A resourceful skeptic accompanies an ailing bishop to the Nicene Council, their conversations and adventures on the road mirroring the Christian beliefs and doctrines they will address before Roman Emperor Constantine I.
In this debut historical novel, an odd pair sets out for Nicaea in C.E. 325. The skeptic Timotheus has been elected by his neighbors to escort the elder Bishop Iohannes to a council being held by the Christian Emperor Constantine. The emperor seeks to use the assembly to ease divisions between different Christian teachings, particularly concerning the notions of “God as the Father” and “God as the Son.” The exchanges will eventually produce the Apostles Creed, an early steppingstone to Christianity’s becoming a world religion. Timotheus, who hardly considers himself a Christian, sees the trip as another way to avoid dealing with his father’s death and estate, while the kind Iohannes needs the younger man’s aid on the journey due to his own failing health. But their travels quickly become far more enlightening as Timotheus and the bishop encounter an array of characters, from friendly Gnostics to philosophical shepherds, devious bandits, and a lovely, devout young caregiver whom Timotheus will take as his wife. Each of these interactions turns into a discussion about aspects of Christianity, ranging from the significance of the cross, the effects of Roman persecutions of believers, and the importance of charity and forgiveness to pagan beliefs that are shaping the religion. Ritchie’s tale is a charming piece of historical fiction, using approachable, modern language to share details of the time, from the turmoil facing the Christian faith to the era’s technologies, like road and cart building. There are quotations from hymns, religious history, Scripture, and even country singers throughout. And, though not overwhelmed by them, the text provides useful footnotes where necessary. Timotheus, an educated man from a landowning family, remains a fun first-person narrator, helping readers to engage intelligently with the story. His bawdy sense of humor contrasts with the bishop’s dry wit, ensuring that even the most serious ecumenical debates will still have a bit of bounce to them.
Highly accessible religious historical fiction, as funny as it is informative.