Assassin’s Creed’s Kyrie Eleison


In Assassin’s Creed; Rogue one of the biggest theological enigmas is addressed. If God exists, why evil? With a reference to the historical earthquake in Lisbon in 1755, AC seems to take God’s side. Kyrie Eleison.

 

In Assassin’s Creed: Rogue (sequence 2, memory 4), the game’s protagonist Shay Cormac visits a cathedral in Lisbon in 1755. His job is to find an collect a so-called ‘Precursor’s artifact’, which gives the owner incredible powers. The Precursors are a now extinct race of superior beings, responsible for the creation of humankind. The meta-narrative of the Assassin’s Creed series is highly complex, so it is sufficient to say that the whole of human history is re-interpretated as a struggle between two fractions – the Templar Order and the Assassin Brotherhood – over the possession of these artifacts, commonly denoted as ‘Pieces of Eden’.

When Shay discovers the artifact, a hidden defense system is activated. The artifacts falls apart and a massive shockwave is produced. The energy released by the destruction of the artifact is so massive, that the whole of Lisbon lies in ruins, leaving tens of thousands dead and countless without any worldly possessions. Shay manages to escape, but his faith in the Assassin Brotherhood, who send him to Lisbon, is shattered.

The 1755 Lisbon earthquake

This event in AC: Rogue is based on the historical 1755 earthquake of Lisbon. On Saturday, 1 November, at around 9.40 local time, a massive earthquake (8.5 to 9 on Richter’s scale) destroyed Lisbon and its surroundings. The estimated death toll in Lisbon alone lies between 10.00 and 100.000 people. Eighty-five percent of all Lisbon’s buildings were destroyed. The 70.000-volume royal library as well as hundreds of works of art, including paintings by Titian, Rubens, and Correggio, were lost.

The earthquake occurred on the first of November 1755, the Roman-Catholic Feast of All-Saints. Shay on his arrival in Lisbon:

Feast of All Saints. What a sight. And here am I, looking for a relic from the time before Adam and Eve. Strange days indeed.

And when Shay arrives back at his boat and sees the destruction of Lisbon, his ship mates exclaims:

How could God do this to them?

Theodicy

The earthquake of 1755 has left a tremendous stamp on the history of ideas in Europe. Time and time again, it has been linked to the question of the existence of evil, also known as the ‘Theodicy’ question. The philosophers and theologians of the Enlightenment, like Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, used the earthquake as a casus belli against traditional monotheistic beliefs. If God is just and all-powerful, why did he kill all those Christian believers while they were at church celebrating of the High Feasts of the ecclesiastical year?

The term ‘theodicy’ is coined by the philosopher Gottfried Leibniz in 1710, and is derived from the Greek words theos (‘God’) and dike (‘justice’). The problem however, is inherent to monotheism in itself, because if one believes in one Creator, everything must be created by this Supreme Being, including all that is evil. The philosopher Boethius (480-524) gives us one of the shortest and perhaps most poetic answers of all:

Si Deus Est, Unde Malum? If there is a God, then why does evil exist ?

For Boethius – and every average believer – God has to be at least all-powerful and just, or he would seize to be God. Boethius explains the conundrum:

Either God wishes to prevent evil and cannot, in which case he is just but not omnipotent. Or he can prevent evil but does not want to, in which case he is omnipotent but not just.

Shay’s reply to his shipmate and his theodicy is surprising:

God has nothing to do with this.

God’s Defense

Traditionally, the problem of the existence of evil vis-à-vis a all-powerful and just God, is sought to be solved by a number of reasonings. But none of the suggested solutions can holds its grounds, except the free-will defends. The evil in the world is the result of evil choices of free-willed men and women, not the results of God doing or neglecting anything. This solution is maybe the best, but still acknowledges that the possibility of evil is still created by God, and it gives no satisfactory solution for natural disasters like the 1755 earthquake.

Shay also defends God, although in a strange way. God has nothing to do with the earthquake, Shay insists, because God did not cause the earthquake, but Shay himself by tempering with the Precursor’s artifact. Indeed, Shay knows God is innocent. The earthquake was caused by human error and sin, the urge to possess the most powerful object on the planet.

God, have mercy

The memory of AC:Rogue in question, is called ‘Kyrie Eleison’, Greek for ‘Lord, have mercy’, a reference to the penitential prayers in Roman-Catholic liturgy. The combination of all those ingredients seems to indicate that Assassin’s Creed solution to the theodicy question is twofold. 1) There is no real God, only humans. Every natural disaster is just bad luck. And every moral crime is to credited to humans, not to God. 2) And if there should be a God, may he have mercy upon our souls.

I remember a touching scene in Wolfenstein: The New Order. A Jew, imprisoned in a German labor camp, is losing his faith in an all-powerful and just God. The protagonist of the game, Blazkowicz, remarks (paraphrasing one of the traditional answers on the theodicy):

Maybe God, is testing us?

The Jew, Set Roth, replies:

If God is testing us, we are failing gloriously.

If there is no God left to blame, we have to take all. God, have mercy.

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