John the Apostle, now a revered Master in exile with a small band of Christian brothers on the island of Patmos, confronts heresy, schism and doubt.
Infirm of body but strong of spirit, John lives in harsh conditions with a fragile company of believers. Together they await the return of Christ, but impatience and uncertainty create fissures that are beginning to split the group apart. The leading dissenter is Matthias, a cunning cynic who doubts the divinity of Christ and proclaims himself a “divine” being. His scheme involves orchestrating a performance in which he “miraculously” brings back to life a supposedly dead follower of the Master. Matthias begins to eerily echo the words of Christ: “I come to speak the truth. For it has been given to me. I am come a light into the world that whosoever believeth in me should not abide in darkness.” At this point the group splinters into the believers in Matthias and those who remain loyal to John. Meanwhile, an announcement reaches Patmos that the Emperor is dead, though shortly before his death he had issued a decree that the persecution of Christians should cease. Elated, John and his small circle of believers travel to Ephesus, where they discover that Christianity has become a fragile sect in danger of dying away. Those who seek favors from John want something tangible rather than the insubstantiality of a “mere” blessing. The true believers have their faith tested by being spurned and spat upon. As John’s hold on life keeps getting more tenuous, Matthias (whom John labels the “anti-Christ”) reappears to wreak yet more theological havoc. Ultimately, John, “in perfect clarity,” is graced with a vision of the end of time and dictates the divinely inspired words to an amanuensis.
Irish novelist Williams (Four Letters of Love, 1999, etc.) takes spiritual issues seriously—and continues to write compellingly about them.