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Coffee Table Catholic: Vatican Secret Archives

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Apr 28, 2020 | In Reviews

I admit to being a sucker for coffee table books. Even when you’ve thoroughly explored them, you can leave them on your, well, coffee table to be spotted by those foolish enough to drop by to say hello. To have any or all of the Ignatius Press / Rosikon Press collection of attractive books casually on display there can be a conversation starter. That’s doubly true, perhaps, for the latest addition: Vatican Secret Archives: Unknown Pages of Church History.

Templar Cross
Templar Cross

Everybody has some reason for wanting to know what might be revealed by the Vatican Secret Archives. Never mind that this book will not tell you a great deal about that. After all, a catalogue of the Archives would be exceedingly dull. But what it does do is provide a light history of the Archives while surveying some of the more interesting chapters of the Church’s history: The Patristic era, the trial of the Knights Templar, the Crusades, the Inquisition, the conquistadors and missionaries in the New World, the Galileo Trial, the French Revolution, the Spanish Civil War, and the famous (and often exaggerated) silence of Pope Pius XII. These pages offer not only a great deal of eye candy but a sound Catholic overview of these historical events and trends.

Marie Antionette's Writing
Marie Antionette’s Writing

The title Vatican Secret Archives is in some ways now inaccurate, since the official name was changed by Pope Francis to “Vatican Apostolic Archives”. This was mainly to remove the unfortunate modern connotations of the word “secret”, which in the context of the original Latin name simply meant “private” or “reserved”. The Archives have not been secret in the contemporary sense for a long time, although as with the archives of all governments, more recent holdings are generally made available only after the dust has settled. For example, the documents from the pontificate of Pius XII (1939-1958), while officially declassified earlier than usual by Pope St. Paul VI in 1964 because of the furor caused by Rolf Hochhuth’s scurrilously fictitious play, were more generally opened to scholars in March of this year.

In any case, the successful author/photographer team of Grzegorz Górny and Janusz RosikoĊ„ has once again produced a stunning oversize hardback, glossy-paged volume which invites the reader to open it to any section to read the overview and enjoy the rich pictures of artifacts, paintings, and manuscripts—all of which are on-topic but not necessarily from the Archives themselves. This is the sixth of their impressive books, which include:

Florentine Manuscript: Aztecs
Florentine Manuscript: Aztecs
  1. Witnesses to Mystery: Investigations into Christ’s Relics (1st ed. 2013, 2nd ed. 2019)
  2. Trust: In Saint Faustina’s Footsteps (2014): My review
  3. Three Kings, Ten Mysteries: The Secrets of Christmas and Epiphany (June 2016)
  4. Guadalupe Mysteries: Deciphering the Code (September 2016): My review
  5. Fatima Mysteries: Mary’s Message to the Modern Age (2017): My review

Vatican Secret Archives may not make as appropriate a gift for most people as the books on St. Faustina, Our Lady of Fatima, and Our Lady of Guadalupe which I have mentioned over the past several years, but if you find such books a pleasure to own, you can purchase this one along with any of the others at Ignatius Press’ special “Sheltering in Place” book discount, for between $16 and $26.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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