A History of the Church in 100 Objects

by Mike and Grace Aquilina, Ave Maria Press, 256pp, £20

Mike Aquilina is a force to be reckoned with. He is indefatigable and indomitable. Since the publication of his first book almost 20 years ago he has published more than 50 titles, most of which fall within the broad category of popular apologetics. He is, in one sense, what might be called a populist. He has an eye for the sort of book that will capture the imagination of a broad readership. He is a master of putting a popular spin on a given topic, packaging it in a new and imaginative way so that it captures the imagination of potential readers. His particular skill lies in making people want to read what he wants to write.

In truth, however, there is much more to Aquilina than meets the eye. He should not be dismissed as a writer comfortable in what might be called the intellectual shallows but not wishing to get out of his depth in deeper theological or philosophical waters. On the contrary, anyone who has read his eloquent review of Fr Colum Power’s masterful tome James Joyce’s Catholic Categories in the St Austin Review will know that Aquilina can grapple with the most difficult of subjects, emerging unfazed from the fray. He is able to bring this prodigious intellect into what might be called lighter fare, anchoring the levitas in gravitas, putting the weight of his formidable learning at the service of holy simplicity.

This is the case with A History of the Church in 100 Objects, inspired no doubt by the success of Neil MacGregor’s international bestseller, A History of the World in 100 Objects.

One of Aquilina’s greatest gifts is his ability to say profound things in simple language. Take, for instance, these words from the book’s introduction: “Catholicism is indeed the religion of ‘stuff’. Ours is the church of ashes and incense, icons and statues, bread and wine, water and oil, incorrupt bodies, and bones encased in glass.

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