Monsignor Quixote
Graham Greene

Graham Greene

This page:

Monsignor Quixote


Don Quixote

index pages:

Monsignor Quixote is set in post-Franco Spain. Father Quixote is the priest of El Toboso and a purported descendant of the Don. His “Sancho” is the Communist former mayor of the village, who shares a surname with the Don’s squire. They travel in an aging, cranky automobile, called “Rocinante” of course!

Monsignor Quixote

Copyright © 1982 by Graham Greene

Part One I
How Father Quixote Became a Monsignor
So many of his prayers had remained unanswered that he had hopes that this one prayer of his had lodged all the time like wax in the Eternal ear.



“If there were no heretics, Teresa, there would be little for a priest to do.”



How Monsignor Quixote Set Off on His Travels

“I shall obey orders. I will go where I am sent.”

“To preach to the converted as you do here?”

“That is an easy sneer, Sancho. I doubt if anyone is ever fully converted.”

“Not even the Pope?”

“Perhaps, poor man, not even the Pope. Who knows what he thinks at night in his bed when he has said his prayers?”

“And you?”

“Oh, I am as ignorant as anyone in the parish. I have read more books, that is all, when I was studying, but one forgets. . . .”

“All the same you do believe all that nonsense. God, the Trinity, the Immaculate Conception. . . .”

“I want to believe. And I want others to believe.”


“I want them to be happy.”

“It’s life, father, at its dirty work. Belief dies away like desire for a woman.”

“There are small bits of useless knowledge which stick to one’s brain like barnacles to a boat.”



“You know, father, you remind me of your ancestor. He believed in all those books of chivalry, quite out of date even in his day. . . .”

“I’ve never read a book of chivalry in my life.”

“But you continue to read those old books of theology. They are your books of chivalry. You believe in them just as much as he did in his books.”

“But the voice of the Church doesn’t date, Sancho.”

“Oh yes, father, it does. Your second Vatican Council put even Saint John out of date.”

“What nonsense you talk.”

“No longer at the end of Mass do you read those words of Saint John—‘He was in the world and the world was made by Him and the world knew Him not.’ ”


“But like my ancestor, perhaps, I put my trust most in old books written before Jone was born.”

“But your ancestor’s books were only ones of chivalry, surely?”

“Well, perhaps mine—in their way—are of chivalry too. Saint John of the Cross, Saint Teresa, Saint Francis de Sales. And the Gospels, father. ‘Let us go up to Jerusalem and die with Him.’ Don Quixote could not have put it better than Saint Thomas.”

“Oh, of course, one accepts the Gospels, naturally,” Father Herrera said in the tone of one who surrenders a small and unimportant point to his adversary. “All the same, Jone on moral theology is very sound, very sound. What’s that you said, father?”

“Oh, nothing. A truism which I haven’t the right to use. I was going to add that another sound base is God’s love.”


Books (general)


How a Certain Light Was Shed upon the Holy Trinity

“Praise be to God,” he said, “a big Manchego cheese, some smoked sausages, even two glasses and two knives.”

“I don’t know about praise to God, but certainly praise to Teresa.”

“Oh well. It is probably the same thing, Sancho. All our good actions are acts of God, just as all our ill actions are acts of the Devil.”

Someone had painted a hammer and sickle crudely in red upon the crumbling stone.

“I would have preferred a cross,” Father Quixote said, “to eat under.”

“What does it matter? The taste of the cheese will not be affected by cross or hammer. Besides is there much difference between the two? They are both protests against injustice.”

“But the results were a little different. One created tyranny, the other charity.”

“Tyranny? Charity? What about the Inquisition and our great patriot Torquemada?”

“Fewer suffered from Torquemada than from Stalin.”

“Are you quite sure of that—relative to the population of Russia in Stalin’s day and of Spain in Torquemada’s?”

“Torquemada at least thought he was leading his victims towards eternal happiness.”

“And Stalin too perhaps. It is best to leave motives alone, father. Motives in men’s minds are a mystery.”

“Can you explain the Trinity to me? It was more than they could do in Salamanca.”

“I can try.”

“Try then.”

“You see these bottles?”

“Of course.”

“Two bottles equal in size. The wine they contained was of the same substance and it was born at the same time. There you have God the Father and God the Son and there, in the half bottle, God the Holy Ghost. Same substance. Same birth. They’re inseparable. Whoever partakes of one partakes of all three.”

“I was never, even in Salamanca, able to see the point of the Holy Ghost. He has always seemed to me a bit redundant.”

