The Republic of St. Peter: The Birth of the Papal State, 680-825

The Republic of St. Peter: The Birth of the Papal State, 680-825

The Republic of St. Peter: The Birth of the Papal State, 680-825

The Republic of St. Peter: The Birth of the Papal State, 680-825


Set in Alabama and Washington, D.C., in the early part of the twentieth century, W. E. B. Du Bois's first novel weaves the themes of racial equality and understanding through the stark reality of prejudice and bias. Originally published in 1911 and conceived immediately after The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois turned to fiction to carry his message to a popular audience who were unfamiliar with his nonfiction works. Du Bois addresses the fact that, despite the legal emancipation of African Americans, the instruments of oppression, in both the economy and government, remained in good working order. At the time he was writing, powerful white industrialists controlled the cotton industry, the "silver fleece" that depended, as it did during slavery, on the physical labor of African Americans. White Americans also controlled local and national government.

In the novel, Blessed "Bles" Alwyn, a young man seeking formal education to improve himself, is captivated by Zora, a vivacious, independent woman who lives outside society in a mysterious swamp. Faced with shocking events in Zora's past and ambivalence about how a black man should integrate into American society, Bles pursues his goals and ends up in Washington to assist on a senator's campaign. While in the city, he meets successful African Americans--and falls in love--but he ultimately recoils from the hypocrisies they must endure in order to be accepted in society. Instead, he is compelled to return to Alabama and Zora, where he must face his greatest challenges and fears.

With its frank and clear language, The Quest of the Silver Fleece is a remarkable portrait of racial prejudice at the turn of the twentieth century. Through the characters, Du Bois demonstrates the efficacy of self-sufficiency for those who face discrimination while championing the benefits of strength in diversity to American society as a whole.


Modern telecommunications made it possible for a good portion of the world to observe the highest dramas and most solemn rituals of the Roman Catholic Church in the summer and again in the early autumn of 1978. Pope Paul VI died and the cardinal clergy gathered from all points of the compass to elect his successor. After a few days of deliberations, whose inner workings were immunized by ancient traditions from the glare of klieg lights and microphones, the cardinal deacon of the Church, Pericle Felice, appeared on a small balcony above St. Peter’s square and intoned to the throng assembled below a venerable and many times repeated chant: “Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum, habemus papam.” Albino Luciani, formerly the patriarch of Venice, entered into the line of succession to St. Peter. After only a few weeks Luciani died and the cardinals returned to Rome. This time their deliberations resulted in the election of Karol Wojtyla, a Pole and the first of his nation ever to sit on Peter’s throne.

Journalists were repeatedly frustrated in their attempts to penetrate behind the mysterious workings of the Vatican in order to report to a curious world the details of the two papal elections that had just taken place. Still, if perceptive observers could not fully understand the procedures that produced the elections, they must have noticed certain not very subtle events that immediately followed them.

Luciani and Wojtyla both took double names, John Paul I and John Paul II, respectively. This was novel but not, perhaps, particularly significant. More important was that each man elected not to be crowned with the tiara, the triple crown that signifies the pope’s universal episcopate, supremacy of jurisdiction, and temporal rule. The crown in one form or another had been . . .

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