“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32
When I was reading “St Emmanuel the Good, Martyr,” I was struck by how Lazarus and Don Emmanuel react to the truth. John says the truth will set you free, but Don Emmanuel and Lazarus are rather fettered by the truth. They are trapped by it, trapped in a prison of sorrow, just as the legendary city is trapped underneath the waves of the lake.
“'But, Don Emmanuel, the truth, the truth, above all!'; and he, all a-tremble, whispered in my ear – though we were all alone in the middle of the countryside – 'The truth? The truth, Lazarus, is perhaps something so unbearable, so terrible, something so deadly, that simple people could not live with it!'”(p. 237)
Like John, I think, most of us consider the truth a liberating force, and illusions the chains. But Don Emmanuel seems to turn this upside down – it is only *with* illusions (in this case regarding eternal life) that we are able to live a decent and happy life. And Don Emmanuel envies his villagers for their ignorance, for their blindness to the truth that he sees. His mission in the village is to essentially maintain the facade, the charade, as well as he can.
But I, like Angela at the end, am not certain that Don Emmanuel and Lazarus were as unbelieving as they themselves felt, or that the 'truth' they hold is so simple as that.
“I am of the opinion that Don Emmanuel the Good, my Don Emmanuel, and my brother, too, died believing they did not believe, but that, without believing in their belief, they actually believed, with resignation and in desolation... For I believed then, and I believe now, that God – as part of I know not what sacred and inscrutable purpose – caused them to believe they were unbelievers. And that at the moment of their passing, perhaps, the blindfold was removed.”(pp. 261-262).
When I read that my thoughts returned back to an episode earlier on, when Angela is listing some of the goodly things the blessed man did, about the suicide:
“And once, when a man had taken his own life and the father of the suicide, an outsider, asked Don Emmanuel if his son could be buried in consecrated ground, the priest answered: “Most certainly, for at the last moment, in the very last throes, he must certainly have repented. There is no doubt of it whatsoever in my mind.”(p. 219)
I don't think Unamuno would have both of these in this story without trying to make some point. I think Unamuno is trying to show that Christian faith is perhaps more complex than just affirmation of the Creed, that even through his 'long dark night of the soul', Don Emmanuel can still, in some sense, believe, and act on that belief, and perhaps even achieve saintliness. And that God, like He can take good from evil acts in Milton, can take belief from unbelief.