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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Heavens Proclaim edited by Guy Consolmagno, S.J.

I’m a philosophical fan of exposing children to what is good, beautiful, and true, thus naturally ensuring that what is ugly, bad and false will be intrinsically repellent as they mature.

That was my initial reason for wanting to get a copy of The Heavens Proclaim. I knew that if my tweens absorbed the vivid pictures and main ideas of the text of this book, there was less chance they’d be fooled by the ignorant, yet popular myth that the Church was and is opposed to science.

I had the book for 15 seconds before I had 4 more good reasons to have it at home.

- Its pictures surpassed my expectations by far.
- We live in a visual world, and this visual treat inspires.
- It’s a perfect coffee table book for guests to your home.
- It has a terrific section on the complex story of Galileo.

Remember when books were just…. books? As opposed to visual feasts? This book is the visual banquet you want your children to attend frequently.

The appetizers are all arranged in the table of Contents. Do you want Stars in Scripture? Stars and Galaxies? Or Questions about Stars? to lead off with?

Ah… the main meal. The text is for adults or advanced tweens. While every text is interesting, not each part will interest each reader. That’s OK. It’s not a book meant to be read straight through.

I was interested in the piece on Galileo for my main course choice. My personal opinion as a homeschooling mom is that by the end of high school, our children should have a good introduction to the complexity and accuracy of historical events such as: Galileo, the Crusades, Science-as-Religion or Scientism (including the evolution/creation perspectives and the “New Atheists"), and the Inquisition. Also, specifically for ecumenical purposes, the Protestant Revolt. (I don’t like the inaccurate term Reformation because Catholics did reform later, but by then, there was a full-fledged revolt going on). Especially if our children are heading to secular universities, these first topics are nearly guaranteed be raised as objections against their faith. This is one good book for addressing the Galileo topic.

So… the article Galileo and his Times in this book passed my muster. It is an excellent overview of the complexity of the Galileo issue. Unlike that sappy and annoying book, The Starry Messenger, that is so popular amongst non-Catholic homeschoolers and the secular crowd, this essay is chock-full of information on the complexity of the life, times, politics, and cultural environment of Galileo. It covers the issue so that your tween will not be surprised by the way influential members of the Catholic Church acted, but better understand why they did so and why this did not amount to Church vs. Scientific progress.

To truly understand why the Galileo affair is not a "Big, Bad, Powerful Church Suppressing Science" story is not adequately answered here in this book. It is still a bit sophisticated for tweens (not to mention the adult, uncatechized, historically-challenged Catholic) to fully appreciate from this essay alone. But provided your tween has passing knowledge of the issues of private interpretation of Scripture, the reformation, the role of the magesterium and teaching authority of the Church (including its wise but glacially slow movement), and Aristotelian philosophy, this essay will extend their knowledge. Otherwise, it may be hard to fully assimilate. By default, it can only help since it will be a more balanced and accurate account compared to the revisionist history encountered in pop culture today.

For dessert, there is a plethora of pictures and lovely quotes. I proclaim them beautiful and instructive. You can’t browse this book and come away with the idea that the Church suppressed science.

So please pull up a chair and dig in!

This review was written as part of the Catholic book Reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on The Heavens Proclaim - Astronomy and the Vatican .

SAFETY RATING: 3 Vatican Flags


Michelle September 30, 2009 at 8:48 PM  

Br. Guy is a friend, so I'm not in the least unbiased, but the book is glorious (we have a copy...)

Tween Lit Crit September 30, 2009 at 9:03 PM  

Yes, it is! Do please pass on my compliments. I have 2 friends lined up already to get their hands on my copy... (which I'm expecting back some day if you're reading, my friends). :)

Anonymous,  November 2, 2009 at 5:40 AM  

Thanks for the lovely review!

Cardinal Lajolo, who is essentially the "mayor" of the Vatican City, had the idea for the book and shepherded it through its production and publication. (He also provided most of the "frequently asked questions"!) It was my task to assemble the great material that my fellow astronomers provided.

And the beauty of the book is due entirely to GianCarlo Olcuire, who does book design for the Vatican Press. The head of the Vatican Press specifically assigned him to do the layout, and I got to watch... which was just a lot of fun for me. (Quite a contrast to my high school days putting the yearbook together!)

Tween Lit Crit November 2, 2009 at 7:00 PM  

Brother Guy, I hope you had as much fun editing it as we did reading it. There are 2 tweens reading over my shoulder right now, and after attempting to impress them with a little education on all that goes into book production, not to mention astronomy... all they have to say is... "wow. maybe he's met the pope."
I appreciate it! thanks.

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