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. I enjoyed this book so much I would love to see another book in the same style that explains the symbols the Church used in later years and especially in the Middle Ages.
My one caveat about the book is not the content, but the color of the font used. The text is a dark brown color with a light font weight that I found more difficult to read. The color makes drawings turn out beautifully, but I would have much preferred they have had black text with the drawings being the color they used. Our Sunday Visitor has published books in recent years with multiple colors that made the book quite effective and I wish the same was done here. Though this is no real reason not to get this book.
This review was written as part of The Catholic Company product reviewer program. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Signs and Mysteries-Revealing Ancient Christian Symbols .