Georges Bernanos

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Georges Bernanos (20 February 18885 July 1948) was a French writer. A Roman Catholic and royalist, his novel The Diary of a Country Priest was filmed by Robert Bresson.

Sourced[edit]

L'imposture (The Impostor), 1927[edit]

  • There is no mask that temptation cannot wear, and the idea that Satan is purely a logician is an illusion held by not a few naive people. Many a shifty old man sees him as an opponent in an academic argument, but if he does the observer is still at the stage of games and trifles. Sometimes, though not often, the black desire to harm wins out over quicker and less bitter delights. When that happens, evil shows itself for what it truly is, not a way of life, but an attack on life itself.
    • The Impostor, translated by J. C. Whitehouse. Lincoln NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1999, pp.74–75
  • The contradictions in Renan, his feminine sensibility, coquetry, unavowed egotism, and sudden emotional outbursts, all indicate a soul deliberately using distraction as a means of evasion. The perpetual equivocation bears witness to God in the same way as the twisting and turning of a hunted animal indicates the presence of an unseen hunter.
    • p.152
  • More often than not, nothingness is reluctantly and despairingly taken to be the only hypothesis possible when all the others have failed, since by definition it cannot be disproven and is beyond the scope of reason.
    • p.153
  • [P]ride has no intrinsic substance, being no more than the name given to the soul devouring itself. When that loathsome perversion of love has borne its fruit, it has another, more meaningful and weightier name. We call it hatred.
    • p.156
  • He [Abbé Cénabre] had often reflected on the plight of even the most illustrious of those renegades who finish up engaged in a monotonous argument they can never quite extricate themselves from and seem to be insulting the God they have offended, dragging Him along with them like a fellow criminal shackled to them.... He thought, not without some justification, that where such tortured and anxious nihilists had made their greatest mistake was in having freed only their intellects, leaving belief to go on surviving and festering in the most hidden and least accessible parts of their sensibility. Such a deep and hidden contradiction is all the more destructive because they cannot form a clear idea of it, or indeed express it, except in terms of stammering, repeated, pointless, and childish expressions of hatred. They no longer have any part in a faith that still holds them in abject and slavering thrall. It matters little that they think they have destroyed it.
    • pp.171–172

La joie (Joy) 1929[edit]

