01 November 2010
Quick Review: The Heretic's Apprentice, by Ellis Peters
This is the 16th book in the series and is set in 1143. William of Lythwood has died after a long pilgrimage, and as he requested to be buried at the Abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul the abbot decides to honor his request. There were some initial concerns about the soundness of William's theological beliefs, but these are addressed and laid to rest -- as is William.
Returning with his master's body is William's servant Elave, a one-time resident of the area and now a widely traveled and seasoned young man. One night after a bit too much to drink, Elave expresses some of his views about theology and raised questions that were deemed potentially heretical. For instance, Elave doesn't understand why baptism is a necessary for salvation. He points out that very human beings could toss infants into a fire; how are we to believe that the God Who created them could do that very thing simply because they weren't baptized? He also disagrees with St Augustine on the issue of predestination, arguing for a much stronger role of human will in salvation. (I struggle with this one as well.)
In any event, a few locals hear Elave's comments and accuse him of heresy. Somewhat unfortunately for the young man, a high-ranking canon is visiting and decides that such heresy must be wiped out. He has recently been dealing with the Albigensian issue in France and, in a clear case of making a mountain out of a molehill, sees Elave's simple questions as a similar threat. Then, the man who made the accusation of heresy is found murdered, and Elave is accused of murder as well as heresy.
This is one of those stories in which Cadfael's role is largely peripheral, but that might be wisdom on the author's part. Sometimes, he just needs to be there and quietly tying up a few loose ends while the larger story develops beyond him. But Cadfael is instrumental in helping to sort out Elave's problems, and the young man is ultimately cleared of both accusations, with the real criminal -- the murdered, that is -- discovered and dealt with.
What might be most interesting about this story is the way in which the theology is handled and discussed. These are important questions that Elave raises, and as he points out it's not enough to say, "Don't worry about understanding that. Just follow what the Church says." Elave wants to know, and he's willing to learn as long as someone will address his questions and explain the meaning of these issues. Wise man.
Year of publication: 1991
Number of pages: 256