October 4, 1999
The Power and Glory writing assignment
"The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak".(Matthew 26:41) These words of Jesus are thematic in both the novel, The Power and the Glory, by Graham Greene, and the poem, "Batter my heart, three-personed God", by John Donne. Both the whiskey priest and the speaker of the poem are involved in a battle between their sinful flesh and their spirit, which seeks the Divine. They also admit their sin and commit themselves to God. In both the novel and the poem, the authors use similar paradoxes to describe the character's relationship with God while the search for holiness takes each on a different path. The speaker and the whiskey priest describe themselves as sinners, yielding to temptation. The speaker of the poem says, "But I am betrothed unto your enemy"(ln.10), showing the speaker is subdued by the devil. The priest, a drunkard with a child, thinks of himself as a transgressor and a disgrace to the Church. While in the prison, the priest says to the pious woman, "But I'm a bad priest I know from experience-how much beauty Satan carried down with him when he fell."(p.130) When he is arrested the priest says to a soldier, "You mustn't think they are like me It's just that I'm a bad priest."(p.191). In addition to recognizing their betrayal of God, they believe that a sacred life is the ultimate victory. The speaker confesses, "Yet dearly I love you and would be loved fain."(ln.9) The priest also desires to love God above all, "He knew now at the end there was only one thing that counted to be a saint."(p.210) However, each character pursues the Divine in a different way. Even though the whiskey priest perceives himself as a sinner, his way of life resembles the good of the Holy Spirit. The priest resembles Jesus in many places in the novel. The prison scene is very much like the Last Supper, when Jesus said to his apostles that one of them would betray him. The priest thinks, "Surely one of these people will betray me first."(p.128) He also cleans the pails of the cells in the prison just as Jesus washes the apostles' feet. The night before he is executed the priest prays alone as Jesus did in the garden. The priest embarks on a mission to keep his religion alive in Mexico while helping the individuals he meets, and he finally dies because of his faith and sense of duty. This journey is parallel to Jesus' life on earth in which he teaches God's word, helps people, and dies for the sins of man. The speaker takes a different approach in receiving the Lord, utilizing a more verbal and direct manner. The speaker demands, "That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new."(ln.2-3) This character begs for the Lord to be in his life while the priest does good deeds to welcome God.
The speaker of the poem desires to be enslaved by God, "Take me to you, imprison me". This is related to how the priest regards his duty of priesthood. When Coral Fellows asks the priest if he can give himself up and renounce his faith he replies, "This [Mexico] is my parish It's impossible. There's no way. I'm a priest. It's out of my power". The priest is imprisoned by his priesthood and the commitment to serve God, which he does throughout the novel.
Both authors use paradoxes in the poem and the novel to show the characters' relationship to God. In the poem, the speaker says, "For, I, except you enthrall me, never shall be free, nor ever chaste, except you ravish me".(ln.13-14) To be free, one must be enslaved. This is true concerning Christianity. One must be a servant of God to be set free of sin. In the novel, Greene uses a similar paradox related to suffering. The whiskey priest preaches in a Mass, "Pain is part of joy We deny ourselves so that we can enjoy Pray that you will suffer more and more that is all part of heaven-the preparation."(p.69) The priest is teaching that those who suffer on earth will experience joy in heaven.
Even though the speaker feels engulfed by evil, he still has hope in the Lord. Through all the priests' sufferings and the final execution, his faith and hope in God endure, symbolized by the new priest. In the midst of persecution despair would be the worst suffering one could encounter. With faith in Christ, there is always hope. As Graham Greene says, "Hope is an instinct only the reasoning mind can kill."(p.141) This thought connects to Donne, "Reason proves weak or untrue."(ln.7-8) Only