I’ve never read a book quite like “The Third Testament” before. It’s not wholly a work of fiction and yet it’s fictional. But it’s also filled with historical information. But it’s not historical fiction because the fictional story runs parallel to the historical. And they interact and intertwine to create a third story of redemption and faith. But even this story is not confined to a character or a particular group, though it applies to both, but to all of humanity.
The book, at least the fictional part, reminded me in many ways of reading something written by Wendell Berry. Not in style or subject but in that it has a certain gentleness to it. It follows the ebb and flow of a normal life that has been interrupted by a series of life altering problems. It’s the response to the problems, a response grounded in faith, that strike me as honest and true. No explosions, gunfire or incredible acts of heroism, just human suffering and confusion, all wrapped up in a daily life that must go on, punctuated by moments of grace that allow a person of faith to endure.
The central character, Fred Sankt, a professor at a Catholic college and a widower, is confronted with the very real possibility that his only daughter will be killed by the same type of cancer that killed his wife years earlier along with a legal threat to his financial security from an unjust accuser. He experiences a series of dreams that lead him to believe that he has been chosen to write a book of salvation history, picking up where the New Testament leaves off, a Third Testament. In writing this book he finds solace from the pressures in his life, and hope.
From the author’s point of view this is an effective device because it allows him to switch back and forth from the story of Mr. Sankt to the book that Mr. Sankt is writing. This lets the reader journey along with him as he chronicles the triumphs and failures of the Church throughout the last 2000 years, painting a picture of struggle and redemption that one can hardly help but to begin to see mirrored in the personal struggles of Mr. Sankt and, by extension, all of us.
I don’t read much fiction because, for the most part, I have a limited amount of time to read and I like to try to make it count. I don’t read much fiction because I don’t learn much from it, at least the fiction that is produced today. I find myself drawn to the classic works of fiction when I read any fiction at all. I just reread “To Kill a Mockingbird” and a short story by Faulkner, “The Barn Burner”. Both had messages worth hearing. Not long ago I read “On the Road”, Jack Kerouac’s classic. Not exactly uplifting and holy but well worth reading because of the use of language and how the rythym of the words evoke a jazz/bop riff. Also, as a person of faith, it’s a really good book to show just how little hope there is in a life driven by hedonism. The characters lives were pointless, but not the book. Again, great stuff.
On the other hand, I also just read a Brad Thor novel, “The Last Patriot”. It’s a complete waste of time. It just seemed so pointless. What could I learn from it? Nothing. Sure the story moved along and there was plenty of action but it was empty of any sort of moral sense, good or bad. It was just an aimless exercise in reading; junk food for the mind.
Mr. Eklund’s book “The Third Testament” is worth reading because it expresses a truth that too many have forgotten. As Christians we are part of one body and whatever happens to one of us happens to all of us. We all suffer, sometimes as individuals and sometimes corporately through the suffering of the Church, our one, shared body. Also, there is no new suffering. It’s all happened before. And it seems that there is a reason for it because, if one reads their history, they know that few if any saints became holy without it. The history of the church is a history of patient endurance.
“What is it that hath been? The same thing that shall be. What is it that hath been done? The same that shall be done. Nothing under the sun is new, neither is any man able to say: Behold this is new: for it hath already gone before in the ages that were before us.” Ecclesiastes 1:9-10
As Christians we need to understand our shared family history so that we can place our own lives in their proper context. Religion devoid of history is dead (sorry, St. James). Conversely, history devoid of God is a lie. Without the examples of our fathers in the faith how can we see that our lives have meaning, that we are much larger than what we see in the mirror, that our lives are part of a greater life, the life of the Church and through it the life of Jesus and through Him the life of God the Father? And if we read history without seeing the guiding hand of grace we miss so much of the underlying truth and the conclusions we draw will be twisted and confused.
