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P. Brown, Treasure in Heaven (Peregrine Horden)

Francia-Recensio 2017/2 Mittelalter – Moyen Âge (500–1500)

Peter Brown, Treasure in Heaven. The Holy Poor in Early Christianity, Charlottesville, VA, London (University of Virginia Press) 2016, XXVI–162 p. (Page-Barbour and Richard Lectures Series), ISBN 978-0-8139-3828-8, USD 22,95.

rezensiert von/compte rendu rédigé par

Peregrine Horden, London

We have been here before. »It is worthwhile noting that the hagiography of the Syrian world shows a remarkable degree of involvement on the part of holy men in the resolution of social grievances.«So Peter Brown writes in his most recent book-length discussion of the profound issues raised by wealth, poverty and giving from early Christianity into the Middle Ages. The reference in his text is to the fifth-century theologian and bishop, Theodoret. But the implicit allusion is to the territory and topic of Brown’s first hugely-influential article of 1971, »The rise and function of the holy man in late antiquity«. Ten pages later, Brown directly cites his first monograph, his classic 1967 biography of St Augustine, concerning the »generation of St Paul«active in the eastern Mediterranean in the late 4th century. Brown has embarked on his own historical exegesis of Paul. For it is the contradictory stipulations of Paul and the Pauline corpus (all seen as equally authentic in the period of course) which kindled the debate running through much of subsequent Christian history that is the focus of this short yet characteristically expansive, lucid, learned, provocative book.

The question for debate was: who should be included among »the poor«, among those whose prayers would lay up treasure in heaven (Matt. 19: 21) for those who supported them? Certainly the economically poor, some of them at any rate worthy objects of charity, and significant presences in Brown’s three previous books. But what about the poor, not exactly »in spirit«, but in religion, those whom Brown labels »the holy poor«. Did their communities owe them support? Paul’s answer was equivocal. He involved himself in fundraising for »the poor among the saints in Jerusalem«, simultaneously making an economic and a religious distinction (Rom. 15: 26). In Thessalonica, anyone unwilling to work would not eat (2 Thess. 3: 10). But then again, »the labourer is worthy of his hire«(1 Tim. 5:18), and, as for Paul himself, though a tentmaker, horny-handed (Acts 20: 33–35), »if we sowed spiritual blessings among you [Christians in Corinth], is it too much to reap material things from you?«(1 Cor. 9: 11).

These contradictions provide a theme that could be followed through the centuries after Paul with respect to a whole variety of Christian figures: prospective martyrs, prophets, bishops and priests, teachers, church administrators, charismatic »heretical«leaders. A parallel study could be made of the maintenance thought to be due to rabbis and to pagan religious entrepreneurs (although these last had no heavenly treasure to offer in return). Brown includes frequent cross-reference to rabbis, a discussion of the Manichaean elect, and a concluding glance at Buddhist monks across Asia who generally lived off the labour of others. Yet the core of his account is found among his old friends of 1971, the holy men of Egypt and Syria, and the differences between them.

These differences he sees (perhaps questionably) as generated to some extent by the longue duréeof their respective cultural backgrounds and (uncontroversially) as being of decisive importance for the long-term future. Syrian monks, in the ideal type, lived like angels, maintained by others’ sweat. Egyptian monks, on the whole, again in the ideal type, wove baskets, passed on some proceeds to the poor, and received donations with studied indifference while emphasizing the humanity they shared with those around. Egypt was the matrix of Benedictine monasticism, with its mixed economy of work, study and liturgy. Syria partook of a wider trans-Asian cultural realm in which holy men and women begged for sustenance. There is material here for a new »great divergence« – almost. For as Brown fully acknowledges in his conclusion, Syrian and Egyptian ideal types blurred and mingled from the 5thto the 6th centuries on. In the West, the Egyptian-Benedictine template would in due course mean something rather different to a Cistercian from what it had to a Cluniac.

To note which is simply to reiterate that Brown has written, not just a study in early Christianity, but a book to prompt thought about the whole Middle Ages, right across Asia. In so doing, he brings to a (doubtless temporary) close a cycle of works from »Poverty and Leadership in the Later Roman Empire«(2002), through the massive »The Eye of the Needle«(2012), to »The Ransom of the Soul«(2015), filling out the picture of poverty by moving from the physical, economic and social poor to the clergy and, now, once more, the holy men, and adding a formidable western Eurasian geographical component. That is why this latest book, despite its title, is really a study of work and the destination of gifts in this life. It can afford to be that because spiritual rewards have previously been discussed, albeit in a western- European context, in »Ransom«. Questions remain of course, especially the question of how all these components fit together. The Prophet Elijah reportedly told St Simeon the Stylite, anxious about his priorities in selecting which poor to help, that he must look after all humankind: »the crippled, the poor who beg, your brother monks […] God’s priests [...] the oppressed.«But in what proportion? How? In what changing mixture? Elijah in his chariot did not stay to answer. We may look to Peter Brown in his stead.

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PSJ Metadata
Peregrine Horden
Treasure in Heaven
The Holy Poor in Early Christianity
Antike (1200 v.Chr.-600 n.Chr.)
Kirchen- und Religionsgeschichte, Sozial- und Kulturgeschichte
1 - 5. Jh. n. Chr.
Urchristentum (4062115-7), Frühchristentum (4129954-1), Armut (4002963-3), Arbeit (4002567-6), Heiligkeit (4159400-9), Mönchtum (4074927-7)
PDF document brown_horden.doc.pdf — PDF document, 330 KB
P. Brown, Treasure in Heaven (Peregrine Horden)
URL: http://www.perspectivia.net/publikationen/francia/francia-recensio/2017-2/ma/brown_horden
Veröffentlicht am: 13.06.2017 15:18
Zugriff vom: 20.08.2017 00:32
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