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

4.31  ·  Rating details ·  374 Ratings  ·  76 Reviews
Jesus asserted it's easier for a camel to go thru 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. Thru the Eye of a Needle is a sweeping intellectual & social history of the vexing problem of wealth in Christianity in the waning days of the Roman Empire, written by the world's foremost schol ...more
ebook, 792 pages
Published September 2nd 2013 by Princeton University Press (first published August 13th 2012)
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Clif Hostetler
Jun 02, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This book provides a virtual time-machine fly through of the Western Roman Empire from 350 to 550 AD with special attention being given to the ways in which the Christian Church dealt with wealth. This is a problem for the Christian religion because it is based upon the teachings of Jesus who is quoted in the New Testament as saying that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter heaven. For the first three hundred years of Christian church hi ...more
Margaret Sankey
Jan 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the kind of book for which the word magisterial was intended. I've been reading Brown's work on the late Roman Empire since undergraduate classes, and this is the culmination of immersion in the big ones--Augustine, Jerome, Ambrose as well as the many congregants, faction leaders, bishops, donors and well-educated widows of the imploding Roman world. This book traces the fascinating process by which a church founded on humble poverty came to be an Imperial religion and then a replacement ...more
Nov 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
An excellent, magisterial investigation into the history of Latin Western Christianity from 350-550 through a focus on material wealth, its handling, and its influence.

The author demonstrates well how this time period is crucial to explain the shifts that take place between "ancient" and "medieval" Christianity. He uses modern research, recently discovered texts, and archaeological evidence to question the prevailing narratives about the rise of prominence of Christianity in the Latin West and p
Adam Shields
Apr 18, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Short Review: Long, but interesting look at the variety of ways that the church of the Late Roman Empire looked at wealth and how it should be used. Interesting to reflect in the different ways we currently think about wealth. My knowledge of the history of this period is pretty weak. But Brown does take some alternative views from others that I have read. His understanding of Augustine (especially around celibacy and Agustine's desire to turn all clerics into monks) is different from what I rea ...more
This is the kind of massive, authoritative tome that could only be produced after decades of intensive study. In Through the Eye of a Needle, Peter Brown looks at wealth and Christianity in the late Empire of the Latin West. He tracks how the collapse of centralised state authority, accompanied by a gradual fading of the idea of the populus Romanus as a living entity, allowed the Church to evolve into an institution built on corporate wealth. Wealth was given a higher purpose—not used simply to ...more
Sep 23, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: listened
This was fascinating. I didn't know much about the topic, but the author provided very adequate background regarding attitudes towards wealth in the late Roman Empire. The changes in Christian thought on wealth were well explained. The various people profiled were described in a very engaging way which illustrated the changing views on wealth over hundreds of years. My only complaint was that, as a non-expert, I was unfamiliar with the scholars the author frequently quoted, and also that the lev ...more
Mar 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
With this book you will learn something you did not already know and more importantly discover things you believed to be true but probably weren’t true. Whether the nature of the Roman town structure, the elite, the distribution of wealth within the republic, the rise of the Christians after Constantine, or why ‘most Idealist thinkers [Enlightenment and Romantic] were Pelagians’ (that’s a quote from ‘Culture and the Death of God’, by Terry Eagleton) most readers will learn things they didn’t kno ...more
Jul 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sometimes it is best to contemplate current difficulties from the perspective of the past. Better than any I've read, this book unravels the tangled threads of spirituality and money, showing us, from the vantage of late Rome, that in times of cultural collapse, people put their faith in wealth and the illusions of control it affords.

For those of you who have not read Brown, he is perhaps the finest historian of late Rome and the rise of Christianity. He recreates for us the lives and perplexiti
Sep 03, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an exquisitely dense study of the shift in the Mediterranean world of the Roman empire to the early hegemony of the Roman Catholic Church.

Before reading it I had some vague knowledge that Romans partied themselves to death and then Constantine decided he was a Christian and everyone lived happily ever after ( or at least saved).

