Oct. 18, 2009
On the feast of St. Luke today, I am glad that Ignatius Insight has reprinted the foreword to Taylor Caldwell's book. To anyone who has not read the book, go out and get a copy. It is a truly fascinating and compelling read, with an irresistible protagonist, that is also spiritually exalting, as it takes you back to a complete and very plausibly recreated world of the past.
As a pre-teen who was starting to devour books insatiably, the book on St. Luke (which first came out in 1959, so I must have read it in 1960) was one of a handful of 'early Christian' fiction that I read and reread, among them Quo Vadis, The Robe, and The Silver Chalice. It made me partial to St. Luke among the evangelists ever after.
This book has been forty-six years in the writing. The first version was written when I was twelve years old, the second when I was twenty-two, the third when I was twenty-six, and all through those years work did not cease on this book.
The last version began five years ago. It was impossible to complete, as the other versions were impossible to complete, until my husband and I visited the Holy Land in 1956, and until my husband could give me the information for the last third of the book, and other assistance.
From my early childhood Lucanus, or Luke, the great Apostle, has obsessed my mind. He was the only Apostle who was not a Jew. He never saw Christ. All that is written in his eloquent but restrained Gospel he acquired from hearsay, from witnesses, from the Mother of Christ, from disciples, and from the Apostles. His first visit to Israel took place almost a year after the Crucifixion.
Yet he became one of the greatest of the Apostles. Like Saul of Tarsus, later to be known as Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, he believed that Our Lord came not only to the Jews but to the Gentiles, also. He had much in common with Paul, because Paul too had never seen the Christ. Each had had an individual revelation. These two men had difficulty with the original Apostles because the latter stubbornly believed for a considerable time that Our Lord was incarnated, and died, only for the salvation of the Jews, even after Pentecost.
Why has St. Luke always obsessed me, and why have I always loved him from childhood? I do not know. I can only quote Friedrich Nietzsche on this matter: "One hears--one does not seek; one does not ask who gives--I have never had any choice about it."
This book is only indirectly about Our Lord. No novel, no historical book, can convey the story of His life so well as the Holy Bible. So the story of Lucanus, or St. Luke, is the story of every man's pilgrimage through despair and life - darkness, through suffering and anguish, through bitterness and sorrow, through doubt and cynicism, through rebellion and hopelessness to the feet and the understanding of God.
This search for God and the final revelation are the only meaning in life for men. Without this search and revelation man lives only as an animal, without comfort and wisdom, and his life is futile, no matter his station or power or birth.
A priest, who helped us write this book, said of St. Luke, "He was Our Lady's first troubadour." Only to Luke did Mary reveal the Magnificat, which contains the noblest words in any literature. He loved her above all the women he had ever loved.
My husband and I have read literally over a thousand books about Luke and his times, and a bibliography is included at the end of this novel for anyone who wishes to do further reading on these matters. If the world of Luke sounds astoundingly modern to any reader, with modern implications, it is a fact.
This book may not be the best in the world, but it was written with love and devotion for our fellow men, and so it is finally given into your hands, for it concerns all mankind.
Almost all the events and background of St. Luke's earlier life, manhood, and seeking, also his family and the name of his adopted father, are authentic. It should always be remembered that St. Luke was, first of all, a great physician.
When I was twelve years old I found a large book written by a nun who then lived in Antioch, containing many of the legends about St. Luke, which will not be found in historical books about him nor in the Bible. She related the legends and some obscure traditions about him, including the many miracles, at first unknown to him, which he accomplished before he even went to the Holy Land.
Some of these legends are from Egypt, some from Greece. They are included in this novel about him. He did not know at that time that he was one of the chosen of God, nor that he would attain sainthood.
The mighty and splendid Babylonian Empire (or Chaldea) is not familiar to many readers, nor its studies in medicine and its medical treatments by the priest-physicians, and its science--all of which the Egyptians and the Greeks inherited.
