“Brother Francis Gerard of Utah might never have discovered the blessed documents, had it not been for the pilgrim … “

A Canticle for Leibowitz

Walter Miller


A Canticle for Leibowitz is the story of an unlikely saint. Isaac Leibowitz is the unwitting source of inspiration for the religious monastery (and central focus on the novel), the Albertan Order of Leibowitz; an order of monks whose sole purpose is to preserve human knowledge by hiding ‘memorabilia’ from the self-named Simpletons of the post-apocalyptic Earth.

After the Flame Deluge, the remaining population, disillusioned and angry, found their revenge killing those in power, destroying machinery, burning books, and eventually killing anyone capable of reading of writing. As an engineer, Leibowitz’s only option for survival was to join an abbey, the only source of protection for ordinary literate people. Maybe due to guilt, this is where he began his task of collecting printed materials.

The novel is split into three parts, each separated by 600 years: Fiat Homo (Let There Be Man), Fiat Lux (Let There Be Light), and Fiat Voluntas Tua (Let Thy Will Be Done). These chapter titles cleverly describe the point in human civilisation during the millennia. Starting at the tail end of the Simplification, Part One shows that humanity has been reduced to a basic hunter/gatherer existence. Written in the third person, we follow Apprentice Francis. He appears to not know the difference between rock and concrete, what falls out is, or how a blueprint is created but we are given a hint of hope at his endearing optimistic innocence. Part Two shows an era of ‘enlightenment’ (where the light bulb is rediscovered!) and the gaining of knowledge, whilst Part Three shows a fully fledged, space-faring civilisation.

Humanity is cursed to relive its past mistakes; a cycle of self-destruction. Whilst humanity’s need for change and progression becomes detrimental, the church acts as a centre of hope and forgiveness, waiting to rebuild society when the time comes. Miller touches on ideas of euthanasia, media censorship, and distrust of those in power; issues that still plague us five decades after A Canticle for Leibowitz was written.

“We only know what [the media] says, and that thing is a captive.’