Our Lady and Sheen

Theophilos by Michael D. O’Brien – A review

I recently completed the book Theophilos by Michael D. O’Brien.  I have also read Father Elijah by the same author, and the two books are very different.  Father Elijah: An Apocalypse is about the end of the world; Theophilos is historical fiction.  I read this book because my friend Brenda encouraged me to read some fiction, because I usually focus on heavier reading.  Theophilos was a great choice.

1. I had misgivings when I picked out the book for a few reasons.  The first was my history degree makes it difficult for me to read things in a historical setting, it’s a horrible drawback, and I don’t want to get events confused in my mind.  Also, on a more lighthearted note, I was worried that when the judgement day comes, and I see St. Luke, that he will laugh at me for thinking about this fictional story as his actual life.

2. To my first misgiving, O’Brien managed to knock me off my feet.  His historical research is impressive, even entwining fictional characters in with real events.  I know that that is the purpose of historical fiction, and so I give O’Brien a 5/5 for his skill.  Also the amount of effort that went into creating the culture of the time, the feelings of people, the interactions within society, and the visual descriptions each brought me out of 21st century America and into the 1st century Mediterranean region.  If you would like to escape your world for a while, this book will help you do this.

3. Linguistically this book was a cornucopia of words and phrases.  The thoughtful, yet seamless, insertion of Latin, Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, and possibly other languages was magical.  O’Brien is a wordsmith, using language in ways I could not have really dreamed.  I believe that the beauty of the language and the names helps keep the book in a “mystical” setting.  Throughout the book I made myself happy by making connections between the Greek or Hebrew or Roman names for those I know in English and their stories.

4. Now to the meat of the book: the Life of Christ.  O’Brien answered one of my fears in the author’s note at the end: “This novel is an imaginative reflection on an obscure aspect of the Gospel and is in no way an attempt to present its characters and scenes as visions of what actually occurred.”  This book is an attempt at getting deeper into the meaning of Christ’s mission, if not the day to day timeline of the early Church.

By taking the historical events of Christ’s life and going into a narrative O’Brien is able to re-tell the Truth of the Gospel in terms that are understandable and believable.  O’Brien’s dream of the Life of Christ, that he puts into words, is one that you can sit back, read, and consider deeply or superficially.  I was brought to tears by one story in particular, “Zakhhay the fool,” in Nazareth.  Of all the stories, I hope that I see Love like that one day.

5. In looking up Theophilos you will find a great many theories as to who this “Most excellent Theophilos” is, to whom the Evangelist wrote the account of Christ.  I find that some of the ideas expressed by others are as plausible as the idea presented in this book that Theophilos was St. Luke’s uncle.  That being said, Theophilos (meaning “friend of God”) is also all of us.  The fictional journey of Theophilos is this book is something that each of us encounter on a daily basis.  If we don’t encounter it while trying to deepen our faith, then we encounter it in other things.  We each must explore beliefs, religious or otherwise, and come to grips with our own understanding, before we can move ourselves deeper down the path of enlightenment.  Theophilos shows us how to do that.

To the reader this can be a novel of theology, philosophy, history, or mystery on whatever level they wish to receive it.  The format of the book is also very easy to follow.  First a letter, then journal entries, then recordings of interviews, then personal reflections, then a final letter.  It’s the first time that I have read a book that had so many different presentation forms, and I rather enjoyed it.

I would recommend this book to anyone.  For those with faith, this book challenges us.  For those without Christian faith, this book offers a more in depth look into why people believe.  Nothing stood out to me that would make this book inappropriate for teenagers, but the vocabulary and philosophical intensity would make it a harder read.  This would be a great book to read with your children if you have patience to explain concepts and historical events to them.

St. Luke, pray for us.

O Most Great Theotokos, pray for us.

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April 25, 2012 - Posted by | Book Review | , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. I highly recommend Sophia House and The Island of the World by the same author.

    Comment by Ben Douglass | April 25, 2012 | Reply


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