AMBROSE AND VALENTINIAN.
"Look unto Zion, the city of our solemnities: thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation, a tabernacle that shall not be taken down: not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken."
In the opposition which Ambrose made to the Arians, as already related, there is no appearance of his appealing to any law of the empire in justification of his refusal to surrender the Basilica to them. He rested it upon the simple basis of the Divine law, a common-sense argument which there was no evading. "The Basilica has been made over to Christ; the Church is His trustee; I am its ruler. I dare not alienate the Lord's property. He who does so, does it at his peril," Indeed he elsewhere expressly repudiates the principle of dependence on human law. "Law," he says, " has not brought the Church together, but the faith of Christ1." However, Justina determined to have human law on her side. She persuaded her son to make it a capital offence in any one, either publicly or privately, even by petition, to interfere with the assemblies of the Arians; a provision which admitted a fair, and might also bear,
1 "Non lex Ecclesiam congregavit, sed fides Christi."— Serm. Contr. Aux. 24«
and did in fact receive, a most tyrannical interpretation. Benevolus, the secretary of state, from whose office the edict was to proceed, refused to draw it up, and resigned his place; hut of course others less scrupulous were easily found to succeed him. At length it was promulgated on the 21st of January of the next year, A.d. 386, and a fresh attempt soon followed on the part of the court to get possession of the Portian Basilica, which was without the walls.
The line of conduct which Ambrose had adopted remained equally clear and straight, whether before or afte* the promulgation of this edict. It was his duty to use all the means which Christ has given the Church to prevent the profanation of the Basilica. But soon a new question arose for his determination. An imperial message was brought him to retire from the city at once, with any friends who chose to attend him. It is not certain whether this was intended as an absolute command, or (as his words rather imply) a recommendation on the part of government to save themselves the odium, and him the suffering, of public and more severe proceedings. Even if it were the former, it does not appear that a Christian bishop, so circumstanced, need obey it; for what was it but in other words to say, "Depart from the Basilica, and leave it us ?"—the very order which he had already withstood. The words of Scripture, which bid Christians, if persecuted in one city, flee to another, are evidently, from the form of them, a discretionary rule, grounded on the expediency of each occasion, as it arises. A mere threat is not a persecution, nor is a command; and, though we are bouud to obey our civil rulers, the welfare of the Church has a prior claim upon our obedience. Other bishops took the same view of the case with Ambrose; and, accordingly, he determined to stay in Milan till removed by main force, or cut off by violence. The reader shall hear his own words in a sermon which he delivered upon the occasion :—
"I see what is unusual with you, that you are under a sudden excitement, and are turning your eyes on me. What can be the reason of this? Is it that you saw or heard that an imperial message has been brought to me by the tribunes, desiring me to depart hence whither I would, and to take with me all who would follow me? What! did you fear that I would desert the Church, and, for fear of my life, abandon you? Yet you might have attended to my answer. I said that I could not, for an instant, entertain the thought of deserting the Church, in that I feared the Lord of all more than the emperor of the day: in truth, that, should force hurry me off, it would be my body, not my mind, which suffered the violence; that, should he act in the way of kingly power, I was prepared to suffer after the manner of a priest.
"Why, then, are you thus disturbed? I will never leave you of my own will; but, if compelled, I may not resist. I shall still have the power of lamenting, of weeping, of moaning: when weapons, soldiers, Goths assail me, tears are my weapons, for such are the defence of a priest. In any other way I neither ought to resist, nor am able; but as to retiring and deserting the Church, this is not like me; and for this reason, lest I seem to do so from dread of some heavier punishment. Ye yourselves know that it is my principle to submit to our rulers, but not to give way to them; to present myself readily to legal punishment, and not to fear what is in contemplation.
"A proposal was made to me to deliver up at once the church plate. I made answer, that I was ready to give any thing that was my own, estate or house, gold or silver; but that I could withdraw no property from God's temple, nor surrender what was put into my hands to preserve, and not to surrender. Besides, that I had a care for the emperor's wellbeing; since it was as little safe for him to receive as for me to surrender: and I entreated him to suffer the words of a free-spoken priest, for his own good, and to keep clear of injuring his Lord.
