A Canticle for Leibowitz

by Walter M. Miller Jr.

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Summary and Analysis: Part 3 (Fiat Voluntas Tua), Chapters 25-26

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The Defense Minister is holding another press conference as news of the increases in radiation levels has become common knowledge. A female reporter asks him about two recent nuclear explosions that violated international law, and the Minister claims that only one violation has occurred. This violation, he says, was an explosion at Itu Wan in Asia, which was not his government’s fault. He denies the reporter’s charge that the explosion Joshua and Zerchi have just speculated about occurred, and maintains that the Itu Wan explosion was a test by Asia. He says there will be no war, but his government’s armed forces are ready to be conscripted by the World Court to enforce any ruling it makes against Asia. However, another reporter notes that the Asian coalition has warned it will strike against the government’s space installations if the Court does not act against the government.

Zerchi has watched this press conference via satellite and turns it off feeling anxiety over the possibility of a nuclear war. Joshua comes into Zerchi’s office, and Zerchi says New Rome has responded to Zerchi’s message by saying the abbey should do nothing in regards to the Quo pereginatur plan. But it has also sent a second telegram telling the abbey to dismiss the earlier telegram and reactivate the Quo pereginatur plan. The abbey is to prepare a cadre to leave within three days and begin implementing the plan. Zerchi explains to Joshua that the Quo pereginatur is a plan to allow the Church to continue on other planets if Earth is devastated. The plan includes a starship and a crew to staff it and live on the colony planets. Joshua realizes that he would be part of this crew, which would include many other former starship operators at the abbey. Zerchi reminds Joshua that he said he would be willing to go back into space on the Order of Saint Leibowitz’s request, and that the Order, its priests and monks, and the Memorabilia, which is now on microfilm, would go to Centaurus Colony under the Quo pereginatur plan. Zerchi asks if Joshua is willing to go, could lead the crew, and if he feels ready to become a priest, and gives him three days, perhaps fewer, to give his answers.

Zerchi and Joshua leave the old abbey and cross the six-lane highway, but Zerchi realizes Mrs. Grales is waiting to give the abbey her surplus tomatoes. The two cross back to the woman, whose second head is small, blind, deaf, mute, and apparently witless. Mrs. Grales offers her tomatoes, and asks Zerchi if “little Rachel” can be baptized soon. Zerchi says she should do this at Father Selo’s church, which is in her own parish, but she says he refused to baptize Rachel. As Mrs. Grales talks, Joshua stares at her and tugs at Zerchi, and the two men depart from Mrs. Grales. Joshua tells Zerchi he was wondering who Rachel is. Zerchi says Rachel may be her daughter, or sister, or her second head. He adds that people say Mrs. Grales didn’t have the second head when she was born, and Joshua explains that he was staring at her because the second head smiled, and he thought it would wake up.

Joshua and Zerchi head into the abbey’s new refectory, where the supper meal has been delayed. Father Lehy, the abbey’s prior, goes to the lectern and says, “Lucifer is fallen,” referring to a nuclear explosion. Zerchi cautions that this is only Joshua’s conclusion, but he adds that the World Court is holding an emergency session, and the Defense Interior department...

(This entire section contains 1604 words.)

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is busy. Lehy tells the audience that the abbey will sing the Office of Our Lady before Matins to ask for peace, that a paper of instructions for civil defense in case of a nuclear attack should be read by the entire abbey, and that if an attack warning sounds, twenty-seven brothers, including Joshua, should report to the old abbey’s courtyard for instructions. The twenty-seven are also instructed to submit to physical examinations the next day. Zerchi cautions the brothers again not to assume war is about to begin and reminds them that nuclear weapons have existed for almost two hundred years without a wide-scale nuclear war.

Zerchi stops speaking when he sees the old beggar at the beggar’s table. Zerchi concludes his speech and walks over to the beggar, who says he is Lazarus. That night, Joshua dreams that Mrs. Grales’s second head has awakened and tells him she is the Immaculate Conception. On the same night, the Atlantic coalition attacks the Asian coalition’s space installations, and Asia retaliates by destroying the city of Texarkana with a nuclear missile.