“And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the
gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18
In this book we come to see, along with Mr. Sankt, that the Church stands as a beacon, a reason for hope. We see that it’s very endurance, the fact that it still survives today, after 2,000 years of attacks and brutal betrayals, just as Jesus promised it would, is as sure a reason for faith in Christ as anything else. Only a miracle, or more rightly, one whole never ending series of miracles and heavenly protections could have kept our Holy Mother Church on this earth. The Roman Catholic Church is the oldest form of government on the earth today, outlasting everything before or since. That is a miracle, maybe the greatest of all since the beginning of the Church itself.
The following can be found on page 248 of "The Third Testament":
"One day a humble servant of the Lord lost a very dear friend to the scourge cancer. The humble servant felt great sorrow and prayed that he would someday see his friend again. After much time in prayer, the humble servant was confronted by a demon. The demon said to him, "Why do you waste your time in prayer? There is no proof that God exists."
The humble servant answered him, "I have faith and that is why I pray."
The demon then said to him with disdain, "Faith is no more than superstition. On what do you base this 'faith?'"
The humble servant answered, "I base this faith on trust."
"Trust in whom?" the demon retorted. "In whom do you have such trust that you would ignore the laws of probability and the laws of science?"
"I trust in Christ," the humble servant replied.
"In Christ!" the demon exclaimed. "In Christ! Name one thing Christ has done to earn your trust. Tell me please, what has He ever done to earn your prayers? I dare you to name one miracle He has ever performed that has been proven by science to be true. Name it! Name it!" he taunted with glee.
The humble servant stood with patience, and then answered with three simple words: "The Church exists."
"What?" the demon declared in confusion. "What!" he said again with vexation. "What do you mean 'the Church exists?' Please tell me how this relates to trust. Please tell me how this justifies your wasted time in prayer?"
The humble servant calmly explained his answer. "Jesus Christ made a promise--the simple promise 'Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.' And now after 2000 years the Church still endures. It endures despite a history of heresies and persecutions. It endures despite the tyranny of despots. It endures despite the laws of probability and the laws of science. What greater miracle is there than this—that the son of a simple carpenter, who lived a life of poverty, and dwelled with the lowly, who never ventured more than a hundred miles from the town of his birth, and who died a criminal's death on a cross, would establish a great and holy Church, and that the teachings of this Church would be spread throughout the world by twelve simple men--men who hid in fear after the crucifixion? Yet in a mere three days after this lowly criminal's death, these twelve sprang forth and proclaimed His word and gave up their lives so that His promise would ring true. And over the centuries thousands of others gave their lives also, so that the Church would go on. The most powerful kings and most menacing armies stood against her, but the Church did not falter. For 2000 years this Church has withstood the test of time, overcoming the greatest of odds again and again. It surmounted the insurmountable. It beat the unbeatable foe. It prevailed through the harshest of storms. I say to you, this Church has shattered the very laws that you exalt. It defied that laws of probability, and it humbled the laws of science."
The humble servant continued on, "The existence of this Church is not a myth. The existence of this Church is not a legend. That this Church exists is an undeniable fact. That Christ's promise was kept is an undeniable fact. And if He kept this promise, then how can there be any doubt that He will keep His greatest promise—the promise that was central to His ministry, the promise that said 'If you believe in me, and eat of this bread, and drink of this cup, you shall live forever.' So when you ask 'why do I have faith,' I tell you, it is because I have trust, and nothing that your fair science can offer can break that trust. This is why I pray, so that someday I will enjoy that most sacred covenant of all"--the humble servant paused briefly and then added with solemnity and conviction--"together with my friend!" He then looked the demon right in the eye. "What good can your science and probability offer that is greater than this?"
With those words, the demon turned away, never to bother the humble servant again."
“And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” John 8:32
Fear of the truth (and isn’t that really fear of God?) has led many Christians to completely dismiss history. Many in the Catholic Church are as guilty of this as many in the other Christian faiths. It’s far past the time that this should be remedied.
Mr. Eklund’s book, “The Third Testament” is a really fine place to start.