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

we will explore the relationship between Christianity and empire in relation to the 384 CE Altar of Victory controversy. was not the emperor. to permitted. one of the major players in this decision. 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. However. As most scholars tell the story. public funding was removed from pagan cults in Rome and the senate was redefined so as to no longer be a pagan institution. his ascension to the purple did not automatically make Christianity the official religion of the empire. but a Christian bishop: Ambrose of Milan.Introduction Constantine the Great was the first Roman emperor to be a Christian. M. As a result of the events surrounding this episode. it transformed from being defined in opposition to the Roman empire to being nearly one and the same with it. and in so doing. D. developed its own new imperialistic identity. 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. However. In this paper. Finally. King 1 Ambrose of Milan and the Altar of Victory . As Christianity proceeded from outlawed. After reviewing some introductory information on the Altar of Victory and Ambrose of Milan. and perhaps the most important player. to official. nor did it outlaw paganism. not a senator. D. 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. not a court official. I will show how Ambrose uses the rhetoric of martyrdom and persecution in support of imperial power and Christian supremacy.

though. suggestions including 272 BCE. at the same time that he began other restorations of pagan institutions. Alan Cameron. in 29 BCE." Historia: Zeitschrift Für Alte Geschichte 18 (1969). Ibid. as you may have guessed. Kirsten Groß-Albenhausen. M. 1999). though Christian. 2 Ambrose of Milan and the Altar of Victory D.1 It was later moved to Rome. completed the new senate house.. 2011). he installed the Victory statue..3 The statue and altar of Victory remained in the senate house until 357 CE. Pohlsander. 209 BCE or 40 BCE. when Augustus. and the statue was shortly captured by the Romans. Last Pagans. Victory. Pohlsander. However. 590.6 Valentinian I. 589-90. He appointed Roman aristocrats to the various Roman priesthoods. 33. apparently did not take any other anti-pagan actions. 33. just as every other pontifex maximus had done before him. dedicating an altar of Victory there in the same year. "Victory: The Story of a State. his victory was rather Pyrrhic. begun by Julius Caesar in 44 BCE.2 Whatever the case. 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. 63.5 It is assumed that Julian the Apostate returned the statue and altar of Victory to the Curia around 361-2 CE.. Imperator Christianissimus: Der Christliche Kaiser Bei Ambrosius Und Johannes Chrysostomus (Frankfurt am Main: Buchverlag Marthe Clauss.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.4 Constantius. King . However. though the date of the move is unknown. 5 6 Cameron. A. when the Christian emperor Constantius II had them removed. 594. D. Ibid. The Last Pagans of Rome (Oxford: Oxford University Press. 589. 594. Pohlsander. Ibid. the Curia Julia. 1 2 3 4 H. A. the most likely scenario has been laid out expertly and succinctly by H.

Gratian. 257. was accepted. he took measures to limit financial support of pagan cults in Rome. D.. 590-1. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. 10 11 12 Pohlsander. 593.7 His son. the 13-year-old Valentinian II. but were turned away. including Symmachus.9 A second delegation to Gratian’s brother and successor. He again had Victory removed from the senate house in 382 CE. 594. M. 1879). They also took vows of allegiance to the emperor upon the altar. having in 375 CE refused to accept the title of pontifex maximus. though. 1935). vol. Victory. 594. Last Pagans. The Life and Times of St. F. about seven to eight meters high. Cameron. 3 Ambrose of Milan and the Altar of Victory D.allowed Victory to stay right where she was. 592. 11 Roman senators would pay homage to Victory when they entered the senate house. Victory. Ibid.8 At the same time. 9 Edward Gibbon.12 Fig i. 3 (New York: Harper and Brothers. She stood on a globe and held out a laurel wreath of victory in her right hand. took a different approach to paganism. Victory. It is the events surrounding this second delegation on which this paper focusses. The statue itself was a gilded bronze figure of the winged goddess !"#$... King . 34. 133-4. perhaps making offerings of incense or wine. 10 She may have looked similar to the much smaller statuette pictured on the right. tried to appeal to Gratian to change his mind. Statuette of Victory in the National Archaeological Museum at Naples 7 8 Ibid. Homes Dudden. Pagan senators. Ibid. Pohlsander. Ambrose (Oxford: Clarendon Press.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