  • [T]here is nothing that God hates so much as a liar.
    • Chantal de Clergerie in Joy, translated by Louise Varese. London: The Catholic Book Club, 1949, p. 26
  • [Chantal to Fiodor:] "It seems to me that evil is much less complicated than you would like to believe. Here or anywhere else there is only one sin."
    "What sin?"
    "To tempt God," she said. "And what's the use? I think you are really very stupid. God looks where He pleases. If He has not yet looked at you, what is the use of tempting Him?"
    • p.27
  • God knows that we should not despise anything. We must do our best.
    • Chantal, p. 28
  • Once or twice, when she [Chantal] had adroitly avoided an opportunity of pleasing or winning admiration (for her shrewd wit and vivacity made her popular), she was astonished at his [Abbé Chevance's] disapproval. [She asked him why.] Blushing he had replied, "I will tell you, my daughter. I used to try very hard to be admired, to be liked. That is the world!" Then, with that profound finesse which no one had ever had the wit to recognize in the former priest of Costerel-sur-Meuse, he at once added, "I had more to fear from the world than you have."
    • pp.35–36
  • If hell has no answer for the questioning dead, it is not because it refuses to answer (for rigorous, alas, in observance, is the imperishable fire), but it is because hell has nothing to say, will say nothing eternally.
    • p.42
  • She [Chantal] did not understand him [Fiodor]. She never could and never would understand him, being as invulnerable in her truthfulness as he in his falseness. And yet, she hated him unconsciously with a jealous hatred — for what other name, alas, could be given to that revolt of her pure conscience, so well armed and, at the same time, so defenceless? She hated him instinctively as though he already possessed the incomparable secret with which to menace her, to menace God Himself.
    • pp.48–49
  • Sadness came into the world with Satan — that world our Saviour never prayed for, the world you say I do not know. Oh, it is not so difficult to recognize: it is the world that prefers cold to warmth! What can God find to say to those who, of their own free will, of their own weight incline towards sadness and turn instinctively towards the night?
    • Chantal to her father, Monsieur de Clergerie, p. 85
  • Like all truly pure souls she [Chantal] quickly resigned herself to past faults, thought only of how to repair whatever harm they had done. "Of all my daughters, you are certainly the least bothered by scruples of conscience," Abbé Chevance used to say.... Even sin, once the will is detached and no longer nourishes it, withers and dies sterile. It is in the secret of intentions, like in a decomposing humus, in the dark forest of future sins, unpardoned sins, half dead, half living, that new poisons are distilled.
    • p.88
  • Chantal's only ruse … was her shattering simplicity. While a weak man or an imposter is always more complicated than the problem he is trying to solve, and thinking to encompass his adversary, merely keeps prowling interminably around himself, the heroic nature will throw itself into the heart of the danger to turn it to its own use, just as captured artillery is turned about and aimed at the backs of the fleeing enemy.
    • p.107
  • I have just discovered something I have always known: we can no more escape from one another than we can escape from God.
    • Chantal, p. 112
  • She isn't very clever or very devout,... and she certainly empties the whole salt cellar into the stories she tells me. But I love her because she never lies.
    • Chantal speaking of the cook, Madame Fernande, p. 119
  • To you a pious young girl who goes to mass and communion, seems pretty silly and childish; you take us for innocents... Well, let me tell you, sometimes we know more about evil than people who have only learned to offend God.
    • Chantal to Dr. La Pérouse, p. 187
  • [A] good Christian does not care for miracles very much, because a miracle is God looking after His own affairs, and we prefer looking after them for Him.
    • Chantal to Dr. La Pérouse, p. 188
  • Only the present counts.
    • Chantal to Dr. La Pérouse, p. 189
  • [A]ll her life she [Chantal] had been carefully, heroically watching over mediocre beings who were hardly real, over things of no value.
    • p.197
  • Appearances are nothing.... And first of all they should not be feared, they are only dangerous to the weak.
    • Abbé Cénabre to Chantal, p. 212
  • [F]irst of all, be what you are.
    • Abbé Cénabre to Chantal, p. 213

Les grands cimetieres sous la lune (A Diary of My Times) 1938[edit]

[Note by Pamela Morris, translator of the book into English: "When the Spanish Civil War broke out Bernanos was living in Palma, Majorca. It was in Majorca that Bernanos watched the civil war, or rather, since the island fell almost at once into the hands of the Fascists - watched terrorism eating its way into this community." , A Diary of My Times, English translation, London 1938, p. 12

