Ambrose of Milan and the Altar of Victory

Persecution Rhetoric in Support of Empir!

Rev. David Dean Mimier King, MDiv, MA Monday 12 March 2012 Christian Origins and Empire Prof. Pamela Eisenbaum Iliff School of Theology

Table of Contents
Introduction A Brief History of the Altar of Victory A Brief Introduction to Ambrose The Controversy at Hand The Writings
The Third Relatio of Symmachus The Seventeenth Epistle of Ambrose

1 2 4 6 11
12 14

Conclusion Select Bibliography

18 19

not a court official. and in so doing. I will show how Ambrose uses the rhetoric of martyrdom and persecution in support of imperial power and Christian supremacy. Finally. to official. was not the emperor. After reviewing some introductory information on the Altar of Victory and Ambrose of Milan. King 1 Ambrose of Milan and the Altar of Victory . One episode in this gradual transition is the controversy in the late fourth century over the Roman Altar of Victory. The church became an active force in imperial politics. As a result of the events surrounding this episode. However. nor did it outlaw paganism. developed its own new imperialistic identity. not a senator. D. D. to permitted. However. In this paper. it transformed from being defined in opposition to the Roman empire to being nearly one and the same with it. public funding was removed from pagan cults in Rome and the senate was redefined so as to no longer be a pagan institution. M. but a Christian bishop: Ambrose of Milan.Introduction Constantine the Great was the first Roman emperor to be a Christian. As most scholars tell the story. Constantine’s rise did begin a process by which Christianity went from being a marginal and persecuted group to being the religion of the empire. and perhaps the most important player. one of the major players in this decision. we will explore the relationship between Christianity and empire in relation to the 384 CE Altar of Victory controversy. his ascension to the purple did not automatically make Christianity the official religion of the empire. we will explore the details of the 384 controversy before examining more directly the two most important primary documents involved: the 3rd Relatio of Symmachus and the 17th Epistle of Ambrose. As Christianity proceeded from outlawed.

Kirsten Groß-Albenhausen. Imperator Christianissimus: Der Christliche Kaiser Bei Ambrosius Und Johannes Chrysostomus (Frankfurt am Main: Buchverlag Marthe Clauss. Pohlsander. suggestions including 272 BCE. 589. King . He appointed Roman aristocrats to the various Roman priesthoods. 1 2 3 4 H. 63. completed the new senate house.3 The statue and altar of Victory remained in the senate house until 357 CE. though the date of the move is unknown. as you may have guessed. "Victory: The Story of a State. 5 6 Cameron. Ibid. Alan Cameron. The Greek king Pyrrhus erected a statue of !"#$ (Victory) in the southern Italian town of Tarentum following his victory over Roman forces in 280 BCE. when Augustus. 33. 594. though. the most likely scenario has been laid out expertly and succinctly by H. 594.5 It is assumed that Julian the Apostate returned the statue and altar of Victory to the Curia around 361-2 CE. at the same time that he began other restorations of pagan institutions.1 It was later moved to Rome. and the statue was shortly captured by the Romans. the Curia Julia. Ibid. Pohlsander. dedicating an altar of Victory there in the same year.. D. Ibid.4 Constantius.A Brief History of the Altar of Victory There is still mystery surrounding the history of the altar and statue of Victory in the senate house in Rome. begun by Julius Caesar in 44 BCE. Pohlsander. M.. 33. 209 BCE or 40 BCE. Last Pagans. 2011).. just as every other pontifex maximus had done before him.2 Whatever the case.6 Valentinian I. apparently did not take any other anti-pagan actions. However. The Last Pagans of Rome (Oxford: Oxford University Press. Victory. in 29 BCE. his victory was rather Pyrrhic. However. A. though Christian. he installed the Victory statue. when the Christian emperor Constantius II had them removed. 589-90. 2 Ambrose of Milan and the Altar of Victory D." Historia: Zeitschrift Für Alte Geschichte 18 (1969). 590. 1999). A.

