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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

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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.

Иисус учил своих последователей, что легче верблюду пройти через игольное ушко, нежели богатому войти в Царство Небесное. Тем не менее, ко времени падения Рима, Церковь стала богатой сверх меры. «Сквозь Игольное Ушко» - это  развернутая интеллектуальная и социальная история неприятной темы наличия богатства в христианстве в последние дни существования Римской империи, написанная сообществом ученых поздней античности. Питер Браун рассматривает возрастание Церкви через призму денег и тех вызовов, которые они бросили Церкви, поддерживающей добродетель нестяжания и называющей алчность корнем всех зол.  
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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.


"To compare it with earlier surveys of this period is to move from the X-ray to the cinema. . . . Every page is full of information and argument, and savoring one's way through the book is an education. It is a privilege to live in an age that could produce such a masterpiece of the historical literature."--Gary Wills, New York Review of Books

"[O]utstanding. . . . Brown lays before us a vast panorama of the entire culture and society of the late Roman west."--Peter Thornemann, Times Literary Supplement

"[M]agisterial. . . . The formidably learned historian challenges commonly accepted notions about the role of wealth in the decline of the Roman empire and examines the roots of charity, two subjects relevant to contemporary economics."--Marcia Z. Nelson, Publishers Weekly

"It is exciting to watch a historian who has already written so extensively on Late Antiquity absorb so much new scholarship, revise his old reviews, and re-imagine the world we thought we knew from him. . . . Through the Eye of a Needle is a tremendous achievement, even for a scholar who has already achieved so much. Its range is as vast as its originality, and readers will find everywhere the kinds of memorable aperçus and turns of phrase for which its author is deservedly famous. . . . There can be no doubt that we are in the presence of a historian and teacher of genius."--G. W. Bowersock, New Republic

"As Brown (Augustine of Hippo), the great dean of early church history, compellingly reminds us in his magisterial, lucid, and gracefully written study, the understanding of the role of wealth in the developing Christian communities of the late Roman Empire was much more complex. Combining brilliant close readings of the writings of Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, and Paulinus of Nola with detailed examinations of the lives of average wealthy Christians and their responses to questions regarding wealth, he demonstrates that many bishops offered such Christians the compromises of almsgiving, church building, and testamentary bequests as alternatives to the renunciation of wealth. . . . Brown's immense, thorough, and powerful study offers rich rewards for readers."--Publishers Weekly

"Brown may be an emeritus professor of history at Princeton, but his research is resolutely up-to-date. . . . A hefty yet lucid contribution to the history of early Christianity."--Kirkus Reviews

"[A]n unprecedented resource. . . . Brown creates broad, deep landscapes in which the reader can watch the ancients moving. You can, in places, just crawl in and have a true dream about the ancient world. Moreover, the topic holds fascinating implications about the formation of modern Western culture. . . . It's a significant and suggestive story."--Sarah Ruden, American Scholar

"This book should be daunting but it is not; for while the book is heavy to lift, it is even harder to put down. It makes utterly compelling reading."--Eric Ormsby, Standpoint

"The sheer scope of this history is daunting, but scholars, theologians, and anyone interested in late Roman history or early Christianity will find this a fascinating view not only of the Church's development, but also of the changing concepts of wealth and poverty in the last centuries of the Roman empire."--Kathleen McCallister, Univ. of South Carolina Lib., Columbia, Library Journal

"This is a masterpiece that more than justifies its length. Peter Brown is the greatest living historian of late antiquity, a periodization which he virtually invented, and Through the Eye of a Needle an achievement which stands to his earlier career as a great cathedral does to a pilgrimage route."--Tom Holland, History Today

