through the eye of the needle

Emperors are also bound to die. Before his death, Augustus, the founder of the Roman Empire, made a will. In addition to arranging state affairs, Augustus also distributed his own money: in addition to generously donating a few coins to his hometown, soldiers, and every citizen of Rome, the future emperor Tiberius would get one-third. Two of the property, the remaining third bequeathed to Livia, the wife of Augustus. Wealth, in this way, follows the power to circulate within the family from generation to generation.

Eight hundred years later, Charlemagne, who revived the Roman Empire in the west, also made a will in his later years, and arranged the whereabouts of all his property and movable property, “whether it is gold, silver, jewelry or royal clothing”. Three-quarters of them will be sent to the twenty-one archbishops’ palaces of the empire and stored in the “Bank of Heaven” of the church. The rest was left to his numerous children and court servants. I hope that by leaving the wealth to the church, I can pass through the eye of the needle and enter the kingdom of heaven smoothly.

Go through the eye of the needle and speak the Bible, the Gospel of Matthew. “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God!” Even though the physique of an ancient camel was much thinner than that of a modern camel, how difficult it is to pass through the thin eye of a needle! “The rich man enters the kingdom of heaven” is really not easy. If a rich man wants to enter the kingdom of heaven, in addition to “come and follow me” and become a Christian, he must also follow Jesus’ command, “sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” The foothold of this teaching lies in “believing in God”, as Jesus said to the disciples later: “With God all things are possible.” God can but man cannot, without him, lack of confidence. This teaching can be used to condemn the rich, but a more common interpretation is to exhort wealthy believers to donate their money to the church. “Through the Eye of the Needle” has been transformed from commending “confidence” into a charitable act of commending beauty. At the end of the history of the late church in ancient times, the effect of making good use of charity was so obvious that Augustus, the founding emperor of the ancient Roman Empire, bequeathed money to his heirs. The main bequest object.

“Late ancient times” has a broad sense and a narrow sense. From Augustus to Charlemagne is the late antiquity in the broad sense, and the late antiquity in the narrow sense, from about AD 300 to AD 600. This was the period from the tolerance of Christianity by emperors such as Constantine I to the formation of the Byzantine Empire. During this period, it experienced civil wars, invasions, the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the reconquest of Justinian. History not only turns a corner here, but also seems to have entered a dark mountain tunnel. The dim light that looms and disappears is fleeting, and when we exit the tunnel, the Jing Property has a new look.

These dim lights are mainly emitted by the sermons of Christian priests. Through sermons, clergy criticized reality, exhorted believers to do good and relieve the poor. If we regard the sermons as a faithful reflection of historical reality, then, like the English historian Edward Gibbon, we will come to the classic grand historical proposition of “the victory of the Christian Church and the fall of the Roman Empire”. Since the third century, the tax burden of the empire has increased day by day. The main body of the tax collection, the urban middle class of the empire represented by city councilors, was overwhelmed and polarized, and Roman society also became increasingly disparity between the rich and the poor. As the protector of the poor, the church fought against the rich and the imperial government on the other side of the society. The elders and nobles in the west also joined the church one after another, and the power of the church grew stronger day by day. Therefore, the Roman Church, relying on the increasing number of poor people, hollowed out the empire; outside, the barbarians called the “foreign proletariat” entered the empire. Under the influence of internal and external factors, the Western Roman Empire fell. But the victory of the church was not without cost. While gaining a lot of wealth, land and human resources, the church lost its early religious ideals and pursuits, even at the expense of adopting a policy of ignoring the people. Culture regressed, civilization declined, and Europe entered the dark Middle Ages. The Church’s triumph of wealth and power heralds the victory of ignorance and superstition.

However, Peter Brown does not believe such a narrative. Beginning with the study of Augustine, after half a century of academic exploration, he successfully promoted the study of the late antiquity, and he almost surpassed the study of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. Through the rupture of political history, he felt the pulse of the creative local culture once overshadowed by the unified Roman culture.

Cultures are not only tenaciously perpetuating, but slowly but forcefully transforming, reshaping identities. In order to meet the needs of society, Christian culture has become increasingly practical. Beside the emperors and generals, there are countless vivid saints. They face the villages, towns, cities and even the empire to which they belong, relieve the pressure on the society, predict a better life vision, and open up the future-oriented spirit for all living beings. sustenance and craving for psychological comfort. Relying on such a stage setting, Brown’s “Through the Eye of the Needle: Wealth, the Fall of the Western Roman Empire, and the Formation of the Christian Church, 350 to 550 Years” (hereinafter referred to as “Through the Eye of the Needle”) tells the story of a farewell. Such a history of church victories.

