Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Book Review: A History of the Church in 100 Objects by Mike and Grace Aquilina

A History of the Church in 100 Objects by Mike and Grace Aquilina

The Catholic Church has existed for nearly two thousand years. Its history is rich and varied. Mike and Grace (his daughter) Aquilina provide an interesting overview of that history. They look at one hundred different objects spanning the time from the first century AD (a Jerusalem paving stone, item #2) to 2006 (a Polish bank note featuring John Paul II (#98)). Each item relates to a significant event or person in the Church's history.

The objects run a wide range. Some are famous, like Gutenberg's printing press (#52) or the American Declaration of Independence (#70). Some are obscure, like flasks and holy water bottles (#22, 24, 32, 44, 77). Some are great works of art, like Michelangelo's Pieta #57) or the Rose Window of Notre Dame (#43). Some are mundane tools, like pins (#97, 89), pens (#83), and parking passes (#92--the ones used at Vatican II since Roman parking was at a premium). They all provide a rich way into the story of the Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church is the oldest and most physical of the Christian Churches. It has survived persecutions (see Peter's Chains (#9) or a guillotine from the French Revolution(#71)) and heresies (#18--a Ravenna mosaic that shows Christ as merely a man according to the Arian heresy). It clings to the Faith that Christ is still physically present with us in the Eucharist, a trust that has only been more refined and more certain through the ages (witness the earliest First Communion cards from the 1910s (#82) after Pope Pius X encouraged parents and pastors to allow young children to receive communion; he also encouraged frequent communion by all the faithful as spiritual nourishment and medicine). This book mirrors the historic and physical reality of the Church in a beautiful way.

The book is also an easy read. Each object gets a full-page picture and two or three pages of text, detailing the object's history and significance. It reads well as individual bits or as larger representations of an age. I learned lots of little bits and made some larger connections between things. Each item also has two books as recommended reading for further study of an item, issue, or age.

Highly recommended.

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