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Signs and Mysteries: Revealing Ancient Christian Symbols Hardcover – September 15, 2008

4.3 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Mike Aquilina's Signs and Mysteries provides a popular yet academically rigorous guide to symbols in the early church. The immediately accessible prose -- which quotes thoughtfully from the church fathers, classical and Jewish sources -- is complemented by generous illustrations. He has not only drawn on the obvious archaeological and epigraphic record, he has also delved into the fascinating world of Christian graffiti. An essential book to keep to hand when visiting early Christian sites." --Adrian Murdoch Fellow, British Royal Historical Society

About the Author

Mike Aquilina is vice-president of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. He has written or edited more than a dozen books on Catholic history, doctrine, and devotion, including The Way of the Fathers and The Mass of the Early Christians.

Lea Marie Ravotti holds a master's degree in fine art from the University of Hradec Kralove (Czech Republic). Her paintings, drawings, and woodcuts are inspired by the traditions of Christian iconography.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Our Sunday Visitor (September 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1592764509
  • ISBN-13: 978-1592764501
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 6.4 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,077,499 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Mike Aquilina is author or editor of more than thirty books, including The Fathers of the Church, The Mass of the Early Christians, and A Year with the Church Fathers. He has co-hosted eight series that air on the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN). He has co-authored books with Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., and theologian Scott Hahn. He is past editor of New Covenant magazine and The Pittsburgh Catholic newspaper. He appears weekly on Sirius Radio's "Sonrise Morning Show." Mike and his wife, Terri, have six children, who are the subject of his book Love in the Little Things.

In 2011 Mike was a featured presenter of the U.S. Bishops' Diocesan Educational/Catechetical Leadership Institute. He also wrote the USCCB's theological reflection for Catechetical Sunday in 2011.

His reviews, essays and journalism have appeared in many journals, including First Things, Touchstone, Crisis, Our Sunday Visitor, National Catholic Register, and Catholic Heritage. He contributed work on early Christianity to the Encyclopedia of Catholic Social Thought.

Mike is a also poet whose works have appeared in U.S. literary journals and have been translated into Polish and Spanish. He shared songwriting credits with Grammy Award-winner Dion DiMucci on the forthcoming album "Tank Full of Blues."

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book is a delight that many will both enjoy and profit from. Mike Aquilina writes simply yet clearly in explaining where many of Christianity's oldest symbols originated and their many-layered meanings within Judaism and Christianity. If you ever wondered why your church has symbols of a dolphin, a peacock, or an anchor, this is the book for you. And you'll be surprised at just how many "new" symbols you might discover once you have read about it in this fine book.
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Format: Hardcover
Signs and Mysteries: Revealing Ancient Christian Symbols is the latest book by patristic scholar Mike Aquilina and a book I was looking forward to reading. In most cases we have some idea as to the root of some of the symbols that have been associated with Christianity, though we might not have the details of how this came to be and their significance in the early Church. Mike Aquilina looks the the symbols that came about in the first four centuries of the Church and does a chapter on each ones that explains their meanings and what historical information we have on them and where they were used. Included are plenty of drawings of these symbols throughout the book that show precisely how they were used.

When early uses of some symbols are more clouded in history he nicely gives some of the theories explaining their meanings. Often we also get references to writings of the Fathers of the Church along with others when it helps to illuminate how these symbols were used in liturgy or devotional practice. I really learned a lot from this book and while I had a general idea of meaning of many symbols I found a wealth of details. For example I will never look at the Ichthys when I see it on someone's bumper the same way. I knew how it came about and that it was a Greek acronym and often used in the early Church, but I had no idea about the Eucharistic overtones and some of the other theological depths involved. Being an ex-Navy Chief I was also pleasantly surprised to see how the anchor was another common symbol used and it's meaning.

This book is not meant to be an exhaustive reference of symbols used within the Church, but just the first four centuries.
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Format: Hardcover
You will immediately note that OSV is a Catholic publishing house, and indeed, this book is written by a faithful Catholic - yet, there are no attempts at proselytizing, no justification for Catholic doctrines, but a simple and sincere look, with great depth, at early Christian uses of symbols to tell the story of Christ and His Church.

Easily one of my most anticipated books to read, Signs and Mysteries did not disappoint. I found within this small - almost pocket size - book encouragement, words of life, and a link to the community of Christ from long ago. At once, this book serves as a devotional, a plethora of ministerial ideas, and a short treatise on the history of the early Church. One can find within the pages a remembrance that the early Christian community was often illiterate, unlearned men and women who sought to worship their God in simplicity, adopting symbols for themselves to tell that story long before the canon was formalized. We must remember just how underground the first few centuries of Christianity really were - and this book takes you through a list of symbols and codes which served multiple purposes for the individual Christian and the community as a whole.

While many Protestants may fail to fully appreciate the adoption of symbols, some of them foreign to the Bible, appreciation should be given without remorse, to those early Christians who used these designs as decorations, or perhaps as the author states, `hastily and crudely scratched into plaster' to `to stand forever as a perpetual prayer...' They were more than that (a proclamation, the author writes) and indeed, while reading the book, I gained a better understanding of the primitive development of iconography.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Signs and Mysteries: Revealing Ancient Christian Symbols is a book that brings our ancient Christian past to light. Any book by Mike Aquilina will edify and entertain in equal parts, but this book also adds an emotional connection to the mix. The systematic explication of the ancient symbols of our Christian faith somehow shortens the distance between then and now. The introduction describes the spiritual renewal of minority Christians in Aleppo, Syria through visits to local ancient ruins. An archaeologist explained to the Syrians the meaning of the Christian symbols in the ruins, showing the long history of Christianity there and how the meaning of the symbols continued to resonate down through the centuries. This book will do the same for you. The illustrations by Lea Mari Ravotti are beautifully clear and simple and full of life. The phoenix and the dolphin, the peacock and the anchor will have new meaning for you after reading Signs and Mysteries. This book would also make a beautiful gift.
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Format: Hardcover
The book attempts to, and I think is successful at, transporting us back to the first four centuries of Christianity. a very different and very dangerous time and a time in which a variety of symbols, symbols often taken from the surrounding culture, were appropriated and given a new, deeper, Christian meaning. These have been discovered in the catacombs, the underground burial grounds of the early Christians, but they have also been found on many artifacts, mosaics and lamps, jars and coins and rings from the first several hundred years Anno Domini. Some of the 25 symbols will be familiar to us, some 2000 years later, those like the fish, the shepherd, and of course, the cross, although even here, drawing quotes from the Old Testament, the Psalms and the writing of the Church Fathers, our understanding will no doubt be deepened by what the author writes about them.

But Mr. Aquilina also explores a good many symbols that we may be only slightly, if at all, familiar with, especially explaining their connection to the early Christians. The ancient mythical Phoenix is, as St. Clement of Rome wrote, "a wonderful sign" of the resurrection. Then there is the Dolphin, an animal the ancient people..and many even today...considered the sailor's friend, a guide that would lead ships in danger to a safe harbor. So it was not difficult for early Christians to see the dolphin as a symbol of the Christ, "rescuer, guide and friend."

Each chapter is fairly brief and while the explanations may not be exhaustive, they are an excellent introduction to the subject. There are numerous, very nice, illustrations by Lea Marie Ravotti, in a brownish color that really makes them stand out clearly. Which leads to my only issue with this book.
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