Reading The Diary of a Country Priest: Stagnation
[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. Since the novel is in the form of a diary, any passages not in quotes are the protagonist's narration, while those in quotes are from conversations he relates, for which I will provide attribution.]
- [The Curé de Torcy, an older priest and mentor to the protagonist:] “Look: I’ll define you a Christian people by the opposite. The opposite of a Christian people is a people grown sad and old. You’ll be saying that isn’t a very theological definition. I agree. But it ‘ud make some of those gentlemen think, that yawn all through mass on Sunday. Of course they yawn! You don’t expect the Church to teach them joy in one wretched half-hour a week, do you? And even if they knew all the articles of the Council of Trent by heart, I doubt it would cheer ‘em up very much.”
- So many of us, supposedly standing for law and order, are merely clinging on to old habits, sometimes to a mere parrot vocabulary, its formulae worn so smooth by constant use that they justify everything and question none. It is one of the most mysterious penalties of men that they should be forced to confide the most precious possessions to things so unstable and ever changing, alas, as words. It needs much courage to inspect the key each time and adapt it to one's own lock. It is far easier to force up the latch with the nearest and handiest—so long as the Yale works somehow. I wonder at revolutionaries who strive so hard to blow up the walls with dynamite, when the average bunch of keys of law-abiding folk would have sufficed to let them quietly through the door without wakening anyone.
- Those people who think the Sacrament gives us instant power to read the hidden places of a soul are indeed credulous! If only we could ask them to try for themselves! Used as l am to the confessions of simple seminary students, I still cannot manage to understand what horrible metamorphosis has enabled so many people to show me their inner life as a mere convention, a formal scheme without one clue to its reality…. Petty lies can slowly form a crust around the consciousness, of evasion and subterfuge. The outer shell retains the vague shape of what it covers, but that is all. In time, by sheer force of habit, the least ‘gifted’ end by evolving their own particular idiom, which still remains incredibly abstract. They don’t hide much, but their sly candour reminds one of a dirty window-pane, so blurred that light has to struggle through it, and nothing can be clearly seen. What then remains of confession? It barely skims the surface of conscience. I don't say dry rot has set in underneath; it seems more like petrification.
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