The Power and the Glory : Novel Summary: Part 3 – Chapter 3

The lieutenant who had given the priest money at the prison arrests him. There are a dozen armed men surrounding the hut. The priest is told he will be taken back to the prison and charged with treason. The priest and the lieutenant men sit together in the hut while the rain falls outside. The priest shows the lieutenant some card tricks, although the policeman shows no interest. But the lieutenant becomes angry about the injustices committed by the church, which he remembers from his childhood. That is why priests must be killed, he says, although he adds that he has nothing against the priest personally. He explains his own ideas about social reform. The priest does not feel that such reforms are an answer to the deeper questions posed by human existence. He insists that even though he is a coward, he still has the power, as a priest, to give God’s pardon. The lieutenant wonders why the priest stayed, rather than running away like the others. The priest tells his story, explaining that at first he did not think there was much danger, then he got caught up in a feeling of pride that he had stayed, even though he was neglecting his duties and had begun to drink.
The rain stops and they prepare to leave. The mestizo asks for the priest’s blessing. The priest wearily says he will pray for him.
The lieutenant and the priest journey until midnight, then stop at a hut. Neither of them is able to sleep. They exchange ideas about religion and society, but neither man understands the point of view of the other. As they arrive in the town, the lieutenant agrees to get Padre José to hear the priest’s confession.
This is an important chapter because it presents the central ideas of the two main characters in dialogue form. The fact that the lieutenant does not consider the gringo who murdered people and robbed banks to have done much harm illustrates the differences between him and the priest. For the lieutenant, priests cause more harm because they are a corrupting influence on society as a whole, whereas the crimes of an individual are of only local significance.
For the priest, of course, it is different, since he believes in the importance of every individual soul. He showed in the previous chapter that he regarded the fate of the gringo’s soul to be just as important as that of anyone else.
The lieutenant’s philosophy is that the end justifies the means. He is idealistic. But the priest again has a different view. In order to bring about good, the individual must himself be good. He predicts that in spite of all efforts at social reform, human life will be much the same in a hundred years.
Although the reader is unlikely to sympathize with those who kill and persecute priests, the lieutenant’s comments in this chapter at least show that there may be two sides to the story. According to him, when the Catholic church had power, it despised Socialists and showed no concern for their welfare. The church was interested in accumulating money while claiming to be poor. It was not an agent for the betterment of society; it did not help ordinary people improve the conditions of their lives. This is a materialist view, quite opposed to the spiritual view of the priest, which sees the condition of the soul as being more important than that of the body.