The Quest for Wisdom PHI-101

Journal IV

Journal IV (Journal for Modules 7 & 8)

Module 7 Assignments

Read The Portable Thoreau

“Where I Lived, and What I Lived For”


“Sounds,” pp. 288-290 only


1. Click on Module 7.

2. Click on GO TO arrow and this will open the drop down box.

3. Click onGuiding Questions 1, 2 and 3.



Preparation Perspective Objectives Assignments OverviewInteraction AVP Reading Materials Guided Reading 1 Guided Reading 2 Guided Reading 3 Guided Reading 4 Guiding Questions 1 Guided Reading 5 Guided Reading 6 Guided Reading 7 Guided Reading 8 Guiding Questions 2 Guiding Questions 3 Guided Reading 9 Guided Reading 10 Guided Reading 11 Guided Reading 12 Guided Reading 13 Guiding Questions 4 Guiding Questions 5 Guiding Questions 6 Guiding Questions 7Evaluation Journal Entry Review of Journal Module Progress




Interaction – Page 3 of 22








Go to:


In reading Miller, don’t be put off by the Latin. It is the overall story that counts. Some of the Latin that is important will be translated for you. The Latin is mostly for giving religious context to the story. (In 1959 the Catholic Church was pre-Vatican II [1962-1965] and had not begun to use the vernacular in the liturgy.)

Miller has a Florida connection. He was born in New Smyrna Beach (1922) and died in 1996 in Daytona Beach. He participated in 53 bombing runs over Italy and the Balkans during World War II, and these included the bombing and destruction of Monte Cassino (where Benedict had written his Rule ca. 540, and the oldest continuing monastery in the west). He converted to Roman Catholicism in 1947. Canticleis the only novel published in his lifetime. It won the Hugo Award in 1961 (science fiction’s highest award). It is brilliant, dense with significance, and provocative.

In Canticle, one of the continuing threads is provided by a monastic order, the Albertian Order of Leibowitz, so there is an irony in the fact that the author also had been a destroyer of the most historic western monastery.






Go to:


As you start, recall the importance of stories and metaphor. Miller is telling a very large story, reaching into the fourth millennium. As an artist (and engineer) he is bringing before us a complex symbol, metaphor, story. You will not get the “whole meaning,” just as you wouldn’t for a parable of Jesus’ orHamlet. And for every generation, it will say something a little different. So you’ve got some latitude here as you read and respond to this challenging work. And remember Tyler Durden’s (Fight Club) pragmatic question: “How’s that working out for you?”

Notice also that the novel is called a “canticle,” a biblical song, like Mary’s “Magnificat” in Luke (1:46-55): “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” etc.

Here’s a story that is a biblical song–or not!

The novel first appeared as three novellas. The first part, Fiat Homo, means “let there be the human being [or man].”


Read the first part, “Fiat Homo.”

To get oriented, first skip ahead and read the section in chap. 6, on pp. 62-67. So the namesake of the book is a designer of what we now call WMD. Andhemay be of a Jewish family. His first and lastnamesare certainly Jewish. 12 centuries later, Benjamin the Old Jew says Francis is a “distant relative” of his (166). (He may be Catholic also, of course; the text doesn’t say otherwise.) There was a nuclear holocaust in our time, and Bro. Francis’ day is six centuries in the future. As in the time following Benedict of Nursia, during a Dark Age a radical alternative community served to preserve some of the cultural heritage.

Now begin reading in chapter one.

The first person mentioned is–indeed the first words name–Brother Francis Gerard, AOL, but immediately there appears a pilgrim with girded loins who says later, “Still writing things backward” (7). The pilgrim is clearly Jewish (Hebrew is read from right to left), and he leaves a stone for Bro. Francis with two Hebrew characters written on it (13; the letters are identified in chap. 4, p. 45). In brief, a Jew has led Francis to relics of Blessed Isaac, the founder of their order.

A second unusual figure appears in chapter 4. Bro. Fingo is a sport and “undoubtedly the ugliest man alive” (39). It’shewho’s been carving a statue of Blessed Isaac. In chapter 8 Francis will note that there is something familiar about the smile on the carving’s face, something “somehow almost too familiar” (84). Is there some relation between the pilgrim in the desert and the statue of Isaac?

In chapter 7 Francis, thinkingglorificemus(“may we glorify,” or “let us glorify,”) as found, among other places, in the Eucharistic Prayer in the liturgy [78]) works on an illuminated copy of the original Leibowitz blueprint. This has the happy result in chapter 10 that the copy is stolen by the robber and not the original, as Pope Leo XXI later points out to Francis (111-112)!

Comment as you wish in your journal, but include a response to the following question.


What do you make of Miller’s notion that religious inspiration can create a culture-saving alternative community? Not that Benedict himself originally intended this effect, of course; Leibowitz, however, clearly intended it. One might think that our Dark Ages are past us now and we can go on to better things, but Miller is suggesting otherwise. Is this an unrealistic idea? Notice the positive and close link he’s making between religion and culture. Scientists work for politicians and military who destroy civilization, while ordinary people revolt in the “Simplification,” rejecting learning (63).

Are Americans tempted to oversimplification? Remember that the Puritans’ religious direction was not accepted by most Americans. Southern Baptist and Methodists became characteristic of American culture– grape juice, not wine for communion, and preachers who were not required to graduate from a seminary that itself required Latin and Greek.

A nuclear weapons engineer founds a new monastic order that preserves learning? He becomes canonized and a mutant carves his statue with a “wry smile” (84)? And the face seems to remind Francis of the pilgrim in the desert?

Wry smile? Is there something ironic about our civilization? That is, do we act like we know what all we’re doing when we really don’t?


Who’s in control?

