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Marguerite Poland


Chapter 28:
Questions to challenge you!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 4 March 2014
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Victor and Benedict disagree as to where they will find Crispin. It is Benedict who is right, however, for he remembered the "isivivane" cairn near Mbokothwe where Crispin would have learnt to confess his sins to the shades.

Yet, even before the funeral has taken place, Benedict himself leaves the mission -- to find Dorcas and to find himself.


Suicide for traditional Christians was a most serious sin.

Christians saw sin as falling into two primary categories:

  • First, there were the small sins: little things like swearing, lying, being uncharitable, fighting, etc. If one died in a state of such a sin, one would still go to heaven -- at least eventually;
  • Then there were the serious sins: like rape, murder, etc. All sins listed under the Ten Commandments fell into this category.

If one died while in a state of serious sin, one would go straight to hell. But one could always repent of such a sin while one was still alive. Forgiveness would then follow.

Suicide fell almost within its own category. A person who committed suicide was believed to have died in a "state of despair" and this was seen as a "sin against the Holy Spirit" from which there could be no forgiveness.

So serious was the Christian Church's attitude towards suicide that, until very recently, such a person could not even be buried within the boundaries of a Christian cemetery.

Cemeteries were consecrated places. People who had died in a known state of serious sin could therefore not be buried there. Their bodies would instead be interred outside the cemetery walls.

All mission stations had their cemeteries. Crispin should therefore have been buried in St Matthias Church cemetery but he was not. Instead he was buried beneath the great oak tree alongside the church.

Although his mother explained that this was his favourite tree, it was nevertheless an implicit recognition that his suicide prevented his burial in sacred ground.

"Crispin had gone. By his own choice and by his own hand, risking the possibility that there might be no gathering of shades to welcome him but only the void, the inescapable pain of sin and the sentence of an unforgiving God."

If you look carefully at the photograph of St Matthew's Church at the top of this page -- upon which Shades is based -- you will see that there is indeed a solitary grave beneath the oak tree alongside the church.

Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:

"Benedict was wrong. Victor was looking God in the eye and he could not bear the fire of that scrutiny."
  • Comment on the significance of these words. (6)

[Need help?]

The "isivivane" cairn appeared to be important in Crispin's search for forgiveness.
  • Explain its significance. (2)

[Need help?]

  • Why did Crispin choose to commit suicide there? (3)

[Need help?]

In the light of the traditional Christian attitude towards suicide, would you say that Crispin has gone to heaven or to hell? (30)

[Need help?]

Benedict wrote, " . . . now I must be born, I must go forth alone. And if I should return, I will return in freedom, for without that freedom I can never call myself a man."
  • What precisely does Benedict mean by these words? (10)

[Need help?]

  • What significance do these words have for Victor, who is given the letter to read? (6)

[Need help?]

Try another worksheet?

See also:
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