The Robe, p.1Lloyd C. Douglas
Table of Contents
Table of Contents
An Introduction to The Robe
FIRST MARINER BOOKS EDITION 1999
Copyright © 1942 by Lloyd C. Douglas
Copyright © renewed 1969 by Virginia Douglas Dawson
and Betty Douglas Wilson
Illustrations copyright © 1947 by Houghton Mifflin Company
Illustrations copyright © renewed 1974 by Houghton Mifflin Company
Introduction copyright © 1986 by Andrew M. Greeley
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Douglas, Lloyd C. (Lloyd Cassel), 1877–1951.
1. Jesus Christ—Fiction. 2. Tiberius, Emperor of Rome, 42 B.C.–37 A.D.—Fiction. 3. Caligula, Emperor of Rome, 12–41—Fiction. 4. Holy Coat—Fiction. I. Title.
PS3507.O7573R6 1986 813'.52 85-30494
ISBN 13: 978-0-395-95775-2
ISBN 10: 0-395-95775-3 (pbk.)
ISBN 10: 0-395-07635-8
Printed in the United States of America
DOC 20 19 18
Dedicated with appreciation to
who wondered what became of The Robe
An Introduction to The Robe
ANDREW M. GREELEY
I was in eighth grade, fourteen years old, when I read The Robe. It had an enormous influence on me. This introduction to a new edition is perhaps a way of discharging a long-forgotten debt to Lloyd C. Douglas.
The Robe was the first novel I had ever read; it changed my mind about religion, about fiction, and about the possible relationship between the two. I continued to reflect on this relationship through the years, especially as I devoured the so-called Catholic novelists who were much discussed in the Church in my young adulthood—Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, François Mauriac, George Berranos, Leon Bloy. Finally, almost forty years later, when I turned to storytelling of my own, it was a result of a long intellectual and imaginative process that began with reading The Robe.
I began the book, in the quiet of my room at the front of our house at Mayfield and Potomac on Chicago’s west side, with some hesitation and even guilt. On the one hand, the book was being read and discussed by many of my parents’ friends, some loving it and some professing to be shocked by its approach to the Bible. On the other hand, it had been roundly denounced in the official Catholic press.
The charge, as best as I can remember it, was that Douglas’s work was “naturalist” and “rationalist” in its description of the miracles of Jesus, an allegation that in retrospect seems absurd, even in the Catholic press. Douglas did perhaps find natural explanations for the changing of water into wine at Cana and for the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, but he certainly did not tiy to explain away most of the other miracles. Quite the contrary. Marcellus comes to believe finally because of the miracles he hears about and witnesses. It is a curious indication of the change in Catholicism that forty years ago Douglas was faulted for not being literal enough in his approach to the Bible and that now he might be criticized, especially by Catholic biblical scholars, for being too literal.
Despite my fears that perhaps I was being disloyal to my Catholic heritage, I could not put the book down. For the first time in my life I was experiencing the power of a skilled storyteller to create a world of his own and characters of his own who compelled my attention and engaged my whole personality. So this is what a storyteller does, I thought, and this is why people read stories!
Moreover, the world he created was a world I already knew from my religion classes in the Catholic school—the world of the time of Jesus, of Rome and Jerusalem, of Greece and Galilee in the first century A.D. (C.E. we call it now, Common Era, afraid either of the Latin of anno domini or perhaps of offending unbelievers with a reference to the Lord). But in my religion class Jesus and his contemporaries seemed part of another world and another species; the characters in The Robe, however, were as real as my neighbors, my classmates, the girl down the street.
That was a powerful religious experience for me. The overlay of piety, sentimentality, and devotion which had been added to the Bible had somehow made it all, if not quite unreal, at least a world that existed in a different category of being. To meet Peter and John and Stephen and Paul and Bartholomew and to listen to real people who had really known the real Jesus changed the religious game for me dramatically and definitively. The New Testament was, as I would say now, continuous with my world and not discontinuous.
Perhaps the way our teachers treat the Bible does not have the same effect on everyone, but I have learned through the years that by trying to make the biblical actors superhuman, we who teach often make them nonhuman and inhuman, and hence uninteresting, to those who are human. That was not, of course, the intent of the evangelists, but we often distort their intent to suit our purposes and our fears. A novel like The Robe revivifies the world of the Bible and reestablishes its contact with us and the relationship between the people who live in the Bible stories and our lives.
This is no mean achievement. Jesus and his friends became real to me those late evenings in the quiet of my room in a way they had never been before. It was a turning point in my life.
Why, I wondered, are there not more stories like this? It is still, I think, a pertinent question.
When I began to read the book again in preparation for this essay I was eager to see whether I had exaggerated its impact in my nostalgic memories. Would it still be a page-turning yam? Would it still bring alive the world of the first century? Did it still have the ability to renew the New Testament stories? Would the death of Stephen, for example, heard so many times in the Acts of the Apostles, become once more a “real” as opposed to a “devotional” event on Douglas’s pages?
