‘The Platonia Chamber’
Author: Richard F. Novak
Publisher: SW Publishing
Length: 126 pages
Release Date: June 18, 2015
[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s a book critic, novelist, and a professor of English and Creative Writing, I am always looking for Catholic novels to read and review. Richard Novak’s new novel, The Platonia Chamber fits that bill; not only that, but the subject of the novel is of great personal delight — St. Laurentius or St. Lawrence, deacon to the 24th Bishop of Rome, Sixtus II.
In my youth, that is to say, in days when I was younger than I am now and less enlightened, members of St. Timothy’s Catholic Community, of which I was a member, used to hold an informal St. Lawrence Memorial Barbeque and Limbo Challenge. For those of you who know what happened to St. Lawrence, whose feast day is Aug. 10, try not to cringe; this was all done to honor his courage and inspire those in attendance.
For those of you who do not know what happened to St. Lawrence, let me explain. St. Lawrence was a deacon at the time of the great Christian persecution in Rome under the Emperor Valerianus circa 258 A.D. He was captured, tortured, and told to turn over the supposed riches of the Church. Given three days, he returned with the poor and presented them as the riches. He was executed on a gridiron and, according to the ancient martyrology told the Emperor, who was in attendance, “turn me over, for I am done.”
You can all see where this courageous humor, in the face of death, might inspire a memorial barbeque or two.
The story of Laurentius takes place in August in ancient Rome. We immediately understand that worshipping the Christian faith is both dangerous and deadly and we catch a glimpse of what it means to be a Christian in places like Syria and Iraq where ISIS is set to destroy all Christians.
Laurentius’ job is to care for the poor and the sick. He does this with alms, particularly from the wealthiest families in Rome. During the persecution, many of those families were captured and executed by the Prefect Saecularis — do note the name — on personal orders from the emperor. The problem with Christianity was that it did not fit in with the current political environment in Rome; in fact, it was seen as a threat. Perhaps we can see hints of the same problem in our postmodern, progressive society?
The environment was so dangerous that Sixtus II must be moved every couple of days among the poorest neighborhoods in the city. A new catacomb was being finished during this time and Sixtus II wanted the relic remains of St. Peter and St. Paul moved from their old burial places to this new, safer, catacomb.
We all know, however, that safety in such a dangerous time is relative. One minute they could be entertaining guests, the next minute swept up by the prefect and his guard. Social and economic status knew no mitigating treatment; everyone was tortured and killed.
A centurion of the guard, Octavius, discovered that an assembly (Mass) was to be held at the catacomb and he set a deadly trap. He captured all of the deacons, Sixtus II (whom he beheads) and rounded up the rich and poor believers alike.
The scene with Laurentius on the gridiron was not quite as inspiring as the story in the martyrology but nonetheless tells us of the danger that the early Christians faced and the courage with which they faced it.
The novel is nicely written, flows well, despite some rough use of Latin terms in parentheses that distract at the beginning, and gives us brief characterizations.
If you are interested in what the folks who live in Syria and Iraq face every day, this book will help you get there.