The story of this book is much more rich. Not only does Brown show a wide range of personalities and philosophies at their steady work, he quietly reminds us th
Aug 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Muy recomendable. Un libro que te hace caer en la cuenta cómo cambia la relación con el dinero y la riqueza para aquellos que en Roma abandonan los ídolos para hacerse cristianos. Un camino que viene narrado maravillosamente por el autor a lo largo de varios siglos.
Jul 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A fascinating look at the last centuries of the Roman empire through the perspective of wealth. While the power and influence of the Roman empire waned, the relative influence of the Church grew. Associated with it was also wealth. Both power and money changed the way the church operated.

The book examines these topics through a fascinating cast of characters-- names familiar to me, but ones that I have never ecountered up close. You get to know Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, using his critique of
Apr 22, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
High four. A simply Herculean effort of scholarship that perhaps likes the coherence or ambition I thought it would have: I kinda wanted it to make good on its promise of explaining the formation of Modern views on wealth/materialism in at least a more obvious and precise way. Brown was on the other hand dealing with an absolutely massive corpus of material: the archaeology, the treatises, sermons and letters of Augustine, the sermons of Ambrose, Jerome's oeuvre, even the 900 letters of Symmachu ...more
Tony Gualtieri
Jan 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Working with what seems like a fairly prosaic theme, Peter Brown has written a tremendous history that suggests that the relationship of the Church in late antiquity to wealth and the wealthy is a key driver of the establishment of Christianity in the West. By quoting extensively from major intellectual figures of the day such as Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome and others, creates a picture of a society whose ideas have as rich a subtlety and complexity as those of any age. I constantly found myself ...more
Edoardo Albert
Nov 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the book for which the word 'magisterial' was coined. Except... Except magisterial, to my ear at least, now carries some undertones of something worthy and a little dull, and Peter Brown is never, ever dull. Never, not through 700 odd pages. And this is a view, with all the clarity of a pin-hole camera, of a an odd age indeed: when Roman antiquity was struggling into the middle ages, the Empire kicking and struggling and, above all, money gathering against the dawning of the light. The s ...more
Richard Anderson
Aug 12, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very informative about the period, if a bit tedious towards the end.
Michael W.
Jul 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When Jesus remarked, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19.23-24, ESV), how did earlier Christians perceive his statement and engage it? And in what ways would this have coincided or conflicted with their cultural environment? These, and other questions, are addressed in sizable detail by Peter Brown, the ...more
Christopher Taylor
Peter Brown is a professor at Princeton and his classes must be great. In this book he combines fine writing with scholarly knowledge and adds the energy of enthusiasm to produce a remarkably interesting discussion of a topic which could have been (would have been) deadly boring if done by virtually anyone else.

The topic is the role of wealth in the growth of the Christian church in the Western Roman Empire during the years 350 to 550 AD. The variety of issues discussed are far too many to ident
Justin Evans
Jan 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-etc
Magisterial, well-written, but perhaps a little too detailed for the common reader. Brown seems to be making up a field of study as much as actually studying a field, which is of course very impressive, but I also found myself wondering what exactly he was looking at--there are lots of texts and ideas, and a few biographies and lives, and perhaps not quite enough broader social history for my taste (I mean not quite enough proportionally: there's plenty in there, and it's very good).