I’m happy to say I was not disappointed. I still care about Marcellus and Demetrius and Diana. I still thrill to meet the Big Fisherman and to see Paul on the fringes of the crowd that kills Stephen. I realize how much my “pictures” of the characters in the Bible are still affected by Douglas’s description of them. The Robe is still a magic book, written by a magic storyteller. A new generation that has not read it before and cannot even remember the film (the first of the wide-screen epics with, as I remember it, an incredibly pretty young Jean Simmons as the doomed Diana) should find it as exciting as we did forty years ago. It should be as popular today as it was then. Lloyd Douglas wrote truly a religious classic, one whose appeal is not limited to a particular time or a particular place.
His most important decision as a storyteller—indeed, one that seems to me to come close to genius—was not to permit Jesus on stage. We learn about Him through the memories and the experiences of those who did know him. Like Marcellus, we are not eyewitnesses but pilgrims in search of a picture of Jesus from those who wer
The Lord, not to put too fine an edge on things, is a slippery one. He can be captured, more or less, by the visual arts because they do not require that He speak or move or act. But in the literary arts He appears either too good to be human or too human to be good. Sometimes, as in the case of Jesus Christ Superstar, the author manages both errors.
Douglas, by keeping Jesus off stage, preserves that which is essential in Jesus: His illusiveness, His capacity to surprise, His disconcerting refusal to fit into any of the categories with which we attempt to capture and contain Him.
Precisely because we encounter Jesus through those who knew Him and through the works He accomplished with them and finally through His effect on Marcellus and Diana, He continues to be somehow larger than life. The only real Jesus is one who is larger than life, who escapes our categories, who eludes our attempts to reduce Him to manageable proportions so that we can claim him for our cause.
John Breech, in his recent scholarly study The Silence of Jesus, examines the handful of parables and sayings of Jesus which the scholars agree are unquestionably authentic. Breech argues that when one concentrates on the Jesus of these parables (Prodigal Son, Improvident Farmer, Good Samaritan) one encounters a person who is even more astonishing and challenging than the Jesus of our conventional religious devotions, a man who not only is surprising but preaches surprise and wonder. Jesus, Breech contends, did not come to provide answers to political or religious questions but to challenge with his experience of the overwhelming power of goodness that animates the Universe and which he called His Father in Heaven.
Some will find this picture of Jesus too lean and sparse. Many scholars will take issue with some of his interpretations of the parables. Yet it is hard to reject the notion that Jesus was primarily a person come to testify to the astonishing and wondrous surprise of God’s love. In the kingdom of God’s mercy, as one writer has observed, there is always wonder and surprise. And as my friend Father John Shea has observed, perhaps the best way that we who are followers of Jesus can prepare for death is to develop our capacity for surprise.
No one today would accept Douglas’s explanation of the parable of the farmer, by the way; it is generally agreed that the story is not a moral tale but rather a story of God. The farmer was crazy by human standards. You can’t run a business by paying those who don’t work. The point in the story is that God’s love is so powerful, so passionate, so forgiving, that by human standards it might well be thought mad; Jesus as a man of surprise and wonder. Despite Douglas’s rationalization of the parable and despite the fact that he did not have available the research done on the parables in the last four decades, he still had the unerring instinct to keep Jesus a man of surprise and wonder, to comprehend that it is precisely the mystery of Jesus, our inability to categorize him, that constitutes His appeal.
Any Jesus who has been made to fit our formulae ceases to be appealing precisely because He is no longer wondrous, mysterious, surprising. We may reduce Him to a right-wing Republican conservative or a gun-toting Marxist revolutionary and thus rationalize and justify our own political ideology. But having done that to our own satisfaction, we are dismayed to discover that whoever it is we have signed on as an ally, it’s not Jesus. We may consign Him to obscure and largely unintelligible Greek philosophical categories and proudly boast that this is indeed the faith of the tradition, but we soon discover that the devotion of our people is to someone quite different. Or we may turn Him into a biblical literalist who pounds the tub as we do, only to find that our people are listening to quite another Jesus. Categorize Jesus and He isn’t Jesus any more.
Of course we must attempt philosophical and theological interpretations, of course we must try to derive political and social conclusions from His Message, but we must do so with humility and restraint, knowing that Jesus is too surprising, too wonderful, too mysterious, too illusive, too much larger than life, to fit perfectly any of our interpretations.
