Unsaintly Saintliness by Steven Faulkner

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Unsaintly Saintliness

Steven Faulkner on Graham Greene's Whisky Priest

Two or three decades ago I read Graham Greene's novel The Power and the Glory. I didn't like it. Greene's protagonist, the "whisky priest," is so self-critical, so completely self-incriminating, that there seemed no space left for the intervention of grace in his life, no vestige of power or glory. His mind and soul are crowded with self-loathing; he is an alcoholic, and he has conceived a child by a village woman. He realizes that he loves the child who is the fruit of his mortal sin, and this love of the bastard child seems to him evidence of his inability to repent honestly of his sin; how can you repent when you go on loving the fruit of your sin? Though the priest ends up being shot for his faith, Greene does everything possible to convince us that he is not a holy martyr, not a saint, just a plump-faced, ragged little man who cannot rise to any level of heroism.

But having just reread the novel, I've changed my mind.

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Steven Faulkner teaches creative writing at Longwood University in southern Virginia. He is the author of Waterwalk: A Passage of Ghosts (2007) and Bitterroot: Echoes of Beauty and Loss (2016). Both books are memoirs of father-son journeys that followed the paths of missionary priests: Marquette (in Waterwalk) and De Smet (in Bitterroot).


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