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| Miller, Walter M. Jr.: A Canticle for Leibowitz
Miller, Walter M. Jr.: A Canticle for Leibowitz
Study Guide for Walter M. Miller, Jr.: A Canticle for
Although A Canticle for Leibowitz was published as a book in 1959,
one version of it was written earlier. The first section, also entitled "A
Canticle for Leibowitz" (now "Fiat Homo" ["And He Created Man"]) appeared in
1955, the second section appeared as "And the Light Is Risen" ("Fiat Lux" ["Let
There be Light"]) the next year, and the conclusion appeared in 1957 as "The
Last Canticle" ("Fiat Voluntas Tua" ["Thy Will Be Done"]), all in The
Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. When he reworked the material for the
novel, Miller made substantial changes and addtions. Although he published a
few stories before and after, and wrote most of a sequel to Canticle, at
his death this remained his only successful work. A sequel, Saint Leibowitz
and the Wild Horse Woman was almost finished when he committed suicide, and
was completed by Terry Bisson and published in 1997. Canticle is widely
considered a classic, has never been out of print, and is widely taught in
science fiction courses.
Written during the height of 50s concern over the danger of nuclear war,
Canticle was the most literarily successful science fiction novel written
on the subject until Russell Hoban`s Riddley Walker (1980, now out of
print). Part of the novel`s success derives from its richly realized setting, a
post-holocaust America where scraps of pre-war knowledge are gathered and
preserved by a Catholic Church which no longer understands that knowledge. The
novel takes for granted familiarity with the idea that after the fall of the
Roman Empire, knowledge was preserved in Western Europe almost exclusively in
small, isolated communities of priests and monks during a centuries-long dark
age, recopied by men who often understood little of the ancient manuscripts of
which they were the custodians.
There have been scores of novels set after a nuclear war in a neo-Medieval
setting, but none so lovingly developed on the basis of a detailed study of the
ori ginal Middle Ages. Miller remained a Catholic all his life, though in
tension with the Church. Most SF is highly critical of religion when it touches
on the subject at all; but Canticle is distinguished by its serious
consideration of religious issues, even though it sometimes departs from
orthodoxy. Miller obviously could not have anticipated Vatican II`s movement
away from the use of Latin, and he imagines its revival in the new Dark Age,
with the English of our age functioning only as an archaic ceremonial language.
The other most memorable feature of the books is the delightful portrait of
the feckless brother Francis. Richly detailed characterization and real wit are
both unusual in SF, and have helped to make this work a classic. "Fiat Homo" is
clearly the strongest part of the work, which suffers to some degree as a novel
from the very long time spans which separate each of its sections. Like The
Martian Chronicles, it is well to remember that each section was composed
separately and can still be read rewardingly on its own.
- Fiat Homo
- Chapter 1,
Chapter 2, Chapter 3,
Chapter 4, Chapter 5,
Chapter 6, Chapter 7,
Chapter 9, Chapter10,
- Fiat Lux
- Chapter 12
Chapter 13, Chapter 14,
Chapter 15, Chapter 16,
Chapter 17, Chapter 18,
Chapter 19, Chapter 20,
Chapter 21, Chapter 22,
- Fiat Voluntas Tua
- Chapter 24,
Chapter 25, Chapter 26,
Chapter 27, Chapter 28
"Saint Raul the Cyclopean"
; in Greek mythology a
has only one
eye, in the center of his forehead. This saint was presumably a similarly
deformed person genetically damaged by the lingering radiation of the nuclear
war which provides the backdrop for the novel. In the discussion of the Church`s
attitude toward such mutations, how can one tell that the Church (unlike its
Medieval predecessor) does not dominate the culture of the time?
("Lord God"): a specifically Jewish chant. Lurking
in the background of this tale is the Medieval legend of the
According to this legend (unsupported by anything in the Bible, but widely
told), when Christ was carrying his cross to the place of crucifixion, he paused
to rest at the threshold of a house. Its owner roughly told him to move on.
Jesus sadly replied, "You move on too, until I return." The householder was
forced to wander about the earth, undying, regretting his cruelty to the Savior,
until Christ should return at the last judgment. Although this mysterious figure
shares certain features with the Wandering Jew, Miller is no antisemite. What
qualities characterize this character?
"I`m not a sport" a mutant.
"Leibowitz Abbey." "Leibowitz" is intended to be immediately
recognizable as a Jewish name. When the pilgrim mocks Francis by commenting that
his kind are "still writing things backward" he reveals that he is more
comfortable with Hebrew, which is written from right to left. Francis, however,
is too ignorant to figure all this out.
"vocational vigils" a period of testing to see whether a novice (would-be
monk) has the vocation "calling"--determining whether he is suitable, and chosen
by God) to be a full-fledged monk.
Six weeks before Easter, the beginning of
, which was
traditionally a period of repentance and
abstinence from meat and other pleasures.
"Apage Satanas!" "Begone, Satan!"
