A sweeping intellectual history of the role of wealth in the church in the last days of the Roman Empire
Jesus taught his followers that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. Yet by the fall of Rome, the church was becoming rich beyond measure. Through the Eye of a Needle is a sweeping intellectual and social history of the vexing problem of wealth in Christianity in the waning days of the Roman Empire, written by the world's foremost scholar of late antiquity.
Peter Brown examines the rise of the church through the lens of money and the challenges it posed to an institution that espoused the virtue of poverty and called avarice the root of all evil. Drawing on the writings of major Christian thinkers such as Augustine, Ambrose, and Jerome, Brown examines the controversies and changing attitudes toward money caused by the influx of new wealth into church coffers, and describes the spectacular acts of divestment by rich donors and their growing influence in an empire beset with crisis. He shows how the use of wealth for the care of the poor competed with older forms of philanthropy deeply rooted in the Roman world, and sheds light on the ordinary people who gave away their money in hopes of treasure in heaven.
Through the Eye of a Needle challenges the widely held notion that Christianity's growing wealth sapped Rome of its ability to resist the barbarian invasions, and offers a fresh perspective on the social history of the church in late antiquity.
Peter Brown is the Philip and Beulah Rollins Professor of History Emeritus at Princeton University. His many books include The World of Late Antiquity, The Rise of Western Christendom, and Augustine of Hippo.
Table of Contents
List of Maps xv List of Illustrations xvii Preface xix Part I Wealth, Christianity, and Giving at the End of an Ancient World 1
Chapter 1Aurea aetas - Wealth in an Age of Gold 3
Chapter 2Mediocritas - The Social Profile of the Latin Church, 312–ca. 370 31
Chapter 3Amor civicus - Love of the city - Wealth and Its Uses in an Ancient World 53
Chapter 4 "Treasure in Heaven" - Wealth in the Christian Church 72
Part II An Age of Affluence 91
Chapter 5 Symmachus - Being Noble in Fourth-Century Rome 93
Chapter 6Avidus civicae gratiae - Greedy for the good favor of the city - Symmachus and the People of Rome 110
Chapter 7 Ambrose and His People 120
Chapter 8 "Avarice, the Root of All Evil" - Ambrose and Northern Italy 135
Chapter 9 Augustine - Spes saeculi - Careerism, Patronage and Religious Bonding, 354–384 148
Chapter 10 From Milan to Hippo - Augustine and the Making of a Religious Community, 384–396 161
Chapter 11 "The Life in Common of a kind of Divine and Heavenly Republic" - Augustine on Public and Private in a Monastic Community 173
Chapter 12Ista vero saecularia - Those things, indeed, of the world - Ausonius, Villas, and the Language of Wealth 185
Chapter 13Ex opulentissimo divite - From being rich as rich can be Paulinus of Nola and the Renunciation of Wealth, 389–395 208
Chapter 14 Commercium spiritale The spiritual Exchange - Paulinus of Nola and the Poetry of Wealth, 395–408 224
Chapter 15Propter magnificentiam urbis Romae - By reason of the magnificence of the city of Rome - The Roman Rich and their Clergy, from Constantine to Damasus, 312–384 241
Chapter 16 "To Sing the Lord's Song in a Strange Land" - Jerome in Rome, 382–385 259
Chapter 17 Between Rome and Jerusalem - Women, Patronage, and Learning, 385–412 273
Part III An Age of Crisis 289
Chapter 18 "The Eye of a Needle" and "The Treasure of the Soul" - Renunciation, Nobility, and the Sack of Rome, 405–413 291
Chapter 19Tolle divitem - Take away the rich - The Pelagian Criticism of Wealth 308
Chapter 20 Augustine's Africa - People and Church 322
Chapter 21 "Dialogues with the Crowd" - The Rich, the People, and the City in the Sermons of Augustine 339
Chapter 22Dimitte nobis debita nostra - Forgive us our sins - Augustine, Wealth, and Pelagianism, 411–417 359
Chapter 23 "Out of Africa" - Wealth, Power and the Churches, 415–430 369
Chapter 24 "Still at that Time a More Affluent Empire" - The Crisis of the West in the Fifth Century 385
Part IV Aftermaths 409
Chapter 25 Among the Saints - Marseilles, Arles and Lérins, 400–440 411
Chapter 26Romana respublica vel iam mortua - With the empire now dead and gone - Salvian and His Gaul, 420–450 433
Chapter 27Ob Italiae securitatem - For the security of Italy - Rome and Italy, ca. 430–ca. 530 454
Part V Toward Another World 479
Chapter 28Patrimonia pauperum - Patrimonies of the poor - Wealth and Conflict in the Churches of the Sixth Century 481
Chapter 29Servator fidei, patriaeque semper amator - Guardian of the Faith, and always lover of [his] homeland - Wealth and Piety in the Sixth Century 503
Conclusion 527 Abbreviations 531 Notes 533 Works Cited
"This is a book that only Peter Brown could write. It has his trademark stamped all over it, in the richness of its source material, its breadth of coverage and turn of phrase, its fondness for the middling folk and outsiders who usually fall by the wayside of academic scholarship, and its insistence on seeing pagans and Christians as part of a larger, shared world."H. A. Drake, author of Constantine and the Bishops
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