Christianity’s Growth, September 15, 2012

Brown, Peter. Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD. Princeton Univ. Oct. 2012. c.806p. illus. maps. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780691152905. $39.95. REL

Well known for his biography of Augustine of Hippo and his other books on religion in the era of late antiquity, Brown (history, emeritus, Princeton Univ.) traces in this newest work the establishment of the early Christian Church and its tense, complicated relationship with money in the western Roman Empire. Beginning just after the rule of the first Christian emperor, Constantine, and with extensive references to the lives and writings of major Christian writers, Brown traces the growth of the Church and the evolution of what it meant to be a Christian in this era—in particular, the religion’s gradual impact on the social ideas of privilege and philanthropy, and how these ideas affected the people of the empire in ways both material and spiritual. VERDICT 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

Wilken, Robert Louis. The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity. Yale Univ. Nov. 2012. c.416p. illus. maps. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780300118841. $35. REL

In this ambitious book, Wilken (history, Univ. of Virginia; The Spirit of Early Christian Thought) aims to present not just the history of a religion but rather the history and development of a “religious community.” A major theme is that Christianity is a “culture-forming religion.” It is because of its transformative force that Wilken extends his account beyond the early Church to a millennium; many of the transformations did not reach fruition until that much time had passed. ­VERDICT Given the vast scope of material covered, it is perhaps unavoidable that the book becomes dizzying and superficial at times, leaving readers asking questions and, most likely, looking to other books for further detail. However Wilken’s descriptions, particularly of the often-neglected locations of early Christianity (e.g., Armenia, China, India), make this a worthwhile read. Serious readers seeking an introduction to early Christianity or seeking to contextualize its global growth will find this useful.—Fred Poling, Long Beach City Coll. Lib., CA