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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

”28 Instead. ed.”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. "The Letters of Symmachus. 26 J. 1974). He disagrees with nearly every aspect of the traditional construction. As a simple example.. W. Ibid. 167. F.This view. Ambrose. though. Cameron contends that “there is no evidence that Ambrose was a frequent (or welcome) visitor at the courts of either Gratian or Valentinian II. but only “heard about it through the grapevine. King . is not held by all. but the fact that Valentinian II owed him for the way he had held off Maximus until troops could be deployed. he suggests that Ambrose was an outsider. Last Pagans. Ibid. Matthews completely rejects the commonly held perception that Symmachus delivered the 3rd Relatio in person. J. 9 Ambrose of Milan and the Altar of Victory D. M. 76-7. Binns (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. rivaled in influence only by his mother. that he was not consulted regarding Symmachus’s delegation.26 McLynn thinks it wasn’t so much Ambrose’s argument that won the day. Augusta Justina. 27 28 29 30 McLynn. D.”30 He suggests that Valentinian was already planning to maintain the status quo with regard to the Altar of Victory." in Latin Literature of the Fourth Century. 37. Contrary to the popular view that Ambrose was the chief councilor of Valentinian II. Cameron. 36.27 By far the most divergent view from the traditional one comes from Alan Cameron. and in particular rejects the idea that Ambrose had any significant influence in the controversy at all. Matthews.

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

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

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

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

trans. M. 2009). though. Ambrose. Morino. after all. He wants simply for long held traditions to be maintained. Decline and Fall. Historians have noted how Ambrose defends Christianity as the only true religion. The institutions he is trying to save predate the Republic. 105. 97-8.39 He wants inheritance laws to be respected. of Symmachus’s Relatio. is not arguing to make paganism the official religion of the empire. “Episode 155.” Gibbon. Church and State. He simply wants tradition to be maintained and laws to be respected. 97-8. 97. that the traditional legacies of Vestals and priests be left untouched. Church and State. Enlightenment figures like Gibbon have seen Symmachus as a champion for rational toleration. Stroumsa.42 The themes. 167. Saint Ambrose. Whatever his motivations. who knows what might happen? Famine. 134. 17 knowing the subject. McLynn. Ambrose. 38 39 40 41 42 Morino. 136. that stand out to me are: 1) Ambrose’s references to Christian 37 Gibbon. Decline and Fall. Morino. King . 38 I see him as more of a conservative law-and-order man.37 Christian triumphalists have derided him as being pluralistic and liberal. Duncan.Without them. See also Guy G. 14 Ambrose of Milan and the Altar of Victory D. Susan Emanuel (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. McLynn. D. (3)41 They have noted how he had some latitude because of his role in holding off Maximus. even the fall of Rome? Symmachus. Paredi. 233. The End of Sacrifice: Religious Transformation in Late Antiquity. 166. Church and State. defeat in war. (1)40 They have noted his argument that Valentinian would appear to support paganism. but not the content. these issues were important enough that the senate sent no less than four separate delegations to plead their case before various emperors. The Seventeenth Epistle of Ambrose Ambrose wrote Ep. worshiping the only true God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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