web counter








AD 385-386.


Meanwhile Justina, who had by this time forgotten, or learnt to undervalue, the loyal services of Ambrose when Maximus was threatening captivity and ruin, began again to display openly her enmity to him and his faith. She demanded that one of the churches in Milan should be surrendered for the use of the Arians. To grant this would have been not to make a charitable concession to the weakness of well-meaning and ignorant brethren, but to give up the authority of the great Council of Nicaea, and of that second Council at Constantinople which had reaffirmed its decisions. It would have been to allow by implication that the point at issue between Arius and Athanasius was of trifling importance, and not of the essence of Christianity. To yield up to the teachers of a half-Christian half-philosophical religionism the buildings so lately won for the preachers of Evangelical truth would have been not a laudable charity, but a culpable indiscretion, if not a surrender of a sacred trust. Valentinian’s neglect to remove a heathen altar from the Senate-house had been construed into a tacit admission of the possible truth of the old religion of the land; what inferences would be drawn from a concession such as Justina required? Ambrose felt, and all the Catholics felt with him, that the demand must be resisted to the death.

The greater part of what we know of the ensuing events we learn from a letter of Ambrose to his sister Marcellina.

It was now the fifth week in Lent, 385, and it seems to have been the object of the empress to make Easter a day of triumph over the Catholics. A definite demand was made on her part, in the name of her son the emperor, for the Portian basilica, or church, outside the city walls (now called by the name of St. Victor). Subsequently the “new” church, within the walls, a larger and more convenient structure (now known as St. Nazaro Maggiore), was asked for, though this latter claim does not seem to have been pressed. The demand was made by officers of state, purporting to act for the emperor; but Ambrose replied that God’s priest could not surrender God’s temple.

On Palm Sunday the bishop had completed the earlier duties in the “old” church, and was proceeding with the Communion service, when news was brought that the Portian church had been seized, and that the state curtains, surrounding the place of honor occupied by the imperial family, had been placed there as a sign of its being in the possession of Justina; that the people were flocking to the place, and had laid hold of Castulus, an Arian presbyter, to whom they were not unlikely to do violence. Much shocked at this, he interrupted the sacred office by sending some clergy to rescue the man, and by a private prayer that no blood—save his own, if that were needful—might be shed.

Severe punishments, both by way of fine and imprisonment, were inflicted on a number of wealthy tradesmen who had taken part in the tumult, or were accused of so doing. They all professed themselves ready to suffer twice as much for their Church. The people about the court were enjoined not to appear in public, and such threats were used that a terrible persecution seemed near at hand. Again Ambrose was asked to surrender the church : again he refused. “It is not mine to give—all that is mine belongs to the poor. It is not the emperor’s, for it belongs to God”.

Troops were sent under arms to occupy the church; and it seems as if from the first the fidelity of the orthodox soldiers to their heretical mistress was more than suspected, since a contingent of Goths, who were Arians, formed part of the detachment. Ambrose passed the whole of one day, apparently Tuesday in Holy Week, in the church, dreading lest blood should be shed, so strong was the feeling of the people. At night he went home to rest, but returned to his post on the Wednesday before sunrise. He found the church surrounded with soldiers, but their behavior was quiet, and many of them made no secret of their attachment to him and the Catholic cause. The service of the day had commenced, when he learnt that another church, the “new basilica”, was filled with people, who implored him to come to them. He remained, however, where he was, and preached.

The lessons of the day were from the Book of Job, and he took occasion to speak of the Christian virtues of faith and patience, commending the people for their gentleness, so like that of Job, and their faithful reply to the imperial menaces and censures: “We do not fight, your Majesty, and we do not fear, we only make our prayer”. Then he showed how the trials that beset Job had been permitted to come upon him their pastor; the tempter had endeavored to rob him of his spiritual heritage and his spiritual children. Last of all, in the spirit of that famous sermon which John Chrysostom preached some eighteen years later against an empress, he inveighed against Justina in a way which scarcely commends itself to our taste. “All the worst trials that have assailed God’s people have come through women. Job’s wife tempted him, saying, 'Curse God and die', and a woman now bids me, 'Give up the altar of God'. So Eve led Adam astray, Jezebel persecuted Elijah, and Herodias compassed the death of John the Baptist”.