"The natural results seemed to appear ex opere operato:" "from the
operation, not the operator,: a theological phrase which maintains the the
sacraments are rendered valid not by the holiness of the priest who performs
them but solely through the performance of the appropriate action. Though
Francis thinks himself unworthy to perform an exorcism, his effort apparently
devil (the name was originally an insulting Jewish pun
on the name of the Canaanite god
whose name meant "Lord of Lords;" the pun means "Lord of the Flies," and was
commonly used later as a name for the Devil).
"Et ne nos inducas in . . ."
"And lead us not into . . . " The
phrase from the
which concludes with "temptation."
What does the stranger mean by his reference to changing stones into bread?
"Libellus Leibowitz " "Little Book of Leibowitz." Note that some of
the following Latin lines are immediately translated by Miller.
Beatus ("blessed") is a term assigned to those who are regarded as
especially saintly, but who are not yet officially designated as saints. In what
way does Leibowitz`s status resemble that of Francis?
What is the pilgrim`s attitude toward Francis? What is Francis` attitude
toward the pilgrim? Which of them seems more intelligent? How can you tell?
Explain the symbolism of the keystone.
"Repugnans tibi, ausus sum quaerere quidquid doctius mihi fide, certius
spe, aut dulcius caritate visum esset. Quis itaque stultior me . . ."
"Resisting you, I have dared to seek whatever seemed to me to be more learned
than Faith, more certain than Hope, sweeter than Love ("charity") Who is
therefore more foolish than I?" "Faith, hope, and charity" are three cardinal
1 Corinthians 13:13
"O inscrutabilis Scrutator animarum, cui patet omne cor, si me
vocaveras, olim a te fugeram. Si autem nunc velis vocare me indignum . . ."
"O inscrutable examiner of souls, to whom every heart is open, if you had called
me, then would have fled unto you. If however now you should wish to call me
unworthy. . . ."
"Libera me . . ." "Free me," translated below as "Set me free. . .
The two Hebrew characters on page 10 are explained later in Chapter 3.
consists of mystical Jewish interpretations of the Hebrew Bible. Here the term
stands for any mystical teachings disapproved of by the Church.
Why is it ironic to call the buzzards a "heavenly host?"
is a mysterious figure mentioned in the Gospel of John traditionally interpreted
as the Savior. Note from Rev. Victor Peri Bogdanoff
): The term "Paraclete"
is used two ways in John`s Gospel: by the author in reference to "the whole
scope of Jesus` and ministry both before and after his resurrection" and by
Jesus himself to refer to a mysterious figure that will be sent to the disciples
after his death, to `be with them always.`"
Explain the reference to the "Dove." (Hint: see
The Flame Deluge here refers to the nuclear holocaust which
destroyed civilization, but "Deluge" originally designates the Biblical flood
which destroyed all creatures outside the ark.
Salamanders were supposed in the Middle Ages to be able to survive in fire,
probably because they were often found in the ashes of fires where they had
taken refuge in search of residual heat after the fires were out.
Radioactive isotopes of cobalt, strontium and cesium were all much in the
news as a result of concern over fallout from atomic bomb testing.
"Domine, libera nos" "O Lord, deliver us."
"A morte perpetua" "from everlasting death."
"te rogamus, audi nos" "We beseech thee, hear us."
To what does the term "Simplification" seem to refer in this story?
What does it tell you about this society that the term "servus puer"
is familiar to Francis?
"ending the matter without benefit of clergy" dying suddenly,
without any opportunity to confess sins to a priest and prepare for death.
What was the probable explanation of the transformations undergone by the
"launching pad site?"
In the 50s
and bagels were eaten mostly by Jews.
Blueprints, now rare, used to be the dominant method of reproducing
architectural and engineering drawings. They consist of white lines on a blue
background and are prone to fade if exposed too much to light.
What was the evident occupation of Leibowitz?
Leibowitz seems to have scrambled together a collection of miscellaneous
junk and papers and shoved them in the "first tool box he happened to grab,"
sealed it and labelled it "Top Secret" and sent his wife to take it to this
location. Why? Did he succeed in accomplishing what he wanted to do?
"Beate Leibowitz, ora pro me!" "Blessed Leibowitz, pray for me!"
"Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariae"
"The angel of the Lord announced
unto Mary" (see
the hymn traditionally recited at sundown, called the "Angelus."
only be recognized as a full-fledged saint if the Church confirms that he or she
has performed miracles after death. In modern times the rules restricting the
recognition of saints
have become rather strict.
The passage about the debate over Mary`s "Preternatural Gifts" is a parody
of the sort of tangled debate that led to the declaration of the Virgin`s
(the doctrine that she was conceived without original sin, though the term is
often confused with "virgin birth" the doctrine that she conceived Jesus while
remaining a virgin) in 1854. The Dominicans are famous for their conservative
theology (they were the order which ran the Renaissance
What does the existence of "New Rome" suggest?
What does Father Cheroki`s name suggest about his ethnic origin, given that
the novel is set in the southwest of the old United States?
Since the monks very much want to have Leibowitz recognized as a saint, why
is Father Cheroki so exasperated with Brother Francis?
