Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD

Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD

by Peter Robert Brown

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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400844531
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 09/02/2013
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 792
Sales rank: 1,145,056
File size: 5 MB

About the Author

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 1 Aurea aetas -
    Wealth in an Age of Gold 3
  • Chapter 2 Mediocritas -
    The Social Profile of the Latin Church, 312–ca.
    370 31
  • Chapter 3 Amor civicus -
    Love of the city -
    Wealth and Its Uses in an Ancient World 53
  • Chapter 4 "Treasure in Heaven" - Wealth in the Christian Church

Part II An Age of Affluence 91
  • Chapter 5 Symmachus - Being Noble in Fourth-Century
  • Chapter 6 Avidus civicae gratiae - Greedy for the good favor of the city - Symmachus and the People of Rome 110
  • Chapter 7 Ambrose and His People
  • Chapter 8 "Avarice, the Root of All Evil" - Ambrose and Northern Italy
  • Chapter 9 Augustine - Spes saeculi -
    Careerism, Patronage and Religious Bonding, 354–384
  • Chapter 10 From Milan to Hippo - Augustine and the Making of a Religious Community, 384–396
  • 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 12 Ista vero saecularia -
    Those things, indeed, of the world - Ausonius, Villas, and the Language of Wealth
  • Chapter 13 Ex opulentissimo divite - From being rich as rich can be
    Paulinus of Nola and the Renunciation of Wealth, 389–395
  • Chapter 14 Commercium spiritale
    The spiritual Exchange - Paulinus of Nola and the Poetry of Wealth, 395–408 224
  • Chapter 15 Propter 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

Part III
An Age of Crisis
  • Chapter 18 "The Eye of a Needle" and "The Treasure of the Soul" - Renunciation, Nobility, and the Sack of Rome, 405–413
  • Chapter 19 Tolle 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
  • Chapter 22 Dimitte 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 26 Romana respublica vel iam mortua - With the empire now dead and gone - Salvian and His Gaul, 420–450 433
  • Chapter 27 Ob Italiae securitatem - For the security of Italy - Rome and Italy, ca. 430–ca. 530 454

Part V Toward Another World 479
  • Chapter 28 Patrimonia pauperum - Patrimonies of the poor - Wealth and Conflict in the Churches
    of the Sixth Century 481
  • Chapter 29 Servator fidei, patriaeque semper amator - Guardian of the Faith, and always lover of [his] homeland - Wealth and Piety in the Sixth Century 503

Works Cited
  • Primary Sources 641
  • Secondary Sources 654

Index 719

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"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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