9 A second delegation to Gratian’s brother and successor. Ibid.allowed Victory to stay right where she was.. 9 Edward Gibbon. Pagan senators. the 13-year-old Valentinian II. F. The statue itself was a gilded bronze figure of the winged goddess !"#$. 1879). 3 (New York: Harper and Brothers. 10 11 12 Pohlsander. Ibid. 593. vol. 594. Gratian. Ambrose (Oxford: Clarendon Press. tried to appeal to Gratian to change his mind. including Symmachus. but were turned away. Victory. M.. 34. 257. 3 Ambrose of Milan and the Altar of Victory D. he took measures to limit financial support of pagan cults in Rome. about seven to eight meters high.8 At the same time. Pohlsander. King . Homes Dudden. She stood on a globe and held out a laurel wreath of victory in her right hand.. 11 Roman senators would pay homage to Victory when they entered the senate house. having in 375 CE refused to accept the title of pontifex maximus. though. He again had Victory removed from the senate house in 382 CE. D.12 Fig i. Cameron. 592.7 His son. Victory. 590-1. 1935). 133-4. They also took vows of allegiance to the emperor upon the altar. Last Pagans. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. perhaps making offerings of incense or wine. Victory. It is the events surrounding this second delegation on which this paper focusses. took a different approach to paganism. Statuette of Victory in the National Archaeological Museum at Naples 7 8 Ibid. The Life and Times of St. 594. 10 She may have looked similar to the much smaller statuette pictured on the right. was accepted.

though known to be of the Nicene faction. To his shock. 42. Ibid. Born the son of the Christian Praetorian Prefect of Gaul. Times. 596. Ambrose. In 372 or 373 he was elevated to Consular Prefect — that is. Simultaneously. R. he was made a senator. When the Bishop of Milan died. and Teaching. 1879).14 having stood one place or another in Italy for nearly 700 years. D. 13 She was likely melted down by Alaric and his Goths when they sacked Rome in 410 CE. there are two details that are important to note. Ambrose: His Life. with his headquarters in Milan... He got his start working in the court of Italy’s Praetorian Prefect. Victory. Stilicho. A Brief Introduction to Ambrose It is not necessary for the purposes of this paper to review Ambrose’s full biography. may also have briefly returned her to the senate. Ambrose. and law. philosophy. governor — of Liguria and Æmilia. 597. D.15 One of the issues he had to deal with in Milan was confrontation between Nicene and Arian factions of the church. the two factions could not agree on a candidate. Instead of working his way up the ecclesiastical ranks. Thornton. he was trained in the standard %&'()"& of grammar. as governor. rhetoric. Ambrose himself was elected bishop by popular 13 14 15 Ibid. M. At the time of his election as Bishop of Milan. intervened to smooth things over and mediate. The Vandal-Roman general. 16-19. McLynn. was also known to be even-handed. However. Ambrose.Victory was returned to the senate house perhaps twice after the events of 384 CE. She was returned by Eugenius in 392 and removed by Theodosius in 394. he was not even a baptized Christian. King 4 Ambrose of Milan and the Altar of Victory . St. The first is this: Ambrose was not a trained churchman. The Fathers for English Readers (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. Ambrose had been working his way up the governmental ranks of the cursus honorum.

18 Without his intervention. had risen up from his base in Britain to gain control of Gaul. at least in Italy. King 5 Ambrose of Milan and the Altar of Victory . 2011) http:// thehistoryofrome. Thus. To the dismay of Arians who supported him. Oct 23. he eventually submitted and was baptized before being consecrated Bishop of Milan. being friends with the eastern Augustus. Gratian was betrayed and killed in 383. Maximus.17 Maximus set up his court in Trier.typepad. Oct 16.acclaim. while bishop. Ambrose was able to stall Maximus long enough for Valentinian’s forces to fortify the Alpine passes between Trier and Milan. 17 Mike Duncan.typepad. Ambrose of Milan: Church and Court in a Christian Capital (Berkeley: University of California Press. crossing the lines to Maximus. Gratian’s men abandoned him in the field. who was thought not soldierly enough to be the commander-in-chief. “Episode 155: The New Bishop of Milan. Valentinian owed his rule and his life to the diplomatic and rhetorical skill of Bishop Ambrose of D. 2011) http:// thehistoryofrome. ( 18 Duncan. as an embassy from the western Emperor Valentinian II to his rival in Gaul.” The History of Rome. M.16 The second important thing to remember about Ambrose is his role. Valentinian would likely have been defeated and killed by Maximus as easily as his older brother. D. expected to be recognized as the official western Augustus right away. He was taking advantage of the unpopularity of Emperor Gratian among the legions. 16 Neil B. (podcast. Ambrose turned out to be a staunch anti-Arian as bishop. Though he resisted. He planned to overthrow Gratian and Valentinian II. In 383-4.” The History of Rome. 43-44. The general. Ambrose was dispatched from Milan to entreat with Maximus on behalf of Valentinian II. McLynn. Maximus. 1994). Theodosius. “Episode 156: Jockeying for Position. Through various diplomatic and rhetorical tactics. had been. while Valentinian II was in Milan and Theodosius in Constantinople. Magnus Maximus. Ambrose was able to save the position of 12-year-old Valentinian. Gratian.

Symmachus. He argued that there are many paths to the same divine presence recognized by all. Everyone in the court. the prefect of Rome. were moved by D. Gratian. Again. Emperor Gratian had the altar of Victory removed in 382. the senate sent a delegation. The traditional view of what happened next goes something like this. Bishop Ambrose. leaving Gratian to be tracked down and assassinated. The pagan party conspired to come quickly and quietly to Milan. asking him to repeal the anti-pagan measures implemented by his late brother. In 382. was extraordinarily eloquent and persuasive. D. Maximus rose in revolt against Gratian. At the same time. headed by the leading and most ardent of Rome’s pagans. Valentinian II to block the passes from Gaul to Italy. He argued that. and having been introduced to Ambrose of Milan. arguing his case based on liberal ideals of religious tolerance. this time to the young Emperor Valentinian. in the current crisis. Ambrose was able to stave off Maximus long enough for the new senior western Augustus. a delegation was sent from the senate to petition Gratian to change his mind. but Gratian’s troops defected to Maximus. even the Christians. King 6 Ambrose of Milan and the Altar of Victory . M. he removed financial support and special privileges from pagan cults in Rome. The delegation of pagan senators arrived in Milan from Rome. Gratian did not receive them. Quintus Aurelius Symmachus. He argued for the maintenance of tradition. appearing before the emperor without the knowledge of one of the most powerful imperial advisors. let us now turn more directly to the controversy at hand. As noted above.The Controversy at Hand Having gotten an overview of the history of the Altar of Victory. it certainly could not hurt to court the patronage of Victory. The two squared off in battle in 383.

Ambrose intervened and changed the course of western civilization. while Ambrose. he made a preemptive case on general principles. 18. known now as his 17th Epistle. where.C. He quickly dashed off a letter to the emperor.: The Catholic University of America Press. became the Christian champion. Singlehandedly. M. but for now it is enough to know that Ambrose argued vehemently against any sort of imperial support for paganism. Saint Ambrose: His Life and Times. Morino. Paredi. 95-100. 166. the matter was tabled before Gratian had made an official decision. Moore. Upon receiving the relatio. Ambrose. Church and State. However. D. D. saying that it was absolutely not appropriate for a Christian emperor. “In the affair of the altar of Victory Symmachus was selected to represent the petitioners. He also asked for a copy of Symmachus’s speech. McLynn. 228-30. We will look more in depth at Ep. it simply withered on the vine. 1964). 20 Dudden. Ambrose answered point-by-point in a second letter. 1969). D. Saint Ambrose. jumped swiftly into action. 234-5. Claudio Morino. Ep. Joseph Costelloe (Washington.20 Key to this traditional construction is the idea of a decisive battle between paganism and Christianity. 264. M. Not knowing the specifics of Symmachus’s argument. without public funding. Ambrose. M. 21 Clifford H.19 Ambrose. hearing about the delegation through his contacts at court.”21 Moore 19 Dudden. as represented by the arch-pagan Symmachus and the arch-Christian Ambrose. 167. Saint Ambrose.Symmachus’s heartfelt plea. the eloquent and intrepid Bishop of Milan. and recommended granting his petition. 260-4. Church and State in the Teaching of St. 17 later in the paper. Angelo Paredi. He separated paganism from the State. known as his 3rd Relatio. Saint Ambrose." Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 50 (1919): 129. King 7 Ambrose of Milan and the Altar of Victory . trans. Joseph Costelloe (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press. trans. Ambrose convinced the emperor to make a decisive stand against paganism. Ambrose. Through some combination of these two letters. 95-8. McLynn. Ambrose won the battle. "The Pagan Reaction in the Late Fourth Century. Against all of Valentinian’s other advisors.