"You recollect to-day's lesson about holy Naboth and his vineyard. The king asked him to make it over to him, as a ground, not for vines, but for common pot-herbs. What was his answer ?' God forbid I should give to thee the inheritance of my fathers!' The king was saddened when another's property was justly denied him; next he was beguiled by a woman's.counsel. Naboth shed his blood rather than give up his vines. Shall he refuse his vineyard, and we surrender the Church of Christ?
"What contumacy then was there in my answer? I did but say at the interview, 'God forbid I should surrender Christ's heritage!' I added, 'the heritage of our fathers;' yes, of our Dionysius, who died in exile for the faith's sake, of Eustorgius the Confessor, of Myrocles, and of all the other faithful bishops back. I answered as a priest: let the emperor act as an emperor; he shall rob me of my life sooner than of my fidelity.'
"In what respect was my answer other than respectful? Does the emperor wish to tax us? I do not refuse it. The church lands pay taxes. Does he require our lands? He has power to claim them; we will not prevent him. The contributions of the people will suffice for the poor. Let not our enemies take umbrage at our lands ;, they may take them, if it please the emperor; not that I give them, but I make no opposition. Do they seek my gold? I can truly say, silver and gold I seek not. But they bring against me my raising contributions. I have no great fear of the charge. I confess I have stipendiaries; they are1 The Poor Op Christ's Flock; a treasure which I am well used in collecting. May this at all times be my offence, to exact contributions for the poor. And if they accuse me of defending myself by means of them, I am far from denying, I court the charge. The poor are my defenders, but it is by their prayers. Blind though they be, lame, feeble, and aged, yet they have a strength greater than that of the stout warriors. In a word, charity to them is a claim upon the Lord; as it is written, 'He who giveth to the poor, lendeth to God; whereas a warrior's protection has oftentimes no hold upon Divine grace.
"They say, too, that the people are misled by the verses of my hymns. I frankly confess this also. Truly they have in them a high strain above all other influence. For can any strain have more of influ
1 Pauperes Christi.
ence than the confession of the Holy Trinity, which is proclaimed day by day by the voice of the whole people? Each is eager to rival his fellows in confessing, as he well knows how, in sacred verses, his faith in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Thus all are made teachers, who else were scarce equal to being scholars.
'' No one can deny that in what we say we pay to our sovereign due honour. What indeed can be higher than to style him a son of the church? In saying this, we are loyal to him without sinning against God. For the emperor is within the Church, but not over the Church; and a religious sovereign seeks, not rejects, the Church's aid. This is our doctrine, modestly avowed, but enforced without wavering. Though they threaten fire, or the sword, or transportation, we, Christ's poor servants, have learned not to fear. And to the fearless nothing is frightful; as Scripture says, 'Their blows are like the arrows of a child.' "—Serm. contr. Auxent.
Mention is made in this extract of the Psalmody which Ambrose adopted about this time. The history of its introduction is curiously connected with the subject before us, and interesting, inasmuch as this was the beginning of a change in the style of Church music, which spread over the West, and continues even among ourselves to this day.
Soldiers had been sent, as in the former year, to surround the Portian Basilica, in order to prevent the catholic service there; but being themselves Christians, and afraid of excommunication, they went so far as to allow the people to enter, but would not let them leave the building. This was not so great an inconvenience to them as might appear at first sight: for the early Basilicas were not unlike the heathen temples, or our own collegiate chapels, that is, part of a range of buildings, which contained the lodgings of the ecclesiastics, and formed a fortress in themselves, which could easily be blockaded from within or without. Accordingly, the people remained shut up within the sacred precincts some days, and the bishop with them. There seems to have been a notion, too, that he was to be seized for exile, or put to death; and they naturally kept about him to '' see the end," to suffer with him or for him, according as their tempers and principles led them. Some went so far as to barricade the doors of the Basilica1; nor could Ambrose prevent this proceeding, unnecessary as it was, from the good feelings of the soldiery towards them, and indeed impracticable in such completeness as might be sufficient for security.
