The orthodoxy and values of Graham Greene
Kelleher, James Patrick
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Graham Greene has done his finest writing in his 'Catholic' works, a group where the main characters are Catholic, the background is Catholic, and the central problem is a religious one. These works number five novels and two plays, namely: Brighton Rock, The Power and the Glory, The Heart of the Matter, The End of the Affair, A Burnt-Out Case, The Living Room, and The Potting Shed. While the critics generally acknowledge Greene's craftsmanship, a significant number question the orthodoxy of his values. Some find evidence in his writings of such heresies as "Augustinianism," Jansenism, and Manicheism. Others descry unchristian pessimism, an unorthodox brand of Existentialism, or an infringement of Christian teaching on the portrayal of sex in fiction. A last group finds a seriously questionable ambiguity in theological matters that casts doubt on the soundness of his faith. The major agreement in a body of contradictory criticism is the view that the author denies free will and believes in the total corruption of human nature. Since Graham Greene is a Catholic and the works have a Catholic background, and since the various charges suppose a deviation from the Catholic creed, I have examined these writings in the light of orthodox Catholic doctrine. I have taken the fact into account, however, that the author does not write as a philosopher or theologian but reveals his theological position only indirectly through the use of the impersonal technique in the artistic construction of his novels. My findings indicate that Graham Greene emphasizes free will, and portrays both natural and supernatural virtues in his characters. It is true that he is doctrinally ambiguous on occasion, de-emphasizes the role of the intellect in salvation, and paints a bleak picture of human misery. Nevertheless, even on these points he seems to remain on the safe side of orthodoxy. The values that are revealed in his works are traditional Christian values. On the other hand, my findings cast some doubt on the soundness of procedure of the hostile critics. They have an unfortunate tendency to interpret Catholic doctrine too narrowly and arbitrarily, to ignor(legitimate use of "point of view, " and to draw unsupported conclusions on Greene's intentions from insufficient evidence in his writings. It follows that charges of heresy are invalid for the 'Catholic' works since critics have paid too little attention to the implications of impersonal and indirect techniques in the writings of Graham Greene. Graham Greene is orthodox and his values are orthodox.
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RightsCopyright James Patrick Kelleher 1966. All Rights Reserved.