If there is one thing I have grown to love since I began reviewing books it’s learning Church history. I do understand those who find history boring. However, we must bear in mind that if we don’t learn from history we are doomed to repeat it’s lows. In saying that it is refreshing to be reminded of the highs as well. That brings me to an incredible new series edited by Mike Aquilina. The Reclaiming Church History series aims to bring the history of the Catholic Church to life while debunking many myths floating around. The first in the series was written by Mike himself, The Church and the Roman Empire (301–490): Constantine, Councils, and the Fall of Rome (Reclaiming Catholic History).
If you have never read one of Mike’s books on early Church history than you have missed out! This book is a great place to start and then I’d suggest you’d pick up some others. This particular title covers the years 301-490 and does a wonderful job of bringing to life the very real struggles the fledgling church faced. This struggle was painfully real folks. Every day Christians were faced with an uncertain future. Many Roman leaders wanted them subdued, some wanted them dead, either way their faith was frowned upon.
This time period featured two very stark contrasting figures that have always jumped out at me. The first was Nero who was quite frankly…nuts. He ruled by fear. The more extreme the punishment he concocted for Christians the happier he was. From feeding them to the lions to lighting them afire at night to serve as lamp posts, his efforts never really succeeded. The ultimate goal was to decrease the Christian movement but it only grew. His tactics were so extreme, they even fell out of favor with his own people.
On the opposite spectrum we have Constantine. He was no saint by any means but still one who had a soft spot in his heart for Christians, and eventually made practicing the faith legal in the Roman Empire. Now the Church had some solid footing to move forward with. Councils were held to address what would become the tenants of the faith and how to combat various heresies that began to arise. Mike details all of these in a clear and easy to understand manner keeping the information fresh and not textbook like.
Also included in this book are highlights of the various characters who lived during this time period and helped move the Church forward. In each of the books eleven chapters there is an Up Close and Personal section that looks into the lives of people like Saint Agnes of Rome, Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, Saint Basil the Great, and Saint Ephrem of Syria. Throughout the book there are You Be the Judge sections where a question and summary are included. You’ll ponder such things as Did Constantine create the Bible?, Weren’t bishops originally elected by the people?, and Didn’t Christianity harm the status of women?
Overall Mike hit it out of the park once again with this book. I also love the concept of this series and anxiously await additional title. With Mike as editor, I know it will be a great one. Get this book and learn about your Christian forefathers. Don’t allow myths to lead you down the path of assumption. Let the facts guide you and enjoy this book which bring those facts to life with all the suspense, politics, sin, death, and redemption that our Church’s history is so deeply steeped in.