Some persons may think that Ambrose ought to have used his utmost influence against it, whereas in his sermon to the people he merely insists on its uselessness, and urges the propriety of looking simply to God, and not at all to such expedients, for deliverance. It must be recollected, however, that he and his people in no sense drew the sword from its sheath; he confined himself to passive resistance. He had violated no law; the Church's property was sought by a tyrant: without using any violence, he took possession of that which he was bound to defend with his life. He placed himself
1 Vide 2 Kings vi. 32.
upon the sacred territory, and bade them take it and him together, after St. Laurence's pattern, who submitted to be burned rather than deliver up the goods with which he had been entrusted for the sake of the poor. However, it was evidently a very uncomfortable state of things for a Christian bishop, who might Beem to be responsible for all the consequences, yet was without control over them. A riot might commence any moment, which it would not be in his power to arrest. Under these circumstances, with admirable presence of mind, he contrived to keep the people quiet, and to direct their minds to higher objects than those around them, by psalmody. Sacred chanting had been one especial way in which the catholics of Antioch had kept alive, in Arian times, the spirit of orthodoxy. And from the first a peculiar kind of singing—the antiphonal or responsorial, answering to our cathedral chanting—had been used in honour of the sacred doctrine which heresy assailed. Ignatius, the disciple of St. Peter, was reported to have introduced the practice into the Church of Antioch, in the doxology to the Trinity. Flavian, afterwards bishop of that see, revived it during the Arian usurpation, to the great edification and encouragement of the oppressed catholics. Chrysostom used it in the vigils at Constantinople, in opposition to the same heretical party; and similar vigils had been established by Basil in the monasteries of Cappadocia. The assembled multitude, confined day and night within the gates of the Basilica, were in the situation of a monastic body without its discipline, and Ambrose rightly considered that the novelty and solemnity of the oriental chants, in praise of the blessed Trinity, would both interest and sober them during the dangerous temptation to which they were now exposed. The expedient had even more successful results than the bishop anticipated; the soldiers were affected by the music, and took part in it; and, as we hear nothing more of the blockade, we must suppose that it thus ended, the government being obliged to overlook what they could not prevent.
It may be interesting to the reader to see Augustine's notice of this occurrence, and the effect of the psalmody upon himself, at the time of his baptism.
"The pious populace, (he says in his Confessions,) was keeping vigils in the Church, prepared to die, O Lord, with their bishop, thy servant. There was my mother, thy handmaid, surpassing others in anxiety and watching, and making prayers her life. I, uninfluenced as yet by the fire of thy Spirit, was roused however by the terror and agitation of the city. Then it was that hymns and psalms, after the oriental rite, were introduced, lest the spirits of the flock should fail under the wearisome delay."
In the same passage, speaking of his baptism, he
"How many tears I shed during the performance of thy hymns and chants, keenly affected by the notes of thy melodious Church. My ears drank up those sounds, and they distilled into my heart as sacred truths, and overflowed thence again in pious emotion, and gushed forth into tears, and I was happy in them."
Elsewhere tie says :—
"Sometimes, from over-jealousy, I would entirely put from me and from the Church the melodies of the sweet chants which we use in the Psalter, lest our ears seduce us; and the way of Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, seems the safer, who, as I have often heard, made the reader chant with so slight a change of note, that it was more like speaking than singing. And yet when I call to mind the tears I shed when I heard the chants of thy Church in the infancy of my recovered faith, and reflect that at this time I am affected, not by the mere music, but by the subject, brought out, as it is, by clear voices and appropriate tune, then, in turn, I confess how useful is the practice."
Such was the influence of the Ambrosian chants when first introduced at Milan by the great bishop whose name they bear; there they are in use still, in all the majestic austerity which gave them their original power, and a great part of the western Church uses that modification of them which pope Gregory introduced at Rome in the beginning of the seventh century.
Ambrose implies, in the sermon from which extracts were given above, that a persecution, reaching even to the infliction of bodily sufferings, was at this time afflicting the bishops of the Exarchate. Certainly he himself was all along in imminent peril of his life, or of sudden removal from Milan. However, he made it a point to frequent the public places and religious meetings, as usual; and indeed, it appears that he was as safe there as at home, for he narrowly escaped assassination from a hired ruffian of the empress's, -who made his way to his bed-chamber for the purpose. Magical arts were also practised against him, as a more secret and certain method of ensuring his destruction.