The first act, the Constantine dynasty (306-363). The Roman Empire, which had overcome the crisis of the third century, still maintained a “small government”, but the legions multiplied, all citizens had to pay taxes, the administrative divisions of the empire were subdivided, and the bureaucracy that shared the worries of the emperor also expanded on a large scale. Imperial upstarts who served the emperor came into being. These upstarts ushered in a “golden age.” Taxes and labor, as always, were borne by the more than 2,000 municipalities scattered throughout the empire, especially the citizens who lived there for generations and the middle-class parliamentarians who represented them. Emperors converted to Christianity and granted clergy tax-exempt privileges, and the church was no longer just a church for the poor. Although the imperial government also kept a close eye on the city councillors responsible for paying and collecting taxes and did not allow them to devote themselves to the church and become priests, the church pragmatically regarded ordinary people as the basic source of strength and upheld their “duty” Decent” character setting, making a fortune in silence. At the starting point of the narrative set by Brown, the church is not endless, just not visible. This set the tone for the steady growth of church wealth thereafter.

For most of the fourth century, the main body of devout believers was the middle-class with proper duties. Regardless of whether they are rich or poor, whether they are in a high position or an ordinary position, when Christians come to the church to participate in the ceremony, they have to unite and temporarily become a community, and the tension between the secular hierarchy is greatly alleviated. The rich have enjoyed the atmosphere of non-mainstream culture here, and experienced fresh cultural feelings and religious experiences. They have also created a new charity method, by donating to the church, and storing their treasures in the kingdom of heaven. Giving, no matter how small or large, means the same thing, and the church’s charitable approach appeals to the wealthy.

The end of the Constantine dynasty opened the second act for us. At the end of the fourth century, the empire was once again on a downward trajectory, and the court in the far frontier did not relax its requirements, but instead tightened the tax-free gap. Faced with increasingly difficult livelihood pressures, the court “showed its love for the people by providing material resources in an indifferent, intermittent manner”. And the old-fashioned aristocrat and Roman patriarch Simacus is still doing things according to the old rules, providing free food to the Roman people on a regular basis. In order to show his love for the Roman people, Simachus had to do his best to use all his relationships, order beasts from “all over the world”, and try to deliver them to Rome on schedule and in high quality and quantity, so that they can be divided according to the usual practice. The first election of his son as treasurer and magistrate held a grand celebration for the Roman people. However, Simachus’ father’s mansion in Rome was destroyed by the Roman people he loved. He planned every possible way, but also faced many difficulties. It seems that the traditional way of charity has encountered an unprecedented crisis.

The old-fashioned way of charity seems to be not only labor-intensive, but also insane, and has been strongly condemned by the church. In the frescoes unearthed in Britain, the words “Murder” are engraved next to the fighting beasts. When Simachus was doing his best to continue the traditional civic philanthropy in Rome, the new Christian philanthropy concept was developing day by day by his side. The poor replaced Roman citizens as the new objects of relief.

Who are the poor? They were not only Roman citizens who were starved of food, but also not limited to those refugees who were fleeing the scourge of war and were in need of food and clothing. They were all those who sought the help of the Church. Ambrose and other church fathers did not use any specific or absolute poverty standard. In their mouths and writings, the poor are those who “thirst for help”, those who pray for the grace of Christ, and believers who ask for the protection of the church. Christians are the poor, and the church is the church of the poor. The poor are no longer a specific social minority, but a broad mass of all people who feel pressured by the Roman Empire and the power of the powerful, the poor brothers of the “world” united around the Church. In these times of declining and increasingly volatile economic conditions, who can feel absolutely safe without feeling that they too need help someday? The ranks of the poor seem to be growing.

Even the originally “carefree” imperial elites had to have some anxiety, and their properties and businesses scattered across the empire became less safe. Taking the initiative to become “poor” began to become a viable option, and more and more high-ranking imperial aristocrats appeared among the priests. Wealthy dignitaries like Nora’s Paulinus, like Melania Jr., provided Brown with excellent examples of the increasingly close relationship between faith and wealth.

Paulinus of Nora and his wife, after the death of their only son, resolutely gave up their gorgeous costumes, exquisite food and hordes of servants, sold their ancestral property, and chose a life of penance. “Abandoning the Senate has interrupted the continuation of an aristocratic bloodline.” It is difficult to abandon the family property, and it is even more difficult to abandon the superiority of the hairpin for generations. This is the needle that really needs to be passed through. Only by abandoning the inherent style, dignity and culture can we successfully become a “poor man”, complete the feat of a camel passing through the eye of a needle, and reach heaven.

