Lecture by Peter Brown (Princeton University). Co-sponsors include Continuing Studies, the McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society, and the Department of Religious Studies. Free and open to the public.
In this lecture, the eminent historian Peter Brown will explore the wider social and imaginative implications, for the Christian churches of late antiquity, of the well-known sayings of Christ that His followers should place “treasure in heaven” by giving to the poor. Professor Brown will examine the imaginative logic of the various representations of the poor in Latin Christianity, and how the highly polarized representations of the poor produced by Christian discourse have been responsible for mistaken views of the social structure and economy of the late Roman Empire. Finally, Professor Brown will suggest the ways in which the language of “treasure in heaven” and related phrases taken from both the Old and the New Testaments, shaped attitudes to pious giving in the socially differentiated Christian communities of the fourth and fifth century West.
Peter Brown is the Philip and Beulah Rollins Professor of History (Emeritus) at Princeton University. He is credited with having created the field of study referred to as “Late Antiquity,” the period during which Rome fell, the three major monotheistic religions took shape, and Christianity spread across Europe, roughly 250 -800 A.D. A native of Ireland, Professor Brown has taught at Oxford, the University of London, UC-Berkeley, and Princeton University. He is the author of a dozen books, including Augustine of Hippo, The World of Late Antiquity, The Cult of the Saints, The Body and Society, The Rise of Western Christendom, and Poverty and Leadership in the Later Roman Empire. His most recent book is Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West (2012). In it, Brown observes that although 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, by the time Rome fell, the church had become 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.