But holy he
Phil Gates
Feb 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An exceptional book

This is a beautifully nuanced and insight-laden examination of the competing forces that shaped the social and religious mores of an important transitional time. Brown not only reveals ways in which wealth operated in the early centuries of the Christianizing West, but also provides a remarkably close up view of how wealth operates in any social context and thus provides valuable tools for thinking about how wealth, religion and the Church work in our own world.
Benjamin Dueholm
This is a remarkable book, much as I expect from Peter Brown. It does a lot, almost too much, but successfully. There are portraits of both major figures (Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, Cassian) and more minor ones, as well as regions, cities, local church cultures, historical developments, and theological disputes. This book has shaken up how I think about a lot of things from this period and later, from the meaning of wealth and giving to theological controversies with Donatists and Pelagians to ...more
Guillaume Dohmen
A great study

This book traces the way early christianity developed as a movement rather than its theology. It deals with the period 359 to around 600 AS and mainly covers Western Europe.
沐乔 孙
Aug 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Peter brown combines the interpretation of social elites with latest research of social history study. Excellent work!
Nick Spencer
Dec 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
Superb, thorough, inexhaustible knowledge of subject, clearly written
Adrian Buck
Feb 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
In the the king in the north the charge is made the adoption of Christianity in Norhumbria weakened the state and ultimately made it vulnerable to Viking invasion. This was a side effect of the tax exemption enjoyed by monasteries. As more land was gifted to monasteries, the tax base was reduced and the state was unable to support the military that defended it. I wondered if this process was also true of Rome, that the adoption of Christianity led to the fall of the Empire in the west through B ...more
Jeremy Garber
Feb 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion, history, bible
Peter Brown provides a beautifully written and sprawling survey of the changing sociological landscape of third through sixth century Western Christianity and its attitudes toward the relationship between theology and wealth. He traces this journey from the original Roman model of the wealthy contributing to the good of the city through patronage. Then the rising model of charismatic leaders from without the community, which brought the problem of donated wealth. Brown also outlines the Augustin ...more
Earl H
Dec 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When one says “ as Rome goes, so goes the world” or “Through the eye of a needle” what does that mean and what are they attempting to say? Anyone attempting to understand those remarks needs to read this book. The insight Brown delivers to the reader from the time period of 250 CE to 600 CE of the Roman Empire will enrich the seeker to find a Latin Church perspective of culture, societies, political frameworks, geography, and religious practices that information of the complexities associated wi ...more
Jan 07, 2013 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
This is still on my "to-read" shelf. I do not know if I'm going to be convinced by Peter Brown's take on what Anabaptists have called "the long apostasy." I know Brown writes well (I've read his biography of Augustine)--and I'm quite interested in Brown's take, as a Catholic apologist, on the alignment of Christianity with the Empire.

From the Guardian's review:
" Brown calls the fourth century the "age of gold", after the coin known as the solidus that sym
An interesting journey through the church's relationship with wealth in Late Antiquity. I enjoyed the book but probably could have gotten more out of it if I were more versed in this era.
Mar 19, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
"In sum, the populus was not the poor and did not wish to be treated as the poor. For a civic benefactor to look past the populus by showing generosity to the many thousands of beggars and immigrants who lingered on the margins of the city was not an act of charity. It was a snub to the citizen body. Only the most arrogant could threaten to do that. Ammianus Marcellinus noted one such insufferable maverick [Lampadius]. [...] But the whimsical gesture of Lampadius showed, without a hint of Christ ...more
Allen Roth
May 01, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well known and lesser known Church personalities populate the pages of this always interesting and insightful study of the impact of the Church's changing attitude towards wealth had on the Church's early development, which culminated in the Church of the Middle ages. As usual, Brown brings to life such figures as St. Augustine, Saint Jerome, Saint Ambrose, and largely forgotten figures who played substantial (and often controversial) roles in the Church's adaption to the changing social scene i ...more
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There is more than one author with this name

Peter Robert Lamont Brown FBA is Rollins Professor of History Emeritus at Princeton University. His principal contributions to the discipline have been in the field of Late Antiquity. His work has concerned, in particular, the religious culture of the later Roman Empire and early medieval Europe, and the relation between religion and society.
More about Peter R.L. Brown...

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“Thus, more than ever before, society was divided into two classes: those who became steadily poorer and more destitute, and those who built up their prosperity on the spoils of the ruined Empire—real drones, who lived on the toil and travail of other classes. To” 0 likes
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