The Blessings of Betrayal

The Betrayal of Christ by Caravaggio 1573 – 1610

Dante reserved for the traitors the lowest circle of hell, the frozen river of Cocytus, where the divine justice submerges forever those who betrayed the people who trusted and loved them. As Dante tells us in the Epistle to Cangrande , however, the subject of his poem is not just the fate of the soul after death but, when “taken allegorically, the poem’s subject is man, either gaining or losing merit through his freedom of will.”

 

Dante also wants to tell us, therefore, about the effect of betrayal on the soul of the betrayer in this life . In approaching that question, Dante says something astounding: “The moment a soul betrays, its body is taken by a devil, who has it then in his control until the time allotted it has run,” while the betrayer’s soul “falls headlong into this cesspool” in hell. Probably based on John 13:27 (immediately after Jesus identified Judas as his betrayer, “Satan entered his heart”), the allegorical meaning seems to be that the psychology of the betrayer is that of a literal devil”a will confirmed in evil, a will that strikes at the good out of pure hatred for the good.

 

The Society of Judas (a new novel by first-time author C. Theodore Murr takes up a related question”the psychological effect of betrayal not on the betrayer but on the betrayed. What is it like for a fundamentally good man to be betrayed by someone he trusts implicitly? Worse, by a group of his former friends working together? “God help you when a friend sets out to betray you,” a mentor tells Charlie Mauer at the beginning of The Society of Judas . “Your enemies can’t betray you, Charlie, only a friend can betray”but when friends collaborate for a betrayal . . . who could emerge victorious against . . . a whole ‘Society of Judas’?”

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“Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States.”

Dante and Virgil in hell by William-Adolphe Bouguereau.

J. F Powers meets Gabriel Garcia Marquez: The Society of Judas relates a chilling story of high ideals and human failures, set in a surreal world south of the border.  As I read it, the words of Porfirio Diaz came to mind: “Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States.” The protagonist is a zealous priest who finds himself uprooted from the hushed corridors of the Vatican and dropped (against his wishes) into a poor Mexican town.  Dusting himself off and accepting this new state of affairs, he hopes to reverse Diaz’s saying by using American resources to build an orphanage and church to draw the villagers closer to God.

 

Dreams can become nightmares, and Father Mauer finds himself tangled in a web of treachery and deceit worthy of the pen of Graham Greene.  As the story unfolds the reader marvels, not only at the depth of malevolence, but at the fact that it is carried out by “the devout”: prelates, nuns, lay people who have vowed themselves to the highest standards of Christian discipleship.  Corruptio optimi pessima: it is precisely the religious commitment of the actors that makes this drama so chilling.

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Copyright  © Charles Theodore Murr 2017

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