Morino. “In that assembly [the senate]. and even over the mystery cults. “Christianity proved to be the ultimate victor over the ancient Roman religion. 235. Saint Ambrose. 269. The vigour of Ambrose saved the situation. Dudden sums up. revived and inflamed by the breath of fanaticism. King . duked out between the greatest champion from each side. since the spirit is always victorious. this episode is about a battle between paganism and Christianity. all these historians essentially see the Altar of Victory controversy as a battle of binary opposites. ‘The great religious struggle had to end with the victory of the more spiritual contestant. 95. Church and State. Gibbon. D. 134. Dudden. the dying embers of freedom were.’”22 Morino says. M. and for a moment it seemed doubtful which of the two would win the victory. and Paredi. over Neoplatonism. The matter came to a head and received a definite solution in the controversies over the Altar of Victory in the Senate. In this year Christianity and paganism. Paredi says. who would disagree fundamentally with the triumphalism of Dudden.”25 Though their sympathies lie on different sides. 8 Ambrose of Milan and the Altar of Victory D. and over worship in the temples and before the statues of the gods in general. for a moment. Saint Ambrose. Thanks mainly to his spirited action. over the pay for pagan priests. 22 23 24 25 Paredi. still agrees that this was a fundamental battle between Ambrose and Symmachus and between Christianity and paganism. the cult of demons.writes. Morino. he writes romantically. Decline and Fall.” 24 Even Gibbon. And Ambrose’s decisions in these matters settled the problem for all times. Speaking of Symmachus’s decision to challenge Gratian’s orders. a battle that Ambrose decisively wins. came to grips. the definitive triumph of Christianity as the State religion of the Western Empire was assured.23 For all these Christian historians.

Matthews.”28 Instead. Ambrose. Ibid. King . F. J.26 McLynn thinks it wasn’t so much Ambrose’s argument that won the day. M.”30 He suggests that Valentinian was already planning to maintain the status quo with regard to the Altar of Victory. 1974).”29 and that Ambrose’s letters to the court “were unsolicited by and almost certainly unwelcome to the recipient. rivaled in influence only by his mother. ed. Binns (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. but the fact that Valentinian II owed him for the way he had held off Maximus until troops could be deployed. Cameron contends that “there is no evidence that Ambrose was a frequent (or welcome) visitor at the courts of either Gratian or Valentinian II. that he was not consulted regarding Symmachus’s delegation. Augusta Justina. 76-7. is not held by all. Ibid. D.. 37. Cameron. 36. he suggests that Ambrose was an outsider. He disagrees with nearly every aspect of the traditional construction. and in particular rejects the idea that Ambrose had any significant influence in the controversy at all." in Latin Literature of the Fourth Century. "The Letters of Symmachus. W. Last Pagans. but only “heard about it through the grapevine.27 By far the most divergent view from the traditional one comes from Alan Cameron. 27 28 29 30 McLynn. 26 J. 167. Contrary to the popular view that Ambrose was the chief councilor of Valentinian II. 9 Ambrose of Milan and the Altar of Victory D.This view. though. Matthews completely rejects the commonly held perception that Symmachus delivered the 3rd Relatio in person. As a simple example. Nearly every detail of the traditional perspective outlined above is contested by one scholar or another.

. No. the sacrifices and rituals were simply not legitimate unless they were publicly funded. and a series of compromises. Rather. 31 Cameron also suggests that Symmachus was not the pagan zealot he has been made out to be.but that he might have been able to make some other compromises had it not been for the hardline rhetoric of Ambrose backing him into a corner.. 37-8. Ibid. 45-8. performed in public. Cameron does not believe that the Altar of Victory was really the issue at all: it was about subsidies for the Vestals and other pagan cults in Rome. Ibid. 38. King . Valentinian agreeing to give some concessions to pagans in return for no longer publicly funding the cults of Rome. but a moderate. funded by the public. Neither was the issue that pagan cults could not have rounded up private funding to keep them going. 35 31 32 33 34 35 Ibid. seeing which way the political winds are blowing. His performance at the court of Milan was much more about skill than about passion.33 Finally.. Ibid. and importantly. Ibid.34 Rather. This is not some final and decisive moment. D. 40. He totally and completely rejects the idea that this is some sort of championship round between Symmachus and Ambrose on behalf of the their respective religions. this is just imperial politics as usually. M. 10 Ambrose of Milan and the Altar of Victory D.32 Furthermore. for Cameron this is not a battle between paganism and Christianity. for Symmachus and his party. They were supposed to be for the public welfare. he was chosen by the senate for his office and for his rhetorical skill.. He was not a pagan hardliner. To fund them privately would be to completely miss the point.

