Appeared in Autumn/Winter 2003, Vol. XXVIII, Nos. 3, 4
As the centenary of Graham Greene’s birth approaches in 2004, his standing as one of the finest, and perhaps the best of, twentieth-century Anglophone novelists seems secure. Even ardent secularist Joyce Carol Oates lauds Greene as “the supreme novelist-moralist of the twentieth-century British novel, whose work constitutes a ceaseless meditation upon the moral life as an inviolable norm from which we stray at the risk of endangering our humanity.” Yet a central mainspring of Greene’s moral imagination, his Roman Catholicism, is less well grasped, even by scholars who (like Santiago Jimenez) recognize that his work was “always influenced by his spiritual world” (657; all citations from Perceptions will be given henceforth parenthetically according to page number). Indeed, Greene is often variously miscast as, inter alia, a Jansenist, a liberation theologian, and even an ultimately apostate author.
A careful examination of his religious biography, however, reveals that Greene was engaged consistently, if dynamically, with Roman Catholicism from young adulthood until death. Moreover, some of his apparent departures from Catholic orthodoxy seem less certain upon an attentive reading of his work, and even his admitted doctrinal deviations frequently obscure a continued imaginative and ethical sympathy with the Roman Catholic vision of reality. Tracing the development of Greene’s religious opinions and scrutinizing some of the labels applied to them, then, will yield a portrait of an artist who remained a member of the household of faith, even as he at times joined the Church Militant’s “Foreign Legion.”
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