Fifth Business – The Deptford Trilogy #1 by Robertson Davies

“You know that Jesuit training is based on a rigorous reform of the self and achievement of self-knowledge. By the time a man comes to the final vows, anything emotional or fanciful in his piety is supposed to have been rooted out. I think I achieved that, so far as my superiors could discover, but after I was forty I began to have notions and ask questions that should not have come to me. Men have this climacteric, you know, like women. Doctors deny it, but I have met some very menopausal persons in their profession. But my ideas — about Christ, for instance. He will come again, will He? Frankly I doubt if He has ever been very far away. But suppose He comes again, presumably everybody expects He will come to pull the chestnuts out of the fire for them. What will they say if he comes blighting the vine, flogging the money-changers out of the temple one day and hobnobbing with the rich the next, just as He did before? He had a terrible temper, you know, undoubtedly inherited from His Father. Will He come as a Westerner — let us say, as an Irishman or a Texan — because the stronghold of Christianity is in the West? He certainly won’t be a Jew again, or the fat will be in the fire. The Arabs would laugh their heads off if Israel produced an embarrassing Pretender. Will He settle the disagreement between Catholic and Protestant? All these questions seem frivollous, like the questions of a child. But did He not say we are to be as children?

“My own idea is that when He comes again it will be to continue his ministry as an old man. I am an old man and my life has been spent as a soldier of Christ, and I tell you that the older I grow the less Christ’s teaching says to me. I am sometimes very conscious that I am following the path of a leader who died when He was less than half as old as I am now. I see and feel things He never saw or felt. I know things He seems never to have known. Everybody wants a Christ for himself and those who think like him. Very well, am I at fault for wanting a Christ who will show me how to be an old man? All Christ’s teaching is put forward with the dogmatism, the certainty, and the strength of youth: I need something that takes account of the accretion of experience, the sense of paradox and ambiguity that comes with years! I think after forty we should recognize Christ politely but turn for our comfort and guidance to God the Father, who knows the good and evil of life, and to the Holy Ghost, who possesses a wisdom beyond that of the incarnated Christ. After all, we worship a Trinity, of which Christ is but one Person. I think when He comes again it will be to declare the unity of the life of the flesh and the life of the spirit. And then perhaps we shall make some sense of this life of marvels, cruel circumstances, obscenities, and commonplaces. Who can tell? — we might even make it bearable for everybody.

“I have not forgotten your crazy saint. I think you are a fool to fret that she was knocked on the head because of an act of yours. Perhaps that was what she was for, Ramezay. She saved you on the battlefield, you say. But did she not also save you when she took the blow that was meant for you?

“I do not suggest that you should fail in your duty toward her; if she has no friend but you, care for her by all means. But stop trying to be God, making it up to her that you are sane and she is mad. Turn your mind to the real problem; who is she? Oh, I don’t mean her police identification or what her name was before she was married. I mean, who is she in your personal world? What figure is she in your personal mythology? If she appeared to save you on the battlefield, as you say, it has just as much to do with you as it has with her — much more probably. Lots of men have visions of their mothers in time of danger. Why not you? Why was it this woman ?

“Who is she? That is what you must discover, Ramezay, and you must find your answer in psychological truth, not in objective truth. You will not find out quickly, I am sure. And while you are searching, get on with your own life and accept the possibility that it may be purchased at the price of hers and that this may be God’s plan for you and her.

“You think that dreadful? For her, poor sacrifice, and for you who must accept the sacrifice? Listen, Ramezay, have you heard what Einstein says? — Einstein, the great scientist, not some Jesuit like old Blazon. He says, “God is subtle, but He is not cruel.” There is some sound Jewish wisdom for your muddied Protestant mind. Try to understand the subtlety, and stop whimpering about the cruelty. Maybe God wants you for something special. Maybe so much that you are worth a woman’s sanity.

“I can see what is in your sour Scotch eye. You think I speak thus because of this excellent picnic you have provided. “Old Blazon is talking from the inspiration of roast chicken and salad, and plums and confectioneries, and a whole bottle of Beaune, ignited by a few brandies,” I hear you thinking. “Therefore he urges me to think well of myself instead of despising myself like a good Protestant.” Nonsense, Ramezay. I am quite a wise old bird, but I am no desert hermit who can only prophesy when his guts are knotted with hunger. I am deep in the old man’s puzzle, trying to link the wisdom of the body with the wisdom of the spirit until the two are one. At my age you cannot divide spirit from body without anguish and destruction, from which you will speak nothing but crazy lies!

“You are still young enough to think that torment of the spirit is a splendid thing, a sign of a superior nature. But you are no longer a young man; you are a youngish middle-aged man, and it is time you found out that these spiritual athletics do not lead to wisdom. Forgive yourself for being a human creature, Ramezay. That is the beginning of wisdom; that is part of what is meant by the fear of God; and for you it is the only way to save your sanity. Begin now, or you will end up

with your saint in the madhouse.”

Saying which, Padre Blazon spread his handkerchief over his face and went to sleep, leaving me to think.


It was all very well for Blazon to give me advice, and to follow it up during the years that followed with occasional postcards (usually of the rowdier Renaissance masters — he liked fat nudes) on which would be written in purple ink some such message as, “How do you fare in the Great Battle? Who is she? I pray for you. I.B., S.J.” These caused great curiosity in the school, where one rarely got a postcard before two or three other people had read it. But even if I had been better at taking advice than I am, my path would have been strewn with difficulties.

My visits to Mrs. Dempster weighed on me. She was not a troublesome patient at the hospital, but she became very dull; the occasional lightening of the spirit that had shown itself when she lived with Bertha Shanklin never came now. My weekly visits were the high spots of her life; she was always waiting for me on Saturday afternoon with her hat on. I knew what the hat meant; she hoped that this time I would take her away. This was the hope of many of the patients, and when the presiding physician made his appearance there were scenes in which women clutched at his sleeves and even — I could not have believed it if I had not seen it — fell on their knees and tried to kiss his hands, for all those who had some freedom of movement knew that the power to dismiss them lay with him. A few of the younger ones tried to make a sexual association of it, and their cries were, “Aw, Doc, you know I’m your girl, Doc; you’re gonna let me go this time, aren’t you. Doc? You know you like me best.” I couldn’t have stood it, but he did. The sexual fetor in the place was hateful to me. Of course. I was known as “Mary’s fella,” and they assured her that every visit was sure to bring deliverance. I took her chocolates because they were something she could give the others, most of whom did not have regular visitors.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson