Don Camillo and Peppone match wits

(from ‘The Carburettor’, Chapter XIV of ‘Don Camillo and the Devil’), Giovanni Guareschi

This chapter of ‘Don Camillo and the Devil’ is a real favourite. Like a Socratic Dialogue, it is full of subtle ideas — on Materialism, Faith, God, Nature and Man — expressed in a charming, everyday way. Don Camillo and Peppone have been discussing the case of
a sick child who was recently cured using a technologically advanced medicine brought from the United States by the American ambassadress.

In the story, Peppone, the Communist Mayor, has just accused the Church of using the child as a propaganda tool, because he was reported to have had a dream where the Madonna took him to heaven where he spoke with Jesus who said he would be cured thanks to the United States. Their conversation continues as follows…

Peppone was as red in the face as the October Revolution.

“Why didn’t Divine Providence stop the child from getting sick, in the first place?’ he asked.

“Divine Providence didn’t bring about the sickness,” Don Camillo explained “Sickness is a product of Nature, and Nature is governed, fortunately, by very rigid laws. If we fail to observe them, then trouble is bound to ensue. As a Gild mechanic, you know, Mr. Mayor, that a motor runs smoothly just as long as its single parts are in good order. If a carburettor is out of order, is it the fault of Divine Providence or of the dirt that got into it? Everything connected with Matter is in the providence of Nature. There is sickness even in Russia, which created not by God but by Lenin.”

Peppone had gradually relaxed and at the end of Don Camillo’s little harangue he turned to Smilzo and said with a smile, pronouncing every word slowly:

“Smilzo, apropos of the carburettor, would you ask the Reverend whether when this mechanic gets the dirt out of the carburettor he represents Divine Providence?”

Smilzo looked over at Don Camillo, and asked:

“Has the defendant heard the plaintiff’s demand;”

“Yes,” Don Camillo replied “The plaintiff’s complaint is a weakness of the brain, but at any rate the defendant has heard it. The mechanic doesn’t represent Divine Providence; all he represents is a screwdriver, with a man attached to the handle. All this lies in the realm of the very lowliest kind of matter — Everything happens in accord with natural rather than divine law.”

This reply seemed to give Peppone further satisfaction.

“Let’s put it differently, Father,” he said. “Let’s say that the carburettor isn’t working for lack of a screw. Unfortunately, it’s an American carburettor, and we
haven’t the right screw to replace it. What are we to do? Scrap the car? Fortunately the United States ambassadress sends a plane to Washington to get it; the screw is put in and the car moves. We’re still in the realm of matter, because a humble carburettor is the protagonist of our story. But since the new screw comes from the U.S.A. we must shout Hurrah for Divine Providence. If the carburettor comes from the East you reason one way, and if it comes from the West another.”

Peppone’s gang hooted their approval, and Don Camillo let them hoot to their hearts’ content Then he said:

“My reason works the same way in both directions.”

“Bunk!” shouted Peppone. “If the child’s sickness is the result of natural law, just as the carburettor is broken for lack of a screw, then why is Divine Providence responsible for the American ambassadress’s offer of the missing part, or, in this case the missing medicine?”

“Because a child isn’t a carburettor, that’s all,” said Don Camillo calmly “A carburettor can’t have a child’s faith in God. And this child gave proof of his faith in a spectacular way. The human machine, its disturbances and remedies are material and natural affairs. Faith in God is something quite different, which you, Comrade Carburettor, seem unable to understand. Instead of seeing Divine Providence, you see only the United States ambassadress and the Atlantic Pact. A man without hearing can’t hope to understand music, and one without faith in God can’t fathom the workings of Divine Providence.”

“Well then, this Divine Providence is something for the privileged rather than the needy. If a hundred persons are starving and only seven of them have faith, then God is unjust to send a tin of Spam only to these seven.”

“No, Comrade Mayor, God sends the Spam to the whole lot of them, but only seven possess a tin-opener, with which the rest will have nothing to do.”

Peppone had once more lost his self-possession and was sweating under the collar.

“Father, let’s drop the parable and look at reality. In our country only seven people out of a hundred and seven eat meat, because they believe in Divine Providence and have the tin-openers with which to get at it. Whereas in Russia, where nobody believes in Divine Providence, there are tin-openers for all.”

“But no tins of Spam,” said Don Camillo.

The bystanders laughed at Don Camillo’s thrust and Peppone was beside himself with fury.

‘The Carburettor’, ‘Don Camillo and the Devil’, Giovanni Guareschi