Graham Greene’s “The Hint of an Explanation” Offers Much More Than a Hint

Giotto - Scrovegni - -31- - Kiss of Judas.jpg

I sometimes feel pity for that thing. It is so continually finding the right weapon to use against its Enemy and the weapon breaks in its own breast. It sometimes seems to me so… …powerless.

In the midst of yesterday’s bizarre and unsettling Harvard Extension School/Satanic Temple story, all I could think about was “Where’d they get a consecrated host?”

Blessedly, that seems that particular portion of the story has been withdrawn — “I am writing on behalf of The Satanic Temple to relay that there will NOT be a consecrated host at the Black Mass” — but the question kept floating ’round in my mind, none the less. And eventually, all that floating knocked loose the memories of a mesmerizing short story by Graham Greene called “The Hint of an Explanation,” which chronicles “a mysterious man’s attempts to coerce a young boy into stealing a consecrated host for unspecified reasons.”

Despite the inherent creepiness (even blasphemous nature) of the story’s premise, the ending was deeply comforting when I read it for the first. Also, I think, deeply insightful, both in terms of the mysterious man and the youngster he tries to influence. And reading it again now, I found myself comforted anew, for reasons that are not entirely articulable to me at present:

I went to the chair and picked it-Him–up. There was only one place where He was safe. I couldn’t separate the Host from the paper, so I swallowed both. The newsprint stuck like a prune skin to the back of my throat, but I rinsed it down with water from the ewer. Then I went back to the window and looked down at Blacker. He began to wheedle me. ‘What have you done with it, David? What’s the fuss? It’s only a bit of bread,’ looking so longingly and pleadingly up at me that even as a child I wondered whether he could really think that, and yet desire it so much.

“‘I swallowed it,’ I said.

“‘Swallowed it?’

“‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Go away.’

“Then something happened which seems to me now more terrible than his desire to corrupt or my thoughtless act: he began to weep –the tears ran lopsidedly out of the one good eye and his shoulders shook. I only saw his face for a moment before he bent his head and strode off, the bald turnip head shaking, into the dark. When I think of it now, it’s almost as if I had seen that Thing weeping for its inevitable defeat. It had tried to use me as a weapon, and now I had broken in its hands and it wept its hopeless tears through one of Blacker’s eyes.”

It’s not easy to find the story online, at least not in printed form. I did find a fine audio version from someone named Charles Coughlin, though. Give it a listen, if you’ve got a chance. Hopefully, it will help to provide the very hint it teases in its title — both an explanation for why someone would wish to desecrate the Sacred Host, and an account of how we can (and must) best respond.


“And the hints,” I said. “I don’t quite see what you mean by that.”

“Oh, well,” he said vaguely, “you know for me it was an odd beginning, that affair, when you come to think of it,” but I never should have known what he meant had not his coat, when he rose to take his bag from the rack, come open and disclosed the collar of a priest.

I said, “I suppose you think you owe a lot to Blacker.”

“Yes,” he said, “you see, I am a very happy man.”

Attribution(s):The Kiss of Judas” by Giotto, licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons; The Last Supper” by Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret, provided by AllArtPainting and licensed under PD-US via Wikipedia.

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