Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

In Dear and Glorious Physician, Taylor Caldwell writes enthusiastically about how the Roman gentile Lucanus, who later became Luke, goes on a search for God. The story of Saint Luke is the story of Everyman’s pilgrimage. Taylor’s text provided a characterization of Saint Luke that critics never appreciated, but she intertwined in it homilies that teach and inspire. For example, Iris says to her son that now he must put aside “childish things” and be a man, a quote from the first letter from Paul of Tarsus to the Christians at Corinth (1 Corinthians). Also, when Diodorus lies dying, he replies to Tiberius that a higher power to whom he “must commend [his] spirit” calls instead. Here Caldwell casts Diodorus as a holy character because his statement mirrors Jesus’ final words on the cross: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” In short, Dear and Glorious Physician is a didactic novel—it instructs and forces the reader to think.

Caldwell’s popularity has been attributed to her support of traditional American domestic and ethical values by portraying male characters as strong and successful and female characters, especially wives and mothers, as the heart and moral center of the home. Men might go out into the world and excel, but in the evening they return to strong women for nurturance and guidance. The tired governor Diodorus goes first to Aurelia for comfort and, after her death, to Iris. Lucanus repeatedly turns to women for comfort, ultimately to Mary, Jesus’ mother. Men are heroes, Iris thinks, after Aeneas drowns attempting to save the financial records, but women are sensible. After a young woman undergoes a horrific operation, Keptah remarks to Lucanus that the surgery was harder on her husband. However, Caldwell’s good and generous women suffer. Sara waits patiently, never once looking at another man, and when Lucanus finally does propose, she realizes that he belongs to God instead. Mary’s sufferings are beyond description.

Caldwell also preaches against intolerance, speaking out in particular against slavery. The characters who free slaves are blessed. In addition, she makes a parallel between the conflicts experienced between the powerful Romans and Rome’s subservient colonies with those experienced by majority and minority groups in twentieth century America. Rome’s decline, she suggests, is due to its increasing moral laxity and posits this as a warning to the United States.