Ambrose of Milan

Ambrose of Milan: Church and Court in a Christian Capital

NEIL B. McLYNN
Copyright Date: 1994
Pages: 436
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt14btg93
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    Ambrose of Milan
    Book Description:

    In this new and illuminating interpretation of Ambrose, bishop of Milan from 374 to 397, Neil McLynn thoroughly sifts the evidence surrounding this very difficult personality. The result is a richly detailed interpretation of Ambrose's actions and writings that penetrates the bishop's painstaking presentation of self. McLynn succeeds in revealing Ambrose's manipulation of events without making him too Machiavellian. Having synthesized the vast complex of scholarship available on the late fourth century, McLynn also presents an impressive study of the politics and history of the Christian church and the Roman Empire in that period.

    Admirably and logically organized, the book traces the chronology of Ambrose's public activity and reconstructs important events in the fourth century. McLynn's zesty, lucid prose gives the reader a clear understanding of the complexities of Ambrose's life and career and of late Roman government.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-91455-1
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. LIST OF FIGURES
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. xiii-xxiv)

    Ambrose conquered three emperors in his cathedral at Milan, and each victory was more spectacular than the last. He preached eloquently to Gratian upon the faith; blockaded himself against Valentinian II in a triumphant campaign of defiance; and brought Theodosius to his knees to make an unprecedented act of public penance. All three are reported to have died with the bishop’s name on their lips. It is a record quite without parallel. Other combative bishops, Athanasius or Lucifer, fought their rulers from a safe distance: sustained proximity even to a sympathetic emperor proved fatal to John Chrysostom at Constantinople, and...

  7. CHAPTER ONE THE RELUCTANT BISHOP
    (pp. 1-52)

    Ambrose never lingered over the circumstances of his election, even while preaching to his people on the anniversary of his consecration, ‘when my priesthood seems to begin again’. ‘You are my fathers and mothers’, he reminded them, recalling how they had made him their bishop; but within a sentence he had marched to their converse role as sons and daughters, and he devoted the remainder of the sermon to their filial obligations.¹

    Equally brisk and purposeful are Ambrose’s other allusions to the election. InDe officiishe explains his deficiencies as a teacher with a striking phrase: he had been...

  8. CHAPTER TWO CONSOLIDATION
    (pp. 53-78)

    Ambrose had been bishop for more than two years before he wrote his first book.¹De virginibusbegins with an elaborate and somewhat tangled apology. He was writing, he claimed, through fear: ‘Mighty necessity’ compelled him, as a bishop and therefore a ‘trustee’ of God’s eloquence, to ‘invest’ that eloquence in the minds of his people; he preferred to do so in writing to spare himself embarrassment, ‘for a book does not blush’ (De virg. 1.1).

    Even allowing for the self-deprecation expected from a literary novice, the images into which Ambrose tumbles seem excessive.¹ The bishop presents himself as an...

  9. CHAPTER THREE AMBROSE AND GRATIAN
    (pp. 79-157)

    A year after Ambrose had buried his brother, he welcomed the twenty-year-old emperor Gratian, ruler of the west since his father

    Valentinian’s premature death in 375, to Milan. The next four years would see Ambrose become, through his association with the emperor and his court, a figure of empire-wide importance. He is conventionally presented in a relationship with Gratian both intimate and influential, as his ‘guide, philosopher and friend’,¹ Doubts have been raised over the initial scope of this influence, but Ambrose’s eventual ascendancy over the emperor is still universally—and mistakenly—accepted.²

    Only one source actually shows Gratian and...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR PERSECUTION
    (pp. 158-219)

    Gratian had left his young brother, with the apparatus of his civil administration, at Milan. There are distinct echoes of 375 in the negotiations that ensued between Maximus, who controlled (as had Merobaudes) both a dead emperor’s army and his corpse, and the surviving Augustus, who was again stranded five hundred miles away, surrounded by apprehensive beneficiaries of the previous regime. But Maximus was immeasurably stronger than Merobaudes, and Valentinian, having been kept firmly in the background at Gratian’s court, had nothing to bargain with except his legitimacy. The logical outcome was that he should travel to Trier as he...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE AMBROSE’S PEOPLE, I: MASTER OF CEREMONIES
    (pp. 220-251)

    It was appropriate that Augustine, Alypius and Evodius all left the service of the state for baptism in Ambrose’s church. The events of 386 had proved the church a stronger fortress than the palace, and the times remained uncertain. But to infer from these defections a polarization in Milan between church and state would be mistaken. The collisions of 385/6 had not involved two clearly defined organizations but rival groups each seeking to assert its claim to a distinct identity. The present chapter will explore further the interdependence that bound Ambrose’s church to the government at Milan, despite the persuasive...

  12. CHAPTER SIX AMBROSE’S PEOPLE, II: FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE
    (pp. 252-290)

    The boundaries between Ambrose’s church and the state were not overrigid. The bishop’s success in outfacing Valentinian owed much to his extensive connexions with government institutions and personnel. Ambrose relied on various relationships to secure his political purchase. He enjoyed close contacts with court society in Milan and numbered even the pagan Symmachus among his Roman acquaintances. No less sedulous or wide-ranging were his dealings with his episcopal colleagues in northern Italy. Each of these relationships merits close attention.

    The sources, notoriously, care little for the routines of social relations. We are offered a glimpse of the bishop surrounded by...

  13. CHAPTER SEVEN AMBROSE AND THEODOSIUS
    (pp. 291-360)

    The relationship between Ambrose and Theodosius was soon transformed into myth. The two men had within a generation of their deaths already been frozen into the postures that would for centuries inspire emulation from tough-minded clerics and pious rulers, and feed the imaginations of scholars and artists alike—the bishop standing before his church, sternly charging Theodosius with the responsibility for a massacre of innocent civilians, his own subjects; the proud and hottempered prince coming (eventually) to acknowledge guilt and submitting with humility to the penance ordained by the church.¹ Although this encounter at the church door has long been...

  14. CHAPTER EIGHT SANCTITY
    (pp. 361-378)

    Ambrose’s farewell to Theodosius commanded the attention of the whole empire. His version of the emperor was soon being echoed by a bishop of Constantinople and parodied by an artful westerner.¹De obitu Theodosiiwas also scrutinized by men with more practical purposes. Those like Symmachus, lobbying strenuously in the aftermath of Eugenius’ fall on behalf of less prudent friends, needed clues to the likely character of Honorius’ regime in order to obtain leverage over it. Symmachus put a lifetime of diplomatic experience to work assembling a posse of likely sympathizers to assist the younger Flavianus, doubly compromised by his...

  15. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 379-396)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 397-406)