A Canticle for Liebowitz has a remarkable scene where a priest tries to persuade a mother not to euthanize her radiation-poisoned child. He argues with her in front of the emergency euthanasia tents, under the gaze of a statue called “Mercy” that the emergency euthanasia authorities have erected. The statue is a copy of a copy of a copy of a Christus, each copy more androgynous, more passive and weak.
My employer held a craft sale last week to benefit the Ronald McDonald House. I bought a retablo of the Archangel Michael sabering the dragon on the grounds that he’s my namesake, though my coworker who sold it looked at me funny when I told her that. Since owning a retablo of Michael fighting the devil is pretty unusual among the Saints, I started wondering what it is that keeps us from going the route of the statue of Mercy. Our hymnbook was one of the first things that came to mind.
Have you ever noticed how many martial hymns there are? Without getting out my hymbook, I can think of–
A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
Onward, Christian Soldiers
The Battle Hymn of the Republic
Jesus, Once of Humble Birth
To All the Saints (“when strife is fierce, and is the warfare long” etc.)
–not to mention the Star-Spangled Banner, which in the old hymnbook even used to have the third verse, the one that says of the British “their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.” I know I’m missing a lot. What can you think of?
P.S. Talking about science fiction and martial hymns reminds me of the grim Puritans in Gordon Dickson’s Dorsai cycle. If I recall, their battle hymn was something like
Soldier, ask not,
when to war you banners go.
Satan’s legions now surround us;
strike, and do not count the blow
, found in the book also called Soldier, Ask Not. I recommend it strongly to SF fans of religious sensibilities. The hymn’s meter is pretty irregular so I doubt its singable.