What does it tell us about the social system of America that Father Cheroki
"came of baronial stock?"
"Arkos" suggests "ark." There are two arks in the Bible: Noah`s, which
preserved human and animal life through the flood and the Ark of the Covenant,
the box which contained the tablets of the Jewish law. It is thus an appropriate
name for a preserver of knowledge in a postholocaust era (Olsen 140).
Why is Cheroki so hostile to the idea that the pilgrim was a miraculous
appearance of Leibowitz?
"Benedicamus Domino" "Let us bless the Lord": the standard greeting
among monks. The standard response is "Deo gratias"--"Thanks be to God;" but
Francis` timidity is indicated by the hesitant question marks after each word in
"Magister meus," "My Master."
Antiphon for Maundy Thursday:
"Mandatum novum do vobis: ut diligatis
invicem . . ." I give you a new commandment: to love one another" (John 13:34).
day before Good Friday.
What rationale does the legend say the creators of nuclear weapons used to
justify their creation of atomic arsenals?
What is the motive for the "Great Simplification?" Such a movement is
frequently described in older post-holocaust literature. Do you find it probable
or credible? Why or why not?
How long ago did the nuclear war take place?
"Ecce Inquisitor Curiae. Ausculta et obsequere. Arkos, AOL, Abbas"
"This is the inquisitor of the Curia. Hear and obey. Arkos. Albertian Order
of Leibowitz. Abbot."
The Holy Inquisition
ruthless and bloody Church organization dedicated to rooting out heresy, run by
the Dominicans. Its chief officers were called "inquisitors."
technically a Medieval religion popular in Provence until it was crushed by the
Pope and the king of France in the infamous Albigensian Crusade of the 13th
Century. Like its predecessor in antiquity, it argued that the world is the
locus of a struggle between two divine powers, one good, the other evil.
Christianity argued that God was both perfectly good and supreme, and rejected
the notion that Satan, for instance, had any power independent of God`s. Why do
you think Catharism might have revived in the time during which this story is
"advocatus diaboli" The officer of the Church whose job was to
challenge the evidence presented to prove that someone was a saint. His title
means literally "devil`s advocate," but his role is by no means seen as evil.
His concern is to be certain that Leibowitz did not become a monk before
establishing with certainty that his wife was dead because the Church forbid
married men to become monks or priests, although widowers could.
"Ecce quam bonum, et quam jucundum" Psalms 132:1: " Behold how good
and how delightful." Common English translations do not reflect this wording.
is a book containing all the prayers necessary for celebrating the mass
throughout the year, a breviary contains the prayers used to be recited at
various hours of the day, and the Summa is probably St. Thomas Aquinas`
(1267-73), the standard theological treatise of the Catholic faith.
"Glorificemus" Let us glorify [the Lord]."
"Miserere mei, deus" "Have pity upon me, God."
"audi me" " hear me"
the last rite of the Church, preparing the dying Christian for death and
"postulator" the official responsible for advocating the
canonization of a saint, the opposite of an advocatus diaboli.
"prothonatory" one of seven members of the College of Prothonotaries
Apostolic, responsible for recording major events in the history of the
Why does the Abbot veto the proposal to build a printing press?
"Sacerdos Magnus" "Chief Priest (pope).
"Dei imago" "image of God."
Why are mutant offspring called the "Pope`s children?"
"Appropinquat agnis pastor et ovibus pascendis." "The shepherd of
the lambs approaches to feed the sheep."
"Genua nunc flectantur omnia." "Now are all knees bent."
"Jussit olim Jesus Petrum pascere gregem Domini."
ordered Peter to feed the flock of the Lord."
"Ecce Petrus Pontifex Maximus." "Behold Peter, the chief of high
priests" (that is, the Pope).
"Gaudeat igitur populus Christi, et gratias agat Domino." "Let the
people of Christ rejoice, and give thanks to the Lord."
"Nam docebimur a Spiritu sancto." "For now we shall taught by the
unharmonized monophonic song, such as the
traditionally used in Catholic liturgy.
"Sancte pater, ab Saptientia summa petimus ut ille Beatus Leibowitz
cujus miracula mirati sunt multi" "Holy Father, we beseech you or your
highest wisdom, on behalf of the Blessed Leibowitz whose miracles are many."
"Gratissima Nobis causa, fili" "Our cause is most pleasing, [my]
"sub ducatu sancti Spiritus" "led by the Holy Spirit."
"miserere nobis" "Have mercy upon us."
"Sancta Dei Genetrix, ora pro nobis,Sancta Virgo virginum, ora pro
"Holy Mother of God, pray for us, Holy Virgin of Virgins, pray for
us." Part of the standard prayer to Mary, the
Ave Maria, or Hail Mary.
"Omnes sancti Martyres, orate pro nobis" "All the holy martyrs, pray
"Surgat ergo Petrus ipse" "Then let Peter himself arise."
"Thee, God" (a chant sung particularly on celebratory occasions).
"sedarii" Bearers of the Papal chair on ceremonial occasions.
"licet adire" "Let him approach."
"sedarius" singular of sedarii.
