A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man #2

“He listened in reverent silence now to the priest’s appeal and through the words he heard even more distinctly a voice bidding him approach, offering him secret knowledge and secret power. He would know then what was the sin of Simon Magus and what the sin against the Holy Ghost for which there was no forgiveness. He would know obscure things, hidden from others, from those who were conceived and born children of wrath. He would know the sins, the sinful longings and sinful thoughts and sinful acts, of others, hearing them murmured into his ears in the confessional under the shame of a darkened chapel by the lips of women and of girls; but rendered immune mysteriously at  his ordination by the imposition of hands, his soul would pass again uncontaminated to the white peace of the altar. No touch of sin would linger upon the hands with which he would elevate and break the host; no touch of sin would linger on his lips in prayer to make him eat and drink damnation to himself not discerning the body of the Lord. He would hold his secret knowledge and secret power, being as sinless as the innocent, and he would be a priest for ever according to the order of Melchisedec.”

I loved the use of the priesthood as temptation in this passage, because it is both evidence that Stephen’s newfound piety will not last long due to his own nature, and a good critique on the allure of the church’s power that so many people have taken advantage of.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

“It was cruel and unfair to make him kneel in the middle of the class then: and Father Arnall had told them both that they might return to their places without making any difference between them. He listened to Father Arnall’s low and gentle voice as he corrected the themes. Perhaps he was sorry now and wanted to be decent. But it was cruel and unfair. The prefect of studies was a priest but that was cruel and unfair. And his whitegrey face and the nocoloured eyes behind the steelrimmed spectacles were cruel looking because he had steadied the hand first with his firm soft fingers and that was to hit it better and louder.”

James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 43.

This is the first time Stephen’s opinion of the church and priesthood in general began to reflect his father’s almost. He seems conflicted because of his high thoughts of priests and the church, and yet he was cruelly and wrongly punished by a priest himself. And then Father Arnall was being decent to the other students?