Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Atheist's Mass

First, I turned in the exam. It was rather difficult, but now there is nothing I can do about it.

Afterwards, I decided to take in a short story by Honore de Balzac. I cheated because I read "The Atheist's Mass" in English (but the English seemed difficult also, who knows when it was translated). The title caught my attention, and when I started I had no idea what I would find. Would this be a sure slam against Christianity (religion) or what? Anyway, I enjoyed the story, but I am not quite sure what the main point was. Maybe you can help me? I always struggle with literature, just ask Lady R (and my mom who has helped me with a couple of my classics in high school).

Here is a somewhat short synopsis of the plot. There is a surgeon Dr. Bianchon who was the assistant to Dr. Desplein. Now, this Dr. Desplein was at one time famous but after his death, his fame faded. Dr. D was a hard core atheist and an excellent surgeon in his day. Dr. B became his assistance and the two men became great friends. One day Dr. Bianchon saw Dr. Desplein enter a church to what seemed to be for mass. This act confused Dr. Bianchon. Why was such an atheistic man going to church? So, the next year he noted also that Dr. Desplein went to mass on the same day. Dr. B went to the church leaders and found that Dr. Desplein had actually paid for this mass and four times a year he went to church when this mass was presented. One day Dr. B asked Dr. Desplein what he thought about the mass in general. Dr. Desplein said:

A farce,” said Desplein, “which has cost Christendom more blood than all Napoleon’s battles and all Broussais’ leeches. The mass is a papal invention, not older than the sixth century, and based on the Hoc est corpus. What floods of blood were shed to establish the Fete-Dieu, the Festival of Corpus Christi—the institution by which Rome established her triumph in the question of the Real Presence, a schism which rent the Church during three centuries! The wars of the Count of Toulouse against the Albigenses were the tail end of that dispute. The Vaudois and the Albigenses refused to recognize this innovation.

So, this response brought about more contradictions. Finally, Dr. B. asked Dr.Desplein about this. Dr. Desplein told a long story about the poverty of his youth. He poured himself into his scientific studies to become a surgeon. One day his neighbor Bourgeat informed him that they both were being evicted from their apartment. Bourgeat offered the use of his cart to move both men. They decided to try and find an appartment together. Even though Bourgeat did not have much money, he believed in what Desplein was doing and saved his money to invest in Desplein's studies. Later, when Desplein becomes a famous surgeon in Paris, Bourgeat fell sick. Bourgeat was a man of faith and asked if Desplein could secure the clergy for his death. Thus, out of respect for Bourgeat,Desplein went to mass four times a year.

The question with what the reader is left is did Desplein believe.

"Will not those who believe like to fancy that the humble Auvergnat came to open the gate of Heaven to his friend"