A Canticle for Leibowitz

by Walter M. Miller Jr.

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Summary and Analysis: Part 2 (Fiat Lux), Chapters 21-23

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Taddeo is spending his tenth week at the abbey when a messenger brings news that Laredo has demanded that Texarkana remove its troops. The King was poisoned the night he made that demand, and Laredo and Texarkana went to war. Hannegan II, the ruler of Texarkana, has won the war. Additionally, he had Apollo tortured and killed, and the Church responded by putting Texarkana under interdict, a condition in which Texarkana citizens could not receive communion. Taddeo converses about this with Dom Paulo but warns that New Rome should not idly threaten Hannegan II. A chill settles over relations between Taddeo’s party and the abbey.

The abbey’s neighbor village, Sandy Bowitts, asks the abbey if the village can take refuge there if an attack comes. Dom Paulo decides that this will be allowed but that the village men who can bear arms will need to defend the abbey. A stream of people coming out of the Plains brings the abbey stories of the cattle plague, a mutiny in Laredo, an assault by Mad Bear’s warriors on the Laredans, and Mad Bear’s resistance to joining Hannegan II’s cause.

Meanwhile, Taddeo notices that Poet has mysteriously left the abbey, without telling anyone of his plans. Taddeo mentions that he still has Poet’s glass eye, and Dom Paulo explains that Poet believed the eye aided his sight. He goes on to say that Poet put in his eye when he needed to think, and the abbey referred to it as his “conscience.” Taddeo concludes that he will keep it, and says that soon his party will leave the abbey. Taddeo discloses to Dom Paulo that he disagrees with Hannegan II, but publicly supports him because Hannegan II’s prosperity is linked with the prosperity of the collegium. When Dom Paulo objects to this approach, Taddeo charges him with idealistically wanting to detach science from politics, and their conversation ends on this disputed note.

On a Thursday, Taddeo’s party prepares to leave the abbey. Taddeo briefly discusses optics with Kornhoer. He remarks that Kornhoer’s practical mind would fit well with his own theoretical mind and invites Kornhoer to join him at the collegium for a time. Kornhoer resists this invitation, as he believes it is opposed to his religious vocation. Dom Paulo walks down the stairs into the basement, briefly talks to Taddeo, then climbs the stairs to the courtyard and talks with Gault. Apollo’s secretary, Brother Claret, has journeyed to the abbey after being tortured by the Texarkana empire. He confesses that he betrayed Apollo, and Dom Paulo finds a document Claret has carried with him. It is a decree from Hannegan II against New Rome. The decree declares that in response to the interdict, Hannegan II is declaring the interdict void, and orders the Church’s Texarkana clergy to be licensed by the empire and vow their allegiance to Hannegan II.

The scene shifts to Taddeo and the others in the basement. Gault has joined them, and Taddeo mentions to him a “pre-Diluvian fragment” that seems to say that mankind was created just before the nuclear war by “a preceding race which became extinct during the Diluvium Ignis.” Gault rejects this notion as opposing common sense, but Taddeo argues that this notion would explain why the Simplification occurred. Dom Paulo enters and decries Taddeo’s theory. Taddeo shows Dom Paulo his notes on the fragment, and Dom Paulo dismisses the fragment as a piece of fictional literature. He begins reading out loud the Genesis story of the temptation of Adam and Eve as Taddeo remarks that he was merely speculating. Dom Paulo questions why...

(This entire section contains 1069 words.)

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Taddeo wants to believe that mankind was created by a preceding race, and Taddeo responds by remarking that “competent people” should be managing the Memorabilia instead of the abbey. Dom Paulo hands Hannegan II’s edict to Taddeo in response and orders candles to replace Kornhoer’s lamp. Taddeo reads the edict and retracts his remark about the Memorabilia. He says he is leaving that day, and Dom Paulo says other members of the collegium are welcome to visit the abbey. Dom Paulo goes up to his study, but soon Taddeo enters and hands him the drawings of the abbey fortifications. As the chapter ends, the readers learn that Dom Paulo died the next year, that Texarkana and Denver made and broke an agreement, and that Hannegan II invaded the Plains intending to conquer it.

In the next chapter, the thirsty Poet is lying on a wooded hillside among some dead refugees and a cavalryman pinned beneath his dead horse. Poet has been shot in the abdomen by the cavalry troop that chased up the trail on the hill and after the refugees. As the troop went up the trail, Poet jumped onto the cavalryman and stabbed him three times before being shot. He hears the apparently delirious cavalryman moan and takes his gun from him before stabbing the cavalryman through the throat. Poet dies soon thereafter, and eventually the year 3781 arrives.

Hannegan II’s actions and the ongoing dispute between Taddeo and the abbey fuel the action of these chapters. With the Church and Hannegan II warring against each other, Taddeo’s admittance that he supports Hannegan II because Taddeo thinks his success will bring success for the collegium tacitly declares Taddeo's hostility towards the abbey. Given this, Taddeo’s mention that he needs Poet’s “conscience” can be read as a sign that Taddeo knows his support of Hannegan II is morally indefensible. The threat to the abbey has grown, as is shown by the decision to have Sandy Bowitts help protect it if necessary. Additionally, the brutal murder of Apollo and torture of Brother Claret, together with Hannegan II’s assertion of power over the Church, shows again that Hannegan II is unhindered by moral or religious scruples in his maneuvering.

Taddeo’s assertion that mankind may have been created by a preceding race just before the nuclear war directly opposes the Church’s belief that God alone has power over life. This is why Dom Paulo begins reading the Genesis account of the creation of Earth. The previous joke by Armbruster about synthesizing living matter was inspired by this opposition, and Dom Paulo clearly believes that mankind is not morally allowed to tinker with life or manipulate and attempt to control it.


Summary and Analysis: Part 2 (Fiat Lux), Chapter 20


Summary and Analysis: Part 3 (Fiat Voluntas Tua), Chapter 24