Why is the clan chief described as "converted" in quotation marks?
"scala caelestis" heavenly stairs.
"His Supreme Unctuousness" a sarcastic description of this
official`s behavior, not a real title.
Catholics believe that Jesus` disciple Peter
(formerly a fisherman) was the first
What evidence is there that despite all the impressive pageantry at New
Rome, the Pope has little real power and knows little of the outside world?
"Noli molestare" "Do not molest."
"excommunicating" excommunication is the extreme penalty of the
Church, forbidding the condemned to receive the sacraments, and therefore almost
certainly condemning him or her to Hell.
The story ends with lavish descriptions of the continuation and
proliferation of life. How can we tell they are ironically meant?
How does this story leave you feeling about humanity? Is it optimistic?
Pessimistic? Purely nihilistic?
What does the first paragraph tell you about America in 3174? Is the Church
dominant? Is civilization increasing or decreasing?
"nuncio" papal ambassador.
figuratively, any secular authority, following Christ`s
What is the nature of the disagreement between Thon Taddeo Pfardentrott and
Marcus Apollo? Note how the formal Spanish term of address"Don" has evolved into
"Sheba expects Solomon to come to her" reversing the Biblical story
(1 Kings 10:1–13). What does this phrase mean in the context of the story?
"Sub immunitate apostolica hoc suppostium est. Quisquis nuntium
molestare audeat, ipso facto excommunicetur" This is placed under the
protection of the apostolic (papal) immunity. Whoever dares to molest this
messenger is automatically excommunicated."
What is the origin of the village name of "Sanly Bowitts?" What about the
culture explains the evolution of this name?
"Cui saltem dicit" "To whom it says, at least. . . ."
"Quidam mihi calix nuper expletur, Paule. Precamini ergo Deum facere me
fortiorem. Metuo ut hic pereat. Spero te et fratres saepius oraturos esse pro
tremescente Marco Apollini. Valete in Christo, Amici." "A certain chalice
has been filled for me recently, O Paulo. You may pray therefore to God to make
me stronger. I fear that this will be lost. I hope that you and the brothers
will pray often for the trembling Marcus Apollo. Farewell, friends." The image
of the full chalice to symbolize bitter suffering is taken from Matthew 26:42.
"Texarkanae datum est Octava Ss Petri et Pauli, Anno Domini
Termilessimo" "Written at Texarakana on the eighth of Saints Peter and Paula
in the year of our Lord, 3___."
"vespero mundi expectando" "waiting for the end of the world"
Why is old Benjamin said to have lived for 5,408 years?
After centuries of preserving human knowledge, why are some of those in the
Church not entirely happy about its spread? In what ways does history seem to be
"Logos" as used in John 1:1. Logos is far more than simply the Greek
for "word." It means something like: "meaning" or "underlying pattern,
according to legend, a woman named
helped Christ on his way to be crucified by wiping his sweaty face with her
handkerchief. An image of his face came off on the cloth, which was preserved
and exhibited for many centuries. Some scholars think the story was born out of
a misinterpretation of the Greek phrase "vera ikon," meaning "true image."
"De Vestigiis Antecessarum Civitatum" "Of the Vestiges of the
"Machina analytica" "analytical machines: computers."
"Cave canem" "Beware of the dog" a not uncommon inscription on
ancient Roman houses.
The rest of the line is quoted and translated on the
next page. The 6th-century poet and bishop Venantius Fortunatus composed a Good
Friday hymn which begins "Vexilla regis prodeunt" ("the banners of the King
advance," hailing the Crucifixion). Dante Alighieri parodied it in the first
line of the final canto of his Inferno
(part of the Commedia
in which the hymn is altered so that the banners referred to become the vast
wings of Satan.
"Sancta Maisie, interride pro me" instead of the more common request
to a saint--"pray for me"--he asks her to laugh for him.
What evidence is there that Benjamin is the Wandering Jew, or some
variation on that theme? What evidence is there later in the chapter that he
doesn`t fit the Wandering Jew tradition precisely?
Benjamin`s speech about the goat is a compound of several Biblical
references. Goats traditionally symbolized the damned in Christianity, as sheep
symbolized the saved (see
at least partly because of the ancient Jewish tradition of the "scapegoat"--a
sacrificial animal on whose back all the sins of the community were laid when it
was driven into the desert to be destroyed by the demon Azazel (see
Benjamin also identifies the goat as the beast on which the "Whore of Babylon"
(originally symbolizing ancient Rome) rides in
at the end of the world.
Saint Paul was by profession a tent-maker; so it is not inappropriate that
Benjamin should be a tent-mender.
The Hebrew inscription in this chapter is the
, the central
statement of faith in Judaism, from
which Jews originally wore in a container on their forheads and posted beside
their doors in a container called a mezzuzah
. Modern Jews often wear it
in a small mezzuzah on a chain around the neck. In the King James translation it
is rendered as "Hear, O Israel: the Lord your God is One God."
"Torquemada" Tom·s de Torquemada, infamously cruel Spanish
Inquisitor General in the late 15th century, largely responsible for causing the
expulsion of the Jews from Spain under Ferdinand and Isabella.
