Thursday, May 06, 2010
Reviewed by JEAN M. HEIMANN, a freelance writer and oblate with the Community of St. John, who is involved with several ministries in the diocese of Wichita.
Anyone familiar with the work of Michael D. O’Brien knows that his writing consistently revolves around the theme of revealing the truth to a world of unbelievers. In Theophilos, O’Brien continues to expand on this theme in a very eloquent and inspiring way.
The truth-seeker in this fictional narrative is Theophilos, the correspondent whom St. Luke mentions at the beginning of his Gospel and Acts of the Apostles. Using his vivid imagination, O’Brien portrays Theophilos as the beloved uncle and adoptive father of Luke -- a practicing physician on the island of Crete, who taught Luke his profession.
However, Theophilos is seriously concerned about Luke, who seems to have strayed from the path of reason and has become involved with the cult of “the Christos.” Thus, Theophilos embarks on a journey in order to rescue Luke. Little does he realize how all-encompassing his trip will be. For, the long journey takes Theophilos deep into the war between nations and empires, truth and myth, good and evil, and into unexpected dimensions of his very self.
Through the eyes of Theophilos, via a collection of letters and journal entries, we are transported to the first century, where we are taken to four ancient civilizations --- Greek, Roman, Jewish, and that of early Christianity. In his travels, Theophilos conducts his examinations or interviews with both believers and non-believers to determine the truth as well as to provide Luke good reason to return home.
Theophilos is a very credible character whom most readers – Christians and non-Christians alike-- will relate to -- he cares about others – his friends, his wife, his children, and grandchildren. He is intelligent, thoughtful, kind, and is basically a very likable person. He is intellectually invigorated by the philosophers and comforted by the books in his well-stocked library. On the surface, he appears quite content with his life, which he views as satisfying and fulfilling. What need does he have of Christianity? As a man of intellect and reason, an agnostic who denies the interior agonies that gnaw at his very soul, he is well suited to speak to those of our times who also question the need for faith in their lives.
As a long-time fan of O’Brien’s work, I found Theophilos to be a rich, contemplative work which delves even deeper into the spiritual realm than his previous works. The language is provocative, poetic, lyrical, and somewhat mystical at times. The author’s words are carefully chosen to clearly convey profound meaning and truth in a simple, but non-didactic way.
The characters are well-developed, vividly portrayed, and very realistic. Although they are from another era, it is easy to relate to both their virtues and their vices.
It is obvious that O’Brien has done an extensive amount of meticulous research in composing this story, making it come alive for the reader. Many of the stories of both the Old and New Testament are revisited and the characters correspond remarkably well to the biblical stories.
In summary, Theophilos is a deeply moving story about the interaction between faith and reason and the triumph of love over death. It is a book that will leave a lasting impression on its readers and open their hearts and souls to the infinite love and mercy of God. It is a must read novel for both believers and non-believers -- I highly recommend it.
~ © Jean M. Heimann May, 2010