In the movie, The Name of the Rose, Sean Connery’s character, William, is investigating suspicious activities in a medieval abbey. While he is investigating in a room filled with monks, a mouse scares those present and they laugh at one another for squealing like little girls.
Upon hearing the laughter, an elderly blind monk, Jorge, enters the room to protest the frivolity. As a lifelong advocate of humor among the brethren, I found their dialogue strangely familiar.
Jorge: (In a foreign language) A monk should not laugh for only the fools lifts up his voice in laughter. (In English) I trust my words did not offend you, Brother William. But I heard persons laughing at laughable things. You Franciscans, however, belong to an order where merriment is viewed with indulgence.
William: Yes, it’s true. St. Francis was much disposed to laughter.
Jorge: Laughter is a devilish wind which deforms, uh, the veinements of the face and makes the man look like monkeys.
William: Monkeys do not laugh. Laughter is particular to man.
Jorge: As a sin! Christ never laughed.
William: Can we be so sure?
Jorge: There is nothing in the Scriptures to say that he did!
William: And there is nothing in the Scriptures to say that he did not. Why even the saints have been known and employed comedy — to ridicule the enemies of the faith. For example, when the pagans plunged Saint Maurus into the boiling water, he complained that his bath was too cold. The Sultan put his hand in — scolded himself.
Jorge: A saint immersed in boiling water does not play childish tricks; he restrains his cries and suffers for the truth.
William: And yet Aristotle devoted his second book of Poetics to comedy as an instrument of truth.
Jorge: You have read this work?
William: No, of course not. It’s been lost for many centuries.
Jorge: No, it has not! It was never written! Because Providence doesn’t want futile things glorified.
William: Oh this I must contest…
Jorge: Enough! This abbey’s overshadowed by grief, yet you would intrude on our sorrow with idle banter!
William: Forgive me venerable Jorge. My remarks were truly out of place.
No commentary here. Just a realization of the eternal struggle many have reconciling humor with their faith. For a thorough treatment of this, you might want to read, The Humor of Christ by Elton Trueblood. Trueblood saved me from losing my sense of humor to the Jorges of this world.
PS: Be aware that the movie is rated R. It’s not family friendly. A scene or two took me by surprise; then I remembered that rating systems are generally accurate. Duh.