How does Dom Paulo rationalize to himself Benjamin`s claims to have lived
for thirty-two centuries? Miller is careful to provide plausible rationalist
alternatives for the seeming miracles in this book.
In discussing Christian theology with Paulo Benjamin makes some typically
Jewish criticisms: whereas Jews believe in only one, undivided God, Christians
claim that God can be three (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and one at the same
time; Christ`s resurrection ("life in death") is not a part of traditional
Jewish beliefs about the Messiah, who once born is never supposed to die; and
Paul explains away the necessity to have faith in apparent absurdities in
1 Corinthians 1:17-25
in a passage that became a powerful tool against rationalism in the Middle Ages,
whereas for Jews wisdom is identified with knowledge of and obedience to the
"anchorite" a hermit, often living in the desert.
Why does Dom Paulo call the Jewish Messiah the "One-Who-Isn`t-Coming?"
"Come forth" Benjamin is referring to the story of Lazarus in
What does he mean by alluding to this passage?
worldly rulers, all except Cyrus depicted as wicked in the
"Samuel warned us against them."
1 Samuel 8
the Hebrews reject rule by religious leaders and beg the prophet Samuel for a
1 Samuel 8:10-18
he lists the many disadvantages of having a secular ruler, but at their
insistence he crowns Saul whose reign turns out--as predicted--disastrously.
What precisely is the danger that Benjamin sees emerging at the present
time? Why is he skeptical of the value of reemerging science and technology?
"El Shaddai" an ancient Hebrew name for God.
"Memento, Domine, Omnium famulorum tuorum" "Remember, Lord, all your
What recent invention is threatening the survival of the abbey?
"How neighborly of the lion to lie down with the lamb?"
speech on the basis of
"Tibi adsum" "I am here, yours."
Why does the statue in the last paragraph remind Paulo of Benjamin?
This chapter begins with a reading based loosely on passages from the books
of Job and Revelation in the Bible, but actually retelling the story of the
Flame Deluge (nuclear war). Also alluded to is the story of the destruction of
Sodom and Gomorrah
In ancient Jewish tradition
are sacrificed as a substitute for human sacrifice, often to atone for sin.
Although Christians reinstituted the concept of human sacrifice symbolically by
considering the crucified Christ as the sacrificial
"lamb of God,"
Jews and Christians both generally regard the reversion to literal human
sacrifice as a great evil.
The word "holocaust" has a complex history. Originally it designated a
particular type of
one which was entirely consumed by fire instead of the usual practice in which
most of the sacrifice was consumed by the priests. The term was ironi cally
applied to the
incineration of millions of Jews in Hitler`s Germany
Later writers, anticipating a global nuclear war, extended its meaning to apply
to such a catastrophe.
The word "Name" is used instead of the actual name of the ruler of the
nation that begins the war. "Pik-a-don" is Japanese for "flash-boom" and was the
name initially given to the Hiroshima bomb by its victims. In some early
editions the scientist-magi`s name is misprinted "Backeneth" the first time
instead of "Blackeneth."
What does this story convey about Miller`s thoughts on the threat of
nuclear war? Give as many details as possible.
"lectio devina" sacred reading."
"In principio Deus" In the beginning God."
"Caelum et terram creavit" created heaven and earth."
"Vacuus autem erat mundus" "The earth however was a formless void."
"Cum tenebris in superficie profundorum" "with darkness on the face
of the deep."
"Ortus est Dei Spiritus supra aquas" "and God`s spirit hovered over
"Gratias Creatori Spiritui" "Thanks be to the Creator Spirit" (not
in the Biblical text).
"Dixitque Deus: `FIAT LUX"" "and God said, `Let there be light."
"Lucem esse bonam Deus vidit" "And God saw that the light was good."
"Et secrevit lucem a tenebris," and he divided the light from the
"Lucem appellavit `diem` et tenebras `noctes:`" "and he called the
light `day` and the dark `night`."
"Vespere occaso" "Evening having come."
"Lucifer" the monk shouts a common name for the devil when he is
shocked, but "Lucifer" is originally also a name for the planet Venus and means
"light-bringer." The first matches in the 19th century were called "lucifers."
"ortus est et primo die" and morning, the first day."
What is the effect of having the monks recite this passage as they
inaugurate the lamp?
Before light bulbs were developed, the first electric lights were noisy,
expensive, but extremely brilliant arc lights like this. Looking directly at one
is much like looking directly at a welding tool.
"Flectamus genua" "Let us bend our knees" (a ritual bow).
"Oremus" Let us pray.
"et Spritus Sancti, Amen."; "and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."
"Sedete" "Be seated."
"ad absurdum" "to an absurd length."
What is the poet implying when he suggests that Leibowitz will become the
Why does the abbot pretend that he is not worried about the study Thon
Thaddeo`s companions have made of the abbey`s fortifications?
"et tu, Brute"
"you too, Brutus" supposedly the last words of
shocked that among those who stabbed him was his former friend and ally Brutus.
