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

By Daniel H. Williams | Go to book overview

6
The Achievements of the Council of Aquileia

GRATIAN'S favourable acceptance of De fide, I-II, provided a welcome relief to Ambrose. Not only did the emperor show himself sympathetic to Nicene theology, but he was personally supportive of Ambrose's authority as one who teaches 'true doctrine'. In his only extant letter to the bishop of Milan, which he reportedly wrote with his own hand, Gratian designates Ambrose as his 'father', 'religious priest of God', and 'labourer of the Eternal God'.1 The timing could not have been better. During 377-8 Ambrose had been under increasing attack by hostile forces in Milan which had promoted anti-Nicene sentiments. As we saw in the last chapter, opposition organized by Julian Valens along with Ursinus, antagonism from the pro-Homoian court of Valentinian II, and the loss of a basilica to Arian hands had upset the carefully balanced tranquillity that had characterized the Milanese church since Ambrose's election in 374. When Ambrose wrote back to Gratian a short time later, he expressed the significance of Gratian's warm reception: 'You have returned to me the tranquillity of the church (quies ecclesiae), for you have shut the mouths of the heretics (perfidiorum); how I wish you would have shut their hearts also. This you did no less as an act of faith than as by the authority of your power.'2 It is almost universally agreed among scholars that this passage refers to the returning of the sequestered basilica to Ambrose which Gratian is said to have ordered when he returned to Milan at the end of July 379.3 Such an interpretation depends upon an anachronistic reading of three chapters in De spiritu sancto,4 a work which Ambrose did

____________________
1
"'Cupio valde'", 1-2 ( CSEL lxxix. 3. 5; 4. 19-20).
2
Ep. 12 (extra coll.). 2 ( CSEL lxxxii. 3. 219. 22-5).
3
e.g. Homes Dudden, Life and Times, i. 191; Faller, CSEL lxxix. 13; Mara, Patrology, iv. 147; Hanson, The Search, 795.
4
1. 19-21: 'Since you, most merciful emperor, are so fully instructed concerning the Son of God . . . especially when you recently showed yourself to be delighted by an argument (adsertione) of this nature, that you commanded the basilica of the church to be restored without any urging. So then we have received the grace of your faith and the reward of our own; for we cannot say otherwise than that it was of the grace of the Holy Spirit that, when we were all unconscious of it, you suddenly restored the basilica. And I do not regret the losses of the previous time, since the sequestration of that basilica resulted

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