16 September 2010

A Canticle for Leibowitz is:

  1. a beautiful affirmation of the timeless truth and beauty of Catholicism;
  2. a subtly mocking refutation of Catholicism;
  3. both of the above;
  4. none of the above.
I am undecided.  Any help?  Explain, if you dare.


Patrick Kinsale said...

I vote for No. 1. But how about "a subtly mocking affirmation of the timeless truth and beauty of Catholicism"?

Fr. Andrew said...

I'm not sure. I read it over 10 years ago...

/just commenting so I can get follow up from educated people.

thetimman said...

Patrick, I like your second choice.

But what does the demise of Abbot Z do to everything that preceded it?

X said...

A Canticle for Leibowitz is:

Above your paygrade.

Athelstane said...

Hello Timman,

I've always thought ACFL to be a superb, sublime piece of Catholic literature. For what it's worth, so did Walker Percy.

Miller prods the Church here and there, but always (I think) in a loving affirmation of her. The witness for life presented in the final chapter is not to be missed.

As for Abbot Zerchi's death, I don't see that it negates what went before. He dies in the nuclear holocaust (I hope I am not spoiling this for anyone) providing a sacrament to "Rachel," having assured the survival of the order - and the apostolic succession.

Miller later abandoned the faith and died a suicide. But I don't think that discredits his novel.

Jeff Miller said...

I vote with hands held high for #1 and all the SF fans who are Catholic who I know would say the same thing.

Anonymous said...


I don't see mocking in ACFL; I see a realistic portrayal of humanity, both in and out of the Church. (The exception is Rachel, "born" from Mrs. Grales' shoulder, who has preternatural gifts, whom Abbot Z recognizes as one "born free," sharing the common state of the Woman who first uttered the Magnificat that he prays after she give him his viaticum.) ACFL is very Augustinian in its realism and very faithful to traditional Catholic teaching. Abbot Z has some purgatory to do for losing his temper and socking the doctor at the euthanasia center not long before the blast that knocks the abbey church down upon him. You can see the Cross in the Abbot's suffering at the last, or you can imagine that his suffering represents part of his purgatory, or both at once.

The whole book, which shows an historical cycle of mankind repeating its sinful striving to seize life by its own efforts rather than to accept life from God, even to the point of repeating an atomic war, is no other picture than that of original sin, which will dog us humans to the end.

So I choose no. 1.

Jim Cole

Anonymous said...

I vote for #3, but it has been many years since I read
this book. Best line in the book comes at the end.
An approximate quote is, "When he rides the donkey back down the mountain, then the civilization of man will return." Guess I'll have to reread it. Interesting to read of it here, recent events in the last 2 years have brought this book to mind.

thetimman said...

Until the description of what Abbot Z experienced as he died, I would unhesitatingly say #1. But that one line has me wondering about all the minor quibbles throughout.

Anonymous said...

#1 all the way!

The way Miller describes and incorporates the liturgical life into his narrative always suggested to me that he was lovingly affirming the indefectibility of the Faith. The scene in which the crucifix is replaced in the abbey is particularly poignant. It is represented as a triumph for the abbey and not as an attack on science. If he were criticizing the Faith, it seems like he would have done it at this moment.
Furthermore, his work is an unabashed dramatization of a Christocentric vision of history. Everything that happens is described in relation to the Christ's Church. Indeed, he (in my opinion) captures perfectly the essence of Catholic history, the "long defeat" mentioned by JRR Tolkien.


StGuyFawkes said...

If Walker Percy liked it then I'm going to read it.

Athelstane said...

Hello Timman,

But what does the demise of Abbot Z do to everything that preceded it?

That's a fair question.

I think the line you mean to refer to is this one, when he expires: "Nothing else ever came - nothing that he saw, felt, or heard."

I never took this to be an indication of negating the afterlife - but only that he ceased to sense (or dream) anything further in *this* life.

Now, perhaps I'm wrong in that. Maybe it's to be taken in a wider sense than I read it (or others that I know have read it). Some might point to what happened to Miller later in life as an indicator that it's a shot of existential despair. But even so - while Miller abandoned the faith, he did not appear to abandon religion altogether. At any rate, I don't think anyone has ever questioned his Catholicism when he wrote the novel in the 50's.

I just think it's hard to square such a despairing reading with the thrust of the rest of the book.

This moves me to StGuyFawkes comment about Miller and Walker Percy. As I said, Miller abandoned the faith later in life in favor of a vague, syncretic Buddhism - but interestingly, did so in part out of despair over what had become of the Church after Vatican II, according to Fr. John Garvey, who interviewed him for an article in Commonweal in the 90's:

"...he missed the Eucharist, but after his encounters with post-vatican II Catholicism he was reminded more of the Protestantism of his childhood than of anything that had attracted him to Catholicism, and there was nothing much to hold him."

Another sad - damning - statement on those who did so much to water down the faith in the 60's. How many more people is this true of?

As for Percy, he gave a glowing review of ACFL in 1971. I don't have ready access to that review, but Garvey did share a comment from Percy about the novel shortly after Miller's suicide:

"I am both fascinated and dismayed by the Miller interview. For years I've speculated about this man, wondering where Canticle came from .... Still a mystery: it's as if everything came together by some felicitous chance, then fell apart into normal negative entropy. I'm as mystified as ever and hold Canticle in even higher esteem."

Take it for what it's worth.