THE CONDUCT OF AMBROSE UNDER THE EMPE-
ROR VALENTINIAN THE SECOND, AND THE
PERSECUTION WHICH HE ENDURED FROM THE
EMPERORS MOTHER JUSTINA.
Justina, the empress, was a decided patroness Chap.
of Arianism. After the death of her husband, she xv.
began openly to season her son with her doctrine,
and to induce him to menace the bishop of Milan.
VOL. II. O
Chap. Ambrose exhorted him to support the doctrine re. XJ- , ceived from the Apostles. Young Valentinian, in a rage, ordered his guards to surround the church, Ambrose anc^ commanded Ambrose to come out of it. " I persecuted, shall not willingly," replied the bishop, " give up A. D. the sheep of Christ to be devoured by wolves. You 38.5- may use your swords and spears against me ; such a death I shall freely undergo *." After this he was exposed to the various frauds and artifices of Justina, who feared to attack him openly. For the people were generally inclined to support the bishop ; and his residence in the city where the court was held, at once increased his influence, and exercised his mind with a series of trials.
The Arians were not now the only adversaries of the Church; the Pagans themselves, taking advantage of the minority of Valentinian and the confusions of the empire, endeavoured to recover their ancient establishment. The Senate of Rome consisted still very much of Gentiles; and the pride of family granduer still induced the most noble to pique themselves on their constancy, and to scorn the innovations of Christianity. Symmachus, a man of learning and great powers of eloquence, headed the party, and endeavoured to persuade the emperor to suffer the altar of Victory to be restored to the Senate-house. Ambrose wrote to Valentinian, that it ill became the Gentiles to complain of their losses, who never spared the blood of Christians, and who refused them, under Julian, the common liberty of teaching. " If he is a Pagan who gives you this advice, let him give the same liberty, which he takes himself. You compel no man to worship what he does not approve. Here the whole Senate, so far as it is Christian, is endangered. Every senator takes his oath at the altar; every person who is obliged to appear before the senate upon oath, takes his oath in the same manner. The divinity * Theodoret, B. V. c. 13.
of the false (rods is evidently allowed by the prac- Cent. tice. And Christians are obliged by these means to , . endure a persecution. But in matters of religion consult with God; and whatever men may say of injuries which they suffer, remember that you injure no man by preferring God Almighty before him*." We have still extant the address of Symmachus to the emperors on the subject in vindication of Pagan idolatry, in which he introduces Rome as a person complaining of the hardships to which she was exposed in her old age. We have also the reply of Ambrose, who introduces Rome observing, that it was not by the favour of these gods that she gained her victories. In answer to the complaint, which the Pagans made of the loss of their revenues, he observes, that the Gospel had increased by poverty and ill treatment, whereas riches and prosperity seemed necessary to the very existence of Their religion. And now that the Church has some wealth, he justly glories in the use she made of it, and challenges the Pagans to declare, what captives They had redeemed, what poor They had relieved, and to what exiles They had sent alms. But it is not necessary to enlarge on this subject. The advantage of the Christian cause in the promotion of liberality and benevolence among mankind, above all religions, is perhaps the only thing generally allowed even by infidels. Symmachus being foiled at present, renewed the same attempt before the emperor Theodosius, and was vanquished a second time by the eloquence and influence of Ambrose.
This prelate by his talents in negotiation at the court of Maximus averted for a time the invasion of Italy from the court of Milan. But nothing could jaslina.'t move the mind of Justina in his favour. In the i*wyear 386, she procured a law to enable the Arian A* congregations to assemble without interruption. 3""
Auxentius, a Scythian, of the same name with * Epistle of Ambrose, 30.
the Arian predecessor of Ambrose, was now introduced, under the protection of the empress,- into M ilan. He challenged Ambrose to hold a disputation with him in the emperor's court; which occasioned the bishop to write to Valentinian, that it was no
doctrine *. " Let him come to church," says he, "and upon hearing, let the people judge for themselves ; and if they like Auxentius better, let them take him : but they have already declared their sentiments." More violent measures were now entered into, and the fortitude of Ambrose was tried in a manner which he had hitherto not experienced. Auxentius moved, that a party of soldiers might be sent to secure for himself the possession of the church called Basilica: and tribunes came to demand it, with the plate and vessels belonging to it. At the same time, there were those who represented, that it was an unreasonable thing, that the emperor should not be allowed to have one place of worship which was agreeable to his conscience. The language was specious, but deceitful. Justina and her son, if they had thought it prudent to exert their authority, might have commanded the use not of one only, but of all the churches : but the demand of the court was, that Ambrose should do what in conscience he could not, that he should, by his own deed, resign the church into Arian hands, which, as circumstances then stood, would have been to acknowledge, indirectly at least, the Arian creed. He therefore calmly answered the officers, that if the emperor had sent to demand his house or land, money or goods, he would have freely resigned them, but that he could not deliver that which was committed to his care. In the congregation he that day told the peoplef, that he would not willingly desert his right: that if compelled, he knew not how
. * Epistle of Ambrose, 32.
f Orut. in Auseen. p. 159. Paris edition.
part of the
's business to decide in points of to resist. "I can grieve," says he, "I can weep, t can groan. Against arms and soldiers, tears are my arms. Such are the fortifications of a pastor. I neither can nor ought to resist in any other manner. Our Lord Jesus is Almighty; what he commands to be done shall be fulfilled, nor does it become yojj to resist the divine sentence." It seemed proper to state in his own words what his conduct was ; and it appears, that he abated nothing of the maxims of passive submission to the civil power, which Christians had ever practised from the days of St. Paul, and that there is not the least ground to accuse Ambrose of disloyalty to his prince. He had served him already faithfully, and we shall see presently that he is again ready to expose himself to danger for his service. The court knew his principles, and seem not to have had the least fear that he should draw the people into a rebellion; but they wished to menace him into a degree of compliance with Arianisra.
