Reading The Diary of a Country Priest: Spiritual riches and poverty

By Thomas V. Mirus (bio - articles - email) | May 28, 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 the Curé de Torcy, a fellow priest who serves as a mentor to the protagonist, on the topic of spiritual riches and poverty.

"Our division into rich and poor must be based on some great law of the universe. In the eyes of the church the rich man is here to shield the poor, like his elder brother. Well, of course, he often does it without even wanting to, by the sheer action of economic force, as they say. A millionaire goes smash and thousands are chucked out into the streets. So you can just imagine what happens in the invisible world when one of those rich men I’ve just been talking about, a steward of divine grace, turns tail! The solvency of the mediocre is nothing. Whereas the solvency of a saint! What a scandal if he should happen to fail! You’ve got to be crazy to refuse to see that the sole justification of inequality in the supernatural order is its risk. Our risk! Both yours and mine."

[Discussing another character, Dr. Delbende:] "Perhaps all the harm really came from his loathing of mediocre people: 'You hate mediocrities,' I kept telling him. He rarely denied it, because I say again, he was a just man. Mediocrities are a trap set by the devil. Mean-spirited people are far too complex for us; they're God‘s business, not ours; but in the meantime we should shelter mediocrity, take it under our wing. Poor devils, they need some keeping warm! 'If you really sought Our Lord you'd end by finding Him,' I used to say. He always answered: 'I'm looking for God among the poor, where I’ve the best chance of ever finding Him.' But the trouble was that his ‘poor’ were chaps of his own sort. They weren't truly the poor at all, they were rebels, masters! So I said to him one day: 'And suppose Jesus were really waiting for you in the guise of one of these worthy people you despise so?' Because apart from sin, He takes on Himself and sanctifies all our wretchedness. A coward may be only some poor creature crushed down by overwhelming social forces like a rat caught under a beam; a miser may be miserably anxious, deeply convinced of his impotence and racked with fear of not 'making good.' Some people who seem brutally heartless may suffer from a kind of 'poverty-phobia'—one often meets it—a terror as difficult to explain as the nervous fear of mice or spiders. 'Do you ever look for Christ among people of that kind?' l asked him. 'And if you don't, then what are you grousing about? You've missed Christ, yourself.'"

Previous in series: Scandal
Next in series: Hell

Thomas V. Mirus is a pianist, composer, and occasional amateur comedian living in New York City. He produces and hosts The Catholic Culture Podcast. See full bio.

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