Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Book Review: Lady Sybil's Choice, by Emily S. Holt

Lady Sybil's Choice, by Emily S. Holt

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars
Very good

      Elaine de Lusignan (also known as Helena or Hèléne), is a young Norman/ English girl living during the reign of Henry II of England.  She is confused as to why bad or uncomfortable things happen, and does not at all trust God with her life.  She is Catholic, and her religion does not seem to help her at all, only confusing her more.  If God is good, as her nurse says, then why did he allow her mother to die, and send her favorite brother to Israel?  

       The story is written in the first person, and is almost in the form of a diary; however, the dates are left out. She is 14 years old at the beginning of the book, in her 20's at the end. Her dearly beloved brother, Guy de Lusignan, “takes the Cross”- that is, emigrates to the Holy Land, where he lives at the court of the King of Jerusalem. Several years afterward, Elaine and another of her brothers join him, shortly before his marriage to the King's daughter, Sybil. All seems to go well for a few years, but then trouble arises, and Sybil is forced to choose either her husband, whom she loves desperately, or the crown of Jerusalem. To make things worse, Saladin is only biding his time before attacking the Holy City, and it is necessary that a good ruler be at the head of affairs. What Sybil decides finally helps Elaine understand the necessity of trusting God even through heart-wrenching events when we don't understand what He is doing. This is a distinctly Christian book, with good theology. Although the main church at the time was the Roman Catholic church, the author effectively portrays true faith through true Christian characters, although they are under the covering of the Catholic church. The way she does this is by using the Bible extensively, quoting verses which pertain to the subject under discussion multiple times on every page.
      She also shows many of the often ridiculous superstitions and beliefs of the time, especially in regard to relics, such as here:
      “I was rather sorry to miss Byzantium, both on account of the beautiful stuffs which are sold there, and the holy relics: but since I have seen a spine of the crown of thorns, which the Lady de Montbeillard has—she gave seven hundred crowns for it to Monseigneur de Rheims- I did not care so much about the relics as I might otherwise have done.”
      And here:
      “At the Abbey they have a cross, which they say is the very cross on which our Lord suffered, but some say it is only the cross of Ditmas, the good thief. I was rather puzzled to know whether, there being a doubt whether it really is the holy cross, it ought to be worshipped. If it be only a piece of common wood, I suppose it would be idolatry. So I thought it more right and seemly to profess to have a bad headache, and decline to mount the hill.”
      And especially here:
      “We went to the Church of Saint Mary, in the Valley of Jehoshaphat, which is built in a round form; and in it is the empty tomb in which our Lady was buried. So some say, and that the angels carried her body away in the night: but other some say, that while the holy Apostles were carrying her to her burial, the angels came down and bore her away to Paradise. I asked Margot [her Christian nurse] (as she always listens) if she had heard Father Eudes read about it from the holy Evangel: but she said he had never read the story of that, at least in French. In this church there is a stone in the wall, on which our Lord knelt to pray on the night of His betrayal; and on it is the impression of His knees, as if the stone were wax. There is no roof to the church, but by miraculous provision of the good God, the rain never falls on it. Here also, our Lord's body, when taken down from the cross, was wrapped and anointed.
     We also visited the Church of the Holy Ghost, where is the marble table at which our Lord and the holy Apostles ate the Last Supper, and they received the Holy Sacrament at His hands. There is also a chapel, with an altar whereat our Lord heard mass sung by the angels; and here is kept the vessel wherein our Lord washed the feet of His disciples. All these are on Mount Zion.
     Marguerite was very much interested in the vessel in which the holy Apostles' feet were washed: but she wanted to know which of them had put it by and kept it so carefully. This, of course, I could not tell her. Perhaps it was revealed by miracle that this was the vessel.”

      The early Catholic beliefs about Jews were also shown.

      “No Paynim is permitted to enter it [Jerusalem], nor of course any heathen Jew. I cannot imagine how it was that the good God ever suffered the Holy City, even for an hour, to be in the hands of those wicked people. Yet last night, in the tent, if Marguerite did not ask me whether Monseigneur Saint Paul was not a Jew! I was shocked.
"Oh dear, no!" said I.
"I heard somebody say so," she replied.
"I should think it was some Paynim," said I. "Why, of course none of the holy Apostles were Jews.  That miscreant Judas Iscariot, and Pontius Pilatus, and all those wicked people, I suppose, were Jews: but not the holy Apostles and the saints. It is quite shocking to think of such a thing!"
"Then what were they, if my Damoiselle pleases?" said Marguerite.
"Oh, they were of some other nation," said I.
For really, I do not know of what nation they were,—only that they could never have been Jews.”

      Some of the foundational doctrines discussed included:

Salvation through grace and faith alone, not at all by works.
Sufficiency of Scripture.
The difference between justification (when we are made perfect in God's sight as soon as we are saved), and sanctification (His ongoing purification of our lives after salvation).
The life-changing nature of salvation.
The necessity of trusting God fully.
The atoning work of Christ- that we are saved only because He paid the penalty for our sins.

And many other great truths are touched on.

      Of the story itself, as Ballantyne would say:the warp... is composed of thick cords of fact; the woof of slight lines of fiction, just sufficient to hold the fabric together.” Many of the characters are actual people from history, and fictional characters are noted as such. Altogether a very good and edifying book to read.

I'll end with the book's preface:

"Why, seeing times are not hidden from the Almighty, do they that know Him, not see His days?"
From the earliest ages of the world, the needs-be of suffering has been a mystery. Down to the latest, it will be a mystery still. Truly, the more we "know Him," the less mystery it is to us: for even where we cannot see, we can trust His love. Yet there are human analogies, which may throw some faint light on the dark question: and one of these will be found in the following pages. "What I do, thou knowest not now"—sometimes because it is morally impossible,—our finite capacity could not hold it: but sometimes, too, because we could not be trusted with the knowledge. In their case, there is one thing we can do—wait. "O thou of little faith!—wherefore didst thou doubt?"
"Oh restful, blissful ignorance!
'Tis blessed not to know.
It keeps me still in those kind arms
Which will not let me go,
And hushes my soul to rest
On the bosom that loves me so!
"So I go on, not knowing,—
I would not, if I might.
I would rather walk in the dark with God
Than walk alone in the light;
I would rather walk with Him by faith,
Than walk alone by sight.
"My heart shrinks back from trials
Which the future may disclose;
Yet I never had a sorrow
But what the dear Lord chose:
So I send the coming tears back
With the whispered word, 'He knows!'"
Link to text :

Gutenberg version:  Lady Sybil's Choice
The above is the only online version of this book that I could find.  Enjoy!

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