Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

For Wangerin, Paul is the embodiment of the living voice of the Gospel. So it is that the first word out of Prisca’s mouth in the prologue is “There was a Voice in the morning. There came a Voice through the wet air, like a long flag lifted on the wind. . . .” Just as most Christians’ encounter with Paul is through an oral reading of his letters each Sunday, so they are linked with Prisca, who hears for the first time the voice of Paul preaching in Corinth’s busy market. The words are the same: “I would not have you worry about those fallen asleep,” copied carefully by Timothy for the letter to Thessalonica while Paul preached on that spring day in 50 c.e.

Wangerin is particularly concerned with how the voice of Paul connects with human need. Prisca is a hurting individual, newly arrived in Corinth after having been driven away from her family and her Roman home, alienated from religious conflict under Claudius, and just learning of her mother’s sudden death. Paul’s message speaks directly to her heart, giving her hope and purpose. Certainly others of Prisca’s world were in a similar predicament. The aged Jude of Damascus, for example, who is haunted by loneliness after the death of his wife and threatened by anything new, retreated to his security of tradition. Likewise Seneca, facing illness in Egypt, the death of an uncle, shipwreck, and exile, turns to Stoicism and eventual suicide.

Something about Paul’s message resonates with Prisca. Christ’s message “Behold I make all things new!” comes to life through Paul’s voice, providing the excitement of life in the spirit as well as the risk of carrying the wounds of Christ in one’s body. Wangerin’s Paul always proclaims anew the message of life in the risen Jesus, articulates faith in relationship to the crucified Christ, and announces the freeing power of the spirit and the unifying principle of love that formulated the Christianity of Prisca’s day and continues to speak today.