André Maurois on Confession

It is perhaps surprising to find a most insightful a comment on the sacrament of confession composed by a Jew. Nevertheless, André Maurois, in his novel The Silence of Colonel Bramble, has an extraordinary scene that does it justice. It is as fine an exploration of the difference between human morals and divine grace as I have seen.

The setup: a man has committed a terrible murder, and the weight of it is heavy on his soul until he is very close to suicide. The Anglican Church, to which he belongs, has recently begun to offer confession in an attempt to regain something of its roots. At first, few Anglicans were interested in confessing their sins, though the church pushed the offer strongly. The man who bears the sin is drawn, though, and eventually works up his courage to ask the vicar to hear his confession.
The vicar was a very well brought up
young man, and had been at Eton and Oxford.
Enchanted with this rare piece of luck, he
said eagerly, 'Most certainly, open your heart
to me; you can talk to me as if I were your
father!' The other began : 'I have killed a
man.' The vicar sprang to his feet. 'And
you come here to tell me that? Horrible mur-
derer! I am not sure that it is not my duty
as a citizen to take you to the nearest police
station. In any case it is my duty as a gen-
tleman not to keep you a moment longer un-
der my roof.'

And the man went away. A few miles
farther on he saw a Roman Catholic church.
A last hope made him enter, and he knelt
down behind some old women who were wait-
ing by the confessional. When his turn came
he could just distinguish the priest praying in
the shadows, his head in his hands. 'Father,'
he said, 'I am not a Catholic, but I should
like to confess to you.' 'I am listening, my
son.' 'Father, I have committed murder.'

He awaited the effect of this terrible rev-
elation. In the austere silence of the church
the voice of the priest said simply, 'How many
times, my son?'


David Foster said...

Strange, I was just searching my shelves for Andre Maurois's book Tragedy in France, which I finally found. I was looking specifically for his interchange with Winston Churchill in 1935, in which Churchill advised him to stop writing novels and biographies and focus all his talent on one issue: the decline of the French Air Force and the need to fix that problem.

Maurois didn't take the advice, telling Churchill he knew nothing about aviation and no one would listen to him on the subject...and later bittrly regretted it.

Grim said...

Yes, I imagine he did.

douglas said...

Well, I guess I'm adding another text to my portable library to read.