Ambrose during the suspension of this affair employed the people in singing divine hymns and psalms, at the end of which there was a solemn doxology to the honour of the Trinity. The method of responsive singing had been gradually practised in the East, and was introduced by Ambrose into. Milan, whence it was propagated into all thechurches. The people were much delighted, their zeal for the doctrine of the Trinity was inflamed, and one of the best judges in the world, who then lived at Milan, owns that his own soul was melted into divine affection on these occasions*.
The demands of the court were now increased : not only the Portian church which stood without the walls, but also the great church newly built within the city, were required to be given up. On the Lords day after sermon, the catechumens being dismissed, Ambrose went to baptize those who were. * Aug.Conf. B.9.
prepared for that ordinance, when he was told that officers were sent from the court to the Portian church : he went on, however, unmoved in the service, till he was told, that the people having met with Castulus an Arian presbyter in the street, had laid hands on him. Then with prayers and tears he besought God, that no man's blood might be shed, but rather his own, not only for the pious people, but also for the wicked. And he immediately sent some presbyters and deacons, who recovered Castulus safe from the tumult. The court enraged sent out warrants for apprehending several merchants and tradesmen; men were put in chains, and vast sums of money were required to be paid in a little time, which many professed they would pay cheerfully, if they were suffered to enjoy the profession of their faith unmolested. By this time the prisons were full of tradesmen, and the magistrates and men of rank were severely threatened ; while the courtiers urged Ambrose with the imperial authority; whom he answered with the same loyalty and firmness as before. The Holy Spirit, said he, in his€Xhortation to the people, has spoken in you this day, to this effect: Emperor, We Entreat, But We Do Not Fight. The Arians, having few friends among the people, kept themselves within doors. A notary coming to the bishop from the emperor, asked him, whether he intended to usurp the empire? " I have an empire, says he, it is true, but it lies in weakness, according to that saying of the Apostle, 'when I am weak, then am I strong.' Even Maximus will clear me of this charge, since he will confess, it was through my embassy he was kept from the invasion of Italy." Wearied and overcome at length with his resolution, the court, who meant to obtain his consent, rather than to exercise violence, ordered the guards to leave the church, where the bishop had lodged all night; the soldiers having guarded it so close, that none had been suffered to go out; and ttie people confined there having spent their time in singing psalms. The sums exacted of the tradesmen also were restored. Teace was made for the present, though Ambrose had still reason to fear for himself, and expressed his desire, in the epistle which he wrote to his sister Marcellma, that God would defend his church, and let its enemies rather satiate their rage with his blood *.
The spirit of devotion was kept up all this time among the people, and Ambrose was indefatigable both in praying and preaching. Being called on by the people to consecrate a new church, he told them, that he would, if he could find any relics of martyrs there. Let us not make the superstition of these times greater than it was. It was lamentably great; enough to stain the piety with which it was mixed. We are told, that it had been revealed to him in a vision at night, in what place he might find the relics. But in the epistle which he writes on the subject, he says no such thing. He describes, however, the finding of the bodies of two martyrs, Protasius and Gervasius, the supposed miracles wrought on the occasion, the ded ication of the church, the triumph of the orthodox, and the confusion of Arianism. Ambrose himself too much encouraged all this, and in a language which favoured the introduction of other intercessors besides the Lord Jesus Christ, whom yet it is evident he supremely loved, and trusted in for salvation. In all this, the candid and intelligent reader will see the conflict between godliness and superstition maintained in the church of Milan, both existing in some vigour, and each at present checking the growth of the other f.
The news of Maximus's intention to invade Italy arriving at this time, threw the court of Milan into the greatest trepidation. Again Justina implored the bishop to undertake an embassy to the usurper, * Epis. 33- t K>. 85.
n.e tyrant which he cheerfully undertook, and executed with d'f"'"TM &reat fortitude ; but it was not in his power to stop and kiiitd the progress of the enemy. Theodosius, who reigned by Theodo- m jne £ast, coming at length to the assistance of A' D Valentinian, put an end to the usurpation and the 283, life of Maximus. By his means, the young emperor was induced to forsake his mother's principles, and in form at least to embrace those of Ambrose. Whether he was ever truly converted to God, is not so clear. That he was reconciled to Ambrose, Kndsnforian an(l loved him highly, is certain: and in the year Ambrose to 392, in which he lost his life by a second usurpation AD* m West, he sent for Ambrose to come to baptize _' ' him. The bishop in his journey heard of his death, with which he was deeply affected, and wrote to Theodosius* concerning him with all the marks of sorrow, and composed a funeral oration in his praise. The rhetorical spirit usually exaggerates on these occasions; but it is inconsistent with the unquestionable integrity of Ambrose to suppose, that he did not believe the real conversion of his royal pupil. The oration itself is by no means worthy of Ambrose; the taste is vicious and affected. Indeed panegyric, when it has not an object of magnitude sufficient to fill the mind, is ever frigid and grovelling, because it is continually affecting the sublime, but has not materials to support it with dignity.