Bread and Wine is a novel written by Italian author Ignazio Silone in 1935. It primarily deals with the betrayal of the Catholic Church in it’s agreement with Fascism, and the underground communist revolutionary movement in Italy at the time. The first half of the book follows the life of a recently returned socialist opponent of the regime, named Pietro Spina, but disguised as Don Paolo Spada. Spada is a priest and is sent to live in a small rural village, in order to regain his health. While in the village, he faces an internal battle between his adolescent religious feelings which return, and his current socialist revolutionary stance.
An interesting theme that runs throughout the text is the depiction of the Church’s persecution of those holy men who do not follow the party line. These men, most specifically portrayed by Don Benedetto, Spina’s childhood teacher and mentor, are shown to be dishonored by the official church but accepted by the peasants. In the scene where Spada is talking to Don Pasquale Colamartini, richest man in the small village, Colamartini states that Benedetto advised his daughter to not join the church, advice that was contradictory to the local pastor’s. While Colamartini does not wish to force his daughter to choose a path, he implies his agreement with Benedetto, who is not in favor with the Church, when he states that “there is no doubt that there have been very few saints [such as Benedetto] who have not been suspected and persecuted by the Church” (p.99).
This statement raises the interesting question on the beliefs of the Church on a rural level. While the Vatican’s deal with Fascism may have been criticized at the highest level, it is questionable whether rural societies, especially in Southern Italy, had developed to the extent that they would consider questions of faith. Rural societies in Europe have traditionally been depicted to have believe the words of the local pastor to be the truth of the gospel, especially since Catholic mass was usually conducted in Latin, which was not a common language. While this image had drastically changed by the early part of the 20th century, it must be remembered that Southern Italy was, and still is, one of the least developed regions in Western Europe. In conclusion, my query is regarding not only the ability of South Italian peasants ability to question and understand the Church’s compromise, but also their desire to question such a development in relation to their own lives. The latter is especially confusing as it must be acknowledged that Silone himself grew up in rural conditions, but he was also a dedicated communist and might have written with certain biases.