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Catholic book review: Signs & Mysteries

signs and mysteries

Signs & Mysteries: Revealing Ancient Christian Symbols
by Mike Aquilina
illustrated by Lea Marie Ravotti
Our Sunday Visitor ©2008
ISBN 978-1-59276-450-1

The early Christian Church survived hostility and persecution by using a variety of symbols to share their beliefs and stealthly decorate their tombs and places of worship. Simple, yet very special, these artistic creations became a symbolic language that was a silent witness to the faith of our early Christian ancestors.

Our key to understanding the early-Christian use of symbols can be summed up in a single word: typology.

Typology is the discernment of “typical” patterns of God’s activity throughout salvation history.

In Signs & Mysteries: Revealing Ancient Christian Symbols, Aquilina presents in-depth analysis of 25 ancient Christian symbols:

signs and mysteries

Fish • Orant • Shepherd • Vine • Philosopher • Phoenix • Dolphin • Peacock • Milk • Lamp • Moses • Plow • Vessels • Lamb • Dove • Bread and Sheaves • Crown • Banquet • Lighthouse • Ankh • Cross • Anchor • Ships and Boats • Labarum (Chi-Rho) • Alpha and Omega

By referencing ancient and modern Church documents, he explains the connection between pagan, Jewish, and Christian symbols.

A symbology is a system of symbols, a kind of language. And a language, even a visual language. sets a kind of boundary for a people or a nation. It includes the natives (baptized) and excludes the aliens (pagans). Recovering a common Christian language, we can recover a sense of the nearness or our ancestors, the immediacy of the family we call the Communion of Saints.

This is a beautiful little book. The design, typography, and illustrations are exquisite, light, and graceful. However, it is not light reading. To fully comprehend the meaning of each symbol, take it one chapter at a time. An understanding of these ancient symbols will bring us closer to our Christian roots, and in turn, closer to our Risen Lord.

cc reviewer

This review was written as part of the Catholic book Reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Signs and Mysteries.

3 comments to Catholic book review: Signs & Mysteries

  • Thanks! That’s very kind.

  • Blessing

    The cross was not used until around 300 AD when Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor, took power and banned crucifixion as a form of punishment. The early Christians did not use the cross as a symbol before that; it was much too humiliating and disgusting to show. Crucifixion was a horrible way to die. In modern times, it would be like using a gas chamber as a symbol for a religion. Ironically, now it is the best known symbol of Christianity.
    I’m learning about this in school. It’s very interesting.

  • You should definietly get this book. Sounds like you would enjoy it, and there is an entire chapter on The Cross.

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