If Douglas were writing today, he might have paid more attention to the witness Jesus bore about His Father—the dazzling, half-mad (by human standards) lover who makes it all possible. Such an emphasis would merely have increased the impact of what Lloyd Douglas wanted to say. He knew, or at least intuited, that the secret of Jesus was the secret of wonder and surprise, of overarching and passionate mystery that can never be completely explained or completely captured by human cognitive categories and rational explanations or by philosophical and theological propositions, as necessary as all of these may be. That's why in a master stroke of narrative technique he kept Jesus off stage, where He astonishes first Demetrius, then Marcellus, and finally Diana.
And where, if we give Him half a chance, in the pages of this book He will once again surprise us.
BECAUSE she was only fifteen and busy with her growing up, Lucia’s periods of reflection were brief and infrequent; but this morning she felt weighted with responsibility.
Last night her mother, who rarely talked to her about anything more perplexing than the advantages of clean hands and a pure heart, had privately discussed the possible outcome of Father’s reckless remarks yesterday in the Senate; and Lucia, flattered by this confidence, had declared maturely that Prince Caius wasn’t in a position to do anything about it.
But after she had gone to bed, Lucia began to fret Gaius might indeed overlook her father’s heated comments about the extravagances and mismanagement of his government, if he had had no previous occasion for grievance against the Gallio family. There was, however, another grievance that no one knew about except herself—and Diana. They would all have to be careful now or they might get into serious trouble.
The birds had awakened her early. She was not yet used to their flut-terings and twitterings, for they had returned much sooner than usual. Spring having arrived and unpacked before February’s lease was up. Lucia roused to a consciousness of the fret that she had taken to bed with her. It was still there, like a toothache.
Dressing quietly so as not to disturb Tertia, who was soundly sleeping in the alcove—and would be alarmed when she roused to find her mistress’s couch vacant—Lucia slipped her sandals softly over the exquisitely wrought mosaics that led from her bedchamber and through her parlor into the long corridor and down the wide stairway to the spacious hall and out into thr vast peristyle where she paused, shielding her eyes against the sun.
For the past year or more, Lucia had been acutely conscious of her increasing height and rapid development into womanhood; but here on this expanse of tessellated tiling she always felt very insignificant. Everything in this immense peristyle dwarfed her; the tall marble columns that supported the vaulted roofs, the stately statues standing in their silent dignity on the closc-clippcd lawn, the high silver spray of the fountain. No matter how old she became, she would be ever a child here.
Nor did it make her feel any more mature when, proceeding along the patterned pavement, she passed Servius whose face had been as bronzed and deep-lined when Lucia was a mere toddler. Acknowledging with twinkling fingers and a smile the old slave’s grave salute, as he brought the shaft of his spear to his wrinkled forehead, she moved on to the vine-covered pergola at the far end of the rectangle.
There, with her folded arms resting on the marble balustrade that overlooked the terraced gardens, the arbors, the tiled pool, and commanded a breath-taking view of the city and the river, Lucia tried to decide whether to tell Marcellus. He would be terrifically angry, of course, and if he did anything about it at all he might make matters worse; but—somebody in the family must be informed where we stood in the opinion of Gaius before any more risks were taken. It was unlikely, thought Lucia, that she would have an opportunity to talk alone with her brother until later in the day; for Marcellus had been out—probably al
The soft whisper of sandal-straps made her turn about. Decimus the butler was approaching, followed by the Macedonian twins bearing silver trays aloft on their outspread palms. Would his mistress, inquired Decimus with a deep bow, desire her breakfast served here?
‘Why not?’ said Lucia, absently.
Decimus barked at the twins and they made haste to prepare the table while Lucia watched their graceful movements with amused curiosity, as if observing the antics of a pair of playful terriers. Pretty things, they were; a little older than she, though not so tall; agile and shapely, and as nearly alike as two peas. It was the first time that Lucia had seen them in action, for they had been purchased only a week ago. Apparently Decimus, who had been training them, thought they were ready now for active duty. It would be interesting to see how they performed, for Father said they had been brought up in a home of refinement and were probably having their first experience of serving a table. Without risking an inquiring glance at the young woman who stood watching them, they proceeded swiftly but quietly with their task. They were both very white, observed Lucia, doubtless from confinement in some prisonship.
One of Father’s hobbies, and his chief extravagance, was the possession of valuable slaves. The Gallio family did not own very many, for Father considered it a vulgar, dangerous, and ruinously expensive vanity to have swarms of them about with little to do but eat, sulk, and conspire. He selected his slaves with the same discriminating care that he exercised when purchasing beautiful statuary and other art objects. He had no interest in public sales. Upon the return of a military expedition from some civilized country, the commanding officers would notify a few of their well-to-do acquaintances that a limited number of high-grade captives were available; and Father would go down, the day before the sale, and look them over, learn their history, sound them out, and if he found anything he wanted to add to his household staff he would bid. He never told anyone in the family how much he had paid for their slaves, but it was generally felt that he had never practiced economy in acquiring such merchandise.
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