  • I have done no passably decent job in this world which did not at first seem to me useless - absurdly useless, useless to the point of nausea. My secret demon is called :What's the use?
    • p.17
  • Optimism has always seemed to me the cunning alibi of egoists, anxious to cover up their state of chronic self-satisfaction. They are optimists in order to avoid pitying other men and their misfortune. ~~ Yet pity is a vexed question.
    • p.38
  • Money-crimes have an abstract quality. History is laden with the victims of gold, but their remains are odourless.
    • p.35
  • The population of Majorca has always been noted for its absolute indifference to politics. In the days of the Carlistes and the Cristinos, George Sand tells us how they welcomed with equal unconcern the refugees of either side. According to the head of the Phalange, you could not have found a hundred Communists in the whole island. Where could the Party have got them from? It is a country of small market-gardening, of olives, oranges and almonds, without industry, without factories. I declare on oath that during the months preceding the civil war there was no attempt of any kind made against persons or belongings. 'There was killing in Spain,' you say. 'A hundred and thirty-five political assassinations between March and July 1936.' But in Majorca there were no crimes to avenge, so it could only have been a preventative action, the systematic extermination of suspects.
    • p.86 [Carlistes and Cristinos - followers of Don Carlos - reactionary, and Maria Cristina - liberal - in the Spanish War of Succession in the 1830s].
  • I saw a woman of thirty-five, living peacefully in the bosom of her family after an interrupted novitiate, show sudden signs of incomprehensible nervous terror, speak of possible 'reprisals', and refuse to go out alone. A very dear friend, took pity on her, offered her shelter. 'Come, child, what have you to fear? You're one of God's little lambs...' 'Harmless? That's all you know! Everybody thinks as you do, and nobody's frightened of me. Well - you can find out for yourself. I had eight men shot, madame...'
    • p.87-88
  • When marine officers called on me at Palma, they remarked on the clean roads, the punctual trams and so on. 'Why', they exclaimed, 'business as usual - and you say there's killing going on? what nonsense!' They didn't realise that any tradesman who closed down, closed down at his peril. They didn't know that the relatives of the executed were not allowed to go into mourning. How can you expect the outside appearance of a town to be affected, just because the staff of its prisons is double, treble, ten times, a hundred times what it was? The discreet slaughter of fifteen or twenty wretched people per day, will not prevent tramways from running to schedule, cafés from being full, or churches resounding with the Te Deum.
    • p.98
  • A large number of suspects, both men and women, escaped martial law for lack of any shred of evidence against them on which a court-martial could convict. So they began setting them free in groups, according to their birth-place. But half-way, the car-load would be emptied into a ditch.
    • p.105
  • I know that the Crusaders of Majorca put to death, in a single night, all the prisoners who were huddled in the Catalonian trenches. They took the whole herd down to the shore and shot them, one beast at a time - they were quite leisurely about it. The Lord High Archbishop of Palma arranged to be represented at the ceremony, by a certain number of his priests. You can picture the scene can't you? 'Come on, father, isn't that one ready?' - 'Just a moment captain, I'm handing him over to you at once.' When the job was finished, the Crusaders piled their cattle in two heaps - those who'd been given absolution and those who hadn't- then sprinkled petrol over them. It is quite likely that this purification by fire may then have taken on, by reason of the presence of priests officiating a liturgical significance. Unfortunately I only saw these blackened, shiny creatures two days after that, contorted by the flames, some of them counterfeiting obscene poses in death, which must have been very distressing for the ladies of Palma and for their eminent confessors. A reeking tar oozed out of them...
    • p.153-154
  • Everybody in Palma knew that my son was a lieutenant in the Phalange, and I was often seen at mass. For months I had been friendly with insurgent leaders who were feared by all the suspects. And yet people I hardly knew spoke freely to me, when the slightest indiscretion on my part would have cost their liberty, or their lives. I'll tell you why it was. It was because it is still known in the world that a Frenchman doesn't let himself become a policeman's pawn - that's why. Because a Frenchman is a free man.
    • p.109
  • I shouldn't dream of wasting my time by picking holes in the attitude of the Italian prelates throughout the war for Ethiopia. Thanks to the mustard-gas sprinklers that are used in Australia for destroying rodents, Fascist aviation has been enabled to strip whole populations of hapless negroes of their skin, so that they lay rotting in heaps in front of their huts. It makes no difference to me if the Italian prelates affirm that a war like this seems chivalrous to them. I believe that I know what is chivalrous and what is not...
    • p.131
  • You don't wage civil war in kid gloves. The Spanish bishops know it so well that they have been obliged to refer to 'regrettable excesses' and 'inevitable abuses'. They seem to think that war is like Shrove Tuesday, that it's a jolly respite, as it were, from social morality, and that men can give themselves up to being cruel just as gay sparks at carnival-time indulge in bottom-pinching! Once the illuminations go out, we must welcome the dear lad home with a smile that's both knowing and fatherly. 'Don't worry, my dear boy. We can none of us resist a little fun sometimes. Think no more about it.' But, Your Excellencies, this is something more than a little fun!
    • p.147
  • You know, sometimes I imagine what any decent agnostic of average intelligence might say, if by some impossible chance one of those intolerable praters were to let him stand awhile in the pulpit,in his stead: ' Ladies and gentlemen,... I don't share all your beliefs, but I probably know more about the history of the church than you do, because I happen to have read it, and not many parishioners can say that. For though you're not interested in unbelievers, unbelievers are extremely interested in you..Yes, we were drawn to you. But now we've decided that you're not very interesting after all, and it's rather disappointing.....Because you do not live your faith, your faith has ceased to be a living thing.'
    • p.196-207
  • There is a well known and most profound saying of people wishing to induce sympathy in each other. 'Put yourself in his place,' they say. But it is easy only to put yourself in the place of your equals. At a certain point of inferiority, real or imaginary, this substitution is no longer possible....Young Vittorio Mussolini has published a book on his Ethiopian campaign, of which I quote this extract: It was thrilling. A huge zariba, surrounded by tall trees, was very difficult to hit. I had to aim very carefully, and I only succeeded the third time. The poor devils inside jumped out when they saw their roof was on fire, and fled madly...surrounded by a ring of flames, four to five thousand Abyssinians died of suffocation. It was like hell itself. Smoke rising up to unbelievable heights, and flames turning the black sky red. Obviously Signor Vittorio Mussolini never dreamt of putting himself in the place of the Ethiopians!
    • p.222-223

