The Coat Without Seam

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Category: Classic
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Date Published: January 1, 2001 (Originally published in 1929)
Number of Pages: 322
Print Price: $43.10
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This is a novel that engages the reader as an observer on a pilgrimage set in the language of descriptive words that breathes into view deep and powerful images. Who is the pilgrim on this pilgrimage but our main character Christopher Trevenes?

We join Christopher in a physical and symbolic journey that is sensory and yet flawed because this journey is bound deeply to the incarnational experience of God entering the human condition as Christopher searches for faith in God through the experiences of love.

After experiencing a major traumatic childhood event, our main character is left wounded by a distortion of faith and spends his lifetime subconsciously recapturing the innocence of youth and the possibility of grace and faith. Christopher is an interesting character so named because instead of becoming a Christ-bearer he becomes a shell of a man who bears within himself the marks of our wounded and soiled human nature and so spends a good portion of the novel rejecting Christ, the Church and all things spiritual.

Having no compass of grace nor an inclination to delve deeper into the mystery of God that surrounds him, he becomes intrigued instead with a relic from the past that has significant religious influence for him and connects the events of Calvary and that first Good Friday to his present day condition as a rudderless vessel tossing aimlessly upon a sea of unlimited possibility.

When God’s grace intersects with human love you have the essentials for a miracle. This is precisely what Christopher is seeking, a miracle while ignoring the Miracle Worker Himself, Jesus Christ. He seems to prefer the relic and not the Person.

This early rejection of all things spiritual brings an inner death to an otherwise adventurous heart and spirit that is imprisoned by skepticism and doubts as he grows from childhood towards maturity. Christopher is molded by his birth into a family with his only sibling a younger sister who would die at an early age. Long before Christopher was ready, both his parents would also die – succumbing to illness and death.

No family, no friends and few prospects left an impact on Christopher. After attempting to procure some means of financial stability, he becomes solitary, mundane and borderline depressed.

As one reads and then becomes familiar with the life of Christopher and his escapades in academia, diplomacy and love one feels almost  claustrophobic, gasping for air as the walls of Christopher’s disillusioned psyche are smothered by his distressed soul.

Having abandoned hope early in life with the death of his sister, feeling no connection with father or mother, our main character takes the invisible trappings of a hermit and pilgrim and lives a life of seclusion and disconcerted apathy. This condition leaves him with few life-giving relationships and a history of broken friendships and misfortunes in love.

However, in this rather sterile world created by Christopher with limited forays into the social climate of his day, there are glimmers of hope that rise to the surface and offer him a doorway into the world of faith, hope and love. His interest in music, his admiration for the beauty of the women that grace his life, and the call to live out of a moral standard, all combined,  save our character from the onslaught of desolation.

Each movement towards an appreciation of music and the possibility of love are intermingled with a resurgence of an ancient story of the legend of the garment that was worn by Christ prior to His crucifixion. Each time we encounter this story revisited at various stages in his life it is a premonition of some experience that will move him from temporary consolation to the depths of desolation.

Is it faith that Christopher seeks or a relic from the past that will perform a miracle? The miracle is not in the cloth but particularly in the struggle of a heart closed so frequently to any expression of love or relationship. Christopher appears because of some inner flaw – he tends to expect the worse of any situation. He feels as if the dissolution of love introduced into his life is always pending – and any expectation of a career of character and standing always seem to be headed towards a negative outcome fueled by an inner self destructive personality.

There is a spark of hope and possibility during one of his sojourns into the realm of journalism.  Early in his young career he writes the hard core truth instead of maintaining what we would term today political correctness. This defiance will cost him his job – yet it does not give him his moral backbone. Instead, he continues his slide into moral apathy.

As the novel, proceeds, friends and would-be lovers come and go. Christopher’s heart still unattached and continues to remain closed and uncaring. Christopher has little tolerance for the foibles of others that he will encounter on his pilgrimage whether in the cold of Russia or the sunny days of Rome. He remains a recluse and hermit, resisting a solitary union with the Mystery of the Divine. Distant and unapproachable, he sees himself impervious to the human dramas that interrupt his life.

Having lost a position because of a moral stand, Christopher shrinks back from authenticity, choosing mediocrity and the banal. And yet the “coat without seam,” from which the novel draws its title, appears again and again as a reminder of an earlier graced state that beckons Christopher to untangle his heart and embrace love. Even though he is a young man his demeanor and personality strike one as having seen it all.  Horribly aghast at the futility of it all, he prefers the stability of despair instead of the enthusiasm of love unshackled and free.

In this novel, Baring gives us an insight into the inner dimension of the personality of Christopher when he writes in an exchange between Christopher and another character, “…says that a man is either a Hamlet or a Don Quixote. You are a Don Quixote; only you have none of the Spaniard’s kindness and humility. If you are a Don Quixote you should be chivalrous.”

Our character certainly is not chivalrous. “For a person who is steeped in oriental literature” another character notes of Christopher, “it is surprising how little of the oriental serenity you have assimilated.” Sadly, there is no peace in his heart but only a slow and persistent hardening of the arteries until he suffers a near-death of the spirit before the body itself gives up hope.

In the end it would be the remembered prayers of childhood, the familiarity of the Mass and the assured confidence of the Sacraments that would bind the wounds of our dying character. For many years he had carried his cross of doubt unknowingly, and now in the field of broken dreams that will become a garden he will be wrapped in the ‘cloth’ of salvation, the seamless cloth that will restore the tattered remnants of his life. We come to understand that it is Christ who made whole what our character thought was so lost.

This novel is a wonderful and insightful read into the adventure of the soul and what occurs when the ‘miracle’ of grace finds its mark in the human heart.

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Publisher:
ISBN-13: 978-0755100910
Original Language: English
Book Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 1.2 inches


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Brother Richard Contino, OSF, has been a member of the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn since 1993. As a religious educator, he has taught on the high school level in both New York and North Carolina. He is also a member of the leadership Council for his religious community, the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn and also serves his fellow brothers in his capacity as Director of Formation. Brother has published two books: These Sacred Days; Walking with Jesus through the Sacred Triduum and To the Stable; Encounters on the Way to Bethlehem. Currently working on a third book on a subject close to his heart, that on the life of Saint Francis.

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