I concluded that Adso’s memoirs appropriately share the nature of the events he narrates: shrouded in many, shadowy mysteries, beginning with the identity of the author and ending with the abbey’s location, about which Adso is stubbornly, scrupulously silent.
On sober reflection, I find few reasons for publishing my Italian version of an obscure, neo-Gothic French version of a seventeenth-century Latin edition of a work written in Latin by a German monk toward the end of the fourteenth century.
Michael of Cesena […] proclaimed as a matter of faith and doctrine the poverty of Christ. A worth resolution, meant to safeguard the virtue and purity of the order, it highly displeased the Pope, who perhaps discerned in it a principle that would jeopardize the very claims that he, as head of the church, had made, denying the empire the right to elect bishops, and asserting on the contrary that the papal throne had the right to invest the emperor.
[The] divine plan will one day encompass the science of machines, which is natural and healthy magic. […] Unheard-of machines are possible.
But you must not worry if they do not exist, because that does not mean they will not exist later.
“My good Adso,” my master said, “during our whole journey I have been teaching you to recognize the evidence through which the world speaks to us like a great book.”
“Why,” he asked, “do you insist on speaking of criminal acts without referring to their diabolical cause?”
“Because reasoning about causes and effects is a very difficult thing, and I believe the only judge of that can be God. We are already hard put to establish a relationship between such an obvious effect as a charred tree and the lightning bolt that set fire to it, so to trace sometimes endless chains of causes and effects seems to me as foolish as trying to build a tower that will touch the sky.”
[O]nly the librarian knows, from the collocation of the volume, from its degree of inaccessibility, what secrets, what truths or falsehoods, the volume contains. Only he decides how, when, and whether to give it to the monk who requests it; sometimes he first consults me. Because not all truths are for all ears, not all falsehoods can be recognized as such by a pious soul.
“The spirit is serene only when it contemplates the truth and takes delight in good achieved, and truth and good are not to be laughed at. That is why Christ did not laugh. Laughter foments doubt.”
“But sometimes it is right to doubt.”
“I cannot see any reason. When you are in doubt, you must turn to an authority, to the words of a father or of a doctor; then all reason for doubt ceases.”
And, Benno added with a smile, how many times had he himself not been stirred by desires of the intellect so violent that to satisfy them he would have consented to complying with others' carnal desires, even against his own inclination.
This place of forbidden knowledge is guarded by many and most cunning devices. Knowledge is used to conceal, rather than to enlighten. I don’t like it. A perverse mind presides over the holy defense of the library.
There, I said to myself, are the reasons for the silence and the darkness that surround the library: it is the preserve of learning but can maintain this learning unsullied only if it prevents its reaching anyone at all, even the monks themselves. Learning is not like a coin, which remains physically whole even through the most infamous transactions; it is, rather like a very handsome dress, which is worn out through use and ostentation. Is not a book like that, in fact? Its pages crumble, its ink and gold turn dull, if too many hands touch it.
This is the illusion of heresy. The faith a movement proclaims doesn't count: what counts is the hope it offers. Scratch the heresy and you will find the leper. Every battle against heresy wants only to keep the leper as he is.
I did not understand then why the men of the church and of the secular arm were so violent against people who wanted to live in poverty […]. And I spoke of this with a man standing near me, for I could not keep silent any more. He smiled mockingly and said to me that a monk who practices poverty sets a bad example for the populace, for then they cannot accept monks who do not practice it.
“But then,” I said, “what is the use of hiding books, if from the books not hidden you can arrive at the concealed ones?”
“Over the centuries it is no use at all. In a space of years or days it has some use. You see, in fact, how bewildered we are.”
“And is a library then, an instrument not for distributing the truth
but for delaying its appearance?" I asked, dumbfounded.
“This area called LEONES contains the books that the creators of the library considered books of falsehood. What's over there?”
“They're in Latin, but from the Arabic. Aryub al-Ruhawi, a treatise on canine hydrophobia. And this is a book of treasures. And this is De aspectibus of Alhazen...”
“You see, among monsters and falsehoods they have also placed works of science from which Christians have much to learn.”
Books are not made to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry. When we consider a book, we mustn't ask ourselves what it says but
what it means […]. The unicorn, as these books speak of him, embodies a moral truth, or allegorical, or analogical, but one that remains true, as the idea that chastity is a noble virtue remains true.
[Jesus] did not want the apostles to have command and dominion, and therefore it seemed a wise thing that the successors of the apostles should be relieved of any worldly or coercive power. If the pope, the bishops, and the priests were not subject to the worldly and coercive power of the prince, the authority of the prince would be challenged, and thus, with it, an order would be challenged that […] had been decreed by God.
What Bernard wanted was clear. Without the slightest interest in knowing who had killed the other monks, he wanted only to show that Remigio somehow shared the ideas propounded by the Emperor's theologians. And once he had shown the connection between those ideas […] and had shown that one man in that abbey subscribed to all those heresies and had been the author of many crimes, he would thus have dealt a truly mortal blow to his adversaries.
The good of a book lies in its being read. A book is made up of signs that speak of other signs, which in their turn speak of things. Without an eye to read them, a book contains signs that produce no concepts; therefore it is dumb. This library was perhaps born to save the books it houses, but now it lives to bury them.
This crypt is a beautiful epitome of the debates on poverty you have been following these past few days. And now you know why your brothers make mincemeat of one another as they aspire to the position of abbot.
The language of gems is multiform: each expresses several truths, according to the sense of the selected interpretation, according to the context in which they appear. And who decides what is the proper context? You know, my boy, for they have taught you: it is authority, the most reliable commentator of all and the most invested with prestige, and therefore with sanctity. Otherwise how to avoid the misunderstandings into which the Devil lures us?
“He wants me to leave tomorrow morning, does he? Very well, it’s his house; but by tomorrow morning I must know. I must.”
“You must? Who obliges you now?”
“No one ever obliges us to know, Adso. We must, that is all, even if we comprehend imperfectly.”
The Devil is the arrogance of the spirit, faith without smile, truth that is never seized by doubt. […]And now I say to you that, in the infinite whirl of possible things, God allows you also to imagine a world where the presumed interpreter of the truth is nothing but a clumsy raven, who repeats words learned long ago.
The library had been doomed by its own impenetrability, by the mystery that protected it, by its few entrances. The church, maternally open to all in the hour of prayer, was open to all in the hour of succor. But there was no more water, or at least very little could be found stored, and the wells supplied it with a parsimony that did not correspond to the urgency of the need.
“I have never doubted the truth of signs, Adso; they are the only things man has with which to orient himself in the world. What I did not understand was the relation among signs. I arrived at Jorge through an apocalyptic pattern that seemed to underlie all the crimes, and yet it was accidental. […] Where is all my wisdom, then? I behaved stubbornly, pursuing a semblance of order, when I should have known well that there is no order in the universe.”
Mine was a poor harvest, but I spent a whole day reaping it, as if from those disiecta membra of the library a message might reach me. […] At the end of my patient reconstruction, I had before me a kind of lesser library a symbol of the greater, vanished one: a library made up of fragments, quotations, unfinished sentences, amputated stumps of books.