There are 15 priests here of various hues who stood up to fascism, most of whom drank like fishes and smoked like beagles. This is a fascinating and entirely benign book, imbued with a surprisingly muscular Christianity and full of stories you may not know but which need to be heard.
Wisely, Butler-Gallie explicitly excludes the complex and sometimes dark relationship between the institutional churches and fascism from his remit. This is a book about Christian individuals and their Pauline determination to protect fellow human beings from persecution, whatever their faith or race. When, at Pentecost in 1940, Salkaházi took lifelong orders with the Sisters of Social Service in Budapest, she adopted as a personal motto a line from the prophecy of Isaiah: “Here I am! Send me.” She and the other remarkable figures in this book were sent in the most difficult and dangerous of circumstances. They did not hesitate to go.
...a trickier book to bring off for someone whose natural voice is one of comedy. Butler-Gallie (now assistant curate at Liverpool Parish Church) relishes human foibles in those who have taken holy orders. He loves a jolly, fat priest who guzzles his food and drink, or a nun who chain-smokes, and he celebrates all these types here — but the next thing you know, they’re dying at Auschwitz or being shot in a ditch. It requires a skilled writer to walk this tragicomic tightrope. I think Butler-Gallie does bring it off, as long as you don’t mind his slight tendency to sermonise. He proves it true that comedy and tragedy run side by side, and that some of the most unlikely people turn out to be saints and martyrs. The subtext of both of his books is his disdain for the culture of grey, clone-like dullness that threatens to overwhelm all institutions, including the church. We need our oddbods who refuse to keep their heads below the parapet when evil regimes take over.