Umberto Eco
The Name of the Rose

'The spirit is serene only when it contemplates the truth and takes delight in good achieved, and truth and good are not to be laughed at. This is why Christ did not laugh. Laughter foments doubt.'

'But sometimes it is right to doubt.'

'I cannot see any reason. When you are in doubt, you must turn to an authority, to the words of a father or of a doctor; then all reason for doubt ceases. You seem to me steeped in debatable doctrines, like those of the logicians of Paris. But Saint Bernard knew well how to intervene against the castrate Abelard, who wanted to submit all problems to the cold, lifeless scrutiny of reason not enlightened by Scripture, pronouncing his It-is-so and It-is-not-so. Certainly one who accepts dangerous ideas can also appreciate the jesting of the ignorant man who laughs at the sole truth one should know, which has already been said once and for all. With his laughter the fool says in his heart, "Deus non est."'

'Venerable Jorge, you seem to me unjust when you call Abelard a castrate, because you know that he incurred that sad condition through the wickedness of others....'

'For his sins. For the pride of his faith in man's reason. So the faith of the simple was mocked, the mysteries of God were eviscerated (or at least this was tried, fools they who tried), questions concerning the loftiest things were treated recklessly, the fathers were mocked because they had considered that such questions should have been subdued, rather than raised.'

'I do not agree, venerable Jorge. Of us God demands that we apply our reason to many obscure things about which Scripture has left us free to decide. And when someone suggest you believe in a proposition, you must first examine it to see whether it is acceptable, because our reason was created by God, and whatever pleases our reason can but please divine reason, of which, for that matter, we know only what we infer from the processes of our own reason by analogy and often by negation. Thus, you see, to undermine the false authority of an absurd proposition that offens reason, laughter can sometimes also be a suitable instrument. And laughter serves to confound the wicked and to make their foolishness evident. It is told of Saint Maurus that when the pagans put him in boiling water, he complained that the bath was too cold; the pagan governor foolishly put his hand in the water to test it, and burned himself. A fine action of that sainted martyr who ridiculed the enemies of the faith.'

Jorge sneered. 'Even in the episodes the preachers tell, there are many old wives' tales. A saint immersed in boiling water suffers for Christ and restrains his cries, he does not play childish tricks on the pagans!'

'You see?' William said. 'This story seems to you offensive to reason and you accuse it of being ridiculous! Though you are controlling your lips, you are tacitly laughing at something, nor do you wish me to take it seriously. You are laughing at laughter, but you are laughing.'

Jorge made a gesture of irritation. 'Jesting about laughter, you draw me into idle debate. But you know that Christ did not laugh.'

  The World was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They, hand in hand, with wand'ring steps and slow,

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Through Eden took their solitary way.