The next morning, an announcer reports on the Asian attack. He says the royal family and regency council are safe, the World Court has ordered a cease-fire, and the Asian and Atlantic coalitions have agreed to the order. However, the government says it will obey the order for just ten days, if the Asian coalition meets it on Guam. The Asian coalition maintains that Itu Wan was caused by an Atlantic missile. Zerchi and Joshua hear this report in Zerchi’s study, where Zerchi ponders about how men do not obey God’s law. Some of the twenty-seven brothers have gathered in the courtyard, and while Joshua goes there, Zerchi takes out the Quo pereginatur plans and hands them to Joshua to read when he returns. As Joshua read the plans, a wire from Cardinal Hoffstraff confirms the plan and asks the abbey to speed up its implementation of the plan. Zerchi sends a reply to the Cardinal, then asks Joshua about his answers to the three questions. Joshua says he’s willing to go but doesn’t know if he can be a priest. Zerchi tells him he needs an answer now, but Joshua hesitates, and Zerchi says he can take a half-hour to decide. Joshua maintains his hesitation, and Zerchi asks if Joshua feels he has the inner resources necessary to be a priest. Joshua still hesitates, and Zerchi asks him to come to church with an answer soon.

Joshua goes to the courtyard alone to ponder his decision. He hears the monks chant a prayer for peace from the church, then watches them depart and walk toward their cells. He wonders about the goal of perpetuating the Church by performing the starship mission. He asks, “Why do I have to leave, Lord?” and whether or not he should go. Joshua asks God for a sign to help him decide and hears a slithering from the dry leaves under the courtyard’s rose bushes. Then he feels something nudge at his wrist. Joshua jumps away and throws a rock into the rose bushes. He sees dawn break over the sky and again wonders what his decision should be. As Joshua heads back into the church, he thinks, “You’d sent it, knowing I’d throw stones at it, wouldn’t you?” He comes inside, and Zerchi motions for him to come to him. Joshua tells Zerchi he accepts the starship mission. The plane that will take the twenty-seven monks to New Rome, where they will board the starship, has been approved to take off thanks to a friendship between a cardinal archbishop and an air marshal. Zerchi gives the twenty-seven monks a last message before they leave, telling them the cardinal who will join their mission will become Pope if life on Earth is destroyed. The starship will serve as their monastery, and they will take the Memorabilia with them. Zerchi walks off the plane after blessing the twenty-seven monks.

The existence of a World Court indicates that the world has probably created the court as a way to govern the threat posed by nuclear weapons. This threat has prompted the Church to draw up the Quo pereginatur contingency plans for continuing the Church on other planets. It seems the Church has learned from the long-ago nuclear war that should another war happen, its very existence will be threatened. Joshua’s indecision in the face of learning that he may have to lead the starship mission parallels Francis’s uncertainty about who the pilgrim was. Like Francis, Joshua is not yet a fully trained monk and is full of doubts and uncertainty. Like Francis journeying to New Rome, he finally asserts himself in deciding to lead the mission and step into the position the Church has chosen for him. His final decision to join the mission is prompted by what certainly seems to be a snake, which, given the garden-like setting of the churchyard, is a clear reminder of the snake in the Garden of Eden tempting Adam and Eve to sin.

The man who is called Lazarus strongly recalls Benjamin and the pilgrim. It seems likely that all three are in fact the same character, somehow managing to live from the time when Francis was alive. If this is true, Lazarus’s arrival at the abbey is probably linked to the stories about a possible nuclear war, and he is probably also a figure of symbolic and perhaps religious significance. The original Lazarus was raised from death by Christ, but this Lazarus is arriving at the abbey during a time full of ominous warnings of the nuclear war. Rachel, like Lazarus, is clearly an important figure, and Mrs. Grales’s request that she be baptized, and her seeming to wake up, indicate that she too is linked to the possibility of a nuclear war.


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


Summary and Analysis: Part 3 (Fiat Voluntas Tua), Chapters 27-28