As the powerful and powerful became involved in church management, divisions and strife within the church also increased. There is not only love between groups of monks and groups of priests, between wealthy spiritual practitioners and ordinary practitioners. When the church has become a melting pot of all social strata, the church also provides a certain space for the conflict of social concepts. Bishop Priscilla and his supporters were punished, and Pelagius’ teachings were criticized. The powerful influence and shake the seemingly peaceful church not only outside the church, but also inside it.

When the empire faced a real crisis in the mid-fifth century, the nobles and their wealth came in close contact with the church, and the third act unfolded. Political divisions, barbarian kingdoms and Roman enclaves intersect, multiple identities and allegiance coexist, and arrogance and jealousy prevail. In order to keep property and control labor, more and more nobles either devoted themselves to the church, or established churches on the land. The fallen dignitaries brought wealth and slaves into the church to practice, which not only greatly increased the wealth of the church, but also through steadfast asceticism, they became independent and became saints, helping the church and monastery to further attract wealth. The wealth that enters the church seems to “whitewash” the hands of the rich, and the bad rich can be transformed into the good rich.

The church becomes the biggest millionaire, and Brown’s narrative end looms in sight. The final act of the drama is what the church does with its wealth. First, keep open source: In the face of the impending Judgment by Eternal Fire, it is better for lay people to speak their offerings before they die. Second, make sure the wealth stays in the church. Salvian of Marseille demanded that the property that the nobles brought into the church should only belong to the church, and that when they went to heaven, the church had to take over their property. The Church of Rome took the lead in legally guaranteeing that the land donated to the church would remain in the church forever, and the church property could only enter. In the end, priests are only managers who take care of the church property. On the one hand, many management bishops have left well-run church properties; Abbot”, proving himself qualified to manage the sacred collective wealth. It is also in the process of managing wealth that clergy are otherized in order to distinguish themselves from lay managers. Haircuts, celibacy, and abstinence, from the spirit to the body, the administrator of the church has become a unique social group and even a hierarchy. The ancient church has come to an end, and the history of the medieval Christian church has opened.

The synopsis can’t get enough of Brown’s whimsy. In the cordial conversations with his colleagues, a humble gentleman with sharp thinking and skilled historical materials clearly appeared between the lines. The analysis of “Through the Eye of a Needle” is not unremarkable, but what readers feel more deeply may be the charm of historical narrative. Full and vivid characters, amazing underground evidence and textual analysis, are properly embedded in the context and between chapters, like a grand drama with different locations, characters, events and analysis environments. Interlocking, it is dizzying. Big history with thickness and temperature grows from debris.

There is an obvious tension between material and spiritual, poverty and wealth in classical philosophy, and Da Ze never forgets to experience poverty, poverty and ascetic spirit. But wealth also makes people leisure, to wander around all things, and let go of spiritual pursuits. Leisure is the back and forth between wealth and spirituality, so material poverty does not necessarily mean spiritual wealth. If there is no spiritual pursuit, material poverty is more likely to lead to deep-rooted spiritual poverty. It also insists on the opposition between the poor and the rich, but by adding the categories of this life and the afterlife, Christian religious discourse on the one hand exaggerates the tension between wealth and the salvation of the soul, and on the other hand lays it out within the church A fast track was established, with the church intermediary as an intermediary to communicate the two. The wealth that comes into the church is the treasure of the kingdom of heaven and ensures the believer’s salvation. The church is like a wish-fulfilling golden cudgel, big or small, taking the rich and their vast wealth easily through the eye of the needle to the kingdom of heaven.

Relying on this set of rhetoric, the color of the history of the late ancient church seems to be brightened, and the opposition still exists, but it is wonderfully transformed into each other, and the tense paranoia that the Enlightenment thinkers have condemned has disappeared. Since the eighteenth century, the Church of the late Roman Empire has been familiar to us as a radical organization that disregarded the fate of the empire and frantically argued over theological creeds. As the Enlightenment thinker Voltaire mocked: “Christianity opened the gates of the kingdom of heaven, but lost the empire; for not only did the sects within Christianity attack each other with the fanaticism of theological controversy, but these sects joined together against the empire’s The old religion.” The priests insisted on “minimal matters”, but they had to “rely on clubs and fights to decide.” The godfathers, with high religious enthusiasm, obsessed with religious ideals, and desperately pursue the subtle theological justice, seems to be a church that is high above and does not eat human fireworks.

