Seven Revolutions (Book Review)
by Harley Voogd
Seven Revolutions: How Christianity Changed the World and Can Change it Again was written by Mike Aquilina and James L. Papandrea.
It teaches an idea which I strongly agree with: that Christianity, since its beginnings, has changed the whole world for the better and continues to do so.
The authors focus on seven revolutions; seven ways in which Christianity rearranged the world in new and positive methods.
The first revolution is concerned with Human Dignity. Unwanted life, be it children, or slaves, or cripples, was thrown away in the ancient world, and no one thought much of it. It was the first Christians who condemned this behaviour and openly spoke out against abortion, child murder, gladiatorial violence, and the overall low view of “inconvenient” persons.
The second revolution, which builds on the first, is on Family. In contrast to the Roman culture, Christian homes had husbands and wives who loved each other, and children who were valued and cared for. The marriage was not just a contract, and the wife was not just the property of the husband (she was, but he was her property now too). Sex was seen in a new light as well: not just something for the physical pleasure of the man, but a sacred activity to both marriage partners. As one second century author wrote:
“They [Christians] marry, as everyone does; they beget children, but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all.” (Epistle to Diognetus, 5)
The third revolution addressed is that of Work, and how labour became holy. “Shoemakers, cleaners, weavers — these were the people who called themselves Christians. How could a religion made up of such lowly people be anything but contemptible?” (Page 80) Manual labour was despicable to the upper classes in the ancient world, and that type of work was best left to slaves. But Christians welcomed and treated as equal both manual labourers and slaves in relation to the upper class Christians. Manual labour is seen as holy in the Christian faith. God Himself worked with His hands in creating the world. How could a religion like this lead people to salvation when clearly the physical world is dirty and disgusting while the spiritual world is beautiful and pure?
The fourth was a revolution of Religion. Whereas the pagan religions of the past were more so contracts between patron (the god) and people and were seen as a patriotic duty, Christianity focuses on having an actual relationship with God and with fellow believers. A Christian, rather than trying to guess at what makes the gods happy, receives divine revelation which allows for a direct and intimate knowledge of God. And then there is the monotheistic/trinitarian nature of God: God is one, but He is three persons in relationship, and that relationship of love spills over into humanity causing Christians to not only love God, but also to love people. And don’t leave out the Christian view of morality — living a life which pleases God, not to earn salvation, but to live out the salvation already received.
Number five: a revolution of Community. The authors, perhaps unnecessarily, start this chapter with an overview of the Augustine/Pelagius controversy. Augustine believed in original sin and total depravity, while Pelagius believed in free will and humanity’s ability to live a perfect life. The Church (the Catholic Church) decided the truth was somewhere down the middle of those extremes — not all depends on God, and not all depends on us. Therefore we must work with God in His mission to “extend His love to others.” (page 137) The debate of free will vs. original sin still rages on in Protestant circles, but the point of the book is clear: “the revolution of the community is that God calls us to love our neighbour.” (Page 137) The focus here is on working with the poor, and the contrast of Christian charity (loving others for the sake of love) against pagan charity (doing good to others to be seen doing good). Christians are not to build up treasure in this world, but rather in heaven, and “the storehouses of heaven are the stomachs of the hungry.” (Page 141)
Next, a revolution in Death. This is a Catholic book, and while I don’t think it’s too Catholic for non-Catholic readers, this chapter on death does hold much of the theology, particularly concerning relics and patron saints. While I’m not Catholic myself, I do agree with the premise of this chapter, which has to do with resurrection and Christianity’s conquering of death itself. Death has no more sting and the horrors of death are nothing more than a temporary sadness. A new body and a new life await those who belong to Christ.
The final and seventh revolution is about the State and Religious Freedom. Again, being a Catholic book, there is no mention of the Reformation’s contribution to the western world and to how individual liberty grew out of that movement influencing so much of western politics. The book mainly focuses on the influence of Constantine and his edict of religious tolerance. “By the time the Church was in a position to influence government in the fourth century, a Christian idea of government had emerged — that those who governed should be the protectors of those whom they govern. Leadership was not a right; it was a responsibility — one that included serving the ‘least’ of society. To govern was to be entrusted with something very valuable — human beings created in the image of God and the resources to sustain them. In other words, Christian leadership is a form of stewardship” (page 183). That’s good in theory, but fast forward 1000 years and the Church’s rule wasn’t doing so great. Much was corrected by the Reformation.
The final two chapters talk about how the Church can change the world again. Several “to-do” items are given for the Church:
- Reject isolationism
- Respect the value of every human life
- Reject the culture of celebrity and humiliation as entertainment
- Respect the humble, the labourer, and the poor
- Reject the creation of a secular religion of the state
- Respect religious freedom (freedom of religion, not from religion)
- Reject a defeatist attitude
- Respect your neighbours
All in all I thought it was a good book. I give it 3.5 out of five stars. I think the Catholic authors focused too much on ancient history, neglecting the huge changes made in the last 500 years. But, there is much to be learned from those ancient centuries as well so that we need not repeat the mistakes of the past.
“The seven revolutions of the Church can be broadly grouped into two categories: the protection of all human life, and the protection of each person’s dignity and freedom.” (Page 204)
“Just like the early Christians, we may find ourselves facing a choice between two kinds of sacrifice. We will either sacrifice our place of comfort within society to speak up for life and freedom, or we will sacrifice our convictions and accept the current definition of freedom (that is, absolute freedom of convenience for the individual, and freedom from having to be confronted with expressions of religious faith that may convict one of selfishness).” (Page 217)