I ought to have mentioned, before this, the challenge sent to him by the Arian bishop to dispute publicly with him on the sacred doctrine in controversy; but was unwilling to interrupt the narrative of the contest about the Basilica. I will here translate portions of a letter sent by him, on the occasion, to the emperor.
"Clementissimo Imperatori et beatissimo Augusto Valbntiniano, Ambrosius episcopus—
"Dalmatius, tribune and notary, has come to me, at your majesty's desire, as he assures me, to require me to choose umpires, as Auxentius1 has done on his part. Not that he informed me who they were which had already been named; but merely said that the dispute was to take place in the consistory, in your Majesty's presence, as final arbitrator of it.
"I trust my answer will prove satisfactory. No one should call me contumacious, if I allege what your father, of blessed memory, not only sanctioned by word of mouth, but even by a law :—That in cases of faith, or any ecclesiastical function, the -judges should be both 'competent by office and qualified by profession,' thus the rescript runs; in other words, he would have priests decide about priests. And
1 The Arian bishop, who had lately come from the East to Milan, had taken the name of Auxentius, the heretical predecessor of Ambrose.
this extended even to the case of allegations of immorality.
"When was it you ever heard, most gracious sovereign, that in a question of faith laymen should be judges of a bishop? What! Have courtly manners so bent our backs that we have forgotten the rights of the priesthood, that I should of myself put into another's hands what God has bestowed upon me? Once grant that a layman may set a bishop right, and see what will follow. The layman must discuss, while the bishop listens; the bishop must be the pupil of the layman. Yet, whether we turn to Scripture or history, who will venture to deny that in a question of faith, in a question, I say, of faith, it has ever been the bishop's business to judge a Christian emperor, not the emperor's to judge the bishop?
"When, through God's blessing, you live to be old, then you will have your thoughts concerning the fidelity of that bishop who places the rights of the priesthood at the mercy of laymen. Your father, who arrived, through God's blessing, at maturer years, was in the habit of saying, " I have no right to judge between bishops;" but your majesty says, "I ought to judge." He, even though baptized into Christ's body, thought himself unequal to the burden of such a judgment; your majesty, who still has to earn a title to the sacrament, claims to judge in a matter of faith, a stranger to the sacrament to which that faith belongs.
"But Ambrose is not so precious, as to dare for his own sake to degrade the priesthood. One man's life is not so precious as the dignity of all those bishops who have advised me to this address; and who suggested that heathens, perhaps, or Jews, might he the choice of Auxentius, whom allowing to decide concerning Christ, we should be granting a triumph over Him. 'What would pleasure them but blasphemies against Him ?—What would satisfy them but the shocking denial of His divinity—agreeing, as they do, full well with the Arian, who pronounces Christ to be a creature after the very creed of Jews and heathens? I would have come to your majesty's court, to offer these remarks in person; but neither my bishops nor my people would let me; for they said, that, when matters of faith were discussed in the church, the people ought to be present.
"I could have wished your majesty had omitted the alternative, which you sent me,—of betaking myself to exile, whither I would. I was abroad every day; no one guarded me. I was at the mercy of all the world; surely then you should have secured my departure to a place of your own choosing. Now the priests say to me, 'There is little difference between voluntarily leaving and betraying the altar of Christ; for when you leave, you betray it.'
"May it please your majesty graciously to accept this apology of mine for declining to appear in the imperial court. I have not learned to attend it, except in your behalf; nor have I the skill to strive for victory within the palace, neither knowing, nor caring to know, its secrets.
"Ego Ambrosius Episcopus hunc libellum obtuli clementissimo Imperatori et beatissimo Augusto Valentiniano."—Ep. 21.
The reader will observe an allusion in the last sentence of this defence to a service Ambrose had rendered the emperor and his mother, upon the murder of Gratian; when, at the request of Justina, he undertook the difficult embassy to the usurper Maximus, and was the means of preserving the peace of Italy. This Maximus now interfered to defend him against the parties whom he had on a former occasion defended against Maximus; but other and more remarkable occurrences interposed in his behalf, which shall be mentioned in the next chapter.