As the sermon proceeded, it was announced to him (though, as it turned out, without foundation) that the imperial curtains had been removed from the Portian church, a token of yielding on the part of his opponents. “How wonderful”, he burst out, “are the dealings of God! We have this day sung in the Psalms 'O God, the heathen are come into Thine inheritance'. Heathen and Goths, and men of many a tribe and race, have come into Thine inheritance, and seized on Thy temple. But many of them have remained there : many of those who came to invade the inheritance have been made with us the heirs of God; 'there brake He the arrows of the bow, the shield, the sword, and the battle”. He was pressed to go to one of the other churches, but he still declined; he sent, however, some presbyters to the Portian church, imagining that the emperor had withdrawn his mother’s claim. But he was disappointed to find himself shortly after taken to task by a messenger from the palace, who taxed him with tyranny. “I would not go myself to the church”, was his reply, “but I sent my presbyters, because I believed that the emperor had at last come round to our side. As to priestly tyranny, all that I am guilty of is expressed in the words, 'When I am weak, then am I strong'. The ministers of God have often endured, but never practiced, tyranny”.


That night was passed in the church, for egress was prevented by the soldiers. Like St. Paul in prison, the brethren spent their time in reciting psalms and hymns. Next morning (Maundy Thursday) Ambrose preached on the effects of penitence, from the book of Jonah, which was read in the lessons for the day. He had scarcely concluded when the welcome news came that the soldiers were withdrawn from the churches, and the sentences passed a few days before remitted. The people, soldiers and civilians alike, testified their joy in the most lively manner. At least that Easter was to be spent in peace, though Ambrose foresaw troubles yet to come. One of the ushers of the court, Calligonus, sent him an insolent message, threatening to cut off his head for opposing the emperor. Ambrose’s reply shows how little he cared for these and similar menaces : he considered them, Theodoret says, as mere bugbears to frighten children with : “I hope you may be able to carry out your threat. I will suffer like a bishop, and you may act the part of an usher”.

He was right in supposing that the question was not yet settled. The apparent triumph of the orthodox only incensed Justina the more, just as their victory at Sirmium had done five years before. In 386 she extorted from Valentinian an edict to the effect that the Arians should be legally recognised, and, as a necessary consequence, be permitted to occupy some at least of the churches; and that it should be a capital offence to presume to oppose them, either publicly, or by presenting petitions against them. The prime mover in this matter, and no doubt the chief adviser of Justina, was a man of indifferent character and savage disposition, a Scythian by birth, named Auxentius. He was recognised by the Arians of Milan as their bishop, but for convenience, and to avoid unpopularity with the Catholics, had ceased to call himself Auxentius, since that name brought with it the recollection of the Arian predecessor of Ambrose, and adopted the name Mercurinus. The usual instructions for drawing out the edict were placed in the hands of the chief secretary, Benevolus, who, though not yet baptized, was an orthodox catechumen. He expressed unwillingness to prepare such a document, and was forthwith deprived of his office, and compelled to retire from Milan to Brescia, while a more accommodating minister was put into his place.

The empress and her adviser also induced the young emperor to send Dalmatius, one of his officers, to Ambrose, desiring him either to quit the city, or consent to meet Auxentius and dispute with him in the imperial consistory before a certain number of arbitrators or jurymen (judices) to be chosen by the two disputants. He declined to accept either alternative, and on being termed “contumacious” by Dalmatius, addressed a respectful, but firm and dignified, remonstrance to the emperor himself. “It was distinctly laid down as a principle”, he said, “by your august father, Valentinian I, that in matters of faith and ecclesiastical order, priests should be tried by priests. Are the laity to assume the right of judging bishops? Will your Clemency take upon yourself to do what your father deliberately asserted to be beyond his authority when he said : ‘It is not mine to judge between bishops’?”. And here he reminded the emperor that, being still unbaptized, he could hardly claim to pronounce sentence respecting a faith which had not yet been fully imparted to him. As to the disputation with Auxentius, whom he himself did not recognize as a bishop, he respectfully refused to hold any; first, because he had no confidence in the persons whom he proposed to appoint as his arbitrators—the emperor had excused himself from giving their names; they might be—indeed there was every reason to believe that some of them really were—heathens or Jews : next, because the people, as far as they were concerned, had already decided the matter when they chose him (Ambrose) to be their bishop : and thirdly, because such a dispute would in effect be inconsistent with the new law, which forbad any opposition being offered to the Arians. If Auxentius chose to appeal to a synod, he would be there in his place as Bishop of Milan, but he did not feel it consistent with the dignity of his sacred office to appear before the emperor’s consistory; he had once, indeed, appeared before such a tribunal, but that was as an envoy on the emperor’s behalf (it was when he went to treat with Maximus); he could not consent to undergo a trial before him. And he was determined not to leave the city. In past time he was always to be found, and could easily have been dismissed; to retire now would be in effect to abandon his flock, and to surrender his charge.

“Could I be sure that my church would not be handed over to the Arians, I would gladly place myself at the disposal of your Piety; but if I alone am in your way, how is it that not my church only, but all others, are threatened with aggression?”