The godfathers in “Through the Eye of a Needle” are not at all unrealistic. Ambrose, Augustine, Pelagius, Jerome, Cassian, Salvian of Marseille, etc., they are not only theologians, but also social activists with a very clear understanding of practical problems and needs. Their works are far from futile or endorsement of classics, but they are learning and applying them in real life, facing realistic challenges, providing feasible solutions in a pragmatic way, and turning ideals into reality. The prescriptions they prescribed may be opposed to each other, and their fates are also very different, but they are all using their skillful knowledge of classics to manage the church rationally and pragmatically. They make practical theological claims; they help build pragmatic churches that are flexible, responsive, and powerful. Under their leadership, the church steadily and powerfully increased its wealth, smoothly passed through the crisis of the decline of the western empire, and entered the Middle Ages.

In pre-modern society, there was an obvious natural “ceiling” for the growth of wealth, and land was the main source of wealth. The Malthusian trap may be too pessimistic, but as the population grows, the distribution of wealth will eventually be put on the agenda. Although there were many emperors of the late Roman Empire of humble birth, the emperor was still the largest landowner and the richest among the rich. In order to supply the army, the imperial government controlled the best lands, mines, ranches, large public buildings, etc. Although the wealth of thousands of individuals is impressive, most of them are managers of imperial property. The land cultivated by city councillors, the ranches they operate, and the mines they develop are government assets. According to the principle of proportionality of responsibilities and rights, the obligations of paying taxes and collecting taxes also mainly fall on them. Since Constantine I, the imperial government, which only pays what it pays, adjusts its tax burden every fifteen years. During this period, one radish and one pit, the tax expenditures were all done step by step, and there were examples to follow.

When the Constantine dynasty entrusted the church with the responsibility of caring for the poor, the government did not transfer the basic plate of taxation, but only exempted the clergy from taxation and corvée. In addition to this, their wives, children and servants were generously exempted from sales tax. Therefore, the development space of the church lies in handicrafts and commerce. According to the ancestral law of the Constantine dynasty, the interests of the emperor, the imperial government, the city councillors and the church complemented each other, and together they maintained the growth of wealth and the functioning of the empire. However, in the first half of the fifth century, the above pattern encountered difficulties or even unsustainable. The imperial government has repeatedly issued orders to restrict city councillors from becoming priests. If a city councilman insists on becoming a priest, he can only take at most a quarter of his property into the church, and the rest must be left to his replacement to pay taxes. Brown mentioned that in his later years, senior priests such as Augustine and Salvian of Marseille violently criticized the tax policy of the empire, and they were speaking on behalf of “asylum seekers and tax delinquents”. Through the rhetoric of Christian discourse, the first sharp head-to-head confrontation between the imperial government and the church over taxation implies that, through the wide acceptance of city councillors, the church has become a direct victim of the taxation as the church owns a large number of properties in the tax catalog.

The emperor had no land in his hands. In 1468, Antimion, one of the last emperors of the west, consulted the emperor Leo of the east, if a landowner, who was thought to have no heir, suddenly had a close relative of his claiming title to the land that had been awarded, Or the captured landowner returns to his hometown, restores his rights and interests in accordance with his citizenship and reasonably demands the reclamation of the land that has been transferred. The emperor’s question is: “Let the plaintiff take the land back in accordance with the law, or shall he maintain the authority of the emperor’s original judgment?” Leo The emperor suggested that Antimion should rule in favor of the plaintiff in accordance with the custom established by Constantine I, and that the emperor should allocate another land of the same quantity and quality to compensate the defendant. However, the final decision of the Emperor Antimion was shocking: “If the land grant is indeed unclaimed land, the emperor’s gift is valid. If the plaintiff can indeed prove his legal title, his rights and interests are protected by law, and this gift is invalid. .” This new law of the Codex Theodosius shows that there is still plenty of land in the hands of the eastern emperor, so that Emperor Leo can continue the policy of a hundred years ago. The emperor of the west was quite stretched, and had no land in his hands, so he could not compensate the defendant. The emperors of the west not only lost their land, but also lost their authority.

Where is the emperor’s land? Brown didn’t say. He only used the fall of the Western Roman Empire as a backdrop to discuss the history of the growth of the church’s wealth, especially how the rich and powerful transferred their wealth to the church. The wealth of the church, the victory of the church seems to come from the successful preaching of the church in keeping with the times. This is an evolutionary history of rhetoric guiding wealth voluntarily into the church. Under the successful leadership and persuasion of the godfathers, nobles donated happily, wealth was gradually transferred to the church, and the church gradually moved towards victory. But it’s only one side of the coin, and it’s the bright side. And what about the other side of the coin?

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