Saturday, July 31, 2010

Book Review - Citadel of God

The Roman Empire in the West has fallen and Italy is under the government of the Gothic king, Theoderich. Under his generally benevolent rule, Italy has found security and a measure of prosperity it has not known for a century. But the Romans who make up the vast majority of the population are chaffing under the barbarian yoke. The Young Lions in the Roman senate talk quietly of freedom, but the elders among them--men like Albinus, Boethius, and Symmachus--urge caution. Boethius's young wife, Rusticiana, favors the approach of the Young Lions and a rash comment of hers is taken literally by a boy, Peter, who makes a clumsy and unsuccessful assassination attempt against Theoderich. Peter, injured in body and spirit as a result of his failure, nurses a grudge in his heart against the Goths. He is subsequently entrusted to the gifted young teacher, Benedictus, to see to his moral education.

Thus begins Citadel of God, a wonderful old book by Louis de Wohl. Originally written in 1959, the work is a gripping journey through the history of the early 6th century AD, bringing alive many of the celebrated names of that epoch. As someone with a particular interest in that time period, I found the book to be fascinating. It is sub-titled A Novel of Saint Benedict, and indeed it is. Entire passages in the book are based directly on the biography of Saint Benedict as contained in the Dialogues of Saint Gregory the Great. De Wohl's portrayal of Saint Benedict, the founder of western monasticism, is close to perfect. He comes across as a humble wonder-worker inspired by God and driven to do great things for His greater honor and glory alone.

But surrounding the Benedict story is the entire panoply of late Roman history--the triumphs and tragedies of the Justinianic era. It is a tale that few people in our current day know at all, though it is very much worth knowing. Citadel of God reads like a 1950s Hollywood epic and the story itself certainly lends itself to that kind of treatment.

One word of warning: there are a few PG-13 rated scenes in this book. They are nothing a young person over the age of 14 or so couldn't handle, but still--this is not a children's novel. That said, Citadel of God is a wonderfully engaging read, and a good history lesson. I can not recommend it highly enough.

1 comment:

arvindswamy said...

I actually enjoyed reading through this posting.Many thanks.

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