A Canticle for Leibowitz

by Walter M. Miller Jr.

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

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New Characters
Doctor Cors: a doctor who examines victims of the nuclear war

Father Lehy: a priest at the abbey

Zerchi and his guest, Doctor Cors, are sitting in Zerchi’s study listening to the announcer tell listeners that 2,800,000 people are estimated to have died from the Asian coalition’s attack on Texarkana. The announcer says radiation victims who believe they will die soon must go the closest Green Star Relief Station, where a magistrate is ready to give them writs allowing them to be euthanized. If the victims do not do this, and instead kill themselves, their heirs may not receive benefits provided by the radiation relief law, and anyone assisting such suicides may face prosecution for murder. Zerchi angrily turns off the receiver and looks down at the abbey courtyard, which is filled with people who have fled from Texarkana. Zerchi tells Cors the authorities are merely sponsoring suicide with their euthanasia law, but Cors defends the policy as merciful and good.

Cors works with the Green Star Relief Station, but only as part of the Exposure Survey Team, not with the Mercy Cadre that carries out euthanasia. Cors tells Zerchi his team plans to set up two mobile treatment units in the courtyard to treat the people. Zerchi notes that Cors’s team can give radiation victims the permits that the victims will need if they want to be euthanised, but Cors points out that the back of the permits contain a notice of the victims’ rights. This notice must be read to the victim before the victim can be approved for euthanasia. Zerchi tells Cors his team will not give out the permits in his abbey, and Cors says his team can set up at the roadside park two miles away, which most of the victims would need to walk to. Zerchi tells Cors his team can use the courtyard if they promise not to advise victims to go to mercy camps for euthanasia. When Cors objects to this restriction, Zerchi says he cannot permit the team to give out such advice because he knows it is wrong to allow the team to give out the advice. Cors agrees to sign a written promise that he “will not recommend euthanasia to any patient while at this abbey.” Zerchi takes the paper Cors has signed and calls for Patrick, his secretary. Zerchi bemoans that Cors has argued in favor of euthanasia only on the grounds that “pain is the only evil I know about” and “the laws of society are what makes something a crime or not a crime.”

Patrick gives Zerchi a letter and leaves. The letter says Joshua and the twenty-six other monks have left from New Rome for an unspecified location in the West. However, the starship has not launched yet. ZDI, a commission that needs to approve the launch, has not granted approval yet. The readers here learn that a pact between the Church and the government allows the Church to send starships to all open installations or outposts, which may exempt the starship from needing ZDI approval. Zerchi hopes the starship can launch before ZDI finds out about its plans to launch. At this point, it has been nine days since the nuclear explosion at Texarkana.

An abbey monk reports to Zerchi that he saw a refugee camp being established at the roadside park. Zerchi welcomes the news because the abbey’s courtyard is already overcrowded with refugees. He goes up to an abbey watchtower carrying a thin book of poems said to be written by a mythical Poet of the Miraculous Eyeball. Zerchi...

(This entire section contains 1919 words.)

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wonders if this Poet is the same one who was at the abbey when Taddeo visited it, but he supposes that it is by one of the scientists who studied the Memorabilia around the time of Taddeo’s visit. Zerchi browses the book, which discusses the possibility of proving God’s existence through natural reason, but he soon grows tired of it and picks up his binoculars to look at the roadside park, where a Green Star Relief Station is indeed being set up. He sees a large red engine, and one truck loaded with urns or vases, and another with a huge statue. He suspects the pottery is going to be used to store the ashes of cremated people after they are euthanised, and they will be cremated in the large red engine. Zerchi goes to Cors, who says he has nothing to do with such things. When Zerchi learns that the relief station will not move the crematorium, he orders two monks to make some signs.

At the abbey church, Cors meets Zerchi at midnight and tells Zerchi he broke his promise, and his crew will leave the abbey courtyard right away. Zerchi and Cors dispute Cors’s decision to recommend euthanasia for the two radiation victims, a young widow and her child, before Zerchi goes to the two, who are lying on a cot in the guesthouse. The woman shows Zerchi her red ticket. He hands her a rosary, and tells her to use it, and not to be euthanised or have her child euthanised.

An announcer says the conference on Guam has ended, and the governments who met at the conference are likely discussing their options before returning to reconvene at the conference. The announcer also believes the cease-fire agreement will hold. The announcer reports that Pope Gregory has stopped praying for peace, and a Mass against the Heathen and a Mass in Time of War have been sung in New Rome. Zerchi orders the set to be turned off, and says he believes the Vatican has sent the Pope a report on the Guam conference, and the Pope is losing faith in the prospects for peace, which is why the masses were sung. He talks to a Father Lehy about the buzzards that are circling over the Green Star camp by the roadside.

