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

Introduction Constantine the Great was the first Roman emperor to be a Christian. I will show how Ambrose uses the rhetoric of martyrdom and persecution in support of imperial power and Christian supremacy. to official. and in so doing. King 1 Ambrose of Milan and the Altar of Victory . it transformed from being defined in opposition to the Roman empire to being nearly one and the same with it. and perhaps the most important player. In this paper. As a result of the events surrounding this episode. was not the emperor. After reviewing some introductory information on the Altar of Victory and Ambrose of Milan. but a Christian bishop: Ambrose of Milan. nor did it outlaw paganism. his ascension to the purple did not automatically make Christianity the official religion of the empire. to permitted. M. One episode in this gradual transition is the controversy in the late fourth century over the Roman Altar of Victory. we will explore the relationship between Christianity and empire in relation to the 384 CE Altar of Victory controversy. not a senator. 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. Constantine’s rise did begin a process by which Christianity went from being a marginal and persecuted group to being the religion of the empire. However. not a court official. The church became an active force in imperial politics. D. developed its own new imperialistic identity. we will explore the details of the 384 controversy before examining more directly the two most important primary documents involved: the 3rd Relatio of Symmachus and the 17th Epistle of Ambrose. Finally. As Christianity proceeded from outlawed. one of the major players in this decision. D. However.

D. Ibid. Last Pagans. Ibid. at the same time that he began other restorations of pagan institutions.. when Augustus..5 It is assumed that Julian the Apostate returned the statue and altar of Victory to the Curia around 361-2 CE. 589-90. A. 63.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. 209 BCE or 40 BCE. 590. 594. 2011). The Last Pagans of Rome (Oxford: Oxford University Press.6 Valentinian I. 594. Kirsten Groß-Albenhausen. King . completed the new senate house. 33. though. Victory. Pohlsander. "Victory: The Story of a State. Ibid." Historia: Zeitschrift Für Alte Geschichte 18 (1969).1 It was later moved to Rome. his victory was rather Pyrrhic. the Curia Julia. when the Christian emperor Constantius II had them removed. Pohlsander. 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. A. he installed the Victory statue. Pohlsander.3 The statue and altar of Victory remained in the senate house until 357 CE. suggestions including 272 BCE. However.2 Whatever the case. and the statue was shortly captured by the Romans. He appointed Roman aristocrats to the various Roman priesthoods. though Christian. 589. 33. However. Alan Cameron. M. Imperator Christianissimus: Der Christliche Kaiser Bei Ambrosius Und Johannes Chrysostomus (Frankfurt am Main: Buchverlag Marthe Clauss. as you may have guessed.4 Constantius. the most likely scenario has been laid out expertly and succinctly by H. 1999). though the date of the move is unknown. dedicating an altar of Victory there in the same year.. in 29 BCE. just as every other pontifex maximus had done before him. 5 6 Cameron. begun by Julius Caesar in 44 BCE. 1 2 3 4 H. 2 Ambrose of Milan and the Altar of Victory D.

about seven to eight meters high. Homes Dudden. 594. 590-1. Ambrose (Oxford: Clarendon Press. They also took vows of allegiance to the emperor upon the altar. Statuette of Victory in the National Archaeological Museum at Naples 7 8 Ibid.. 11 Roman senators would pay homage to Victory when they entered the senate house. 257. 1935). 593. vol. He again had Victory removed from the senate house in 382 CE. The statue itself was a gilded bronze figure of the winged goddess !"#$. 592.12 Fig i. 594.. 3 (New York: Harper and Brothers. was accepted. Pagan senators. Last Pagans. tried to appeal to Gratian to change his mind. Victory. though. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. the 13-year-old Valentinian II. The Life and Times of St. 9 Edward Gibbon. M.allowed Victory to stay right where she was. 10 She may have looked similar to the much smaller statuette pictured on the right.9 A second delegation to Gratian’s brother and successor. having in 375 CE refused to accept the title of pontifex maximus. D. It is the events surrounding this second delegation on which this paper focusses. but were turned away. Victory. 133-4.8 At the same time. 1879). perhaps making offerings of incense or wine. 3 Ambrose of Milan and the Altar of Victory D. 34. Ibid. King . including Symmachus..7 His son. he took measures to limit financial support of pagan cults in Rome. Cameron. F. Pohlsander. Gratian. took a different approach to paganism. She stood on a globe and held out a laurel wreath of victory in her right hand. Ibid. 10 11 12 Pohlsander. Victory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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