Reading The Diary of a Country Priest: Scandal

By Thomas V. Mirus (bio - articles - email) | May 20, 2015

[This is part of a series of articles collecting insightful passages on various themes from Georges Bernanos's classic novel The Diary of a Country Priest.]

The two quotes below are from non-Catholic characters who have been scandalized by the failure of Church leaders to teach and live the Gospel.

The atheist Dr. Delbende: "My grouse against you people isn’t that poverty still exists—oh, no! And I’ll even grant you this much. I’ll agree that it’s the job of old fools like me to feed and clothe and look after them and keep them clean. But since they’re really your responsibility I cannot forgive you for sending them to us so dirty. See what I mean? Why, damn it all, after twenty centuries of Christianity, to be poor ought not still to be a disgrace. Or else you have gone and betrayed that Christ of yours! There’s no getting away from that, good God Almighty! You have every means of humbling the rich at your disposal, for setting their place. The rich man wants to be well thought of, and the richer he is the more he wants it. If you would only have the pluck to make them take the back seats in church round the Holy Water stoup, or even out on the steps—why not? It would have made them think. They’d all have had one eye on the poor men’s seats, I know ‘em! The first everywhere else, but here in the House of God, the last! Can you see that happening? Oh, of course I know the thing wouldn’t be easy. If the poor man really is the living image of Jesus—Jesus Himself—it’s awkward to have him sitting there in the front row, displaying his obscene misery, his face from which in two thousand years you haven’t yet been able to wipe the spittle. Because first and foremost the social problem is a matter of honour, it is the unjust humiliation of poor men which makes your pauper….The fact remains that a poor man, a real poor man, an honest man, goes of his own accord to what he considers his proper place, the lowest in the house of the Lord. And you’ve never seen and never will see a beadle dressed up like a hearse come down to look for him, at the very back of the church, to lead him to the altar rails with all the ceremony due to a prince—a prince in the order of Christianity."

M. Olivier, a young soldier: "With a simper, they [theologians] grant us permission to kill, kill anywhere, anyhow, to kill by order, like executioners. We are supposed to defend our land, but we can also  be used to keep down revolution, and if the revolution should win we serve it instead. No loyalty required. That's how you put us 'in the army,' and now we're so thoroughly 'in the army that in a democracy inured to all servility, the lawyers themselves are really astonished at the servile ways of Ministers of War.... The cleverest killers of to-morrow will kill without any risk. Thirty thousand feet above the earth, any dirty little engineer, sitting cosily in his slippers with a special bodyguard of technicians, will merely have to press a button to wipe out a town, and scurry home  in fear—his only fear—of being late for dinner. Nobody could call an employee of that description a soldier. Can he even deserve to be called 'an army man'? And you people, who refused Christian burial to poor mummers in the seventeenth century, how do you mean to bury a guy like that? Has our trade become so debased that we are no longer responsible for any one of our actions, that we share in the horrible innocence of steel machines? Don’t tell me! A poor lad who puts his girl in the family way one spring night, is considered by you to be in mortal sin, but the killer of a whole town, whilst the kids he’s just poisoned’ll be vomiting up their lungs on their mothers’ lap, need only go off and change pants to 'distribute holy bread'!"


Previous in series: Stagnation
Next in series: Spiritual Riches and Poverty

Thomas V. Mirus is an administrative assistant and writer at CatholicCulture.org. A jazz pianist with a music degree, he often takes the lead in our commentary on the arts. See full bio.

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