Zerchi then goes into the courtyard, where he sees Mrs. Grales with a basket of tomatoes for the abbey. Zerchi turns to leave, and she asks for a minute of his time. For a moment, Zerchi thinks Rachel, her second head, has awakened, but then Mrs. Grales asks him to hear her confession. He agrees and asks her to meet him in the Lady Chapel in roughly thirty minutes. When Mrs. Grales nods her assent, Zerchi thinks he sees Rachel nod as well. He walks to the abbey garage and gets into the automatic car, which drives itself past the abbey gate. Zerchi sees the woman and her child standing by the road. He stops the car and gets out. The woman tells Zerchi she needs to go to town, and after initially telling her to rest instead, he agrees to drive her and her child into town. As the three climb in, Zerchi guesses that the child is a girl.

The car approaches the Green Star camp, in front of which five abbey novices are carrying the newly made signs, which read, “Abandon Every Hope Ye Who Enter Here," which is a direct reference to Dante's Inferno. Two police cars and some officers are watching this protest, which is being heckled by a small crowd. Zerchi think the officers mean to get a writ that will stop the protest. He sees that the camp has put up a statue of Christ by the gate to the camp, which he dislikes for its effeminacy. He asks the woman to offer her pain to God, and when she objects, he says God does not enjoy pain, but the soul’s endurance in the face of pain. Zerchi tells her a story about killing his cat when he was a boy. He says he killed it after it was seriously injured by a truck, and he repeatedly failed in his effort to kill it before finally succeeding. He confesses his guilt over this to the woman, then tells her not to kill her child, which she says is female.

They drive into the city, where Zerchi mails a letter, discusses the refugee situation with a priest, and gets the latest civil defense bulletin from ZDI. The woman remains in the car, and as he gets in to drive back to the abbey, she says she has changed her mind, and might let the sisters at the abbey take care of her daughter. Zerchi sees that the signs are no longer being carried and that two officers and a third man are talking to the novices. An officer stops the car automatically with his traffic baton, and the officers go over to the car. Zerchi asks to be allowed to go back to the abbey with the woman and daughter, then come back alone. The woman looks up at the statue of Christ and says she’s getting out here. Zerchi forbids her to do this, and the officer tells Zerchi he has no power to issue such an order.

The officer questions the woman, and she says she and her daughter will get out. Zerchi tries to drive away at this point, but the officer hits the Cancel button to stop him, and takes out the ignition key. The woman’s daughter is taken out of the car by Cors, who has made his way to the car. Zerchi is ordered out of the car, and served with a restraining order by a court official. Zerchi tells the novices to get rid of their signs and go into the car. When Cors comes over to offer some sympathy to Zerchi, Zerchi lands a punch on his face. The officers take Zerchi to a police cruiser. In that car, Zerchi regrets that he failed to convince the woman not to go into the Green Star camp. However, Cors declines to file a complaint, and the officers decide not to enforce the summons, and let Zerchi drive back to the abbey with the novices.

Zerchi’s arguments with Cors over euthanasia bring to a climax the issue of Church authority vs. secular, government authority. Dom Paulo had constant issues with Taddeo about Taddeo’s acceptance of Hannegan II’s brutal methods, as well as the possibility that Hannegan II intended to conquer the abbey. Here, again, the Church finds itself in battle against the government, this time because it upholds an unpopular moral teaching rather than submitting to the secular authority. Zerchi fails to succeed, however, and his defeat and humiliation at the hands of the police may serve as a symbolic premonition that the Church’s very survival is threatened by the authorities and their nuclear weapons.

Zerchi’s disgust at the effeminacy of the statue of Christ shows that he sees Christ as a militant, strong, and fearless defender of morality. Zerchi, like Christ, tries to uphold the Church’s moral standards rather than meekly submit to the instructions of the government. But Zerchi only raises a ruckus in mounting a spirited but ultimately hopeless effort to save the woman and her baby from being euthanised.

The Pope’s lack of faith in the negotiations on Guam that aim to prevent a nuclear war parallels Zerchi’s distrust of the authorities. At this time of extreme peril, the Church is turning inward and seeking to preserve itself. It believes the authorities will not stop the nuclear war from happening, and since it cannot stop the war, it will at least attempt to carry on its mission on other planets.


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


Summary and Analysis: Part 3 (Fiat Voluntas Tua), Chapters 29-30