What is indicated about the men at the abbey by their reaction to Thon
Thaddeo`s description of Monsignor Apollo`s unscientific beliefs about the
refraction of light?
What is ironic about the young monk`s use of Saint Augustine in this
What foreboding prediction does Thon Thaddeo make about the course of
science in the future?
Explain the meaning of the two paragraphs toward the end of the chapter
which begin "He also suffered them to know how it might be saved. . . ."
What is signified by Benjamin`s appearance and speech?
The first line indicates that this chapter is set in either September or
"Vaquero" Spanish for "cowboy."
"interdict" In the Middle Ages an interdict was imposed when the
ruler of a country was excommunicated. Essentially the Church would go on
strike, halting all masses, confessions, burials, weddings, etc., in the hope of
arousing popular sentiment to force the ruler to submit to the pope.
"Regnans in Excelsis" "Reigning in the highest."
What does this chapter have to say about the relationship between science
A term used to characterize corrupt Church officials,
particularly those who buy and sell Church offices (derived originally from the
story of Simon Magus in
What is the significance of the fact that the names of the bishops who have
signed Hannegan`s proclamation are unknown to the abbot?
"Diluvium Ignis" "Fire Deluge."
Why might Thon Thaddeo be drawn to the theory that humanity is a recent
invention developed by a pre-holocaust race? What effect would that fact have on
the value of his scientific research?
Thaddeo has been misled into thinking that humans were created in the 20th
century by reading a fragment from Karel Capek`s 1921 play
(Rossum`s Universal Robots), in which a scientist manages to breed artificial
humans, called robotniki
in the original Czech, translated as "robot"
into English, becoming the word for "artificial human" in later writings.
Click here for Ron Webb`s comments on this reference
Over the whole course of the novel, who do you think turns out to be
"right" about the importance of knowledge: Thaddeo or Paulo?
"ab Lumina Christi" "from the light of Christ.
"Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine. . . . Quia viderunt oculi mei
salutare. . "
Excerpts from the ritual of departure known as the Nunc
The quoted portions means "Now let thy servant depart, O Lord [`in
peace" is omitted here]. . . . Mine eyes have seen Thy salvation." The passage
occurs originally in
as the speech of Simeon, an elderly pious Jew who thinks he can now die in peace
because he has seen the promised Messiah. What do you think is the speech`s
significance in context of Canticle
"For God doth know that in what day soever you shall eat thereof . .
What does this passage seem to mean in its original context? How does it relate
to the subject of this chapter?
What does the last sentence of the chapter mean?
"Ego te absolvo" "I absolve you" what a priest would say upon
granting absolution for sins during confession.
"Cathartes aura regnas" "You reign over the purifying air"
How optimistic or pessimistic is the end of this chapter?
Fiat Voluntas Tua
The title comes from Luke
in which Jesus, facing crucifixion, prays to God to be spared, but concludes,
"Nevertheless, let Thy will be done." What tone does this set for the final
section, given the original context of the speech?
originally the 19th-century belief that the U.S. had the right to extend its
power over all of America.
Adam and Christ,
first paired by Paul
are traditionally taken to represent respectively humanity`s fall into sin and
redemption from it. Here they represent the ambivalence of the new scientific
age, full of both hope and fear.
"Wir marschieren weiter wenn alles in Scherben f‰llt" "We
march away when everything falls to pieces" From a Nazi marching song glorifying
This is a common amoeba named after the fact that
it, like the ancient Greek God Proteus, has no fixed shape and can assume many
forms. It would have in common with atrophy and entropy the quality of
increasing disorder, as do the destructive forces of time which taunt would-be
military conquerers in this passage. If you you have further suggestions about
this reference, please write email@example.com
Click here for Ron Webb`s comments on this reference.
Lucifer: as noted above, the Devil is often referred to as Lucifer,
here alluded to as the tempter of Eve. In the Canticle of the Brethren of the
Order of Leibowitz, the phrase proclaims the fall of Lucifer from Heaven, where
he was an angel until he rebelled against God. The words are used as a code
phrase to communicate the success of a nuclear bomb test. Remember that
"Lucifer" had also been used earlier in reference to the arc lamp invented at
the abbey. Instead of good triumphing over evil, then, the phrase could suggest
the extinction of light.
"Lord, have mercy," the Greek phrase which begins
the Mass text
The slashed "V" and "R" in the Canticle label the lines to be sung by one
voice and their response by the massed choir.
"bureaucratic Dutch boys" refers to a once-famous incident in the
novel Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates, in which a young boy saves his
town by plugging a leak in a dike with his finger.
What is the point of the "Lady Reporter" sarcastically asking the Defense
Minister whether he is in favor of Motherhood?
Just as Arkos, whose name begins with A, is the first of the abbots we
meet, Zerchi, whose name begins with Z, is the last (Olsen 138). St. George is
slaying a dragon
The Abominable Autoscribe would seem to be an advanced sort of word
processor. Remember that when this novel was written the only computers in the
world weighed many tons and filled large rooms but had less power than a common
pocket calculator today.
