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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He quickly dashed off a letter to the emperor. “In the affair of the altar of Victory Symmachus was selected to represent the petitioners. Angelo Paredi. he made a preemptive case on general principles. Upon receiving the relatio. He separated paganism from the State. Against all of Valentinian’s other advisors.”21 Moore 19 Dudden. Church and State. We will look more in depth at Ep. known as his 3rd Relatio. 95-100.: The Catholic University of America Press. McLynn. trans. and recommended granting his petition.Symmachus’s heartfelt plea. D. without public funding. Joseph Costelloe (Washington. 18. Through some combination of these two letters. became the Christian champion. 1964). 264. Church and State in the Teaching of St. jumped swiftly into action. the eloquent and intrepid Bishop of Milan. Morino. 234-5. 17 later in the paper. 166. D. known now as his 17th Epistle. trans. Saint Ambrose. 20 Dudden. Ep. Saint Ambrose. as represented by the arch-pagan Symmachus and the arch-Christian Ambrose. Saint Ambrose. McLynn. Saint Ambrose: His Life and Times. 260-4. Singlehandedly. Claudio Morino. Moore. 21 Clifford H. Ambrose. D. 228-30. King 7 Ambrose of Milan and the Altar of Victory . He also asked for a copy of Symmachus’s speech. where. 95-8.19 Ambrose. the matter was tabled before Gratian had made an official decision. Ambrose won the battle. Paredi. "The Pagan Reaction in the Late Fourth Century. Ambrose. 167.20 Key to this traditional construction is the idea of a decisive battle between paganism and Christianity. it simply withered on the vine. Not knowing the specifics of Symmachus’s argument. M. Joseph Costelloe (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press. However. 1969). M. saying that it was absolutely not appropriate for a Christian emperor. hearing about the delegation through his contacts at court. Ambrose intervened and changed the course of western civilization." Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 50 (1919): 129.C. M. but for now it is enough to know that Ambrose argued vehemently against any sort of imperial support for paganism. Ambrose. while Ambrose. Ambrose convinced the emperor to make a decisive stand against paganism. Ambrose answered point-by-point in a second letter.

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

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

but a moderate. 10 Ambrose of Milan and the Altar of Victory D. Neither was the issue that pagan cults could not have rounded up private funding to keep them going. 37-8.34 Rather. seeing which way the political winds are blowing. 31 Cameron also suggests that Symmachus was not the pagan zealot he has been made out to be. No. Ibid. Rather. King . he was chosen by the senate for his office and for his rhetorical skill.33 Finally. They were supposed to be for the public welfare. D.. Ibid. and a series of compromises. M. 35 31 32 33 34 35 Ibid. He was not a pagan hardliner. this is just imperial politics as usually. funded by the public. 40. for Cameron this is not a battle between paganism and Christianity. To fund them privately would be to completely miss the point... This is not some final and decisive moment. His performance at the court of Milan was much more about skill than about passion. 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. 45-8.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. the sacrifices and rituals were simply not legitimate unless they were publicly funded.. performed in public. 38. Valentinian agreeing to give some concessions to pagans in return for no longer publicly funding the cults of Rome.32 Furthermore. for Symmachus and his party. Ibid. and importantly. 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.

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

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

(1. cannot be forgiven for failing to return her. The entire empire is suffering from famine following Gratian’s unprecedented actions. Never before has Rome endured such hardship. “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. the Vestals and priests weren’t receiving funding out of the state treasury anyway. he never made the mistake of withdrawing funding from the Vestals and priests (7). why cannot the Vestals and priests enjoy the same rights? (14) Next. (13) Even freedmen and slaves can receive their inheritances without interference. motivated by avarice. 20) First. The obvious answer: thievery. the Vestals represent purity. but the current emperor. and everything that is right with the empire. they deserve to be supported. These estates had been confiscated by Gratian. D. M. “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. (5) Constantius can be forgiven for. they were living off the of proceeds of estates that had been willed to them as legacies in the wills now-dead forefathers. not natural causes. (6) Even though Constantius made the mistake of removing Victory. in ignorance of the costs. The famine is the result of supernatural. Symmachus blames the woes of the empire on the sacrilege committed against Victory and the Vestals. though. D. having all the necessary knowledge. the traditions that have made Rome great must be maintained.” (10) However. Even if one doesn’t subscribe to their religion. making the mistake of removing Victory. chastity.discipline in the senate is gone. People are resorting to eating acorns. Symmachus argues. (11) Second. something Gratian never would have done had he known the implications. because never before have the traditions of Rome been so neglected. King 13 Ambrose of Milan and the Altar of Victory .

14 Ambrose of Milan and the Altar of Victory D. M. even the fall of Rome? Symmachus. that stand out to me are: 1) Ambrose’s references to Christian 37 Gibbon. 97-8.” Gibbon. defeat in war. McLynn.37 Christian triumphalists have derided him as being pluralistic and liberal. He wants simply for long held traditions to be maintained. 2009). The Seventeenth Epistle of Ambrose Ambrose wrote Ep. 105. McLynn. Church and State. Morino. 17 knowing the subject. after all. Ambrose.39 He wants inheritance laws to be respected. Saint Ambrose. Paredi. worshiping the only true God. 136. 134. 167.42 The themes. is not arguing to make paganism the official religion of the empire. Morino. who knows what might happen? Famine. (1)40 They have noted his argument that Valentinian would appear to support paganism. The End of Sacrifice: Religious Transformation in Late Antiquity. King . Duncan. Church and State. 97. 233. 97-8. 166. Stroumsa. See also Guy G. The institutions he is trying to save predate the Republic. that the traditional legacies of Vestals and priests be left untouched. Enlightenment figures like Gibbon have seen Symmachus as a champion for rational toleration.Without them. 38 I see him as more of a conservative law-and-order man. “Episode 155. though. these issues were important enough that the senate sent no less than four separate delegations to plead their case before various emperors. Decline and Fall. Historians have noted how Ambrose defends Christianity as the only true religion. Whatever his motivations. 38 39 40 41 42 Morino. He simply wants tradition to be maintained and laws to be respected. of Symmachus’s Relatio. Ambrose. but not the content. Susan Emanuel (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Decline and Fall. Church and State. D. trans. (3)41 They have noted how he had some latitude because of his role in holding off Maximus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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