Monsieur Ouine, 1943[edit]

  • A man given to vice is always an idealist.
    • Dr. Malépine to Monsieur Arsène, the mayor of Fenouille, in Monsieur Ouine, translated by William S. Bush. Lincoln NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2000, p. 61
  • They are always talking about the fire of hell, but no one has ever seen it, my friends. For hell is cold. It used to be that the nights weren't long enough to wear out your malice, and you got up each morning with your breasts still full of poison. But now the devil himself has withdrawn from you. Ah, how alone we are in evil, my brothers! The poor human race dreams from century to century of breaking that solitude — but it's no use! The devil, who can do so many things, will never succeed in founding a Church, a Church that will put in common both the merits of hell and the sin of all. From now until the end of the world, the sinner will have to sin alone, always alone — for just as we die alone, so also do we sin alone. The devil, you see, is the friend who never stays with us to the end.
    • The curé of Fenouille to his congregation, p. 171
  • Hatred of the priest is one of man's profoundest instincts, as well as one of the least known. That it is as old as the race itself no one doubts, yet our age has raised it to an almost prodigious degree of refinement and excellence. With the decline or disappearance of other powers, the priest, even though appearing so intimately integrated into the life of society, has become a more singular and unclassifiable being than any of those old magicians the ancient world used to keep locked up like sacred animals in the depths of its temples, existing in the intimacy of the gods alone. Priests moreover are all the more singular and unclassifiable in that they do not recognize themselves as such and are nearly always dupes of the most gross outward appearances — whether of the irony of some or the servile deference of others. But that contradiction, by nature more political than religious and used far too long to nurture clerical pride, does, through the growing feeling of their loneliness and to the extent that it is gradually transformed into hostile indifference, throw them unarmed into the heart of social conflicts they naively pride themselves on being able to resolve by using texts. But, then, what does it matter? The hour is coming when, on the ruins of the old Christian order, a new order will be born that will indeed be an order of the world, the order of the Prince of this World, of that prince whose kingdom is of this world. And the hard law of necessity, stronger than any illusions, will then remove the very object for clerical pride so long maintained simply by conventions outlasting any belief. And the footsteps of beggars shall cause the earth to tremble once again.
    • pp.176–177
  • Aucune haine ne saurait s’assouvir en ce monde ni dans l’autre, et la haine qu’on se porte à soi-même est probablement celle entre toutes pour laquelle il n’est pas de pardon !
    • There's no hatred that can ever be satisfied either in this world or the next, and the hatred that one has for oneself is probably the one for which there is no forgiveness.
    • The curé of Fenouille to the mayor, p. 208
  • Rather than the obsession with impurity, you'd do better to fear the nostalgia for purity.
    • The curé of Fenouille to Dr. Malépine, p. 213
  • I can now see to the bottom of my own depths, there is nothing stopping my gaze, no obstacle is in the way. And there is nothing there.
    • The dying Monsieur Ouine, p. 243
  • [T]he cradle is shallower than the grave.
    • p.244

External links[edit]

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