"lËse majestÈ" "a French legal term which describes acts
which are crimes because of the noble social status of the people against whom
they are committed.
Father Zerchi ironically comments that if a computer can emulate a human
soul, it can also "fall" like Adam and Eve. What tone does this passage set
What does the existence of incompatible American dialects imply about
Vulgate Latin would be the Medieval Latin of the
used by the Church for all official purposes until the mid-60s.
"Oh, ye of little faith"
is a quotation from is a quotation from
"Hinc igitur effuge" "Escape from here."
"Motu proprio" "Of your own volition, on your own initiative."
"Anno Domini" Year of our Lord: A.D.
"Ab hac planeta nativitatis aliquos filios Ecclesiae usque ad planetas
solium alienorum iam abisse et nunquam redituros esse intelligimus" " We
understand that from this planet of their birth some sons of the Church have
already gone off to the planets of other sons, never to return."
"Quo peregrinatur grex, pastor secum" "Where the sheep go, the
pastor (shepherd) goes with them."
"Casu belli nunc remoto" "The causes of war now having been
The essence of the message Dom Zerchi is trying to dictate has to do with a
plan by the Church to promote emigration to other worlds in case of nuclear war;
the vehicles referred to are rocket ships.
"Luciferum ruisse mihi dicis?" "Are you telling me that Lucifer has
"Chris`tecum" An abbreviated "Christ be with you, used as a farewell
like the old "God be with ye," now abbreviated to "good-bye."
"Cum spiri`tuo" "And with thy spirit." (A standard part of Catholic
"Said the namesake of my namesake"
Refers to a miracle performed by
Joshua, the leader of the Hebrew invasion of Canaan, commanding the sun and moon
to stand still so that there would be enough time to complete their victory in
the valley of Gabaon. See Joshua
What does Joshua mean by saying that it would be useful to be able to perform
this trick "in these times too?"
"dauntless Dutch boys" see note for the preceding chapter on "bureaucratic
The American War Department was changed to the more peaceful sounding
"Defense Department" after World War II.
What does this second press conference imply about the events the Defense
Minister is so carefully denying?
a mythical bird that once every 500 years sets itself on fire and is reborn from
an egg in the ashes.
nearest star (actually two stars) to Earth, about four light-years away. It is
now believed to be incapable of having planets which could sustain life.
Why is "Joshua" an appropriate name for the leader of the Church`s project
to emigrate to another planet?
Few of the names in this novel have obvious meanings, but "Grales" seems
like an ironic reference to the
Holy Grail of Medieval legend
the cup which Christ used at the Last Supper, which caught his blood on the
cross, and for which King Arthur`s knights sought.
"Accedite ad eum" "Approach him."
"lingua prima" first language.
On Maundy Thursday (the day before Good Friday), the
Pope ceremonially washes the feet of some of the poor in commemoration of Jesus`
washing the feet of the disciples (John 13:5"
Latzar shemi Hebrew name, related to "Lazarus?"
What has happened between the end of the last chapter and the beginning of
this? Who started it?
What is the meaning of the quotation from Eleventh Pius?
"Non habemus regem nisi caesarem"
"We have no king but Caesar." See
How does this relate to the preceding quotation?
"Grex peregrinus erit. Quam primum est factum suscipiendum vobis, jussu
Sactae Sedis. Suscipite ergo operis partem ordini vestro propriam" "It will
be a foreign flock. What must be undertaken by us is to be done as soon as
possible. By order of the Holy See. Support the first part of the work by your
Eminentissimo Domino Eric Cardinali Hoffstraff obsequitur Jethra
Zerchius, A. O. L., Abbas. Ad has res disputandas iam coegi discessuros fratres
ut hodie parati dimitti Roman prima aerisnave possint. Very Emininent Lord
Eric Cardinal Hoffstraff submits himself to Jethro Zerchi, A. O. L., Abbot. I
have already ordered brothers who are about to depart to be sent to Rome by the
first airplane to discuss these matters.
"Retrahe me, Satanus, et discede"
"Draw away from me, Satan, and
depart." Compare with
Is the Church escaping into space merely to preserve itself, or does it
have other aims?
"Homo loquax nonnumquam sapiens" "The talkative man is sometimes
"Discede, Seductor informis" "Learn, foul seducer."
"Egrediamur tellure" "We may leave the Earth."
"abbas" Literally "Father" in Hebrew, but used as the title of the
head of an abbey: an abbot.
"Audi me, Domine" "Hear me, O Lord."
"negotium perambulans in tenebris"
"The pestilence that stalks in
"Reminiscentur et convertentur ad Dominum universi fines terrae. Et
adorabunt in conspectu universae familiae gentium. Quoniam. Domini est regnum;
et ipse dominabitur."
"All the ends of the world shall remember and turn
unto the Lord; and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before Thee.
For the kingdom is the Lord`s; and he will rule among the nations"
Why is it ironic that this is the Psalm which happens to be scheduled for this
"de essentia hominum" "Of human nature."
