68k Mentat

A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter Miller



After the nuclear holocaust of the 20th Century, nuclear engineer I.E. Leibowitz became a penitant monk who founded a new monastic order dedicated to preserving as much of the pre-diluvian knowledge as possible prior to being martyred by the surviving anti-intellectual masses. In part one, we see the novice Francis discover actual written artifacts from Leibowitz, which become relics and help prove Leibowitz’s canonization. In part two, humanity has finally caught up to 19th-century technology. A modern thinker visits the abby, to discover that all of his “discoveries” had already been written and preserved in the vaults. War breaks out as the scientist’s cousin enacts his plans for a continent-wide empire, resulting in a religious schism as the abby defies the leader’s rule over the church. In part three, technology has surpassed the 1960s, and as nuclear war breaks out again, the Church orders the abby to follow its contingency plan of forming a second partriarchate by sending a team from the abby to space to establish its church in the colonies.


The issues of “science vs. the Church” and “the Church vs. State” are obvious here. Miller leaves it mostly implicit that the Church’s mission of preserving faith and the well-being of humanity includes preserving knowledge and civilization (after all, what even is the Bible?). Ultimately, the Catholic Church is assumed to be and presented as a good thing. The cyclical nature of history is also present, as the novel is a callback to the medieval “Dark Ages” as well as the post-WWII anxiety of nuclear war.


I almost wrote that there are no women in this story, but there is one woman who serve as a pious leper-figure and factors into the interpretation of the final chapter.