Pe`re Antoine by Edward F. Murphy
Here is a vivid story of the inner life of a Roman Catholic priest. It is a study of the motives which prompted his ecclesiastical activities and affords an appreciation of the tangled human relationships which resulted from love of self rather than love of God.
Already as a boy, Fray Antonio had decided to enter the monastery in Granada, Spain. But after he met Anglice, his resolve was shaken as if it had never been. Not until he had been “jilted” for another man did he turn back in his misery to the consecrated life. The padre was pursued with his own bitterness. It drove him to New Orleans which city was under Spanish control at that time, and there the remembrance of Anglice’s falseness brought out a harshness in him. Seeking to build his prestige by forcing the civil authorities to kow-tow to the Church, he sowed discord and reaped emptiness in his soul. He was returned to Spain in disgrace.
There the proud monk had to look within for the cause of his wretchedness. Also, Antonio found evidence that Anglice had sacrificed her love for him in order that he might dedicate his life to God. This discovery caused the pendulum to swing back, too far back. He obtained permission to return to his former charge. The New World enticed him to try out his new ideas of freedom and self expression. He desired to be loved by men. Laxity prevailed where before he had been overly strict. He now refuted the authority of his superiors to interfere with his methods and was supported by the congregation who had been taught to give him first devotion. And yet there was no peace within him. His love still was centered about himself, and God’s Word was interpreted merely to his personal advantage.
At length, his career nearly over, the priest was brought to the realization that he had missed the true purpose of his calling. The Almighty could not be fitted into his snug pattern for living. The servant must be led instead by the grace of God. Man’s desire must not take precedence, but he must look upward in prayer to ask the Father’s will in all things. Thus, after a lifetime of service that was no service, the priest knew his error and could only ask forgiveness.
The Bulwark, by Theodore Dreiser
How easy it is for a man’s wealth or his position to compromise his principles.
Solon Barnes was a Quaker. Ardently, he wished to sustain those beliefs and customs which were his by heritage and conviction. He desired to live by the “Inner Light” and to practice simplicity in dress, speech and mode of living.
But even in Philadelphia, the city of Friends, simplicity was difficult to achieve as the calendar turned to the twentieth century. Success came willingly to Solon. A worthwhile position in a bank was offered him; he married the daughter of a wealthy fellow Quaker; his investments were sound. All these material gifts appeared to be the result of his industry and good stewardship.
Nevertheless, these possessions implied a responsibility that did not always rest lightly upon Solon Barnes. He sensed that comfort and even luxury crept into his habits of living. Many of the younger Friends had begun to adopt modern clothing, to let slip the “thee” and “thou” used in speech, to furnish their homes past necessity by introducing pictures, carpeting and china. The signs indicated an increasing emphasis on the material world along with a corresponding neglect of the spiritual life.
This devout Quaker sought to hold the reins tight for himself and his children. He never allowed his advancement to interfere with his own conscience. But his children were not imbued with their father’s religiosity as they termed it. They felt themselves starved for a little luxury, a bit of worldly glitter. With them, a profitable marriage was of first importance. And they had need of fun first. Eventually, this seeking after pleasure and freedom led to deceit, stealing, shame and disgrace for all the family.
In this book, Mr. Dreiser teaches that under the press of modern life a man can scarcely build up his faith at the same time that he seeks material success. Where the snare of riches escapes himself, his children are caught fast. It follows that the blame rests upon the father in large measure for failing to lead his children to the proper value of his religion.
It is true, of course, that an abundance of worldly goods often undermines a man’s spiritual conscience. And the Bible affirms that it is harder for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to pass thru a needle’s eye.
Yet the author appears to think of religion as a set of moral truths which may be accepted or rejected to the benefit or hurt of the person involved. He ignores the fact that God’s grace must be operative in the heart or no amount of instruction will produce a believing child.
We are no Quakers. But we might learn a lesson from this book for we are tempted constantly to seek after pleasures and treasures of this life. And in our search after them, we allow our spiritual lives to suffer. It seems we need a reminder to bring us back to looking for the things of God and to turning our backs upon the things of the world.
