Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Ambrose of Milan: Deeds and Thoughts of a Bishop

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Ambrose of Milan: Deeds and Thoughts of a Bishop

Article excerpt

Ambrose of Milan: Deeds and Thoughts of a Bishop. By Cesare Pasini. Translated by Robert L. Grant. (Staten Island, NY: St. Paul. 2013. Pp. xxiv, 323. $24.95 paperback. ISBN 978-0-8189-1341-9.)

Cesare Pasini's biography of St. Ambrose of Milan was originally published in Italian in 1996. In the foreword, translated here, Pasini expressed a desire "to let the texts speak for themselves" and anticipated that readers might even find that he as author disappeared into the work (p. xii). Ambrose himself took a similar line in his exegetical sermons, assembling a collage of biblical quotations and allusions that seemed more to re-present than to interpret the biblical text for his audience. Of course, neither Pasini nor Ambrose in fact relinquished control of his work, and Pasini remains conspicuously present on almost every page of this biography. We find him addressing the reader, weighing the evidence for its plausibility and its degree of accordance with his idea of Ambrose, and unashamedly using imagination and tradition to fill in the gaps.

This is not unusual-historians always select, interpret, and comment on their evidence, and biography in particular abhors a vacuum. The result in this case is an Ambrose familiar in outline and often in detail from previous scholarship, but who clearly reflects the sympathies of a humane, Catholic, and Milanese biographer. We find a bishop who prefers consensus to confrontation, who avoided "personal attacks on individuals" (p. 114), and who was "patient and understanding toward [his] opposition but consistent and adamant in not yielding to any compromise" (p. 76). This latter stance, however, is trickier to pull off than Pasini allows; like his Ambrose, he tries to be generous and even-handed in dealing with doctrinal controversy-and he does a better job than Ambrose of fairly characterizing opposing views-but he cannot shrug off his own conviction that there was really nothing to argue about. Hence, the homoeans are "obdurate and contrary" and pursue "strategies" to get their way, whereas Ambrose's Nicenes are "conscientious" and "vigilant" (pp. 42-43).

This is problematic when it comes to dealing with events such as the Council of Aquileia, at which Pasini's scruples require him to admit that Ambrose "effectively abused the situation" (p. …

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