Throughout the novel, William of Baskerville critiques the medieval church for the extreme harshness of its judgments—against religious dissenters, against those standing accused of “heresy,” and even against the behavior of the clergy. The medieval Catholic Church set up the Inquisition, a church judicial body tasked with arresting and executing those who refused to conform to the prevailing theological orthodoxy. Jews, sectarian splinter groups like Fra Dolcino’s Pseudo Apostles, and even people accused of “witchcraft” were among those sentenced under the Inquisition, as well as the pope’s political enemies. The Inquisition was notorious for its harsh tactics, including torture and burnings. William once worked for the Inquisition, but disapproves of its methods and now believes that the Devil works through the judges as much as through the accused. For William, the church officials who abuse their authority to make such unfair judgments in the name of God are hypocrites—as guilty as or guiltier than those they sentence to death.
The Catholic Church’s tendency toward the draconian is exemplified in the figure of Bernard Gui, an Inquisitor and staunch supporter of the Pope. Bernard’s hatred of heretics and zeal for punishment is so extreme that he elicits false confessions under torture, showing little regard for the truth in the process. He arrests the girl from the village for witchcraft and sentences her to be burned at the stake without trial, and he charges Remigio of Varagine and Salvatore of Montferrat with heresy and with murdering their fellow monks at the abbey despite their innocence. As Adso of Melk observes, Bernard uses Remigio’s trial to achieve his own political aims by charging a Franciscan (and therefore an ally of the Emperor) with heresy. In other words, Bernard is dedicated, not to seeking out the truth, but to the punishment, control, and the persecution of the pope’s political enemies.
By contrast, William abandoned his work with the Inquisition because he did not believe that he had the right to judge people or sentence them to death. While Bernard and many of the church’s high-ranking members are quick to make judgments about others, William is circumspect and displays a rigorous, skeptical attitude to the search for truth. He was not convinced by the authenticity of confessions extracted under torture, for as he tells Adso, “under torture or the threat of torture, a man says not only what he has done but what he would have liked to do.” False judgments, the book shows, have consequences: Bernard sentenced an innocent girl to death, and because Bernard wrongfully sentenced Remigio and Salvatore, the real murderer—Jorge of Burgos—was allowed to roam free and kill again, leading to another two deaths.
William also has a much more compassionate and forgiving attitude to the failings of others. In cases of illicit sexual conduct, for example—the affair between Berengar and Adelmo, and Remigio’s sexual encounters with the village girls—he is not as overtly judgmental as other characters. When Adso has sex with the village girl and is racked with guilt, William comforts him and gives him absolution. Although Adso sinned by breaking his vow of celibacy and must not do it again, William tells him, “it is not so monstrous that you were tempted to do it.” And there is a benefit to this experience: he hopes that Adso will one day be able to be “indulgent and understanding with the sinners he will counsel and console.” Rather than castigating Adso for his sin, William asks him to be more understanding with others, demonstrating his preference for forgiveness over punishment and compassion over judgment.
Although the church is severe in its judgments, it does not apply these exacting standards equally, especially when it comes to those in power. Michael of Cesena and Ubertino of Casale accuse the church of hypocrisy, pointing out that the teachings of Jesus preach the virtues of poverty, while medieval churchmen hold vast estates of land and wealth and wield significant political influence. The abbey is rich and keeps hundreds of servants, while in the surrounding farmland, the peasants live in abject poverty. William brings this point home when he and Adso visit the abbey’s crypt, which is filled with treasure: holy relics, ivory, glass, silver, and jewels. “Now you know why your brothers make mincemeat of one another as they aspire to the position of abbot,” he tells Adso. Underneath the façade of holiness, he implies, the monks are engaged in a bitter struggle for wealth and power.
The book shows that the Catholic church of the 14th century is also hypocritical in its use of violence to suppress dissent. Although Jesus advocated non-violence, Bernard uses torture to extract confessions, and issues disproportionately cruel punishments. But perhaps the novel’s worst hypocrite is Jorge. He claims to be protecting the divinely-sanctioned order of things, but in the severity of his judgments against laughter and the violence of his reprisals, Jorge’s behavior is the opposite of Christ-like: in fact, William even calls him the “Antichrist,” since the Christian faith forbids lying and murder. Jorge’s efforts to suppress Aristotle’s treatise on comedy are hypocritical because he murders his fellow monks in the name of a faith that prohibits violence. Surveying the wreckage of the destroyed abbey and library—burned down by Jorge in an effort to keep the forbidden book secret— William tells Adso that “the Devil is the arrogance of the spirit, faith without smile, truth that is never seized by doubt.” In other words, like Bernard, Jorge’s absolute faith in the righteousness of his judgments makes him hypocritical and intolerant of dissent. In the severity and rigidity of their judgments, the highest ranking religious officials in The Name of the Rose become the very embodiment of the evils they profess to condemn.
Judgement and Hypocrisy ThemeTracker
Judgement and Hypocrisy Quotes in The Name of the Rose
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.
“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.”
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.
“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.
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 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.