166. Morino. The End of Sacrifice: Religious Transformation in Late Antiquity. 38 39 40 41 42 Morino. Decline and Fall. D. He simply wants tradition to be maintained and laws to be respected. (1)40 They have noted his argument that Valentinian would appear to support paganism. 97-8. 97-8. Duncan. 233. 97. Morino. of Symmachus’s Relatio.Without them. is not arguing to make paganism the official religion of the empire.” Gibbon. 167. See also Guy G. though. Enlightenment figures like Gibbon have seen Symmachus as a champion for rational toleration. Paredi. Saint Ambrose. that the traditional legacies of Vestals and priests be left untouched. Ambrose. 136. but not the content. trans. Church and State. M. King . (3)41 They have noted how he had some latitude because of his role in holding off Maximus. defeat in war. “Episode 155.37 Christian triumphalists have derided him as being pluralistic and liberal. Historians have noted how Ambrose defends Christianity as the only true religion. 134. McLynn. after all. who knows what might happen? Famine. 105. He wants simply for long held traditions to be maintained. worshiping the only true God. Whatever his motivations. McLynn. The Seventeenth Epistle of Ambrose Ambrose wrote Ep. Ambrose. 17 knowing the subject. Stroumsa. that stand out to me are: 1) Ambrose’s references to Christian 37 Gibbon. The institutions he is trying to save predate the Republic. 14 Ambrose of Milan and the Altar of Victory D. Church and State.42 The themes. 2009). Decline and Fall. Church and State. these issues were important enough that the senate sent no less than four separate delegations to plead their case before various emperors.39 He wants inheritance laws to be respected. even the fall of Rome? Symmachus. 38 I see him as more of a conservative law-and-order man. Susan Emanuel (Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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

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

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

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

1935. Oct 16. Alan. R. 1994. Neil B. Gibbon. Imperator Christianissimus: Der Christliche Kaiser Bei Ambrosius Und Johannes Chrysostomus. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. W. 3. "The Pagan Reaction in the Late Fourth Century. Homes. Oct 23. Groß-Albenhausen. Duncan.Select Bibliography Ambrose of Milan.com/. 1929. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1935. 1-11. Translated by M. http://thehistoryofrome. Edward.C. F." In Latin Literature of the Fourth Century. Ambrose. Campenhausen. Berlin: Verlag von Walter de Gruyter & Co. A. D. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1881. 2011. Binns. Oxford: Devonport Society of the Holy Trinity. Ambrose. 1879. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. F.typepad. New York: Harper and Brothers. Mike. Vol. “Episode 156: Jockeying for Position. Dudden. F.. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2006. “Episode 155: The New Bishop of Milan. The Last Pagans of Rome. Cameron.: The Catholic University of America Press. The Letters of St." In Latin Literature of the Fourth Century. http://thehistoryofrome. ____. Kirsten. Matthews. D. Christianity and the Latin Classics in the Fourth Century. Washington.typepad. Translated by James Parker and Co. Homes. "The Letters of Symmachus.” The History of Rome podcast. Oxford: Oxford University Press. King 19 Ambrose of Milan and the Altar of Victory . "Paganism. 2011. 2011. Bishop of Milan. D. Markus. Dudden. 1969. Morino. edited by J. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Ambrose. The Life and Times of St. The Life and Times of St. Ambrose of Milan: Church and Court in a Christian Capital. 58-99. Ambrosius Von Mailand: Als Kirchenpolitiker. Clifford H. The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians. Frankfurt am Main: Buchverlag Marthe Clauss. J. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Heather. Moore. 1974." Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 50 (1919): 122-134. Peter. edited by J. M. Church and State in the Teaching of St.com/. Ambrose. W. McLynn.” The History of Rome podcast. Hans Freiherrn von. 1999. Claudio. Joseph Costelloe. 1974. Binns.

Dwight Nelson. Robinson. and Teaching. D." Theology Today 55 (1998): 15-34. The Early Christian Fathers. St. H. Guy G. M." Historia: Zeitschrift Für Alte Geschichte 18 (1969): 588-597. 1964. "Victory: The Story of a State. Power. Ambrose. A." Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 46 (1915): 87-101. 2009. D. Translated by M. The End of Sacrifice: Religious Transformation in Late Antiquity. Angelo. "Ambrose of Milan: Keeper of the Boundaries. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Pohlsander. Joseph Costelloe. with Especial Reference to Symmachus.Paredi. The Fathers for English Readers. Kim E. Saint Ambrose: His Life and Times. "An Analysis of the Pagan Revival of the Late Fourth Century. Stroumsa. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press. R. Times. Thornton. King 20 Ambrose of Milan and the Altar of Victory . London: Routledge. Translated by Susan Emanuel. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. Boniface. 1997. 1879. Ambrose: His Life. Ramsey.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful