I've been mulling over theological questions about Lois McMaster Bujold's latest, Paladin of Souls. I couldn't sleep last night and was re-reading the end, and I think I have part of an answer to a question that's been bothering me—but not all of it, so I thought I'd think out loud here.
[ETA 10/14: I've figured out what was bothering me, and have added it to the end, behind the spoiler tag.]
Okay. Early in Paladin, we learn that demons escape into the world of matter, and the Bastard's Order captures them. Slightly later, we learn that alone of the gods, the Bastard "was given agency over both spirit and matter, for He inherited as servants the demons that His father's great sacrifice had conquered and enslaved and so swept out of the world." (hc p44)
The question I immediately had after the Bastard's origin story is, so why can't the Bastard just take the escaped demons out of the world?
Right after, we are told that escaped demons in animals are forced out of the world by the Order by being given to a dying Order member who will take the demon with them. Some time later, we are told that certain saints are able to remove demons from people. And there it rests for a while, until Ista gains the ability.
This made no sense to me at first. The Bastard can control demons to the extent of sending them on death miracles; if He can leash them and send them out as servants, why can't he track them down when they go on unauthorized excursions, put the leash back on, and bring them back? (I have dogs on the brain, as you might understand.)
I think I understand why the Bastard can't remove demons from people. People's souls, we are told in The Curse of Chalion, are inviolate; people must choose to open to the gods. And because demons entangle themselves in their hosts' souls, it takes a person (like Ista) to comb out the soul from the demon. (This is what I got from re-reading the ending last night. It was doubtless obvious to you all.)
[ Extended aside: Ista is able to swallow demons because of Arhys's passage to the Father, which widens her soul, so to speak. And that's only possible because the Father gives her the thread. Would Ista have gained the ability in some other fashion? The Bastard and Father have not, obviously, had a good history together; I don't think that they were working together here to both gain their goals for Ista, but it's interesting.
I really want to know what was going on with the Golden General. Was the Father really trying to wipe out the Quintarian faith? ]
However, we're also told in Chalion that the gods can seep in through animals, with effort—thus the miracle granted to everyone at their funeral, of the sacred animals signifying which god has taken up the soul. So why can't the Bastard seep into animals and take out the demon? Animals, the implication is, have no free will; we are told that demons do not, either.
[ Is this a term of art? Lady Cattilara's demon seems to have desires of its own, and not just to create chaos, or at least not obviously so, given its desire to remain free of Joen's leash. ]
I think I don't understand the extent to which the Bastard is given agency over matter; it seems to sound more sweeping than it actually is. But I can't work it the rationale, which is annoying because the beautifully-designed theology is what I really liked about Chalion. And I really like the book otherwise.
Right. I've babbled enough and need to run. So, what am I missing?
[ Addition: I figured it out. We're also told that free demons are vulnerable to recapture when death occurs because of the rent death opens (p344 hc). Well, gods can seep into animals, but they don't have enough space to bring the demon back out.
And a Bujold listee reminded me that death magic requires opening oneself to the god, which must make the god's continued control of the death demon possible.
I knew I was missing something obvious *grumbles at self for being slow* ]