Have You Read Them?

In continuity with my love of Anne Rice’s earlier books, I’d like to continue that, but to move away from the Vampire Chronicles, the Mayfair witches, and the activity of other “supernatural” creatures, and into her works on the life of Jesus.

There is much to be said about the two first installments in the Christ the Lord series. However, I’ll refrain because I cannot and will not ruin these books for anyone. They are jewels. At first thought, the idea of someone writing a novel about the life of Jesus in the context of a fictional, but historically-probable 1st century world for a Jew sounds like quite the challenge. However, to write this from a first person perspective as if you were Jesus Himself, to enter into the psychology of the incarnate Logos and to imagine what it is like to be simultaneously God and man and try to ‘live’ it out, as it were, in a novel presents itself as an impossible task. The impossibility becomes exponentially more clear when Mrs. Rice decided that she would be entirely faithful to the biblical framework and the orthodox Catholic understanding of the person of Jesus — that is, she would contradict none of the christological pronouncements of Nicea (325), Constantinople (381), nor Chalcedon (451). What a task.

ricejesus

Here is what Peter Kreeft had to say about her:

Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana
Review by Peter Kreeft

I have found it hard to persuade people to read Anne Rice’s two “Jesus novels” (this one is a sequel to her Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt), even though I think they are masterpieces. That’s because what they set out to do, most people would label impossible.

It’s like the movie “Life is Beautiful.” Try describing that movie to someone who has never seen it. “It’s a serious comedy about an Italian father and his little boy in a Nazi death camp. The father protects the boy by persuading him that it’s a game. He succeeds. It will make you laugh, and it will make you weep, and it will make you believe it.” They will narrow their eyes and look at you as if you had either a very perverted literary taste or a strange psychological disease.

Anne Rice’s “Jesus novels” are fictional biographies from the first-person viewpoint of Jesus Himself. Hard enough to write about Him in the third person, but in the first? Yet they are modern realistic historical novels, and their Jesus is the real Jesus, the Jesus of the Bible and the Church. There are no heresies and no Katzantzakis-style corrections or “revisionisms” of the Gospels.

The best thing about these books is that they bring Jesus up close and personal. Somehow, He is more divine for being more human. He is “like us in all things but sin,” and “all things” includes ignorance, social stumbles, normal human emotions, including exasperation, normal sexual desires, and real temptations. And it works so well that you have to keep reminding yourself that this is only fiction, and not an Emmerich-type mystical vision. You have to resist the temptation to pray and meditate on these books as if they were the Gospels.

These two books are to all other Jesus fiction what “The Passion of the Christ” is to all other Jesus movies. The only other fiction about Jesus I know of that arises above the level of embarrassing trash are those in which Jesus is not the central character: Quo Vadis, Ben-Hur, The Robe. Dorothy Sayers proclaimed that it was impossible for anyone to ever write convincing fiction about Jesus, since the real character in the Gospels utterly dwarfs the best literary character we could ever possibly imagine. (For some reason, everyone admits that God’s wisdom and love vastly exceeds ours, but they forget that this must also be true of His imagination — until they look an ostrich in the face.) I think Sayers is right. And this fact is a serious argument for the historical truth of the Gospels, to those who have a nose for narrative.

I would say that only twice before in literary history has Jesus ever been compellingly portrayed as the central character in pieces of fiction. Everyone knows what they pieces are. In one of them, He speaks not a single word and performs only one act: He Kisses the Grand Inquisitor. Anne Rice is not Dostoyevsky, or even C.S. Lewis, but this is the third time the magic has worked.

What is her secret of success? A small but necessary part of it is the fact that she had been an accomplished novelist, in both literary style and practical psychology, for many years. That is the “horizontal” component. A larger cause is the “vertical” component of her recent conversion, and her consequent Gibson-like dedication to this task.

She told her conversion story in the appendix to her first volume (Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt). When she came in the Church, she came all the way in: she was not fooled, as perhaps only naïve Christians could be fooled, by Modernist theologians and scripture scholars who classified the Gospels as largely myths. Her commonsensical, tough-minded literary refutation of the Modernists’ incompetence in judging narrative and character is strikingly similar to that of C. S. Lewis (in “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism”), Sheldon Vanauken (in A Severe Mercy), Richard Purtill ( in Thinking About Religion), Walker Percy (in Lost in the Cosmos), and Flannery O’Conner ( in The Habit of Being). It is significant that no Modernist scripture scholar or theologian has ever written a single successful novel.

Some traditional theologians (though not all) will quarrels with Rice’s assumption that Jesus only gradually became conscious of His divine identity. But this is a “theologoumenon,” a legitimate theological opinion, and an apparent consequence of the Incarnation: if he had to learn to speak, like any other baby, He also had to learn to think, and to understand. But no one will quarrel with her ability to make the reader believe he or she is living in Jesus’ culture, in His Nazareth, His house, His (very) extended family, and in His very consciousness. It is a stunning achievement. Try it; you’ll like it. P.S. The narrative of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness is almost as Unforgettable as Dostoyevski’s.

Peter Kreeft
Professor Philosophy
Boston College
Author of 55 books, including SUMMA OF THE SUMMA, ANGELS AND DEMONS, and THE SHADOWLANDS OF C.S. LEWIS
Visit: peterkreeft.com

Thoughts on Mrs. Rice’s latest work about Jesus? Her autobiography? And her new book coming this October, Angel Time, the first in a series she’s calling “Songs of the Seraphim.”

2 Responses to Have You Read Them?

  • If you have not read either of the two novels, I highly recommend it. I am re-reading the second novel; it just so happens that I employ the Muslim religion’s Ramadan fast for the 40 days of Lent and during the scene of the temptation in the desert, where you — by being in the first-person of Jesus — are tempted by the Devil, I think I might have come to tears. It had nothing to do with my physical hunger, but what my penance represents — my fasting from concupiscence and all disordered desires and how my fast was to make me acutely aware of it. Yet, I knew the devil’s temptations and somehow, “experiencing it” with Jesus made it more real.

    It was one of those moments where you feel in complete and total communion with God…

  • I haven’t read them yet, but I really, really, really want to. And now you’ve gone and whet my appetite once again… Oh, my budget!

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