A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller, Jr. (science fiction)

“In the Utah desert, Brother Frances of the Albertian Order of Leibowitz has made a miraculous discovery: the relics of the martyr Isaac Leibowitz himself, including the blessed blueprint and the sacred shopping list. They may provide a bright ray of hope in a terrifying age of darkness, a time of ignorance and genetic monsters that are the unholy aftermath of the Flame Deluge. But as the spellbinding mystery at the core of this extraordinary novel unfolds, it is the search itself—for meaning, for truth, for love—that offers hope to a humanity teetering on the edge of an abyss.”

Book cover, A Canticle for Leibowitz
A Canticle for Leibowitz

Getting a glimpse of Zion from secular post-apocalyptic fiction is a difficult task; the reader is fortunate to get a glimpse of civilization in such stories. I found A Canticle for Leibowitz to be an exception. This is not a happy book, but it shows the faith of several generations of Catholic monks and their efforts to preserve the world’s knowledge and keep the light of Christ alive during very dark times. I particularly liked the way the abbot of the monastery, Dom Zerchi, proclaims that he’s subject to “another law” and refuses to allow Doctor Cors, a man who writes permits allowing “hopeless cases” of radiation sickness to be euthanized by the government, to set up a “clinical testing” station in the monastery.

After his difficult conversation with Doctor Cors, Abbot Zerchi summons his secretary and asks:

“You heard him say it? ‘Pain’s the only evil I know about.’ You heard that?”

The monk nodded solemnly.

“And that society is the only thing which determines whether an act is wrong or not? That too?”


“Dearest God, how did those two heresies get back into the world after all this time? Hell has limited imaginations down there.”

Part 3, Chapter 27

All of this comes back to the abbot later, and he mentally refutes the doctor’s “heresy”:

“Really, Doctor Cors, the evil to which even you should have referred was not suffering, but the unreasoning fear of suffering. Metus doloris. Take it together with its positive equivalent, the craving for worldly security, for Eden, and you might have your “root of evil,” Doctor Cors. To minimize suffering and to maximize security were natural and proper ends of society and Caesar. But then they became the only ends, somehow, and the only basis of law—a perversion. Inevitably, then, in seeking only them, we found only their opposites: maximum suffering and minimum security.

Part 3, Chapter 29

In the interaction between the abbot and the doctor, A Canticle for Leibowitz sheds light on some profound spiritual truths that apply even more to the world today than they did in 1959, when this novel was published.

The featured image came from Pixabay.