persecution of the Roman Catholic Church was especially severe. The governor ordered all priests to leave his jurisdiction or face extinction. The chief character of Greene’s tale is a nameless priest, anonymous except as a sometime drunkard who sired a bastard child, who defies the governor in spite of his drive for self-preservation. He is haunted by the compulsion to fulfill the ...

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