The spiritual writhings of a priest who has lost his faith--in a brief, dense novella, largely given over to tormented monologues and philosophical introspection. Father Joachim, living in a French monastery, is an exile from Latin America--where he worked for the common people and was arrested by the oppressive regime: ""Suspended by his ankles from that device they called the parrot's perch, Joachim had been subjected to an eternity of suffering, the most varied tortures and physical and moral humiliations."" As a result, Joachim now rejects the whole notion of suffering in Catholic theology--delivering a shrill sermon to the monks, chanting a grisly litany of beloved Christian martyrs, denouncing the Church's ""veritable fascination with the redemptive power of pain."" He then has a dialogue with the monastery's abbot--who argues that one can retain faith in God even while rejecting such dogmata as Redemption, the Revelation, and original sin. (""God exists and I am a part of that. The rest is nothing but moral tales embellished by fear."") Next, Joachim encounters an attractive woman who represents ""neutrality, insignificance, submission, convention, and ignorance""--and treats her to a six-page speech in support of skepticism and despair. (She reacts in all-too-human terms: ""She didn't realize that he was merely continuing--and perhaps concluding--a monologue run rampant."") And finally, after rock-bottom broodings on death, memory, ""the relativity of nothingness and the absoluteness of the universe,"" Joachim reaches some sort of acceptance, faces the abyss, and walks ""forth into peace."" For theologians and philosophy majors only.