Today there are many fads. School boys and girls have taken to wearing brightly colored sweaters with animals marching across the breast. Not long ago every girl had to have a plain silver clasp called a barrette to hold her hair in place. The mode for knee-length skirts has been giving way to a trend toward longer dresses. These are fads which affect adornment.
There are also fads in the field of writing. It has become fashionable to choose a Biblical character as the principal figure in a story and to weave about him fact and fiction into an interesting plot which the author’s imagination dictates. Novels such as The Robe, The Apostle, David the King, Hearken Unto the Voice, Jacob, Behold Your King, The Brother and The Emperor’s Physician, illustrate this literary bent during the last few years.
The Emperor’s Physician tells us about Luke, who has received an assignment with Sergius Cumanus, the personal doctor of the Roman emperor, to make a survey in Palestine of the most prevalent diseases among the Jews to discover causes for their existence. This area of the Roman Empire had been showing more unrest and human misery than any other province. The two eminent physicians begin their work at the time of Christ’s ministry and their work and Christ’s healing quickly become interwoven in a strange succession of events.
Throughout, Luke is presented to us as a believer in mind and matter in the modern way. He recognizes the psychological power of a healer as having strong influence upon the patient. Sergius Cumanus, on the other hand, believes only in matter. A doctor, according to him, can aid the sick only through skill in diagnosing and prescribing medicine for them. A struggle develops between the men over a recognition of Jesus’ healing abilities.
Luke comes to consider Jesus a man of intense personality, who can draw from his own nature a tranquility of mind which he gives to others. This feeling of security and certainty becomes the possession of the patient of Jesus due to the latter’s dominant personality. He is also clever at judging a man’s greatest need and of supplying that need, thus resolving the sick person’s inner complex and rendering him easier to cure. Luke’s analysis grows clear as he argues with his companion. To Sergius, Jesus is a faker preying upon the minds of a people long known for superstition and ready to turn in their wretched state to anyone who extends to them a hope of better conditions.
Mr. Perkins has worked hard to supply a background which will take the sting induced by the word “miracle” out of the deeds of Christ. For example, the two physicians have been prescribing rest for Mary Magdalene over a period of several weeks before Jesus meets her and casts out the devils. Her illness they term epilepsy. Also, the Gerasene demoniac has been treated by Luke and Sergius and has shown much improvement before Jesus arrives to cast out the Legion of spirits in the demoniac’s last violent fit of lunacy.
The author strikes another bizarre note when his plot introduces threads of Roman protection for Jesus. The Syrian governor is said to favor Jesus with his protection after his daughter has been cured of leprosy by Christ. The cure was affected over a period of twenty days, of course and once more after fruitless treatment by the physicians. Again, the Captain of the Guard at Jerusalem rewards the Healer with several rescues from the jealous Jews because his servant was brought back from the point of death by the therapy of Jesus plus the medicines of Luke and his friend.
Such a book as The Emperor’s Physician is lauded by many for its interpretation of life and customs among the Jews.
In an evaluation of this type of book, however, one must not lose sight of its real significance. The fact that these books are written and eagerly read by the public so that they have become the rage shows us that the world that is acquainted with the Bible to some degree, nominal Christendom, needs the lie expressed to assure itself that none believe in the true Christ. They must sugar-coat the man, Jesus, and his followers like Luke and Paul to take his Messiah-ship away. They must make Him serene and untroubled in order to deny sin and the necessity for redemption. But their words stumble and contradict each other. These books are fads which pass away. And as their murmuring dies away, the Truth of Scripture shines forth forever.
THE BLACK ROSE by Thomas B. Costain
Would you like to go to China with us in this story? The trip may be long and arduous, but there will be no lack of adventure. The first paragraph will launch you from your starting point, England.
It is medieval England. Edward the First and Roger Bacon are names of the day. Oxford, however, finds human nature the same as always. A couple of her sons get themselves into trouble leading an uprising. Both sons find it expedient to join forces, as their predicament of being expelled from school gives them common footing.