“We were not satisfied with two bottles, were we? That half bottle gave us the extra spark of life we both needed. We wouldn’t have been so happy without it.”

“I have given wrong instruction. The Holy Ghost is equal in all respect to the Father and the Son, and I have represented Him by this half bottle.”

“Is that a serious error, father?”

“It is anathema. It was condemned expressly at I forget which Council. A very early Council. Perhaps it was Nicaea.”

“Don’t worry, father. The matter is easily put right. We will throw away and forget this half bottle and I will bring a whole bottle from the car.”

How Sancho in His Turn Cast New Light on an Old Faith
1 It’s odd, he thought, as he steered Rocinante with undue caution round a curve, how sharing a sense of doubt can bring men together perhaps even more than sharing a faith. The believer will fight another believer over a shade of difference; the doubter fights only with himself.



2 “Communism is not against comfort, even what you might call luxury, so long as the worker benefits in the long run.”



“In Saint Matthew there are fifteen references to Hell.”

“What of it?”

“To govern by fear . . . surely God can leave that to Stalin or Hitler. I believe in the virtue of courage. I don’t believe in the virtue of cowardice.”

“A child has to be educated through discipline. And we are all children, monsignor.”

“I don’t think a loving parent would educate by fear.”

“I hope this is not what you teach your parishioners.”

“Oh, I don’t teach them. They teach me.”

He had dreamt that Christ had been saved from the Cross by the legion of angels to which on an earlier occasion the Devil had told Him that He could appeal. So there was no final agony, no heavy stone which had to be rolled away, no discovery of an empty tomb. Father Quixote stood watching on Golgotha as Christ stepped down from the Cross triumphant and acclaimed. The Roman soldiers, even the Centurion, knelt in His honor, and the people of Jerusalem poured up the hill to worship Him. The disciples clustered happily around. His mother smiled through her tears of joy. There was no ambiguity, no room for doubt and no room for faith at all. The whole world knew with certainty that Christ was the Son of God.

It was only a dream, of course it was only a dream, but nonetheless Father Quixote had felt on waking the chill of despair felt by a man who realizes suddenly that he has taken up a profession which is of use to no one, who must continue to live in a kind of Saharan desert without doubt or faith, where everyone is certain that the same belief is true. He had found himself whispering, “God save me from such a belief.”



How Monsignor Quixote and Sancho Visit a Holy Site

“What do you mean by a happy death?”

“I mean the hope of something further.”

“The beatific vision and all that nonsense? Believing in some life eternal?”

“No. Not necessarily believing. We can’t always believe. Just having faith. Like you have, Sancho. Oh, Sancho, Sancho, it’s an awful thing not to have doubts. Suppose all Marx wrote was proved to be absolute truth, and Lenin’s works too.”

“I’d be glad, of course.”

“I wonder.”

How Monsignor Quixote and Sancho Visit Another Holy Site
“The prison gives you even more chance to think than a monastery where the poor devils have to wake up at all sorts of ungodly hours to pray. In prison I was never woken up before six o’clock and at night the lights went out usually at nine. Of course interrogations were apt to be painful, but they took place at a reasonable hour. Never during the siesta. The great thing to remember, monsignor, is that unlike an abbot an interrogator wants to sleep at his usual hour.”



“The ghost of my professor haunts me. I dream I am sitting in his lecture room and he is reading to us from one of his own books. I hear him saying, ‘There is a muffled voice, a voice of uncertainty which whispers in the ears of the believer. Who knows? Without this uncertainty how could we live?’ ”

Note (Hal’s):
The professor is Miguel de Unamuno. (I don’t know the source of Sancho’s quotation.)

— end note



“Did you say a prayer?”

“Of course.”

“The same prayer as you said for the Generalissimo?”

“There’s only one prayer we need say for anyone dead.”

“So you’d say it for Stalin?”

“Of course.”

“And for Hitler?”

“There are degrees of evil, Sancho—and of good. We can try to discriminate between the living, but with the dead we can’t discriminate. They all have the same need of our prayer.”



How in Salamanca Monsignor Quixote Continued His Studies

“The patrona was truly welcoming,” Father Quixote said, “unlike that poor old woman in Madrid, and what a large staff of charming young women for so small a hotel.”

“In a university city,” Sancho said, “there are always a lot of customers.”

How Monsignor Quixote Had a Curious Encounter in Valladolid

“It’s the work of a good man. A man as good as you are—and just as mistaken.”

“Time will show.”

“Time can never show. Our lives are far too short.”



