Thursday, August 6, 2015

LAZARUS by Morris West

Morris West’s Lazarus (1990) is the third of his Vatican novels.

Pope Leo XIV faces open heart surgery. He is a strong-headed old man. But he is changing.

He has begun to feel his ultra conservatism has not been best for the church. If he survives the surgery, he will lead in a different way.

When he does survive, Leo faces two obstacles. One is a radical group, the Sword of Islam. They want to assassinate him.

The other is the church itself.

In some ways, the church is the greater enemy. At one point, one of Leo’s enemies says, “Does the Church change when a pope changes his mind or his heart? The inertia is too great. The whole system is geared against swift movement. Besides--and this is the nub of the matter--the Church is so centralised now that every tremor is magnified to earthquake scale.”

Leo comes up against the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and its affiliated bodies.

Along the way, many of Leo’s natural allies fall away. Some of them leave the priesthood.

Leo befriends his Zionist surgeon and the surgeon’s non-believing lover with her brilliant but handicapped daughter. Personal forces push Leo one way; church forces push him the other.

And then there is the Sword of Islam. Their intention is clear and violent. The issue is whether they will finally succeed in killing Leo.

Morris West was a best-selling writer, mostly of Catholic-oriented books, if I remember correctly.

I learned of this book from a friend who knows my interest in religious fiction which involves mystery or intrigue.

In Lazarus, West seems mostly interested in the structure of the church. He writes long sections describing the councils and politics of the church. At least to an ex-Catholic like me, his descriptions aren’t flattering.

My friend mentioned Pope Francis when he recommended the book.

Lazarus is a book for religious aficionados. West downplays the terrorist threat against Leo until the end.

Does Pope Francis have a chance with even the moderate reforms he seems to be embracing? This book (written in 1990) might make you wonder.

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