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

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

suggestions including 272 BCE. 594. Ibid. D. 209 BCE or 40 BCE. However. Kirsten Groß-Albenhausen. He appointed Roman aristocrats to the various Roman priesthoods. completed the new senate house. King .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. Victory. the most likely scenario has been laid out expertly and succinctly by H. dedicating an altar of Victory there in the same year. when the Christian emperor Constantius II had them removed.. the Curia Julia..3 The statue and altar of Victory remained in the senate house until 357 CE. just as every other pontifex maximus had done before him. Last Pagans. his victory was rather Pyrrhic. 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.2 Whatever the case. 2 Ambrose of Milan and the Altar of Victory D. 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. at the same time that he began other restorations of pagan institutions.1 It was later moved to Rome." Historia: Zeitschrift Für Alte Geschichte 18 (1969). A. begun by Julius Caesar in 44 BCE. 5 6 Cameron. and the statue was shortly captured by the Romans. apparently did not take any other anti-pagan actions. though the date of the move is unknown. Pohlsander. "Victory: The Story of a State.6 Valentinian I. 33. Alan Cameron. Pohlsander. 590. M. Pohlsander. 2011). 589. A. However. The Last Pagans of Rome (Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1 2 3 4 H. in 29 BCE.. 589-90. Ibid. 33.4 Constantius. though. though Christian. Ibid. he installed the Victory statue. as you may have guessed. 594. when Augustus. 1999).

Pagan senators. vol. 590-1. 592. the 13-year-old Valentinian II. It is the events surrounding this second delegation on which this paper focusses. 3 Ambrose of Milan and the Altar of Victory D. They also took vows of allegiance to the emperor upon the altar. 11 Roman senators would pay homage to Victory when they entered the senate house. took a different approach to paganism.. The statue itself was a gilded bronze figure of the winged goddess !"#$.9 A second delegation to Gratian’s brother and successor.8 At the same time. was accepted.12 Fig i. F. Last Pagans. Ibid. 593. about seven to eight meters high.7 His son. 594. 34. Homes Dudden. Victory. The Life and Times of St. Statuette of Victory in the National Archaeological Museum at Naples 7 8 Ibid. 1935). 133-4.. D. he took measures to limit financial support of pagan cults in Rome. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. He again had Victory removed from the senate house in 382 CE. 10 11 12 Pohlsander. Ibid. perhaps making offerings of incense or wine. tried to appeal to Gratian to change his mind. 1879). including Symmachus. Pohlsander. 594. 9 Edward Gibbon. Victory.allowed Victory to stay right where she was. Ambrose (Oxford: Clarendon Press. Cameron. She stood on a globe and held out a laurel wreath of victory in her right hand. but were turned away. though. 10 She may have looked similar to the much smaller statuette pictured on the right. having in 375 CE refused to accept the title of pontifex maximus. Gratian. M. 3 (New York: Harper and Brothers. King . 257. Victory..

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

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

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

Saint Ambrose: His Life and Times.Symmachus’s heartfelt plea. Angelo Paredi. 1964). Claudio Morino. Singlehandedly. the matter was tabled before Gratian had made an official decision. 18. Ambrose. Ep. as represented by the arch-pagan Symmachus and the arch-Christian Ambrose. 95-8. 21 Clifford H. 17 later in the paper. 260-4.20 Key to this traditional construction is the idea of a decisive battle between paganism and Christianity. Joseph Costelloe (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press." Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 50 (1919): 129. We will look more in depth at Ep. hearing about the delegation through his contacts at court. McLynn. D. He separated paganism from the State. He quickly dashed off a letter to the emperor. 1969). without public funding. 234-5. the eloquent and intrepid Bishop of Milan. D. M. 167. However. he made a preemptive case on general principles. 228-30. trans. He also asked for a copy of Symmachus’s speech.19 Ambrose.”21 Moore 19 Dudden. known now as his 17th Epistle. Ambrose. known as his 3rd Relatio.: The Catholic University of America Press. and recommended granting his petition. Saint Ambrose. while Ambrose. Ambrose intervened and changed the course of western civilization. Church and State. trans. McLynn. jumped swiftly into action. became the Christian champion. Not knowing the specifics of Symmachus’s argument. Saint Ambrose. 264. Ambrose. Saint Ambrose. M. “In the affair of the altar of Victory Symmachus was selected to represent the petitioners. Moore. "The Pagan Reaction in the Late Fourth Century. 95-100. Morino. Ambrose answered point-by-point in a second letter. where.C. M. Ambrose convinced the emperor to make a decisive stand against paganism. Joseph Costelloe (Washington. Upon receiving the relatio. saying that it was absolutely not appropriate for a Christian emperor. D. 166. 20 Dudden. Ambrose won the battle. Church and State in the Teaching of St. Paredi. it simply withered on the vine. Against all of Valentinian’s other advisors. King 7 Ambrose of Milan and the Altar of Victory . but for now it is enough to know that Ambrose argued vehemently against any sort of imperial support for paganism. Through some combination of these two letters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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