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Through the Eye of a Needle – how Christianity swallowed antiquity and birthed the West : Gene Expression -
Through the Eye of a Needle – how Christianity swallowed antiquity and birthed the West : Gene Expression
Through the Eye of a Needle – how Christianity swallowed antiquity and birthed the West : Gene Expression
Through the Eye of a Needle – how Christianity swallowed antiquity and birthed the West : Gene Expression
"One of my resolutions for the New Year was to read two books on approximately the same period and place in sequence, The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization, and Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD. Despite a very general similarity of topicality it would be misleading to characterize these two books as complementary, or with one as a sequel to the other. Rather, they use explicitly different methods and espouse implicitly alternative norms in generating a map of the past. As I have explored in depth Bryan Ward-Perkins’ The Fall of Rome is to a great extent a materialist reading which reasserts the contention that civilization as we understand it did truly collapse in a precipitous and discontinuous manner with the fall of Rome. In other words, in all things that matter the year 400 was much closer to the year 300 than it was to the year 500. But it is critical to qualify what “matters.” As an archaeologist with a penchant for economic history Ward-Perkins’ materialist narrative might be reduced down to a metric, such as productivity per person as a function of time. In such a frame the preponderance of evidence does suggest that there was collapse in the Western Roman Empire in the years between 400 and 500. But specific frame is not something that we can take for granted. Peter Brown, the author of Through the Eye of a Needle might object that there is more to man than matter alone. A major distinction between the years 400 and 500, as opposed to 300, is that in the first quarter of the 4th century the Roman Emperors starting with Constantine began to show special favor to the Christian religion, which by 400 was on the way to being the exclusive official faith of the Empire, a process which was complete by 500. The Rome of 300 was indisputably a pagan one. That of 400 arguably Christian, and 500 most definitely Christian." - Maitani from Bookmarklet
"At this point many readers may be confused. After all, did not Constantine the Great make Christianity the official faith of the Roman Empire between the Edict of Milan in 313 and the First Council of Nicea in 325? No! This confusion is common enough that it needs elaboration. Peter Brown in Through the Eye of a Needle outlines explicitly throughout the narrative why a Christian Roman Empire was only truly imaginable in the years after 370, nearly 50 years subsequent to the First Council of Nicea. This is not a central concern of the book, but the reason for this assertion is so plain in the literature that it bears some repeating. First, we need to state what it means for a religion to be an “official religion.” Today we have explicit formal constitutions, and elaborate institutional systems to handle the relationship of religion and state. Such was not necessarily the case in the ancient world. The concept of “separation of church and state” would have made little sense, because all states were implicitly sacred, and so naturally required the beneficence of the gods. But the Reformation model can provide us with a window into societies where there was a rupture between the old religion and the new. In Protestant nations the Roman Catholic Church as an institution was proscribed, its properties confiscated, its priests expelled or defrocked. It makes reasonable sense to state that at some point in the 16th century Roman Catholicism was no longer the official religion in a host of northern European nations." - Maitani
"Such a rupture never occurred with the plethora of cults which we bracket under the term ‘paganism’ for nearly a century after Constantine’s conversion to Christianity. Why is 370 such an important date then? Because only in the decades between 370 and 400 did the legitimacy of subsidies to customary pagan cults come under scrutiny by the Emperors and their court. The disestablishment of paganism in the late 4th century, decades after Constantine, and subsequent to the expiration of his dynasty, was initially more a matter of the rollback of paganism’s customary privileges, and the default role it played at the center of the Imperial high culture, rather than an assertion of the exclusive and universal role of Christianity. Only in the last decade of the 4th century did the attack on pagan privileges shift from one where Christianity attempted to attain parity, and then superiority, to the intent to extirpate public paganism (the elimination of the Serapeum in Alexandria in 391 being exemplary of the trend). The overall point here is that between the conversion of Constantine to Christianity and ~375 what one had was a pagan Roman Empire which was anchored by an Imperial court with a Christian flavor (I say flavor because though aside from Julian all the Emperors were avowed Christians, and Christians were over-represented among the courtiers, many of the notables around the court remained pagan). The period between 375 and 400 manifests a more genuine conflict, as a critical mass of high status individuals who were partisans of the new religion (e.g., St. Ambrose) began to take aim at the supremacy and the prerogatives of the staunchly pagan elite families (e.g., the Symmachi) of Rome by marginalizing their symbols and rites by pushing them into the private realm. Only after 400 was there a rush by the great pagan families of Rome into the new faith, and even then many remained unconverted or crypto-pagan for decades (e.g., the great late Roman general Marcellinus who flourished in the 460s was an avowed pagan)." - Maitani
Added this one to my to-read list yesterday morning, I thought about you, Friar Will. Maybe it's something you'd be interested in? :) - Eivind
Really interesting teaser there, wow. - Micah
Finally started it this morning! :) - Eivind