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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

D. 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. 20) First. the Vestals represent purity. because never before have the traditions of Rome been so neglected. the traditions that have made Rome great must be maintained. they deserve to be supported. something Gratian never would have done had he known the implications. (5) Constantius can be forgiven for.discipline in the senate is gone. Never before has Rome endured such hardship. why cannot the Vestals and priests enjoy the same rights? (14) Next. (13) Even freedmen and slaves can receive their inheritances without interference. chastity. M. D. Even if one doesn’t subscribe to their religion. (15-17) It is fine for Valentinian to be a Christian. he never made the mistake of withdrawing funding from the Vestals and priests (7). The entire empire is suffering from famine following Gratian’s unprecedented actions. (6) Even though Constantius made the mistake of removing Victory. The famine is the result of supernatural. but the current emperor.” (10) However. they were living off the of proceeds of estates that had been willed to them as legacies in the wills now-dead forefathers. Symmachus blames the woes of the empire on the sacrilege committed against Victory and the Vestals. motivated by avarice. (11) Second. The obvious answer: thievery. not natural causes. These estates had been confiscated by Gratian. (1. cannot be forgiven for failing to return her. in ignorance of the costs. Symmachus argues. though. and everything that is right with the empire. “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. King 13 Ambrose of Milan and the Altar of Victory . People are resorting to eating acorns. making the mistake of removing Victory. the Vestals and priests weren’t receiving funding out of the state treasury anyway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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