A Canticle for Leibowitz

by Walter M. Miller Jr.

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Summary and Analysis: Part 1 (Fiat Homo), Chapters 4-5

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Abbot Arkos: the head of the abbey of the Order of Saint Leibowitz

Abbot Arkos, the head of Francis’s abbey, receives Cheroki in his study. He affirms that Cheroki made the right decision in ordering Francis to return to the abbey. Cheroki has deposited the papers from the box Francis found onto Arkos’s desk, and both Cheroki and Arkos dismiss those papers as having nothing to do with Leibowitz. Cheroki declares his intent to go see Francis, and Arkos tells Cheroki to have Francis come see Arkos afterward. Francis comes into Arkos’s study, mentioning that he was told Arkos meant to see him. Arkos maintains that the material in the box is only junk and harshly questions Francis as to how he found the box. Francis insists that the pilgrim meant for him to discover the box. Arkos punishes Francis for this insistence by slapping him ten times with a ruler, and tells him he is to stay away from the shelter site. Arkos explains that the abbey is filled with the rumor that Francis actually saw Saint Leibowitz. Under further questioning from Arkos, Francis hesitates to confirm just who the pilgrim was but remarks that he was apparently literate. The disgusted and exasperated Arkos orders Francis to leave his study.

Francis returns to the desert to finish his Lenten fast. As he does, he thinks about the pilgrim’s visit and its significance, as well as his decision to join the monastery. At this point, the readers learn that Francis was born in “the Utah,” was sold to a shaman when he was a child, and then ran away from the shaman. He realizes that his abbey education would not be useful in the outside world, which is filled with illiterates and a harsh life based on primitive agriculture, hunting, and gathering.

The Church’s network is the only form of communication that stretches across North America, but the Church is threatened by savage heathens who regularly kill priests, and sometimes eat them as well. The readers here learn that Francis broke his Lenten fast by eating a lizard. On Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday, the abbey’s monks carry Francis into his cell as he talks deliriously about the pilgrim. Arkos receives Francis for questioning, and Francis tells him that he isn’t positive that the pilgrim was not Saint Leibowitz. Arkos is severely displeased by this answer, and tells Francis he won’t be allowed to profess his vows this year.

The ongoing mystery of the pilgrim’s true identity indicates that the pilgrim is indeed a significant figure. The abbey rumor that he is a miraculous visitation by Leibowitz is apparently ungrounded by the facts, but the ignorance and barbarism of the world around the abbey may lead the monks to believe that only extraordinary people could survive the pilgrim’s journey through the desert. Francis’s life history, as well as the news that the Church is the only line of communication on the North American continent, shows how deeply things have changed since the 1950s, much less in comparison with today’s technologies.

Meanwhile, Arkos’s displeasure at Francis’s discovery, the rumors it inspired, and his refusal to say outright that the pilgrim was only a normal man seem to be explained by his knowledge of the unstable condition in which Cheroki found Francis. Arkos apparently thinks that given Francis’s poor mental and physical health, his testimony about the encounter with the pilgrim is highly unreliable. The abbey already considers Leibowitz to be a saint, but in order to be formally declared as such, Leibowitz needs to go through the process of canonization. This formalized process requires evidence that the person performed miracles while still alive on earth. Arkos is also aware that the rumors of the pilgrim being Saint Leibowitz could damage the case for canonizing Leibowitz if they are found to be untrue, because they would cast doubt on other stories about Leibowitz as well. Given those factors and the fact that Francis is the only witness of the encounter, Arkos assigns little importance to it.

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Summary and Analysis: Part 1 (Fiat Homo), Chapters 2-3


Summary and Analysis: Part 1 (Fiat Homo), Chapters 6-7