Sunday 31 May 2015

Caldwell's The Fifth Gospel

Just finished reading Ian Caldwell's The Fifth Gospel. "Compulsively readable" is correct: I could not put it down till I finished it finally, yesterday. A whole series of reasons, besides the fact that it is quite well written, except in the middle when it begins wandering a bit: it is based in the "Vatican village"; it is about a Greek Catholic priest who is married, with a 5 year old son, and his brother, a Latin rite priest who is a Vatican diplomat; it is also about relationships between the Catholic and the Orthodox churches, and between the Latin and the Oriental rites within the Catholic church; and it is about the Shroud. A potent combination. The two brothers - who are very different personalities, but who love each other absolutely - are an allusion to the relationships between Latin and Oriental, and perhaps between Catholic and Orthodox. The sub-theme of a Greek Catholic married priest living within the City is another undercurrent: he is a minority; his wife leaves him because she cannot take the pressure; he does not have much money (the single bottle of Fanta on the cupboard); and there is the child to take care of.

The plot around the Shroud is convincing, but not accurate in the end in all its details. I have the impression that much of the storyline turns around the assumption that the Gospel of John is "merely symbolic." But Charlesworth and a slew of scholars, Catholic and Protestant, are slowly showing us that the geographical indicators are far from being symbolic. The pool with 5 porticoes, for example, which no one seemed to be able to find: it is the pool in the compound of the White Fathers in Jerusalem.

But the turns that the story takes are remarkable: the Shroud as a vital element in the Iconoclasm controversy, for example. Is that historical? Is it not? To be checked. The Shroud and Thomas the Twin: whatever the historical merit of this connection, certainly Thomas the Apostle is associated deeply with Edessa, and the links between Edessa, the Aramaic Gospel of Matthew, and India, have still to be properly explored - or at least, to be properly studied (by me). And then 1204: is it such a secret that the Shroud was brought - stolen! - to Europe by the Crusaders?

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