"Hoc officium, Fili--tibine imponemus oneri?" "This office, my
Son--may we impose this burden upon you?"
"honorem accipiam" I shall accept the honor.
"Crucis autem onus si audisti ut honorem, nihilo errasti auribus"
"If however you bear the burden of the cross as an honor, you did not hear
"Accipiam" I accept.
"the principle of Epikeia"
The doctrine by which part of the
Church--if separated from communication with the Roman hierarchy (in particular,
the Pope)--may institute its own parallel hierarchy to assure the continuity of
the Apostolic Succession (note by
"Mori vult" "He wishes to die"
What is the essential disagreement between Father Zerchi and the Green Star
"The serpent deceived me, and I did eat" Eve`s excuse for eating the
Note that Poet from the previous story has become popularized as Saint Poet
of the Miraculous Eyeball.
"Orbis Judicans Conscientias" "The globe which judges consciences."
"Oculus Poetae Judicis" The eye of the judging poet."
"Non cogitamus, ergo nihil sumus"
"We do not think, therefore we are
nothing," reversing RenÈ Descartes` famous dictum,
"I think, therefore I am."
"Evenit diabolus" Here comes the Devil."
"Domine, mundorum omnium Factor, parsurus esto imprimis eis filiis
aviantibus ad sideria caeli quorum victus dificilior" "Lord, maker of all
worlds, spare these Thy sons who are going to the stars of heaven, whose lives
will be quite difficult."
Note the return of the buzzards which were circling overhead at the
beginning of the novel.
"ABANDON EVERY HOPE YE WHO ENTER HERE" According to Dante`s
Inferno,this is the message inscribed over the entrance gate to Hell.
"Golgatha" The "Mount of Skulls" called "Calvary" in Latin where
Christ was crucified.
In your opinion, who wins the argument between Dom Zerchi and the young
girl over euthanasia? Defend your opinion.
"alter Christus" "Another Christ."
"Te absolvat Dominus Jesus Christus; ego autem eius auctoritate te
absolvo ab omni vinculo. . . . Denique, si absolvi potes, ex peccatis tuis ego
te absolvo in Nomine Patris . . ." "The Lord Jesus Christ absolves you; I,
however, through his authority free you from all chains." Finally, if you can be
absolved of your sins, I absolve you in the name of the Father."
"Dealba me." "Whiten me."
Hymn about the Last Judgment, written by Thomas of Celano in the 13th
Century and incorporated into the liturgy for the Catholic requiem (funeral)
mass, obviously appropriate here considering both the plight of Zerchi and
humanity in general.
"Domine, non sum dignus, sed tantum dic verbo"
"Lord, I am not
worthy, but only speak the word" Spoken by John the Baptist to Jesus
A phrase recited by the priest when the mass is served.
The first sacrament is baptism.
is the hymn of the Virgin Mary celebrating the fact
that she is to bear the Christ
Dom Zerchi imagines that the newly-awakened Rachel is purely innocent, like Mary
(born of an "immaculate conception," free of all sin), and therefore does not
need baptism, whose function is to wash away sins.
"Sic transit mundus" "That`s the way the world goes" or "thus ends
The novel began with hungry vultures; it ends with hungry sharks. But
whereas the vultures at least had a certain crude vitality, the sharks are
presumably doomed like the rest of life on earth.
Is the ending of the novel optimistic, pessimistic, or something in
Recommended studies on A Canticle for Leibowitz:
Olsen, Alexandra H. "Re-Vision: A Comparison of A Canticle for Leibowitz
and the Novellas Originally Published." Extrapolation 38
(Summer 1997): 235-149.
Percy, Walker. "Walter M. Miller, Jr.`s A Canticle for Leibowitz."
In Rediscoveries: Informal Essays in Which Well-Known Novelists Rediscover
Neglected Eowrks of Fiction by One of Their Favorite Authors. Ed. David
Madden. New York: Crown, 1971.
Samuelson, David N. Visions of Tomorrow: Six Journeys from Outer to
Inner Space. New York: Arno, 1975.
Senior, W. A. "From the Begetting of Monsters: Distortion as a Unifier in
A Canticle for Leibowitz," Extrapoltion 34 (Winter 1993): 329-42.
Spector, Judith A. "Walter Miller`s A Canticle for Leibowitz: A
Parable for our Time?" Midwest Quarterly 22 (Winter 1981): 337-45.
Spencer, Susan. "The Post-Apocalyptic Library: Oral and Literate Culture in
Fahrenheit 451 and A Canticle for Leibowitz." Extrapolation 32
(Winter 1991): 331-42.
Stoler, John A. "Christian Lore and Characters` Names in A Canticle for
Leibowitz." Literary Onomastics Studies 11 (1984): 77-91.
Walker, Jeanne Murray. "Reciprocity and Exchange in A Canticle for
Leibowitz," Renascence 33 (1981): 67-85.
Notes by Paul Brians
, Department of
English, Washington State University, Pullman 99164-5020.
Latin translations by Michael Hanly and Hack C. Kim, Washington State
First published on the Web, April, 1995. Version dated November 16, 1997.