50 Euro Coin 2002
This coin, with a small mint figure of 2950 coins, has already become a sought-after collector’s item, for it is the first year in which Euro coins were put into circulation by European nations. John Paul II’s profile on the beautiful gold coin, with walking stick and suggestion of forward motion, certainly recalls the many trips this Pontiff took across the Eurpean Continent.
On the reverse is Abraham’s sacrifice. Why was this biblical scene chosen for this important inaugural coin?
The sacrifice of Abraham is central to both Christian’s and Jews. In the prayer during the Sacrifice of the Mass, we are recalled to remember the “sacrifice of Abraham, our Father in Faith.” Jews invoke this scriptural passage on the New Year (Rosh Hashanah) as once again they rededicate themselves to God. In this account, the Church Fathers recognized that this account prefigured the suffering and Passion of Jesus.
Father Frances Perry--parish priest, missionary and scholar--suggests that a 21st century meaning of this story is to remind the European nations that they must forego and give up some of the things they hold dear in order to create a working union. Without such sacrifice and commitment by individual countries, the effort will fail. Too often we also forget that Abraham was diplomatpar excellence and before the Sacrifice, while he lived in Egypt, Abraham (then Abram) took the initiative and solved his conflicts with Lot when everyone lived in the land of Egypt: “Now Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold. And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together, and there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdsmen of Lot’s cattle...Then Abram said to Lot, ‘Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen; for we are kinsmen.” (Gen 13:2-6 and 13:9) One cannot think of a better hope for Europeans in the 21st Century. One can immediately recall both Isaac and Ishmael from the narratives in Genesis. From Isaac came the nations of Israel. From his brother Ishmael, who was banished with his mother Hagar, came the nations of Islam. This family tree reminds us that there was a time when these two sons dwelt together in the same family, a seemingly insurmountable task, unless one recalls that “with God, all things are possible”.
The beauty of this precious and inspiring coin belies underlying savagery and violence. Most of us simply can’t imagine what would have happened next in the story, it is too terrible to behold. (The artist provides some comic relief: the biblical ram who was stuck in bushes has become a gentle lamb who is watching intently what is going on, perhaps with the thought that she might be next!) In the ancient world where Abram lived, child sacrifice may have been a common practice. Some scripture scholars suggest that God’s intervention through the angel was to remind all nations that He desired a clean heart, rather than holocausts of cruelty.
Again, there is a clear communication to Europeans of the 21st century, as the coin conveys how goodness, commitment, and faith can co-exist with great evil--and can only be overcome with a full commitment to the Lord.
Since this was the most expensive Vatican Coin minted this year, this important message was intended to be sent around the world.