The Rose of Paracelsus

Critical Writing 11B


Paracelsus was a famous alchemist of his time, who was said to be able to burn a rose to ashes and turn it back again. In “The Rose of Paracelsus,” a short story by Jorge Luis Borges, Paracelsus desired and prayed for a disciple, but the man who came to him, Johannes Grisebach, needed proof of his powers. He refused him but only to reveal his powers to the reader in the end. The simple seeming story actually symbolizes the paradox of faith and why people have a hard time believing in god.

Basically the rose that Johannes carried symbolizes man’s faith in god, as it is nowadays. Johannes symbolizes man and Paracelsus god. Any man would devote his entire life to god if only god were to perform some type of miracle to prove his existence. But god requires absolute faith of his followers and faith, by definition, means no proof. When the rose is burned and does not come back again, man has proven the nonexistence of god and is sorry because he enjoyed believing the supposed illusion of a higher existence. While in reality god does exist, and his lack of miracle performance was a test of man’s faith. The rose is innocence, curiosity, and belief. When it is destroyed all of these are lost, because these are the things that have to be traded for an answer. Even if the rose were restored, these things would still be lost and these things are essential for a good disciple. This is the same as if god miracled everyone, these qualities would be lost in man, and he would not make good as a follower. So it is better to disprove the magic because men are useless either way.

The story symbolizes a question that has been asked before in history many times on large and small scales. For example, when Hitler crafted his genocide, many people said it was wrong. Hitler said if it was wrong God would have stopped him. Burning the rose parallels burning the Jews and God did not save them. In Ellie Weasel’s short but good novel about his holocaust experience, Night, there was a rabbi, Moshe the Beatle who studied Kabbalah. When he returned from the death camps his innocence was lost; he saw the rose, or in this case babies tossed in to the fire and they were not saved. He lost all his faith in god. Hitler tossed the rose into the fire, though maybe with a different intention, and thus proved god’s nonexistence to millions of people who lost their faith.

The question Borges answers in “The Rose” is why God did not save the Jews; and it was for many reasons. First, man, for asking the question, does not deserve to know the answer. Second, man has done nothing to deserve the answer, as stated by Paracelsus: “And besides, who are you to come into the house of a master and demand a miracle of him? What have you done to deserve this?” (p.3) The truth is the only thing man can do to deserve a miracle is have absolute faith, which it seems requires a miracle first, so basically we’re screwed with the whole god deal. Third, God needs followers of absolute faith not people who just were in debt or believed what they saw. Lastly, we are all in an invisible paradise anyway so it doesn’t really matter, and we only suffer because we are blinded by original sin.

Another reason why Paracelsus won’t train Johannes is that he contradicts himself in a way that implies that he desires to learn the art for the wrong reasons. Johannes gives Paracelsus gold, when he believes he is capable of making gold from anything. He says the coins are only a symbol of his desire to learn, and that gold is of no interest to him. Paracelsus proves he is lying by saying that the stone is the path to the goal; every step in the path is the goal, so there is no goal. Johannes thought the path lead to a goal. Since the final goal can only be gold, then this was Johannes’ goal and he was lying.