Thursday, August 25, 2011


One of the finalists in the 2011 Catholic Arts and Letters Awards is Theophilus by Michael O'Brien. It was also one of my personal favorites. The Ignatius Press website has the following synopsis:
St. Luke addressed his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles to a man named Theophilos.

Who was Theophilos? Scripture scholars do not know, making him a fit subject for Michael O’Brien’s vivid imagination. In this fictional narrative, Theophilos is the skeptical but beloved adoptive father of St. Luke. Challenged by the startling account of the “Christos” received in the chronicle from his beloved son Luke and concerned for the newly zealous young man’s fate, Theophilos, a Greek physician and an agnostic, embarks on a search for Luke to bring him home. He is gravely concerned about the deadly illusions Luke has succumbed to regarding the incredible stories surrounding Jesus of Nazareth, a man of contradictions who has caused so much controversy throughout the Roman Empire.

Thus begins a long journey that will take Theophilos deep into the war between nations and empires, truth and myth, good and evil, and into unexpected dimensions of his very self. His quest takes the reader into four ancient civilizations - the Greek, Roman, Jewish, and that of Christianity at its birth, where he meets those who knew this man that some believe is the Messiah.

Though Theophilos is a man of the past ages, he is as familiar to us as the men of our own times. Schooled in the empiricism of both medicine and philosophy, Theophilos is well suited to speak to our age in which seeing cannot be the basis for faith, but rather hearing the witness of those who have been touched by God and opening ourselves to the possibility of an encounter with the living Christ. This is a story about the mysterious interaction of faith and reason, the psychology of perception, and the power of love over death.
The book is written in an almost melodious prose, reminiscent of the classical Greek poetry which Theophilus loves. All that was great and all that was horrible about the ancient world are present in this novel. What was great is about to be transformed and sanctified by the light of Christ, the Christ whom Theophilus undertakes to study in a logical manner. Logic by itself, however, cannot prevail and must ultimately be purified by love, as Theophilus discovers as the person of Jesus of Nazareth is gradually revealed to him. Indeed, the descriptions of the hidden life of Christ make Nazareth come alive for me for, in spite of its dirt and gossip, the Son of God walked there. O'Brien's knowledge of both Scripture and ancient history are effortlessly woven into the storyline, enriching as well as adding credibility to the plot. It is the perfect book to read during a retreat, as I did, or during Advent or Lent, for it brings one back to basics and helps one realize once more what a glorious and dangerous thing it is to be a Christian.

(*NOTE: This book was sent to me by the Catholic Writers Guild in exchange for my honest opinion.) Share

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