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Can You Count to Five?

Can You Count to Five?

Can You Count to Five?

By Bob Gelms

The Fifth Gospel by Ian Caldwell is a veritable bushel basket full of intriguing, riveting, can’t-stop-thinking-about-them ideas. I hardly know where to begin so let’s begin at the end where I tell you what I think about the book. Buy this book now and read it as soon as you can. It’s dazzling. You will not regret it. You will read far into the night and not care. When you are done you will be cheering and you will be happy and you will be satisfied. I know you need a little more than that.

So, the book revolves around a mysterious art exhibit to be held at the Vatican. When the curator of the exhibit is killed, two priests, who are brothers, set about trying to find out what has happened. The brothers run into all kinds of difficulties in their investigation, sometimes with each other. They both knew the curator but they didn’t know the contents.

These are not ordinary priests. One is a Roman Catholic and his brother is an Eastern Catholic. Eastern Catholics are not plentiful in the world. They are offshoots of the Orthodox rite of the Catholic Church and follow the Eastern Rite in all things except the Pope. The Eastern Catholics accept the Pope as the Supreme Pontiff and the Eastern Orthodox do not.


Some of you might remember that not too long ago the Catholic Church allowed scientific testing on the Shroud of Turin. The carbon dating supposedly showed that it originated in the middle ages and therefore, as the burial shroud of Jesus Christ, it was a fake. But there has been some evidence that the small piece of cloth that was tested came from one of the patches applied to the shroud to repair the cloth that was destroyed in a fire in the middle ages. So plenty of people think that it is still the genuine burial shroud of Jesus.

From almost its beginnings the shroud was in the care of the Orthodox Church. Then, when the Crusaders sacked Constantinople in 1204, they took the shroud back west where it resides today in the care of the Roman Catholic Church. There are still folks who believe that the Eastern Orthodox Church is the rightful owner of the Shroud of Turin. That’s just one of the mind bending ideas in The Fifth Gospel.

There is an interesting piece of history in this novel. There actually is a fifth gospel in real life. As Mr. Caldwell explains, “The Harmony of Tatian, sometimes referred to as the Diatessaron, is the creature invented by one of the giants of early Christianity. The canonical life of Jesus of Nazareth in a single book. Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John fused together to form the super-gospel of the ancient Syrian church.” Where the gospels disagree the writer Tatian tried to smooth over the differences. Tatian also created his own continuous narrative. This has posed some problems for modern scholars but our dead artist/curator had some special plans for the Diatessaron and I’m not going to give it away.

An utterly captivating idea in the novel is that there have been Popes who have put forth great effort in trying to reunite the Orthodox Catholic Church and the Roman Catholic Church, the two largest congregations of Christians in the world. I didn’t realize this. The novel takes place in 2004 and one of the greatest advocates of a reunion of rites was the Pope at that time, John Paul II. This idea is the centerpiece of The Fifth Gospel.

I’m not letting any more out of the bag. You will have to read this brilliant novel to find out for yourself. Mr. Caldwell previously wrote a stunning book called The Rule of Four and it took him ten years to write The Fifth Gospel. Ten years is a very long time to wait for a second novel but I give you my personal guarantee it is well worth the wait.