So I’m starting early this year with what I’m going to classify as literature. And yeah, it felt like lit. This was a long, slow read for me but it was rewarding when it was over; not so much because it was exciting or dramatic, but because I feel like I learned a few things.
As I’ve already stated, I’m getting in touch with my inner Catholic this year so this book goes along with that effort. It’s a mystery that takes place in an abbey in Italy that is accused by the Pope of heresy (year 1327). Set against the backdrop of a visit from the Pope’s envoy to assess the heresy are some grisly murders in the abbey. William, a visiting monk from England, arrives at the abbey in advance of the envoy as somewhat of an unbiased interlocutor (did I use that correctly?) but he seems to be sympathetic to the abbey. He also voraciously pursues the evildoer who is committing the murders.
The story is told from the first person perspective of William’s sidekick, a young monk named Adso. It takes place during one of the many upheavals in the church. In this time period, Michael of Cesena is in a serious disagreement with the Pope about how strictly to practice the vow of poverty. Michael believed in the strictest teachings of Saint Francis of Assisi and the Pope viewed this as heretical. Michael is at this abbey during the time, so the book combines some history and fiction.
Interesting stuff to me because this is roughly the same time period as World Without End and gives a little deeper insight into how the church was being affected by forward thinking types who combined science and philosophy with theology, like Sir Roger Bacon and William of Occam. Both of these men were coming at things from a philosophical and scientific perspective that often made the church uncomfortable.
William, the fictional main character, uses logic and science to track down the killer and to try and reason with the inquisitors who seem to be biased against Michael of Cesena and his followers. It was, at times, an exciting mystery and interesting character study. William appears to have the ability to remain faithful to his religion while relying heavily on the scientific method for his daily work. I think this is one of the messages, that science and faith can coexist.
Unfortunately, the book was full of side trips into fantastical dreams and theological discussions that were lost on me. It would have been a much better read had I done my research on the people and times before hand.