A Farewell to Arms

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Religion Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
War Theme Icon
Love and Loss Theme Icon
Reality vs. Fantasy Theme Icon
Self vs. Duty Theme Icon
Manhood Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A Farewell to Arms, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Religion Theme Icon

A saying that came out of the trenches, or foxholes, of World War I was, "There are no atheists in foxholes." Henry, who sees the world as a bitter realist, does not love God. However, he is not above turning to religion in times of crisis, as can be seen in the St. Anthony medallion he puts under his shirt before going into battle or his moving, desperate prayer when Catherine is dying. While Henry never becomes a conventionally religious man, he does follow the advice of the priest and Count Greffi, who in separate conversations outline a sort of humanist theology for Henry: he should commit with religious devotion to the person he loves, who is Catherine. Even this personal form of religion, however, fails Henry in the end.

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Religion Quotes in A Farewell to Arms

Below you will find the important quotes in A Farewell to Arms related to the theme of Religion.
Chapter 11 Quotes
"You do not love Him at all?" he asked.
"I am afraid of Him in the night sometimes."
"You should love Him."
"I don't love much."
Related Characters: Lieutenant Frederic Henry (speaker), The Priest (speaker)
Page Number: 62
Explanation and Analysis:

This exchange, between Lieutenant Henry and the priest, occurs in the field hospital Henry is taken to after he’s wounded at the mountain post. The priest comes to visit Henry, and brings him a bottle of vermouth. 

The priest asks Henry about his love for God, but Henry does not respond with a clear ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Rather, Henry replies that he is sometimes afraid of God, and this seems to take the place of a ‘yes’ answer. Henry seems to affirm that he believes in God, and has some sort of relation with God, but his affirmation is couched in a language of fear.

Henry's thoughts on God are still somewhat unclear at this point. However, his God doesn’t seem particularly "religious;" it’s not a God to be worshipped or loved. It seems to be more of a force of nature that inspires more fear, and causes more chaos, than it does either goodness or harmony--yet it's still not a religious force. It seems rather that Henry has an abstract idea of God which he dislikes, and he feels no personal connection to any deity. The exchange ends with Henry’s stoic “I don’t love much,” a sentiment that further echoes his sense of toughness, inwardness, and ultimate godlessness. 

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Chapter 14 Quotes
God knows I had not wanted to fall in love with her. I had not wanted to fall in love with any one. But God knows I had.
Related Characters: Lieutenant Frederic Henry (speaker), Catherine Barkley
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:

This is almost a direct evolution of the previous quote, this statement by Lieutenant Henry occurs after he’s settled at the American hospital in Milan, where his leg injuries are to be treated.

Henry previously claimed: “I don’t love much,” but here we see that statement buckling under the pressure of his admiration for Catherine. He also invokes God, the God he claims to fear in the night, saying that this God knew about his resistance to falling in love. But Henry's stoic withholding of love is becoming undone.

The God Henry references doesn't appear to be a profoundly religious, rigidly defined deity. This is not the priest's God. Rather, this God is more of a turn of phrase: "God knows" this, "God knows" that. This God seems to represent an intimate region internal to Henry's own psyche, rather than anything external to it. This God is at once the limit of Henry's own psyche but also an aspect of it; it marks the limit of Henry's own self-knowledge.

Henry knew he didn't want to fall in love, and he did everything he could to try not to. But love has happened, almost of its own will, and defied all of Henry's resistances. The fact that love has happened on its own, of its own will--perhaps this is why Henry invokes God. He is not conscious of any explanation within himself, or within his own mind.

Chapter 18 Quotes
"You're my religion. You're all I've got."
Related Characters: Catherine Barkley (speaker), Lieutenant Frederic Henry
Page Number: 100
Explanation and Analysis:

Lieutenant Henry is still at the American hospital in Milan. It's summer, and he and Catherine are discussing the prospect of getting married. Catherine notes that if they are legally married, she will be sent away to another hospital. Henry suggests getting married privately, but Catherine doesn't see the point in it, because she's not religious. She then calls Henry her "religion."

Catherine's equation of her love for Henry with religion itself, despite her claim to having no religion, is striking. It shifts the idea of religion from something which regards the supernatural or divine to something more immediate to human experience. Religion, for Catherine, seems to connote a strongly-felt emotion, or a very intimate sense of connection to another human--not a connection with something 'higher.' This is echoed later in the novel, when Count Greffi calls Henry's love for Catherine a "religious" feeling. 

