BOOKS: A Canticle for Leibowitz

Just finished A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. Any thoughts from those who have read it?

I’ve read it a couple of times because a Trappist monk told me a story about it. He may have been pulling my leg, but he was one of the older monks who would have remembered. The story went that Walter Miller was a regular visiter when their monastery was near Pecos, New Mexico, back in the 40’s or 50’s. He said that Miller wrote some of the monks into the story. They later sold their property to Benedictines and moved northwest, where I used to go on retreat. Like I said, he might have been pulling my leg; he was very Irish and I’m pretty gullible. He knew I read a lot of science fiction. It’s a slow read, really interesting premise, though. I only knew a few of the monks who worked with the public, but it was fun to try to place the older ones in the book.

Sounds plausible. Although the concept of a monk “pulling one’s leg” is interesting too.:slight_smile:

One of the best and most significant works of science fiction.

Miller labored for years on a sequel, but committed suicide with the end still uncompleted. Another writer was selected to finish it, but the result, a story set roughly in the middle period of CANTICLE, was a mess. ST.LEIBOWITZ AND THE WILD HORSE WOMAN.

But he caught lightning in a jar, once at least.


I just finished reading it about a year ago.

It was well-written, brilliant science fiction. It should be on the required reading list for Honors High School students.

It was also depressing as all get-out. A real downer.

It hearkened back to the “Arms Race” protest stories, songs, speeches, slogans, etc. that came out back in the 1970s, when we were all convinced that our world would blow itself up at any minute.

Remember the ending of Planet of the Apes? And the song, “One Tin Soldier?” etc. etc. This “No Nukes” stuff was everywhere. Anyone who dared to advocate nuclear arms, nuclear power, etc. was a “hawk.”

Hippies, songsters, rock stars (mostly millionaires)–these were the “experts” who led this crusade against nuclear anything. I honestly think that this movement led to an anti-nuke feeling in this country that has made it a sin and crime to use nuclear energy, in spite of the fact that it is one of the cleanest and cheapest energy sources available. The rest of the civilized world uses nuclear power, but somehow in the U.S., we have mixed up nuclear war and nuclear energy. Bah. What fools we are.

Anyway, to me, Canticle of Liebowitz was an interesting trip back in time to that era of hippies and Joan Baez telling the President that we should stop the war and offer the Viet Cong a cup of tea. It was a “scare” novel.

Interesting that the author committed suicide. Sometimes people worry over things that will never happen. On a recent episode of The Simpsons, Lisa becomes convinced that Springfield will be gone, destroyed in 60 years, and she gets horribly depressed. The psychiatrist gives her “Ignorital”, a drug to make her forget all her troubles and be happy again.

I’m not saying we should take Ignorital and pretend that our world is perfect. The Lord says, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” I just think we shouldn’t obsess and grieve about nuclear destruction and the ending of all civilization. That’s what Canticle of Liebowitz does.

You make some very good points. I remember the Cold War mindset from my childhood in the 50’s and 60’s so the story resonated with my viscera. I liked it very much for what it was.

I got a different message (though Miller, having taken part in the bombing of Monte Cassino, and permanently affected by that, might certainly have been pointing at nukes). What I saw and see was the fact that mankind is permanently flawed, within history, will always require the Church to rebuild after men’s errors, and will always have such, even unto the stars, until the Parousia..

It was first published as a series of novellettes, 1955-1957, and published as a fix-up novel, in 1960.


I’d agree with GKC about the focus of the novel, which is much more about the cyclic nature of mankind’s history, and how (despite the best efforts of some people) people make the same mistakes over and over again, some of which can have devastating effects. There’s figures in the novel that are deliberate parallels of real historical figures (Hannegan, the Mayor of Texarkana and Henry VIII of England, for example), who make the same mistakes and bad/evil/unintended actions that happened before.

There's also some particularly gripping scenes, such as the one in which the last abbot instructs the colonists to go and spread across the Universe, taking their religion with them....but never come back to Earth, for fear that God may set up an archangel before as he did with Eden, in the light of a looming holocaust that would destroy the beauty of Earth as Eden was destroyed, or perverted, through evil actions made by mankind. Good read. Shame the way that Miller ended up, although I think he had some kind of mental illness that contributed to his suicide.

Miller was markedly reclusive, in his area. A noted SF writer who lived near him remarked on it, after the death.

Maybe means nothing.

Great book, though.


The scene I use a lot is when the abbot speaks to the young mother who is considering euthanasia.

That scene (and others) which I’ve called “The Authority Of A Simple Direct Command”
is part of my book review and recommendation here:

You Don’t Have A Soul,You Are A Soul
The visitor shrugged. “Like euthanasia? I’m sorry, Father, I feel that the laws of society are what makes something a crime or not a crime. I’m aware that you don’t agree. And there can be bad laws, ill-conceived, true. But in this case we have a good law. If I thought I had such a thing as a soul, and there was an angry God in Heaven, I might agree with you.”

Abbot Zerchi smiled thinly. “You don’t have a soul, Doctor. You are a soul. You have a body, temporarily.”

The visitor laughed politely. “A semantic confusion.”

“True. But which of us is confused? Are you sure?”



This was great dialog and it will prove to be timeless.

Miller was always troubled after the battle of Montecassino. That combined with a depression after the death of his wife contributed to his suicide I think.

I don’t think the book is an anti-nuke screed. It actually poses the technology of these kinds of weapons as an interesting test that humanity is posed by God.

This is my single favorite Catholic novel. Sometimes I wonder if we aren’t acting it out for him.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit