(Yes, I know the song doesn't go that way.)
So what about Lisa T. Bergren's The Begotten almost made me hack up a hairball? Two main things: research and a kind of revisionism. They're closely related.
Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a language geek. The Begotten has a large amount of Latin. Hands up, anyone who sees what's coming! I've got a long list of bugs in the text, but most of them would take way too long to explain. So let's hit a few examples.
In the prolog, an iconoclast Byzantine bishop (say that three times fast) encounters a Latin text and totally blows the translation for no discernible reason: "Abyssus ad abyssum invocat" (Bergren omits "ad" so I put it back at no extra charge). It's from Psalm 42:1, but he reads it as "Hell calls to Hell." Get real. "Abyssus" is a Greek loanword; however little Latin he may know (and he gets "invocat" right), if he read the Septuagint at all he'd recognize the reference: "Deep calls to deep."
We run into more Latin when the word for "wisdom" is given as "sapientiam" (p 174--why the accusative ending here?) and "healing" is rendered "sanem" (p 206). But "sanem" isn't even a noun: it's a verb meaning "(that) I might heal."
The Lady Daria has a habit of translating the Vulgate for us as text from the NIV. The two translations use different source texts and translation philosophies, so while they generally agree, there are amusing spots where they don't.
Non-linguistically, at various points there is concern expressed that the Gifted will be grabbed by the Inquisition for committing miracles without a license. However, this was more than a century before the Spanish Inquisition, so Cardinal Fang and the Comfy Chair hadn't been invented yet. All they had to play with at that point was the papal inquisition, which wasn't even in full swing, the Cathars and Waldensians having been reduced to occasionally recurring roles.
As a related point, Gianni supposedly has hauled away a lot of jaywalkers and other heretics in his career to date. But this was a lull period, heretic-wise: a century earlier or a century and a half later, sure, but not in the first half of the fourteenth century, so far as I can tell.
For that matter, the Catholic Church didn't mind people going around healing and such anyway; they just checked to make sure it wasn't a fraud and didn't lead people astray. Many saints did miracles. As to the teaching of heresy--well, the Lady Daria eventually shows that they may have had a point. We'll get to that in a bit. (If you're one of those rare individuals who would rather know the truth about the Inquisition than unquestioningly accept the usual myths--the Wikipedia site is helpful, but you might also check here.)
Another oddity is handfasting. It turns up at various points as an entrenched tradition in fourteenth-century Siena, but I find no reason to believe it was known then and there. It apparently originated in Ireland, migrated to Scotland, and from there eventually became known elsewhere. The sources I've checked say that it was either a quickie marriage for those who didn't want to wait for all the formalities or else simply a betrothal. It was not a trial marriage, which is implied in the book. I thought there was a clue in the Italian Wikipedia, which has an article on the topic, but the very fact that the title of the page is the English word argues that it wasn't a common practice in Italy--otherwise they would have a native word for it. The article doesn't say otherwise. Today, handfasting is mostly associated with Neo-pagans and Wiccans.
Remember what I said about the Church taking a dim view of unlicensed preachers? On pp 290-294, the Lady Daria gives a sermon on the topic "All You Need is Love." It certainly out-kumbayas Jesus' usual message about repentance as the warm fuzzies lead to belief and salvation. No repentance, though. Maybe they didn't need it. In any case, it sounds a lot like the fuzzy sermons you can hear in a lot of modern churches. Where are Cardinal Fang and the Comfy Chair when you need them?
Then there's the Raptured Pope Syndrome, named in honor(?) of Tim LaHaye. As Is Well Known, the more godly a Catholic becomes, the more Protestant he becomes. A sufficiently godly Catholic will turn into a Baptist or perhaps even Tim LaHaye. This shows up late in the story. It starts with Father Piero informing the Lady Daria that she doesn't need to confess to him; she can take it directly to God (pp 236-237). I'm not even Catholic, and I could present an extremely strong argument for the Catholic doctrine of confession. Why can't he? Answer: because his scriptwriter is a Protestant who doesn't seem to understand Catholicism. (Fiddly point: at the close of this section, we get an actual quote from the mysterious epistle. It refers to Jesus as the Word--more Johannine than Pauline.)
A more troubling case arises on pp 248-249: Believing that spiritual conflict is imminent, Father Piero decides to baptize a couple recruits without the usual waiting period and other niceties. Does the urgency of the situation justify the move? Consider a very similar case in 1 Sam 13:8-14. As Samuel noted in another, slightly less similar case, "Obedience is better than sacrifice" (1 Sam 15:22--and v. 23 too, as long as you're in the neighborhood). Why doesn't Piero simply commend them to the care of the God in whom they believe? This is almost salvation by works.
(For the curious: it's true that baptism in the NT was usually without ceremony, but it was also often done by people passing through the area quickly. I don't consider the preparation period necessary, but I do consider it wise. Meanwhile, flouting standard operating procedure out of panic sets a bad precedent. Piero does seem to have a rebellious streak.)
So what about the story as a whole? I doubt most people will read it at the same level I did, but they will still pick up good and bad ideas. The problems are annoying, but they aren't fatal. I just wish Bergren would take the time to understand the Catholic and medieval viewpoints. They weren't idiots back then, and (Thank God!) they weren't precursive clones of us. C. S. Lewis said that every age has its own errors and that it is blind to its own and misunderstands those of other ages. The Begotten proves him right, but perhaps the sequel will do better.
So as a yarn with some good points, I'll recommend it with reservations and hope for an improvement in the sequel.
Other blogs on the tour:
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Todd Michael Greene
John W. Otte
1 year ago