"[N]o other scholar could have produced Brown's characteristically intricate, spectacular and joyous synthesis. . . . One of the captivating qualities of Brown's new book is the sheer energy and intellectual excitement that sparkle through it. He might, in recent years, have rested of his laurels--perhaps, like his beloved Augustine, written his memoirs. Instead, he celebrates the continuing expansion of the field and demonstrates his continued mastery of it in a groundbreaking study of wealth in the late antique Church. . . . Towards the end of the book, Brown describes how a basilica might have looked around the year 600: glowing with candles, glittering with mosaics, gleaming with gold and silver vessels. 'The church itself', he says, 'had become a little heaven, filled with treasures.' It is a description irresistibly applicable to Peter Brown's own book: as rich a monument to the life of the mind as was any late Roman basilica to the life everlasting."--Teresa Morgan, Tablet

"[A] predictably brilliant re-appraisal of the Roman world during the fourth to sixth centuries. . . . Through the Eye of a Needle is a vast book, but is remarkably readable. Brown's intimate knowledge of Augustine and his times is presented with human empathy and a sense of the relevance of these long-ago events. . . . [T]he latter chapters of Through the Eye of a Needle contain much essential information about the establishment of Christian influence throughout Europe following Rome's fall. . . . [A] wonderful book."--Ed Voves, California Literary Review

"Peter Brown, professor emeritus at Princeton University and the leading historian of late antiquity, has written a masterful study. . . . His book is characterized by lively prose, mastery of the primary sources and original languages, comprehensive use of changes in the study of antiquities (especially the 'material culture' of archaeology), gorgeous plates, nearly 300 pages of bibliographic end material, and a number of important revisions to the standard historiography."--Dan Clendenin, JourneywithJesus.net

"Through the Eye of a Needle (Princeton University Press) is the crowning masterpiece of Peter Brown, the great historian who virtually invented late antiquity as a periodisation. The book's theme might seem specialised: the evolution of attitudes towards wealth in the last century and a half of the Roman empire in the west, and the century that followed its collapse. In reality, like so many of Brown's books, it gives us a world vivid with colour and alive with a symphony of voices. It is not only the most compassionate study of late antiquity in the west ever written, but also a profoundly subtle meditation on our own tempestuous relationship with money."--Tom Holland, History Magazine

"His sparkling prose, laced with humour and humanity, brings his subjects to life with an uncommon sympathy and feeling for their situation."--Tim Whitmarsh, Guardian

"Brown, in this masterful history, makes the writings of Augustine, Ambrose and Jerome more accessible to the average reader, and scholars will welcome the voluminous notes and index."--Ray Saadi, Gumbo


"Through the Eye of a Needle is a masterpiece of detailed historiography, brilliantly written. Peter Brown's long-awaited book surpasses even the high expectations set by his previous writings, and will engage general readers and specialists alike."--Elaine Pagels, author of Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation

"Here Peter Brown listens to the heartbeat of the late Roman world. His report is a masterpiece that introduces us to the wealth and poverty of an empire as it implodes, and the inspiring Christian concept of treasure in heaven. Excavating the roots of medieval charity, he illuminates the problems of rich and poor today, and delivers a triumph of history at its finest."--Judith Herrin, author of Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire

"The gap between rich and poor is one of the major issues of today, and who better than Peter Brown to probe the acute problems of conscience it presented to late antique Christians? In this important book, he brings to this vital subject his characteristic wit, wisdom, and humanity, as well as the mature reflection of a great historian. It is a magnificent achievement."--Averil Cameron, author of The Mediterranean World in Late Antiquity: AD 395-700

"Like a master mosaicist, Brown brings together a huge assemblage of sources to produce a vibrant panorama bursting with vitality. His story of the transfer of great wealth from rich individuals and families to the coffers of the church is the story of the creation of the postimperial West and the European Middle Ages. This is a big, and big-hearted, beautiful book. Tolle, lege."--Paula Fredriksen, author of Sin: The Early History of an Idea

"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

"Peter Brown has written a book for the ages, one that every specialist throughout the world in late antique history and the history of Christianity will read. Through the Eye of a Needle is a remarkable work of scholarship--interesting, informative, original, and stimulating. I recommend it warmly and confidently."--Thomas F. X. Noble, author of Images, Iconoclasm, and the Carolingians

December, 24
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