Study Guide

Brother Francis Gerard in A Canticle for Leibowitz

Brother Francis Gerard

You've got to love Francis. Well, maybe you don't have to love him, but we sure do. When you think of a protagonist who spends his days in a Medieval-style era, you probably imagine a knight or a regular old Robin Hood.

You know, someone who is not afraid to stand toe-to-toe with his enemies to protect the kingdom. Or save the damsel-in-distress from a dastardly stepmother. Or save a treasure-in-distress from a dragon. (Maybe a damsel and some treasure, if he's having a particularly good day.)

But in Fiat Homo, we get Francis. He's a squirmy, milquetoast, soft-spoken man who has a habit of fainting. So why does A Canticle choose Brother Francis as its first protagonist? He's basically Old Faithful.

Faithful Francis

Francis's faith in God and the supernatural is solid. Solid like—oh, a particularly dense mineral aggregate. He believes in demons and possession, as is shown by his interactions with the wanderer.

When Abbot Arkos asks him whether the wanderer was natural or supernatural, Francis considers, that for him, "there was no neat straight line separating the Natural from the Supernatural order, but rather, an intermediate twilight zone" (4.112). The two just kind of live together in one big, blurry reality.

Later, Brother Jeris teases Francis about his lack of knowledge of the Leibowitz blueprint. Jeris's point is that although Francis admires and wishes to preserve the blueprint, he doesn't actually understand it. Francis responds by saying:

I don't know. But I have a certain faith that the 'electron' existed at one time, although I don't know how it was constructed or what it might have been used for. (7.83)

Notice the use of the word faith in that last example. Even though he's talking about science. Interesting, huh?

So, Brother Francis believes in the supernatural even if it remains beyond his perception. He has faith in science although he can't understand it. In other words, he's the character in which both science and religion find an odd, but common, ground. Francis cannot prove the existence of an electron anymore than he can prove the existence of God.

Yet, he believes both are necessary for humanity to reclaim what it lost after the Flame Deluge. In the world Francis lives in, science cannot survive without the Church's scriptoriums and libraries.

As we'll see in Fiat Lux and Fiat Voluntas Tua, the institutions of science and religion do drift apart from each other in this book. But at least in Francis, they are held in one warm, brotherly hug for a brief while.

(Un)Politically Correct

Francis is the best kind of guy to talk politics with: the kind that doesn't ever talk politics.

Case in point: Brother Francis's story about his encounter with the old wanderer. Francis wants Leibowitz to be accepted as a Saint. In fact, he refers to him as a saint several times before Leibowitz's actual sainthood is obtained (2.35 for example). Clearly, someone's anxious.

But even though he badly wants to see Leibowitz beatified, Francis refuses to play any political games that might enhance the odds of his beatification—unlike Abbot Arkos (his foil). Arkos tries to suppress knowledge of the Fallout Shelter and Francis's Lenten encounter to better Leibowitz's chances (6.1).

Francis doesn't try to suppress knowledge, nor does he try to make things seem better than they are. He just tells it like it is, and he stays honest throughout the whole novel.

Here are just a few examples of this dude's trustworthiness:

  • He refuses to change his story even though Arkos keeps him from taking his vows for seven long years (7.1).
  • He corrects Monsignor Aguerra's story about the wanderer, removing all references of halos and heavenly choirs. This loss of "miracle number seven" hurts, albeit barely, Leibowitz's chances of sainthood (8.65).
  • He tells the same story to Monsignor Flaught, despite the fact that Flaught is working against Leibowitz's case (9.27).

Francis is one of the only characters whose moral compass frees him from the currents of his society's politics. Bam.

The Possibilities are Endless

Okay, not endless. Still, there are many real historical figures the character of Francis might have been named after. Besides a bunch of French kings named Francis, there are also several figures in Catholic history named Francis: Francis de Sales, Francis Xavier, and even a Pope Francis.

But the most likely candidate is probably St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis was famous for his devotion to Jesus and his desire to follow his example. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? St. Francis also founded his own order, the Franciscans, while our Francis was instrumental in crafting the future of the Leibowitzian order.

The resemblance is striking. Francises: ever faithful, always industrious, and a little boring. But hey, we admire 'em.