A Canticle for Leibowitz

by Walter M. Miller Jr.

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Summary and Analysis: Part 2 (Fiat Lux), Chapters 16-17

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Benjamin stands at the edge of the mesa watching Dom Paulo approach, then scampers down to the bottom of the mesa to await the encounter. When he sees Dom Paulo with the goat, he brusquely rejects Dom Paulo’s offer to return the goat. Dom Paulo apologizes for having gone five years without seeing Benjamin, and Benjamin reminisces about what he claims to be an encounter with Francis six centuries ago. He adds that he buried Francis and comments on Dom Paulo’s sick appearance. The two climb up the mesa to Benjamin’s dwelling, which is a single room walled by rocks. A sign in Hebrew by the door reads, “Tents Mended Here.” After some conversation about the sign, Dom Paulo turns the discussion to Taddeo and the hope of a new Renaissance. Benjamin and Dom Paulo then talk about Benjamin’s Jewish faith, and Dom Paulo thinks about his Church as well. He considers Benjamin waiting for a Messiah to come, and says to Benjamin, “God bless you for a brave fool.”

The two continue to talk about their respective religions, and Dom Paulo then reveals his worries about the fate of the abbey if its function of preserving the Memorabilia becomes obsolete. Benjamin promises to look at the abbey’s lamp and Taddeo. The two take their affectionate leave of each other, and Dom Paulo looks back at Benjamin as he rides back toward the abbey.

A messenger from New Rome comes to Dom Paulo. He reports that there will be war, as Laredo has committed its forces to the Plains and a fight against Mad Bear, even though the State of Chihuahua is threatening Laredo from the south. In response to that threat, Hannegan II plans to send his forces down to the Rio Grande, with approval from Laredo, despite New Rome’s warning to its king, Goraldi, that Hannegan II is plotting against Laredo. When Goraldi told Hannegan II of this warning, in response, Hannegan II arrested Apollo. The messenger goes on to say that Hannegan II plans to eventually conquer the continent. To pursue this goal, Hannegan II had the Laredans put several hundred of their diseased cattle into the Plains tribes’ herds, with the goal of causing famine for those tribes and allowing Hannegan to exert control over them. Then, a tribal leader loyal to Hannegan II will conquer the Denver empire.

One night, a novice manning the abbey’s watchtower sees signs of Taddeo’s party, and the next morning, the party, which includes some nomadic warriors, arrives at the abbey’s gates. Dom Paulo receives Taddeo, who answers his welcome briskly.

Dom Paulo’s confession of his worries about the fate of the abbey if the Memorabilia becomes less important again shows that the abbey is very ambivalent about the emergence of new scholars and secular universities such as Taddeo’s. The growth of learning and the advance of technology not only threatens the abbey’s future but may eventually give rise to another nuclear war. Against this background, there is the mystery of Benjamin’s true identity, which may not be solved. If he is the same pilgrim who Francis encountered, it could mean that Benjamin serves as a symbol of tradition, endurance, and strength. It is clear, though, that he contrasts with the surge in technology and learning of the new Renaissance. Rather than participating in this surge, Benjamin, a Jew, is still waiting for the Messiah long after Christianity has recognized Christ as the Messiah. Dom Paulo clearly disagrees with this belief, and the two men's differing identities as Jew and Christian establish the basic structure of their relationship....

(This entire section contains 750 words.)

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Dom Paulo seems to regard Benjamin with a mixture of affection, unease over his refusal to accept the Christian faith, and gruff respect for his rugged independence.

The plotting of Hannegan II and Mad Bear represents a counterpoint to the traditions the abbey and Benjamin embody. Hannegan II, in particular, with his greedy ambition and lust for power, threatens the security of the abbey and its Church. His goals are apparently unencumbered by the reins of religion and morality. The effort to create famine for the Plains tribes, then conquer the weakened tribes, is the best example so far of his ruthlessness. Given the contrast between Hannegan II’s ambitions and the Church’s effort to preserve its authority and independence from secular power, the chilly initial exchange between Taddeo and Dom Paulo is not particularly surprising.


Summary and Analysis: Part 2 (Fiat Lux), Chapters 14-15


Summary and Analysis: Part 2 (Fiat Lux), Chapters 18-19