considered by all to be a masterpiece of Latin rhetoric. let us now direct our attention to the primary texts. We will examine this epistle with special reference to the intersection of imperial and Christian rhetoric that it contains. Really the only historical sources for these events are the writings of Ambrose and Symmachus. neither is there evidence to support his polar opposite view that Ambrose was an unwelcome outsider in the Court of Milan who had no influence on the decisions of the young Emperor Valentinian. Does this mean that Ambrose was virtually meaningless in the imperial politics of his time? Probably not. though Ambrose wrote on the Altar of Victory in three separate epistles. 17. it was not some court official that was sent to negotiate with Maximus. D. Certainly. Have Ambrose’s influence and exploits been overblown by historians over the years? Most likely. Let us not forget that when the young court was in mortal danger. he must have had some influence at court. M. neither of which are concerned with giving a narrative of how these events took place. there is no evidence for this. it was Bishop Ambrose. Historians have looked at the 3rd Relatio and Eps. Then. his most interesting arguments are in Ep. King 11 Ambrose of Milan and the Altar of Victory . This is true.Cameron repeatedly points out that there is no evidence to support the claims of traditional interpreters. However. As Cameron correctly points out. and his absence on the day that Symmachus petitioned the emperor cannot be taken as conclusive evidence that he was generally unwelcome at court. 17 and 18 and assumed that Symmachus and Ambrose must have been in a debate for the future of western civilization. We will first look briefly at Symmachus’s 3rd Relatio. The Writings Having given ourselves some historical background and reviewed the leading framing narratives surrounding the controversy of the Altar of Victory. D.

that the success of Valentinian’s reign depends on Victory. In addition. the chief means of maintaining order and 36 This and future references to the 3rd Relatio and Ambrose’s 17th Epistle refer to the translation found in Bonface Ramsey. he argues that the Vestals are virtuous and worth funding. maintains order in the senate. and that the statue maintains order in the Senate by being the means of oath-taking. that there is no legal basis for revoking legacies given to Vestals and priests in wills. Symmachus uses a variety of tactics to argue for its return to the senate house. Victory is not the sort of patron to be neglected at a time like this. it is the one thing that. that the statue has cultural value outside of religion. (4) Furthermore. Symmachus has a few main points to make in his 3rd Relatio. but of sacrilege. (3) 36 Furthermore. Symmachus draws on the memory of previous emperors — particularly Constantius II. The Early Christian Fathers (London: Routledge. (3) presumably referring to the still very real threat of war with Maximus. and Gratian — to make his point. and that to revoke such legacies is thievery. even if one does not allow for the religious value of Victory. Without it. Symmachus also argues that the empirewide famine of 383 is a result not of natural causes. M. the statue has value as a cultural legacy. tolerated it. Concerning funding of cults. Valentinian I. on account of its antiquity and history alone. He says that pagan and Christian emperors alike have allowed it. 1997). D.The Third Relatio of Symmachus In the midst of all the expected language of supplication and reverence. by being the means of swearing oaths to the emperor and regarding true testimony. and should be preserved in the senate house on such grounds. both about the Altar of Victory and about funding for Vestals and priests. pagans used it and Christians. more than any other. D. King 12 Ambrose of Milan and the Altar of Victory . he says that it has been respected by both pagan and Christian emperors. save Constantius and Gratian. Ambrose. 174-184. Regarding the Altar of Victory. Throughout the Relatio. Concerning the Altar itself.

