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The arc lamp hung in the place where the crucifix used to be

The electric lamp hung in the place where the crucifix used to be. It was in an alcove of the library. The rest of the room, in fact the rest of the monastery, was served by candlelight.

It was 3174. The Order of St. Leibowitz had established and maintained the library in the years following the nuclear war – the Flame Deluge. During the Simplification the scientists had been killed and their knowledge suppressed. The monks however had in their procession the writings of Leibowitz and others. Writings they didn’t understand but had carefully copied and persevered through the centuries.

Now was an age of Renaissance and Thon Taddeo, a secular scientist, had come to the monastery to see the Order’s collection of Memorabilia. He had been sent, along with a few military officers, by Hannegan, a ruler. A ruler with ambitions.

The scientist didn’t approve of Hannegan’s political objectives. The monastery would make a fine fort (as the monks had to resort to arms over the years to defend themselves) but that was not Thon Taddeo’s interest. He wasn’t responsible for what his prince was up to. The image of those not responsible washing their hands appears in the story. 

The abbot becomes aware of the work of the officers, “Why, are they making detailed drawings of our fortifications?”

There’s a brief war. A papal representative is brutally tortured and murdered. The church is placed under the control of the government. Hannagan’s territories grow. The thon explains himself to the abbot, “Father, I can’t fight my prince who makes my work possible–no matter what I think of his policies or his politics.” The two argue over the role of science and the responsibility of the scientist.

Thon - “If you try to save wisdom until the world is wise, father, the world will never have it.

Abbot – “I can see the misunderstanding is basic! To serve God first or to serve Hannegan first – that’s your choice.”

Thon – “I have little choice, then. Would you have me work for the Church?”


The arc lamp

There is in the story a sub plot. The story of the arc lamp. It illuminates the matter.

Brother Kornhoer, is an engineer. He has developed a "generator of electrical essences" which serves the arc lamb. It’s powered by a treadmill, which is powered by novices.

The electric lamp hung in the place where the crucifix used to be. It was in an alcove of the library. The rest of the room, in fact the rest of the monastery, was served by candlelight.

The struggle between Thon and Abbot continues, in the library along these lines.

Thon – “You would have us hampered by blind adherence, unreasoned dogma, then you would prefer –”

Abbot – “God commanded him, saying: Of every tree of paradise thou shall eat; but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shall –"

As they go on the light goes out. The novices have stopped their efforts. 

The abbot calls out, “Bring candles.”

He orders the arc lamb removed.

“Brother Kornhoer slipped into the room again. He was carrying the heavy crucifix…” It is returned to its place.

Abbot – “Who reads in this alcove henceforth, let him read ad Lumina Christi!”


Covington Catholic

Millions spent time this past week trying to discern the expression on the face of a high school student. Was it a smirk or uncertainty? Or was it both? Was it aggression or courage? Or both?

The vantagepoint had shifted. If you saw a longer video it seemed different. If you saw the Black Hebrew Israelites earlier, or Mr. Phillip’s as he moved toward the boy – it seemed more complex. Not to everyone, of course.  Some became more certain as others became more receptive to other possibilities.

“With everything from Twitter followers to television bookings, we’re rewarded for fierce conviction, for utter certainty, for emphatically taking sides and staying unconditionally faithful to what we’ve pushed for and against in the past. We each have our brand, and the narrower and more unyielding it is, the more currency it has and the more loyal our consumers. Instead of bucking the political tribalism in America, we ride it.” Frank Bruni, New York Times

Whatever will we do if we can’t get this right? If we can’t determine who is naughty and who is nice?

Sometimes the answer is to remove the arc lamp and restore the crucifix.

Much of the misdirection of this past week, and these last few years, has been our obsession. The Facebook and Twitter obsession.

A Holy Lent

What if this Lent we gave up Facebook and Twitter? What if we fasted from trying to keep up and have more friends among people we hardly know? What if we gave ourselves to a Prayer Book Lent? What if we gave our attention to the basics -- Sunday Eucharist, Daily Office, fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, special observance on other days of Lent.


The monastery eventually returns to the use of electric light. The Abbot’s removing of the arc lamp was, of course, not meant to be for all times. It was both about that moment and what is eternal.


Fait Lux       ad Lumina Christi!”