Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Ambrose of Milan: Church and Court in a Christian Capital

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Ambrose of Milan: Church and Court in a Christian Capital

Article excerpt

Ambrose of Milan: Church and Court in a Christian Capital. By Neil B. McLynn. [The Transformation of the Classical Heritage, XXII.] (Berkeley: University of California Press. 1994. Pp. xxiv, 406, $45.00.)

Norman Baynes observed that in writing a biography of Ambrose one must refuse to be daunted by the aureole of the saint." Neil McLynn is certainly undaunted. He does not offer a biography but "a fundamental re-reading of the evidence, most of which is supplied by Ambrose himself" (p. xxii) and which is generally not to Ambrose's advantage. He was not as blue-blooded as has usually been supposed and owed his social eminence to his secular office rather than to his family. His election to the see of Milan was not due to an overwhelming demand by the faithful, but was "an improvised response to a botched [Nicene] coup" (p. 52). On his appointment, he lacked theological training and had to educate himself, so that his leadership of the Milanese Church had initially to be moral rather than doctrinal-the first two books of the De fide are "a splendid display of sophistry, misrepresentation on an heroic scale" (p. 103). He was never as close to the Emperor Gratian as he suggested, but won his favor by rescuing him from embarrassment, when Gratian's proposed general council at Aquileia was sabotaged by his colleague, Theodosius. His subsequent "brigandage" against Palladius of Ratiaria at the council was "a piece of pure opportunism, the ruthlessness and audacity of which cannot but command a certain admiration" (p. 137). When he went on the embassy to Maximus at Trier in 383, he went "to tell lies on Valentinian's behalf" (p. 160)-it was a matter of "outright fraud" (pp. 161-162). In his dispute with the imperial court at Easter 386, "he obfuscated his arguments with traditional forensic techniques"(p. 190). His protests against the rich"owe more to patient reading than to close observation of his congregation's behavior" (p. 247). When Valentinian ended his life at Vienne, to be succeeded by Eugenius,"Ambrose should take some incidental credit for this, and [by his funeral sermon for the dead emperor,] for nudging the empire towards a further round of civil war" by not admitting Valentinian's death to have been suicide" (p. …

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