cannot be forgiven for failing to return her. People are resorting to eating acorns. they were living off the of proceeds of estates that had been willed to them as legacies in the wills now-dead forefathers. Symmachus blames the woes of the empire on the sacrilege committed against Victory and the Vestals. motivated by avarice. but the current emperor. King 13 Ambrose of Milan and the Altar of Victory . the Vestals represent purity.” (10) However.discipline in the senate is gone. something Gratian never would have done had he known the implications. “What difference does it make by what judgment a person searches out the truth? So great a mystery cannot be arrived at by one path. “What name would one give to the alienation of property that no law and no misfortune have rendered uninheritable?” Symmachus asks rhetorically. (13) Even freedmen and slaves can receive their inheritances without interference. because never before have the traditions of Rome been so neglected. The obvious answer: thievery. (5) Constantius can be forgiven for. though. D. 20) First. (11) Second. D. they deserve to be supported. The famine is the result of supernatural. The entire empire is suffering from famine following Gratian’s unprecedented actions. (6) Even though Constantius made the mistake of removing Victory. Never before has Rome endured such hardship. These estates had been confiscated by Gratian. having all the necessary knowledge. (1. M. making the mistake of removing Victory. and everything that is right with the empire. (15-17) It is fine for Valentinian to be a Christian. Symmachus argues. the traditions that have made Rome great must be maintained. not natural causes. chastity. why cannot the Vestals and priests enjoy the same rights? (14) Next. Even if one doesn’t subscribe to their religion. he never made the mistake of withdrawing funding from the Vestals and priests (7). in ignorance of the costs. the Vestals and priests weren’t receiving funding out of the state treasury anyway.

Morino. (1)40 They have noted his argument that Valentinian would appear to support paganism.42 The themes. 167. though. even the fall of Rome? Symmachus. Decline and Fall.39 He wants inheritance laws to be respected. He wants simply for long held traditions to be maintained. after all. 233. Stroumsa. “Episode 155. D. Ambrose. Church and State. See also Guy G. McLynn. 136. The institutions he is trying to save predate the Republic. 97-8. Whatever his motivations. is not arguing to make paganism the official religion of the empire. Duncan. The End of Sacrifice: Religious Transformation in Late Antiquity. Ambrose. 17 knowing the subject. King . 97. 166. Enlightenment figures like Gibbon have seen Symmachus as a champion for rational toleration. of Symmachus’s Relatio.” Gibbon. (3)41 They have noted how he had some latitude because of his role in holding off Maximus. Susan Emanuel (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. these issues were important enough that the senate sent no less than four separate delegations to plead their case before various emperors. defeat in war. 2009). that the traditional legacies of Vestals and priests be left untouched. 97-8. Saint Ambrose. Historians have noted how Ambrose defends Christianity as the only true religion. Decline and Fall. 38 I see him as more of a conservative law-and-order man. Church and State.37 Christian triumphalists have derided him as being pluralistic and liberal. 38 39 40 41 42 Morino. Church and State. The Seventeenth Epistle of Ambrose Ambrose wrote Ep. 105. trans. Morino. but not the content. 14 Ambrose of Milan and the Altar of Victory D. McLynn. that stand out to me are: 1) Ambrose’s references to Christian 37 Gibbon.Without them. He simply wants tradition to be maintained and laws to be respected. who knows what might happen? Famine. Paredi. 134. worshiping the only true God. M.

presumably the prefect. (14-15) Ambrose alone D. King 15 Ambrose of Milan and the Altar of Victory . M. (12) More striking. but God is the authority above all others. He does so first by threatening to withdraw the relationship. (6) Ambrose is thus able to insert himself. The first time he instructs Valentinian to beware of those who might take advantage of his youth. They are brought back from the grave to tell Valentinian how disappointed they would be if Valentinian gave in to Symmachus. Thus. If the emperor complies with Symmachus. neither Ambrose nor any other. (7) Ambrose can then use this position to play on the boy-emperor’s emotions. one who will defend him against others who might deceive him. though. God. Let us address them in reverse order. no bishop. Theodosius. (13-14) Second. He suggests Valentinian consult his senior colleague in the east. and thus with the disapproval of his spiritual father. Valentinian I and Gratian. into Valentinian’s life as a father figure. Ambrose invokes other father figures to argue his case. will receive Valentinian at church or accept his gifts. and his eternal father. Ambrose threatens Valentinian with excommunication if he does not comply. Ambrose reminds Valentinian that he owes his life to Ambrose while at the same time he uses the memory of his dead relatives to emotionally cudgel him into agreement. Maximus. he puts words in the mouths of Valentinian’s late father and brother.persecution and 2) his emphasis on the emperor’s youth and the invocation of father figures. It is alright to give men of rank their due. Symmachus. They would have no peace in death knowing that Valentinian had failed to maintain their legacies. Gratian in particular tells his younger brother that being betrayed by his brother would be worse than suffering death at the hands of the usurper. as God’s representative. D. Ambrose twice explicitly refers to the emperor’s youth. Ambrose.