“A first reading is something special, like first love. I wish I would come on Saint Paul now by accident and read him for the first time.”
[...] Father Quixote seemed to remember that in the case of theft the gravity of the sin had to be judged by the value of the object stolen—if it was equivalent to one seventh of the owner’s monthly wage it must be treated seriously. If the owner were a millionaire there would be no sin at all—at least not against justice.



Why do I never find the right words? The man needed help and I recited a formula. God forgive me. Will someone only give me a formula too when I come to die?
How Monsignor Quixote Saw a Strange Spectacle
He prayed in his silence: O God, make me human, let me feel temptation. Save me from my indifference.



How Monsignor Quixote Confronted Justice

“Wisdom is not absolute,” Sancho said. “Wisdom is relative to a given situation. Wisdom too varies with the individual case. For me it is wise to drink another half bottle in a situation like ours when we have no food. For you of course it may well be folly. In that case, when the time comes, I shall have to judge what it is wise for me to do with your half of the bottle.”

“That time is unlikely to come,” Father Quixote said. “In my wisdom I must prevent you drinking more than your share,” and he poured himself out a glass.



“The Trinity. Natural Law. Mortal sin. I taught them words out of textbooks. I never said to myself, do I believe these things? I went home and read my saints. They wrote of love. I could understand that. The other things didn’t seem important.”
Part Two I
Monsignor Quixote Encounters the Bishop
2 “Have I ever in my life made a good confession? Has God pardoned me? Am I in a good or a bad state?” He was tempted to close the book but he read on. “I at once reply: God wishes to conceal all that from me, so that I may blindly abandon myself to His mercies. I do not wish to know what He does not wish to show me and I wish to proceed in the midst of whatever darkness He may plunge me into. It is His business to know the state of my progress, mine to occupy myself with Him alone. He will take care of all the rest; I leave it to Him.”
Monsignor Quixote’s Second Journey

“It seems to me,” he told the Mayor, “that you have more belief in Communism than in the Party.”

“And I was just going to say almost the same, father, that you seem to have more belief in Catholicism than in Rome.”

“Belief? Oh, belief. Perhaps you are right, Sancho. But perhaps it’s not belief that really matters.”

“What do you mean, father? I thought. . . .

“Did the Don really believe in Amadis of Gaul, Rolan and all his heroes—or was it only that he believed in the virtues they stood for?”

“We are getting into dangerous waters, father.”

“I know, I know. In your company, Sancho, I think more freely than when I am alone. When I am alone I read—I hide myself in my books. In them I can find the faith of better men than myself, and when I find that my belief is growing weak with age, like my body, then I tell myself that I must be wrong. My faith tells me I must be wrong—or is it only the faith of those better men? Is it my own faith that speaks to me or the faith of Saint Francis de Sales? And does it so much matter anyway?”



“The days of Torquemada are over.”

“As long as there is a Church there will always be little Torquemadas.”



How Monsignor Quixote Had His Last Adventure Among the Mexicans

“I’m not a Stalinist, but at least you know where you are with them. They are not Jesuits. They don’t turn with the wind. If they are cruel, they are cruel also to themselves. When you come to the end of the longest road of all you have to lie down and take a rest—a rest from arguments and theories and fashions. You can say, ‘I don’t believe but I accept,’ and you fall into silence like the Trappists do. The Trappists are the Stalinists of the Church.”

“You Communists could put managers in all the cement works of Spain if you liked. You could have managers over your brickworks and your armament firms, you could put them in charge of your gas and electricity, but you can’t let them manage a vineyard.”

“Why, Señor Diego?”

“A vine is alive like a flower or a bird. It is not something made by man—man can only help it to live—or to die,” he added with a deep melancholy, so that his face lost all expression. He had shut his face, as a man shuts a book which he finds that he doesn’t wish to read.

How Monsignor Quixote Rejoined His Ancestor
4 He didn’t want to be grateful—gratitude was like a handcuff which only the captor could release. He wanted to feel free, but he had the sense that somewhere on the road from El Toboso he has lost his freedom. It’s only human to doubt, Father Quixote had told him, but to doubt, he thought, is to lose the freedom of action. Doubting, one begins to waver between one action and another. It was not by doubting that Newton discovered the law of gravity or Marx the future of capitalism.
Why is it that the hate of a man—even of a man like Franco—dies with his death, and yet love, the love which he had begun to feel for Father Quixote, seemed now to live and grow in spite of the final separation and the final silence—for how long, he wondered with a kind of fear, was it possible for that love of his to continue? And to what end?


Love vs. Hate

text checked (see note) Jan 2005

top of page

Background graphic copyright © 2004 by Hal Keen