Caldwell (The Rule of Four, 2004) makes intriguing literature from complex theology, weaving in a text lost to history, the Shroud of Turin and Vatican duplicity.
"I can’t remember a time when I didn’t live in the Vatican," says Father Alex Andreou, an Eastern Catholic theology instructor. Alex, as permitted by his Eastern faith, married Mona, but in the throes of postpartum depression, she abandoned him, leaving him to raise Peter. Alex’s brother, Simon, chose Roman rather than Eastern Catholicism. He’s now a Holy See Secretary of State, a priest-diplomat. Like their deceased father, the brothers yearn for an Eastern-Roman reconciliation, an achievement they first think possible because of Ugo Nogara’s scholarly work. Nogara rediscovered the long-forgotten Diatessaron, "a fusion of the four existing gospels into a single document." Now Ugo’s dead, and Simon, who found his body, faces canonical trial for his murder. Ugo believed the Shroud was brought to Byzantine’s Edessa after the Crucifixion, around A.D. 33, then stolen by "Crusaders who brought home the Shroud and Diatessaron." Too late, Alex finds that Ugo’s discoveries will damage Pope John Paul’s tentative steps to heal the Roman-Orthodox schism. Beyond the extraordinarily erudite plot and the details of daily life in Vatican City, Caldwell’s characterizations fascinate: Simon, "who can still shed the world in a heartbeat"; the anti-reconciliationist Cardinal Boia, "like standing in the path of a streamroller"; and even John Paul, paralyzed, nearly mute, eyes "[a] hypnotic Mediterranean color, a pelagic blue. They swim with life." While exploring Ugo’s death and dissecting theological infighting, Caldwell weaves together the Shroud’s passage from Edessa to France to Turin, the Gospels’ historical and theological truths, and Rome’s clumsy effort to assuage the bloody events of "1204...the darkest year in the history between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches." In homage to the Christian message, sin and salvation, forgiveness and redemption, love and sacrifice are chronicled from the personal to the universal.
A brilliant work.