A few years ago, I was in a very bad emotional rut. It was horrible, and not much I did lightened the mood very often. Sooner rather than later, I was in the pits again. It was not a nice time.
It was in the middle of this awful time that I read The Robe, by Lloyd C. Douglas. The book was uplifting for me and helped me right my attitude. I skim read the entire novel in an evening; I reread it more thoroughly several times over the following days. It was, I think, something of a lifesaver for me at the time.
The Robe takes place in Ancient Rome, during the waning days of the reign of Emperor Tiberius. Hidden away on the island of Capri, Tiberius has slowly gone insane and paranoid. This is due in no small part to his harpy of a wife, Julia, the ambitious and evil Empress. Tiberius never loved her but was forced to marry her for political reasons. His debauched state on Capri is the result.
Meanwhile, in Rome, his stepson, Gaius, is holding a party with the Tribunes. One of these Tribunes, Marcellus Lucan Gallio, ends up insulting the prince after the other passes out from too much drink. In retribution, Gaius has Marcellus sent to Minoa to take command of the Legion there, in order to punish him for the insult.
Minoa is in Palestine, and it is a mess. Marcellus soon has it all cleaned up and squared away, but not long after this, the Legion is called on to keep order during a Jewish celebration. It’s the Passover – and not just any Passover. It is the Passover where Jesus eats the Last Supper with His disciples.
Marcellus ends up not only present for the trial, but ordered to carry out the crucifixion. Because the spectacle is so unpleasant, Marcellus’ second-in-command gets him stone drunk in order to help him get through it. This is something Marcellus’ faithful Greek servant, Demetrius, is unaware of – although he knows the Tribune would never get drunk on an occasion such as this on his own.
This is bad enough, but it gets worse. That night, at the banquet thrown in the Insula by Pontius Pilate, the soldiers begin mocking the deceased Jesus. In an effort to put down the ruckus, a more sober Marcellus puts on the Robe, which he won in a dice game at the foot of the cross.
Instead of fixing the mess, the decision makes everything worse. Marcellus is left in a sick, depressed state by the act. Only Demetrius’ watchful care ensures he does not kill himself. Trying to help him, Demetrius takes him back to Rome and his family. That, however, does not help matters. No one recognizes Marcellus and he barely talks to his family. So Demetrius changes tactics and takes Marcellus to Athens, watching him carefully to make sure he does not try to drown himself or some such thing.
All the while, Demetrius carries the Robe that Jesus wore to the cross with him, finding there is some inexplicable power in or attached to it. In order to repair the rents in the garment, he locates a Jewish tailor in Athens and keeps him in mind as he tries to cheer up Marcellus. When his efforts do not work, he resorts to bringing out the Robe.
Marcellus’ reaction to the very sight of the Robe is to threaten to sell Demetrius at the earliest opportunity. Because he is holding the Robe, Demetrius does not take offense at Marcellus’ harsh words. Whatever power clings to the Robe has a calming effect on him, which helps him to see that Marcellus does not really mean what he says. He is just so distressed and unhappy that he is lashing out at the bearer of the Robe: Demetrius. With his last attempt a failure, Demetrius puts the Robe back and goes out to find some kind of solace in the city.
Meanwhile, Marcellus decides he must end this ignominious existence. It is putting too much strain on him, his family, and poor Demetrius. He decides to commit suicide.
However, Demetrius took precautions against this idea, stealing both the daggers that Marcellus owned, the first and only items that he ever stole from his master since he was given to him. Marcellus goes to get one of the daggers out of his loyal slave’s pack – and finds the Robe set atop the bag.
Deciding he will “have it out with this Thing!”, Marcellus snatches a handful of the Robe…
And immediately, his mind is healed. He is no longer a sick, wasted, unhappy man. How it happened he cannot tell, but he somehow senses that he has been forgiven.
The Robe is a VERY good story, and I would definitely recommend it for Easter reading. It is good for the mind and the soul, as I can say from experience. The Robe helped me at a low point in my life, and for that reason I have a special respect for the book.
Here’s hoping it can do the same for you, readers, at some point. Though I hope you are not in Marcellus’ situation – or mine – I think that The Robe is one of those books you are better off having, at least as a just-in-case. And besides, it is a good story. If you cannot fill your home library with good stories, then do not bother building a home library!