Further, "You're all I've got" is spoken by Catherine as if it's the defining condition of "religion." In other words, the fact that Henry is "all she has"--like an intense kind of lifeline--seems to be why she feels compelled to call him her "religion." The extraordinary power and meaning of Henry's presence in Catherine's life achieves for her a religious status.


Chapter 27 Quotes
I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious and sacrifice and the expression in vain. We had heard them, sometimes standing in the rain almost out of earshot, so that only the shouted words came through, and had read them on proclamations that were slapped up by billposters over other proclamations, now for a long time, and I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it.
Related Characters: Lieutenant Frederic Henry (speaker)
Page Number: 161
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage takes place after Lieutenant Henry’s winter leave, when he arrives at Bainsizza to receive new orders and converses with Gino. Gino uses the expression “in vain” to describe the Italian army’s efforts during the recent summer: he says they have not been “in vain.” Here, Lieutenant Henry shows one way in which the war has affected how he thinks: words like “sacred,” “glorious,” “sacrifice,” or expressions such as Gino’s “in vain”--phrases often employed to justify the violence of war--mean nothing to him. He alludes to the fact that they are key words in wartime propaganda and communication: they are present on “proclamations,” or war bulletins that are excessively, almost nauseatingly, posted one over the other.

Henry thinks that nothing of his experience of the war can be described by such words; they have no ground in actual life. He has seen nothing sacred nor glorious, and the sacrifices required of him by his duty ultimately have no higher purpose--like a cow butchered simply to have its meat thrown away.

Shortly after this quote, he calls these empty words “abstract”--differing from more concrete words that represent real, tangible things. Henry thinks that only certain numbers, dates, and the names of places have “dignity.” Only these kinds of terms and words can convey a particular meaning, as they do not try to pass off a personal meaning as if it were universal and objective.

The war has complicated Henry’s thought, right down to the very level of how he perceives language: the war has punctured the illusory meaning, the fantasy, of abstract terms. When abstract words are uttered with total confidence, Henry is embarrassed, because such confidence lacks substance and has no ground in any concrete meaning. The war, Henry believes, has shown that these words—these abstract staples of thought which stitch many soldiers’ sense about the war’s purpose together—are hollow and obsolete. 

Chapter 35 Quotes
"Then too you are in love. Do not forget that is a religious feeling."
Related Characters: Count Greffi (speaker), Lieutenant Frederic Henry
Page Number: 227
Explanation and Analysis:

After having lunch with Catherine and Ferguson in Stresa, Lieutenant Henry is invited by Count Greffi--a ninety-four-year-old retired diplomat well-known in Milan--to play a round of billiards with him. Greffi mentions how he always expected to become more devout with old age, but hasn't. Greffi seems to have presupposed that the closer you get to death, the closer you get to God--but this God hasn't intervened in Greffi's life; he says he's never had any religious feelings, and thinks he may have outlived them. For Greffi, it's as if, nearing death, he's left only with the empty room of his life--nothing religious has emerged from his proximity to death.

Here, Greffi unknowingly reiterates Catherine's earlier remark that her love for Henry was religious--more particularly, that Henry was her religion. By affirming love as a religious feeling, it's as if Greffi turns away from death as the guarantor of piety, and looks towards life, towards what stems from within life--from concrete human behavior and actions--as the the sources of religious feeling. This kind of "religion" is something very immediate to the human world and to human feeling--it's not something, for Greffi, that randomly sprouts up when approaching death, as if death made you forget about the world and created a relationship with something beyond it.

Chapter 41 Quotes
God please make her not die. I'll do anything you say if you don't let her die. You took the baby but don't let her die. That was all right but don't let her die. Please, please, dear God, don't let her die.
Related Characters: Lieutenant Frederic Henry (speaker), Catherine Barkley
Page Number: 282
Explanation and Analysis:

A nurse has just informed Lieutenant Henry that Catherine has had a hemorrhage after delivering her baby--a condition that could be fatal.

Here, Henry's control over external reality has reached an overwhelming limit. He is totally powerless (emasculated, Hemingway suggests), and only prayer seems to alleviate his sense of uncertainty and fear. But further, his prayer, his attempt to communicate with God, seems genuine; this moment displays a much more heightened and intensified openness to the possibility of God compared to any previous instance of Henry's narration. Though a main motif of the novel has focused on connecting the human feeling of love with religion--connecting a phenomenon that occurs within the human world with the purportedly "supernatural" realm of religion--this scene shows how the threat of imminent death, something fundamentally opposed to the concrete human world and outside of human existence, is the cause of religious sentiment. Death has chased Henry into a corner where he has no control, and his only hope is to appeal to something higher than himself that may.