Thursday, October 15, 2015

#TBT Writing the Catholic Revenge Novel - sort of

Technically, this isn't a throwback, because this is the first time this has ever been posted on the blog. It was originally a guest post over at Catholic Once Again.  

And yes, I did mention it once on the blog, in a link in another post, called Redemption in Death.

But riddle me this: how do you do a Catholic revenge novel when revenge is basically a sin?

Very carefully.

* * * *

How do you write a Catholic “revenge novel”? Heck, how do you write a Catholic thriller that doubles as a science fiction novel, including the requisite dystopia?

To full answer the latter question would involve spoilers, so if you’d like the answer, you’d have to read my science fiction novel Codename: Winterborn, which has all of the above elements, as well as a sequence that involves Catholic missionaries riding to the rescue.

First, let’s look at the standard revenge novel. Take someone who has an abundance of combat skills, and then promptly kill off a girlfriend / boyfriend / spouse/ fiancé(e) / best friend / random family member. After that, you have said person go on a murderous rampage, and (usually) a person of the opposite sex to replace the person killed off in chapter two. This is a pretty standard plot, filled with the usual clichés.

However, last time I checked, there is no such thing as revenge in Catholic doctrine. At least, not the last time I read the Baltimore Catechism (okay, it may have been more of a scan than a reading). Killing people just to make you feel better isn’t justifiable. Catholics forgive our enemies and move on, even if our every instinct is to rearrange their dental work with a hammer.

Then again, there is an argument that can be made in Catholicism – via the natural law of Thomas Aquinas – for tyrannicide (killing a tyrant who needs killing). You could take the example of suggesting that someone should shoot Saddam Hussein, and thus preventing a war, as well as preventing his routine slaughters.

In Codename: Winterborn, intelligence officer Kevin Anderson is sent on a mission to the Islamic Republic of France – yes, France – and his team is betrayed by the politicians on the Senate Intelligence Committee. And just how do you arrest a senator in the United States? There has been more than sufficient evidence to arrest senators on everything from bribery and corruption to manslaughter, but no one leaves in disgrace, and if anything happens, they get a slap on the wrist. So, what’s a lone spy going to do against 14 senators who have betrayed their country, and who have not only killed his friends, but will probably kill others in the future?

Welcome to a new look at tyrannicide in a democracy – enforcing a new definition of term limits.

Morally ambiguous? Depends on how fine a line you walk. And how much fun you have pushing your main character. Most of my lead characters are highly detailed, and make choices that I don’t see coming. With Kevin Anderson, he has thought out his actions, and has come to the conclusion that the only way to protect the country is to fulfill his oath to defend against enemies both foreign and domestic – and these folks are very domestic. Rational, reasoned, and his actions fit within his conscience.

Unfortunately, then you get to a sticking point – when does a righteous cause become entangled with a personal vendetta? All the reason in the world can’t separate a person from his own emotions for very long. What happens when Kevin Anderson starts to enjoy his work? Answer: his conscience gut-punches him and leaves him crying into his New England clam chowder (long story).

In short – the key to Catholic “revenge novels” is making it so that the protagonist isn’t an insane, vengeance-driven fruitcake. The lead must be thoughtful, and reasonable, and s/he should take great care that the actions taken aren’t driven solely by revenge. And should the lead fail on the latter, s/he should stand up, dust themselves off, repent, and try harder next time. The bad guys aren’t the only ones who need redemption. We all do. If everyone could easily be perfect on their own, there would be no need for the crucifixion.

A final element to a “revenge novel” from a Catholic point of view – consequences. We are responsible for our actions, and our actions have consequences. And in the case of Codename: Winterborn, the consequences would spoil the plot.

And the Catholic missionaries in act three are another story.


  1. "First, let’s look at the standard revenge novel. [...] However, last time I checked, there is no such thing as revenge in Catholic doctrine."

    There is. Thou shall not kill. It's not _allowed_. I _think_ there's someplace in Leviticus that limits it (yep, checked: Lev. 24, 19–21 is a _limit_, as in: "I can't kill your whole family just because you killed my uncle"; then there's another limit in Numbers 35, 9-30; the harshest limit is Jesus' one about 70x7).

    Mind you, sometimes the limit between revenge and justice is more a matter of intent than law or fact.

    I think, however, that the justification for tyrannicide is simply self-defense. As such, you don't need to read back to Aquinas, there are current guidelines for that. Tyrannicide is, basically, pre-emptive self defense. Which is slippery, but does have some very clear cases. Also, some cases are basically war. You don't need a general to pick a physical weapon against you to consider him killable. You don't need an enemy platoon to start firing at you to fire in the field.

    So, provided a person is comfortable enough with himself, that the rest of his moral system is solid, and that such person is able to kill in, basically, cold blood, I don't see why killing those should be any different than any other sort of action WRT both the Numbers passage and a self-preservation defense for future actions. Or war.

    Take care.

    1. Sorry, I should have said "No such thing is ALLOWED in doctrine." My bad.

      As for the rest -- perfectly true, all the way. Thanks.

    2. "Though shalt not kill" is a poor translation. The commandment should be read as, "Thou shalt not commit murder," defined as an illegal killing, which self defense or killing in war or for capital punishment are not.

    3. Yes. [Sorry, no +1's on blogspot]

  2. Not so hard. You do it to deter future wrongdoing. You admit it's a sin to want revenge, go to confession, and your slate is clean again.

  3. The way I was taught, confession doesn't work that way.

    Also, if you do it for deterrence, it's a separate issue.

    Take care

  4. Close enough. Oh, you may get some time in Purgatory for the desire, but that's by definition endurable.

  5. By the way, A Desert Called Peace (which is a free download) and vol II, Carnifex (which is not) could probably be said to be a Catholic revenge novel (they were written as one book that was too big to bind).

    1. Mr. Kratman... I know. I have all your Baen's, I think. In fact, we've exchanged mails sometimes. I don't know ho w many Spaniards do, but that should narrow the field some.

      Take care. Ferran

    2. We have. Sadly, the emails themselves are in unsearchable "file cabinets," so I can't get at them for beans.


Please, by all means, leave a message below. I welcome any and all comments. However, language that could not make it to network television will result in your comment being deleted. I don';t like saying it, but prior events have shown me that I need to. Thanks.