Walter of Gurnie has blue blood that boils at mention of his ignoble birth. His friend springs from the common people, but his loyalty is as firm as his frame is large and sturdy. Left without a place to go, the two take the suggestion of their great teacher, Roger Bacon, to travel to Cathay, there to study the advanced civilization of the East and bring back to England knowledge of it. Walter is given a map to guide him.
They find it easy to follow the broad wake of the Crusades to Palestine. From there, their travels become increasingly unsafe. Through a tyrannical merchant of Antioch, Walter barters places for themselves in a caravan conducted by the famous Mongolian war lord, Bayan of the Hundred Eyes. They discover incidentally that the merchant is sending by the same caravan, nine times nine beautiful women to Kubla Khan, a gift of slaves. To prove his bestiality, the merchant includes his own half sister among the eight-one slaves. The young Englishmen witness a spirited attempt on her part to plead mercy from her heartless brother. To their surprise, Walter and Tristram observe that this beautiful Greek woman has blue eyes, English eyes. The color speaks to them of the great Crusades of a generation before.
The Westerners are hated and scorned by the Mongols. Their lives are lightly esteemed and come into constant danger after Maryam flees her captivity and asks protection from them in the guise of a black servant boy. Maryam is eager to learn about the country of her father and life in a Christian land. Her presence is revealed at length by a spying Mongolian before they reach China. To avoid suspicion of complicity, Walter continues with the caravan while the others escape.
China has many wonders for Walter. He sees cannon and powder used in a new kind of warfare; he is taught the making of paper; he studies the process of printing. Chinese law and philosophy and society are as fascinating as they are strange to him. His yellow hair is interpreted as a good omen by the Empress and his favor with the court enables him to experience luxury and wealth beyond his wildest imagination.
His friends appear again, but in dire straits. To rescue Maryam, who is about to be sold into slavery, Walter marries her. Tristram, after being treated like a caged tiger on exhibition, is restored to health after many weeks. War interrupts and terminates their visit in China. Treachery separates Maryam from her husband and his friend. Walter and Tristram are forcibly conveyed by ship back to Europe. Believing their little black rose, as they called her when she was disguised as a Negro servant, to be lost, the two return to England.
The jewels and the tales of adventure gain a social position for Walter, but Tristram becomes an outcast because of his leadership of the commoners against feudal oppression. The two, though loyal to one another, are widely separated by circumstances. At length, Tristram’s life becomes the price of his steadfastness.
Meanwhile, Maryam’s son, Little Walter, is born. With perseverance, courage and just two English words at her command, she travels inexorably toward her husband’s country. Weeks between ships, she passes walking on the waterfronts calling “England” and “Walter” until she is picked up and brought farther on her way. Hardship and illness cannot make her give up. At last, after four years of struggle, Maryam reaches England and Walter.
A sketch of the plot can give only a hint of the charm the story holds. Its running recital doesn’t let our interest flag. Its pictures of life in early England are vivid, but history is given us in pleasing doses by being secondary to the plot. Among the welter of recent books which are noticeable (not notable) for their ugliness and sordidness, this one printed in 1945 appears as a refreshing change.
It is honestly a secular book. Its ethics are limited to a simple code of morals without aspiring to religiosity or philosophy. Courage, loyalty and honesty are the characteristics held to be worthwhile in the individuals. The only apparent purpose of the story may be noticed from the restlessness among the downtrodden peasantry in England and the yearnings after science among a few leaders of English thought. We are made to realize that the high walls of the Dark Ages are beginning to crumble and that the Renaissance cannot be long delayed. The author wants us to know that men wish to be recognized as men after centuries of being considered little better than animals.
Certainly we do not call this a great book. Its style is easy, but not remarkable. A second glance at the language shows a fair amount of preparation and research on the part of the writer. Altogether THE BLACK ROSE can be recommended for pleasure to your readers who wish to be entertained for an hour or two by a legend of the long ago.
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