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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

all these historians essentially see the Altar of Victory controversy as a battle of binary opposites. Speaking of Symmachus’s decision to challenge Gratian’s orders. Saint Ambrose. King . 235. a battle that Ambrose decisively wins. revived and inflamed by the breath of fanaticism. 95. and Paredi. since the spirit is always victorious. Morino. duked out between the greatest champion from each side. Morino. who would disagree fundamentally with the triumphalism of Dudden. Dudden. The vigour of Ambrose saved the situation. 8 Ambrose of Milan and the Altar of Victory D. The matter came to a head and received a definite solution in the controversies over the Altar of Victory in the Senate. the dying embers of freedom were. Thanks mainly to his spirited action. 22 23 24 25 Paredi.writes. this episode is about a battle between paganism and Christianity. Paredi says. 134.23 For all these Christian historians. “Christianity proved to be the ultimate victor over the ancient Roman religion.”25 Though their sympathies lie on different sides. and over worship in the temples and before the statues of the gods in general. the definitive triumph of Christianity as the State religion of the Western Empire was assured. D. ‘The great religious struggle had to end with the victory of the more spiritual contestant. Decline and Fall.’”22 Morino says. and for a moment it seemed doubtful which of the two would win the victory. Gibbon. he writes romantically. the cult of demons. and even over the mystery cults. still agrees that this was a fundamental battle between Ambrose and Symmachus and between Christianity and paganism. “In that assembly [the senate]. came to grips. Saint Ambrose. for a moment. M. over the pay for pagan priests. over Neoplatonism. Dudden sums up.” 24 Even Gibbon. 269. Church and State. And Ambrose’s decisions in these matters settled the problem for all times. In this year Christianity and paganism.

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

32 Furthermore. but a moderate. Neither was the issue that pagan cults could not have rounded up private funding to keep them going.. and importantly. he was chosen by the senate for his office and for his rhetorical skill. D. To fund them privately would be to completely miss the point. This is not some final and decisive moment. 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. Ibid. 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. 40. King . 38. Ibid.34 Rather. Ibid. Ibid. No. M. funded by the public. They were supposed to be for the public welfare. 31 Cameron also suggests that Symmachus was not the pagan zealot he has been made out to be. this is just imperial politics as usually. His performance at the court of Milan was much more about skill than about passion. 35 31 32 33 34 35 Ibid.. for Symmachus and his party..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. Rather.. seeing which way the political winds are blowing. 45-8.33 Finally. He was not a pagan hardliner. for Cameron this is not a battle between paganism and Christianity. performed in public. 37-8. Valentinian agreeing to give some concessions to pagans in return for no longer publicly funding the cults of Rome. and a series of compromises. the sacrifices and rituals were simply not legitimate unless they were publicly funded. 10 Ambrose of Milan and the Altar of Victory D.

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

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

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

233. The End of Sacrifice: Religious Transformation in Late Antiquity. 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.39 He wants inheritance laws to be respected. He simply wants tradition to be maintained and laws to be respected. King . Duncan. 38 I see him as more of a conservative law-and-order man. worshiping the only true God. even the fall of Rome? Symmachus. but not the content. 97-8. 38 39 40 41 42 Morino. Saint Ambrose. after all. 97-8. Paredi. He wants simply for long held traditions to be maintained. of Symmachus’s Relatio. McLynn. 105. 14 Ambrose of Milan and the Altar of Victory D. (1)40 They have noted his argument that Valentinian would appear to support paganism. Ambrose. that the traditional legacies of Vestals and priests be left untouched. Church and State.” Gibbon. 97.37 Christian triumphalists have derided him as being pluralistic and liberal. The Seventeenth Epistle of Ambrose Ambrose wrote Ep. 166. Morino. 136. Enlightenment figures like Gibbon have seen Symmachus as a champion for rational toleration. “Episode 155. that stand out to me are: 1) Ambrose’s references to Christian 37 Gibbon. M. Decline and Fall. The institutions he is trying to save predate the Republic. D. Ambrose. Historians have noted how Ambrose defends Christianity as the only true religion.42 The themes. Stroumsa. 17 knowing the subject. McLynn. though. Church and State. Decline and Fall. See also Guy G. Church and State. who knows what might happen? Famine. Morino. 134. Whatever his motivations. trans. Susan Emanuel (Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Without them. (3)41 They have noted how he had some latitude because of his role in holding off Maximus. is not arguing to make paganism the official religion of the empire. 167. 2009).

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

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

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

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

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