After all. D. He frames the requests of Symmachus as an infringement on the emperor’s personal religious liberty. Ambrose repeatedly invokes the memory of persecution against and martyrdom of Christians.” (4) Ambrose then connects that past persecution to the present. for Ambrose able to speak for all of Valentinian’s father figures. for Valentinian I. Valentinian. (7) even if he knows that all pagan gods are actually demons. would never infringe on the religious liberty of another. They would have to swear oaths on a pagan god.” (16) Having connected the persecution of Christian martyrs in the past with Christian senators in the present. Nevertheless. Being a boy is no excuse to make such a mistake as giving Symmachus what he wants. “even children have with fearless words confessed Christ before their persecutors.” (15) Which brings us to our second theme in Ep. It had been sixty years since Constantine consolidated absolute rule over the empire and began the process to make it Christian. King 16 Ambrose of Milan and the Altar of Victory . Ambrose proceeds to rhetorically extend the persecution to the emperor’s own person. They would have to inhale the fumes. Symmachus and the pagans are D. (1) However. who demolished the very church buildings… [and] denied our co-religionists the commonplace right to speak and to teach. He identifies Symmachus and his party with pagans of the past “who have never spared our blood. He explicitly says that Christian senators who might theoretically be called to the senate hall while sacrifices were being made would suffer persecution. according to Ambrose. 17: persecution. M. He would never force a pagan to worship the one true God. Interjected into these appearances from the grave is the second reference to Valentinian’s age. for Gratian. (9) They “would be compelled against their will to attend the sacrifices. and for God.

”43 The empire has taken an active step against paganism. M. not just withdrawn public subsidies. Symmachus is right that there is no legal justification for this. to return them would be perceived not as repayment for losses. In glowing terms he defends progress in human life and thought. and the Christian senators. (3) Both the emperor. Morino is more on point when he enthusiastically remarks. Paredi is wrong when he says that “the bishop therefore supported the neutrality of the State in religious matters and freedom of worship. (10) It is quite impressive that Ambrose is able to rhetorically spin the former persecution of Christians by the empire into present persecution of pagans. D. though. the emperor is capable of being persecuted.” (7) The argument is that returning the legacies to the Vestals and priests would be equivalent to Valentinian personally paying for their subsistence. 100. “You do not oblige someone who is unwilling to worship what he does not want to. is how Ambrose is able to argue that the emperor’s failure to persecute pagans would in fact amount to persecution of the emperor. but as a new gift. O emperor. Church and State. “It is no longer a question of aiming at freedom of belief and equality of worship for all but of a Christian emperor’s obligation to favor his own religion… The goal is not simply the rejection of paganism by the emperors but its official suppression and condemnation. 17 Ambrose of Milan and the Altar of Victory D. King . The empire has confiscated lands that were set aside for the funding of pagan cults. Despite the fact that he has near absolute power. Let the same thing be allowed you. and the way he might be persecuted is by being barred for confiscating religiously affiliated lands. Morino. This is the oppressor 43 44 Paredi.not according the emperor the same basic rights. Saint Ambrose. Since the legacies have already been taken and assigned to other purposes. 234.”44 What is extraordinary. would be forced against their will to support and participate in false pagan rituals.

The emperor. was sent as an imperial envoy to a rival emperor.45 45 Jesus Christ conquers. persecuted. Conclusion Ambrose’s rhetoric regarding the Altar of Victory controversy shows just how far Christianity had come from its origins as the persecuted movement founded by a man who was crucified by Roman officials. 18 Ambrose of Milan and the Altar of Victory D. who held no official position in the Roman government. could now claim that he himself was a persecuted Christian. D. trained as an imperial official. was steadily being replaced by !*" #*" $!%&. Ambrose. King . Christianity. He then was able to use the history and memory of the imperial persecution of Christians in order to justify imperial persecution of paganism. by definition. was elected Bishop of Milan with no theological or ecclesiastical training.using the language of suffering oppression. formally the persecutor-in-chief. he could justify anything in the name of Christianity. Then Bishop Ambrose. The patron of Roman victory. in no small part thanks to Ambrose. And because his Christianity was. the goddess !"#$. M. this is an autocrat playing the martyr: a truly effective tool for advancing Christian imperialism. had gone from opposing Roman imperialism to promoting it and appropriating it for its own ends.

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