Dom Paulo and Thon Taddeo debate concerning science, religion, and responsibility (the Poet had already mentioned responsibility [205]). The thon accuses the abbot of believing it is necessary to wait until people are holy, pure, and wise before they can have science. The abbot had asked: “Who will govern the use of power to control natural forces. Who will use it? To what end? How will you hold him in check?” (224).

This is a good question, isn’t it? American political thinkers have certainly worried with it. Liberal democracy itself–insofar as it objects to concentrations of power–is supposed to be at least part of the answer, but inCanticlethere are no democracies to be found. Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon (Vietnam), George W. Bush (Iraq): who will hold them in check? Recalling church history, crusades, and inquisitions, the question has an ecclesiastical application too.

You might notice that economic forces are not addressed, and so there is no discussion of corporate influence on government and which wars get fought. The level of the economy is low in the periods under consideration, but it certainly is a factor in our time.

So the question remains, who’s in control?

If the world consisted only of liberal democracies, there would be little chance of war. But the world is not such a place.

So the question remains, who’s in control?

Module 8 Assignments

Read Walter M. Miller Jr.:A Canticle for Leibowitz.

1. Click on Module 8.

2. Click on GO TO arrow and this will open the drop down box.

3. Click onGuiding Questions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7.


The final sectionFiat Voluntas Tuarecalls Jesus words in Gethsemani according to Matthew (26: 42), and we might hazard a guess that a lot of suffering will be forthcoming in this year of Our Lord 3781.

Before reading the last section, consider these two sentences:

“Children Â… of Eve, forever building Edens–and kicking them apart in berserk fury because somehow it isn’t the same” (246).

Abbot Zerchi to Brother Joshua: “Is the species congenitally insane, Brother? If we’re born mad, where’s the hope of Heaven? Through Faith alone? Or isn’t there any?” (261).

The first states his overall thesis about human motivation; the second asks if there is any ground for hope.Canticlewill offer some ground for hope, but it will be perhaps as bizarre as the descending destruction is terrible.



What may we hope for and what do we need to do to bring it about?

You know what is not the answer, right? We do not need to aggravate people so much that they want to make a suicide attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. You remember Chief Crazy Horse, don’t you? On June 25, 1876 he along with Sitting Bull, and Gall, none of whom wanted to be put on a reservation, defeated George Custer in the battle of the Little Big Horn. Well, today “Crazy Horse” can access very destructive weapons.

Miller is dealing with empires. It turns out that some contemporary “neoconservative” political thinkers have used the term “empire” for the United States’ influence in the world and have also employed the old Roman term modified as Pax Americana (instead of Romana), “American peace [by the force of the empire, of course].”


Now recall some simple facts from stories that you already know: Moses (Egypt?), Jesus and Paul (Rome?), Benedict of Nursia (Christian Rome?), Francis of Assisi (Lady Poverty versus riches of church and state), the Plymouth Colony (England?). Do you see the counter-imperial story line here? It’s as if the “Kingdom of God,” to use Israel’s metaphor, and any imperium do not mix. Do you also see the lay emphasis? The primary Jewish liturgy, the Passover meal, is celebrated by the family with no priest required. The Jesus movement was a lay movement, as were the movements initiated by the first Christians, Benedict and his “brothers” (and “sisters”), and Francis. The Puritans, of course, didn’t have “priests” and were Separatists, and they would be part of that gathering tradition out of which would come the ideal of a secular, liberal democracy whose hallmarks are liberty, equality, tolerance, and compassion for the needy.

To greatly oversimplify, they were all saying that peace comes through love.

So, how do we love? How do we get to those conditions where we don’t draw the separative distinctions that lead to homicide?

Lest Miller sound too strange, we might remember that Catholic theology has had a certain processive dimension for some time, in the sense that those in purgatory are believed to undergo a process of cleansing that opens them up to full communion with God. And Teilhard de Chardin (mentioned in module IV in connection with Aquinas’ Fifth Way) saw the whole cosmos as undergoing an evolution centered on Christ, the Omega Point, wherenoogenesis(the evolution of spirit) would becomeChristogenesis(evolution of the Body of Christ) where a new humanity would ultimately be bound together by love, so that we today can barely imagine what life might look like in, say, 500,000 years from now. In this context, the resurrection of Jesus and the assumption of Mary put them “ahead of their time,” so to speak. And Miller compares Rachel to Mary. We might also imagine that part of the purpose for monastic vocations is to nurture examples and teachers of love.

Spiritual growth is naturally one kind of answer then. You might recall Thoreau, Pieper, and their interest in contemplation at this point. Teilhard himself thought that the process would be (at least partly) mystical in nature. And lest the bizarreness of the Rachel incident lead you in the wrong direction, it might be noticed that mystics like the Benedictine monk John Main are often keen to emphasize the ordinariness of a truly loving life. The same ordinary life is there–only without the sense of division and separation from others, nature, and God which characterizes “normal” life.

You may have noticed that women and love don’t figure much in Miller’s account. This may indicate a major weakness in his story–if we are to think with our Puritan ancestors that love is to be embodied primarily in ordinary human relationships.

In your response, you may if you wish also make the grim case that there is no hope. There is no “proof” either way, of course, as in all things that are really important.

Our Essay Format
  • Times New Roman, 12 pt
  • 1 Inch Margins
  • Double/ Single Spacing
  • 275/ 550 Words Per Page
  • MLA/ APA/ Turabian/ Chicago style, etc

A standard double-spaced page contains 275 words

Free Features
  • Hiring a preferred expert
  • Bibliography & cover page
  • Revisions within 14-30 days
  • 24/7 customer support

Team of Professional Essay Writers

With our essay service, you'll find an essay writer for any task. Their rating is based on previous customer reviews and successful orders. Before you hire a writer, you can familiarize yourself with their track record in detail.