The Babylonian scientists understood magnetic forces, and used them. These things were contained in thousands of volumes in the wonderful University of Alexandria, which was burned by the Emperor Justinian several centuries later in an excess of misguided zeal.
Modern medicine and science are beginning to rediscover these things. The present age is poorer for Justinian's fervor. Had Babylonian science and medicine come down to us unbroken, our knowledge of the world and man would be vastly more advanced than it is at present.
We have not as yet discovered how the Babylonians lighted their sails at night by a "cold fire, more brilliant than the moon", and how they illuminated their temples by this same cold fire.
Apparently they had some way of utilizing electricity unknown to us, and not in our present clumsy manner. It is reported that they used "land vessels" without horses, lighted at night, and attaining great speed. (See the Book of Daniel.) It is also reported that they used strange "stones" or a kind of ore for the cure of cancer. They were expert in the employment of hypnotism, in psychosomatic medicine.
Abraham, a resident of the city of Ur, in Babylonia, brought this treatment of psychosomatic medicine to the Jews, who used it through all the centuries. The Magi, "the Wise Men of the East", who brought gifts to the Infant Jesus, were Babylonians, though that nation long before had suffered a great decline.
Where authorities differ about some of the incidents in this book, or the background, I have used the major decisions. The Gospel of St. Luke is used exclusively here, so much that appears in the Gospels of Sts. Matthew, Mark and John is not included.
I wish, at this time, to thank Dr. George E. Slotkin of Eggertsville, N.Y, famous urologist and professor emeritus, School of Medicine, Buffalo, N.Y., for his invaluable assistance in the field of ancient as well as modern medicine.
Taylor Caldwell (1900-1985) was an internationally best-selling novelist in the mid-twentieth century whose numerous books sold over thirty million copies during her lifetime. Dear and Glorious Physician
is considered by many critics as her greatest work. Ignatius Press reissued it last year.
Here is the publisher's blurb for the book:
Today St. Luke is known as the author of the third Gospel of the New Testament, but two thousand years ago he was Lucanus, a Greek, a man who loved, knew the emptiness of bereavement, and later traveled through the hills and wastes of Judea asking, "What manner of man was my Lord?" And it is of this Lucanus that Taylor Caldwell tells here in one of the most stirring stories ever lived or written.
Lucanus grew up in the household of his stepfather, the Roman govenor of Antioch. After studying medicine in Alexandria he became one of the greatest physicians of the ancient world and traveled far and wide through the Mediterranean region healing the sick.
As time went on he learned of the life and death of Christ and saw in Him the God he was seeking. To find out all he could about the life and teachings of Jesus, whom he never saw, Lucanus visited all the places where Jesus had been, questioning everyone--including His mother, Mary--who had known Him or heard Him preach. At last, when he had gathered all information possible, he wrote down what we now know as the Gospel according to St. Luke.
Taylor Caldwell has chosen the grand, the splendid means to tell of St. Luke. Her own travels through the Holy Land and years of meticulous research made Dear and Glorious Physician
a fully developed portrait of a complex and brilliant man and a colorful re-creation of ancient Roman life as it contrasted in its decadence with the new world Christianity was bringing into being. Here is a story to warm, to inspire, to call forth renewal of faith and love lying deep in each reader's heart.
"A portrait so moving and so eloquent I doubt it is paralleled elsewhere in literature. It is Caldwell's greatest novel!"
-- Boston Herald
"Alive with the bustle of ancient times . . . Movingly reconstructs St. Luke's search for God."
-- The New York Times
"Magnificent! Taylor Caldwell, who has splendid powers of narration, unleashes them all in this, her finest novel. She has made St. Luke a real and believable man and recreated on a vast canvas the times and people of his day. You see as large as life all the glory and decadence of Rome and all the strife, turmoil and mysticism of Africa .... A glowing and passionate statement of belief!"
-- Columbus Citizen