Ambrose of Milan and the End of the Nicene-Arian Conflicts

By Daniel H. Williams | Go to book overview

4
Ambrose's Election and Early Years in Milan

IN the autumn of 374, the doyen of western Homoianism, Auxentius of Milan, died. It was a portentous event for the fortunes of both Homoians and pro-Nicenes throughout northern Italy. Now the critical choice had to be made of a successor on whose shoulders would fall the responsibility of continuing or stemming the present hegemony of anti-Nicenism. Through the lens of historical hindsight we know that the election of Ambrose led to the eventual eclipse of Arianism in Italy, although the link between these two events became greatly amplified in the years subsequent to Ambrose's bishopric, producing an almost heroic figure, whose career uniformly manifested an unwavering attitude of opposition toward the Arians.

According to one modern historian, when 'that foxy old Arian, Auxentius, died at Milan, the ultimate triumph of orthodoxy in this region was assured'.1 This assessment is little more than a paraphrase of Jerome oft-cited observation in his Chronicle: 'After the long-awaited death of Auxentius of Milan, Ambrose was made bishop and he converted all of Italy to a sound faith.'2 Little confidence, however, should be placed in Jerome's opinion about the state of affairs in Italy at this moment. Not only did he compose the Chronicle in Constantinople (c. 381), not having been to the west since 372/3, but his historical judgement about individuals and movements in the document is 'entirely uncritical, being coloured by violent prejudices'.3 Accordingly, the above observation in the Chronicle was grounded more on Jerome's intense hatred for the Arian heresy than on the weight of historical evidence. But the modern concept of an irresistible link between Ambrose and the 'triumph of orthodoxy' is fuelled from other sources that extend beyond Jerome. The most common perceptions reflect the post-mortem testimonia which have served to influence

____________________
1
F. Homes Dudden, The Life and Times of Saint Ambrose ( Oxford, 1935), i. 187.
2
Chronicon, AD 3 74) ( GCS xxiv. 2 47). 16-18). Homes Dudden, Life and Times, i. 187 n. 4, also follows the inaccurate dating of the Chronicle in PL xxvii. 697-8 and places this citation under AD 3 78).
3
Kelly, Jerome, 75.

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