The Power and the Glory | Study Guide

Graham Greene

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The Power and the Glory | Part 3, Chapter 3 | Summary



When the lieutenant enters the hut, the priest thanks him for allowing him time with the dying man, to which the lieutenant responds, "I am not a barbarian." Because of a rainstorm, they are forced to shelter in the hut with the dead man.

The priest tells the lieutenant of the two times they previously encountered each other. The priest admits he is a bad priest. The lieutenant remembers how judgmental the priests and the church guilds could be: "the family wasn't really deserving of charity ... they were Socialists anyway." The priest says he is both right and wrong, causing the lieutenant to be both eager and angry. The lieutenant claims the priest is a dangerous symbol and must be destroyed, although he has nothing against him personally. The lieutenant continues, challenging the priest by pointing out the ways the Church has never helped the poor. The priest agrees but suggests bad people will still do bad things.

When the lieutenant asks why he didn't flee, the priest says he remained at first because he thought it would all blow over. Then he became proud of himself for not running; he got lazy about following the rules, and "one day because I was drunk and lonely ... I got a child." The lieutenant calls him a martyr, but the priest disagrees. He praises the lieutenant for listening, and the lieutenant replies, "I am not afraid of other people's ideas."

As they get ready to leave, the mestizo asks for the priest's blessing. The priest retorts, "You think my blessing will be like a blinker over God's eyes." He tells the mestizo to pray and to give away the money.

When they stop for the night, the lieutenant again asks questions, which the priest tries to answer as well as he can. He cannot understand why men like the lieutenant hate the rich and yet try to bring up their children the way rich people do. The lieutenant is angry and questions the idea that God is love; the priest insists God is love, but perhaps God's love doesn't resemble a human idea of love, as "it set fire to a bush in the desert, didn't it ... set the dead walking." The lieutenant challenges him again, saying God should love the priest after how the priest has served Him. The priest disagrees, saying he is just as deserving of damnation as anyone else. They discuss the idea of miracles, with the priest insisting he neither expects nor deserves a miracle to save him. When they arrive in the city, the priest asks permission to say his confession to Padre José. The lieutenant gives permission.


Now face-to-face, the priest and the lieutenant act as foils for each other and their ideas. The priest tried to do the right thing, risking his own life to give the sacraments to a dying man. Yet he failed to persuade the dying criminal to confess and repent. The lieutenant succeeds in doing what he thinks is right: capturing the priest. But his obsessive pursuit is driven by anger and a desire for vengeance on the institutions that hurt him as a child. He repeatedly insists he is not a barbarian, but his actions are motivated by anger, while the priest's are motivated by forgiveness and self-sacrifice. The priest examines his beliefs and his actions; the lieutenant sees no need to do so. In addition, the priest has harmed no one other than himself, whereas the lieutenant has the blood of many on his hands, including that of the hostages taken and, in some cases, killed as a consequence of his plan.

The two men's exchange of ideas establishes a forum for the author to expound on his beliefs about God, society, and socialism. The Church and the socialist government are presented side by side. Both aspire to help the poor, but the priest admits the Church often fails to do so. The lieutenant insists his side, the socialist side, will do better, but the priest observes "bad men" will exist there as well—men who are out for personal gain and don't care about raising up the poor. In a way, the priest suggests socialism may face the same struggle the Church has faced: the gap between the organization's ideals and the people who carry them out. The priest believes himself to be a poor representative of the Church, but he urges the lieutenant not to assume all Socialists will share the lieutenant's passion for the poor.

The priest speaks of pride as "what made the angels fall." Although not a direct warning to the lieutenant, it is a hint. The lieutenant is proud—proud of his political stance, proud of his role in overturning the old order. The priest explains the other side of pride—how his own pride led him to stay far too long, led him, in fact, to this moment of capture.

The priest's interpretation of God's love is a key concept. When the lieutenant speaks of his love for the poor people, the priest says love can be dangerous in its own way. Describing God's love, the priest says it may be beyond human understanding and so powerful it would terrify people. Indeed, many elements of Catholic theology are identified as outside the realm of normal human understanding. For example, the Gospel of John states, "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." How much someone would need to love humanity to allow his or her child to die so another might live may be beyond human comprehension. But, the Bible describes God's love in this way. The priest may have allowed his discipline to lessen, but his theology is as strong as ever.

The lieutenant, however, disparages God, saying the priest seems to have a bad superior officer—"If a man served me as well as you've served him"—and relates the various ways he would reward such a loyal follower. The priest will have none of it, for he does not see himself as worthy of being saved. Throughout this chapter, the lieutenant seems to offer the priest a verbal way out—not an actual escape but an opportunity to have second thoughts. Maybe the lieutenant wants to let the priest go and hopes, secretly, if he is persuasive enough, the priest will give up his struggle. Reinforcing biblical allusions, the author sets all of this conversation in the desert. In the Bible, Jesus goes out to the desert to fast and pray; there he is tempted by the Devil, who encourages Jesus to use his godly powers to spare himself pain or discomfort. Jesus repeatedly refuses. In the end, the lieutenant accepts the priest's decision and offers to help. He is startled by the priest's request for Padre José, saying, "He's no good for you." The lieutenant, in spite of himself, has a certain respect for the priest, a respect he does not feel for Padre José, but he agrees to try to arrange for the priest to have a final confession.

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