Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra



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The Secular Clergy

In the Quixote, soon after don Quixote himself is introduced, we meet Pero (= Pedro) Pérez, the village priest. Our priest never engages in the ordinary work of priests (except in the last chapter of Part II, and I contend that was never in the original plan—which will be explained later). He never says a single mass, nor does he even say he has to prepare for one, write a sermon, hasten off to hear confessions, or anything of the kind.

It is equally strange that don Quixote himself never says that he has to go to mass, that he needs to confess, that he needs a blessing, that he requires spiritual advice. A Christian knight, which is what don Quixote professes himself to be—you would think at least—would be in constant need of the services of a priest. When don Quixote, or anyone else for that matter, eats, no matter in the open wilderness or in sumptuous banquets, it is strange that no one ever says a blessing.

But what does Pero Pérez do to pass the time if he doesn’t engage in religious matters? We find out the instant he is mentioned for the first time in the book: “[Don Quixote] had frequent debates with the priest of his village… about who had been the greater knight: Palmerín de Ingalaterra12 or Amadís de Gaula.” (Part I, Chap. 1). What the priest does most of the time is to engage in literary discussions about secular literature. He never even mentions religious literature—the Bible, lives of the saints, missals, prayer books, and so on. He is very astute in his valuations of secular literature and seems to have been a voracious reader in most areas.

The priest makes certain odd interjections throughout the book. At one point he makes a pagan exclamation: “since Apollo was Apollo… a more delightful or silly book as this one hasn’t been written” (Part I, Chap. 6). Why Apollo? Why not a biblical figure? Because this priest never thinks of religious matters, never considers religious sources. He is plainly obsessed with secular life and secular literature.

In Chapter 32 of Part I, our priest engages in a discussion of books of chivalry with an innkeeper who has just brought out a suitcase containing both books of chivalry and history. The priest astutely explains to him the difference between fiction and non-fiction. In Chapter 47 of Part I we meet the canon of Toledo (a canon is a priest who serves in a cathedral). The canon is taken aside by Pero Pérez and told of don Quixote’s craziness. This canon states that “I’ve read… the beginning of the majority of [the romances of chivalry] that have been printed, [but] I could never read one all the way through,” yet he seems to know them better than that. The canon goes on to say that he has thought, not of writing a religious work, but of writing a book of chivalry, and in fact has already written two hundred pages of one. Our priest, talking about modern plays, thinks them bad, not on religious grounds, but because they don’t follow the three classical unities.





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