Ambrose

Article excerpt

Ambrose. Translated and with an introduction by Boniface Ramsey. The Early Church Fathers series. London and New York: Routledge Press, 1997. ix + 238 pp. $22.99 (paper).

As another indication of the current renaissance in Ambrosian scholarship, Boniface Ramsey has contributed a new translation of several texts written by and about the great bishop. Twentieth-century scholarship has reconfirmed what the late patristic and medieval Church knew all along, that Ambrose was a significant conveyer of the theological and exegetical tradition in his own right, standing not merely as a political figure who defied powerful emperors and as one who set the historical stage for Augustine. In a lengthy introduction, Ramsey seeks to fortify this idea: "Ambrose is best known for his activity in the area of Church-state relations, but there were other sides to him that must not be overlooked" (p. 37). These "sides," which include the pastoral occupation of interpreting Scripture in sermons and defending the honor of the ascetical life, require reinforcement according to Ramsey, because of the tendency of very recent studies to focus the attention on Ambrose's politico-ecclesiastical role.

While it is debatable to what degree "recent works sometimes convey the impression that there was little more to Ambrose than his political side" (p. ix), Ramsey is justified in wanting to be certain that the current portrait of the bishop includes his sensitivities to spiritual and congregational matters. Thus, Ramsey shows himself to be critically aware of other scholarship, although he seems at the same time to be a bit suspicious of it, and leans toward a more confessional type of Ambrose. This tendency is revealed in ways, some of which are unfortunate, such as his use of Paulinus's Life of Ambrose-clearly a hagiographic portrait penned by a devotee-as a biographical source for historical reconstruction (pp. 15, 20, 23), or employing the stereotypical and often misleading classifications of orthodoxy and heresy (i.e., Arian or Arianism) as meaningfully descriptive. On the other hand, the introduction is conscious not to render an idealized Ambrose as is evident in the biographies written by Homes Dudden and Paredi a generation or two ago. Ramsey acknowledges an occasion of Ambrose's "wrongheaded use of religious authority" (p. …