Such was the spirited reply which Valentinian, or rather Justina, received to the demand conveyed to the intrepid bishop. Meanwhile, precautions had been taken by the Catholics to prevent the occupation of any of the sacred buildings by the Arians without the employment of force. By the direction of their pastors the people assembled in the churches, and remained in them all day and all night, relieving one another, of course, in turn, and passing the time in the recitation of psalms and the singing of hymns. Some of the latter were from the pen of Ambrose himself, and were objected to as “deceiving” the people, they spoke so distinctly of the ever-blessed Trinity in Unity. We may presume the well-known Eterna Christi munera” with its bold ring and its distinct Trinitarian doctrine, to have been one of them.


The mode adopted in reciting the Psalms was that which we term antiphonal, or alternating from side to side. This mode was copied from the practice of the Eastern Church. It was the fashion among the Jews; we find a trace of responsory chanting in Exod. XV. 21,— “Miriam answered them”, where the original language shows that “them” (masculine) refers to the men who had just uttered their choral song; and in 1 Sam. XVIII. 7, the women “answered” one another as the) played; and we gather from Ezra III. 11, and Nehem. XII. 40, that it became the settled order in the second Temple. The Eastern Christians no doubt learnt this mode of reciting the Psalter from the Jewish ritual, and Ambrose, as prelate of a Church which seems to have had closer connection with Greece than other Western churches, very naturally at this conjuncture adopted the Oriental use, which continued in after-times to be that of the Church of Milan. The Milanese ritual still retains some of its original peculiarities : the general practice of antiphonal chanting has spread from northern Italy over the whole of the West.

Ambrose not only taught his flock at this time to chant the Psalms, but also instructed them from the Psalter. It is most probable that his remarks on the CXIXth Psalm were sermons delivered during this period of trouble.

The occupants of the churches, though not actually imprisoned within them, were kept in some sort of restraint by a cordon of armed men thrown round each building; and some alarm having been caused by a rumor or a fancy that these guards were likely to proceed to violence, and still more by the report that their bishop was about to comply with the Imperial request, and leave the city (an attempt to arrest him they had already defeated by a demonstration of force), Ambrose took occasion at once to calm their anxiety and to exhort them to firmness by a sermon which he addressed to them on a day, probably Palm-Sunday, when one of the New Testament lessons told of our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem, and one of those from the Old Testament was the very appropriate passage containing the account of Ahab’s dealing with Naboth of Jezreel. “I am not intending to desert you”, he said; “it is my custom to show all due deference to a secular emperor, but, in such a case as the present, not to surrender. I fear neither threats nor sufferings; they are but temptations from the Evil One; and the Lord, who 'hath need' of us, as He had of the creature we have just read of in the lesson, will help us not to give way. Remember how Elisha’s servant, when his eyes were opened, saw the troops of angels round himself and his master; remember how the angel was sent to St. Peter in the prison. But our lot may be to suffer.” And here the preacher adds that apocryphal story of St. Peter’s last hours at Rome, so familiar to us from the striking picture of Caracci.

After his triumph over Simon Magus, Peter excited the jealousy of the heathen by his preaching, and was entreated by the Christians to withdraw from the city for a time, lest he should be seized and taken from them. He left Rome accordingly by night. Scarcely had he emerged from the city gate when he saw the Lord coming to meet him.    Astonished, he asked, as he had once asked before, “Lord, whither goest Thou?” (Domine, quo vadis?) “I am coming”, said the Divine Master, “to be crucified again”. Peter knew that Christ could not suffer again, for in that He died, He died unto sin once, but in that He liveth, He liveth unto God. He felt that the second crucifixion must be not in His Own Person, but in the person of His servant, and forthwith returned to Rome, to glorify the Lord Jesus by his own death on the cross. So too, it may be, the Lord requires us to suffer with Him. Come what may, our answer to the demand of Auxentius will be that of Naboth in our lesson today, 'The Lord forbid it me that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee', the inheritance of Dionysius, Eustorgius, Myrocles, and all the confessors and martyrs who have preceded me here. How well, too, the other lesson of today suits us in our present condition! The Jews, we read, would have bid the Lord silence the children who were uttering His praises; and He would not, but went on, and cast the worldly out of the House of God. So when we utter the praises of Christ, our heretical opponents are wroth, and threaten us with pains and death : worse than the Gadarenes who could not bear the presence of Christ, these men are furious even against His praises. Put Auxentius and his crew, who would drive out the faithful with the sword, shall feel, not the sword indeed, but the scourge of the Lord. You, brethren, know the truth that Christ is God, and will maintain it against the vile synod of Ariminum that pronounced Him a creature, and against the Arians, who are for rendering unto Caesar not the tribute due to him, which we are ready to pay to the full, but the houses of God. A faithful emperor is a son of the Church, but he is not lord over her.

With such unshaken firmness on the part of bishop and people, it is not surprising that the Imperial party perceived themselves to be in a weak minority, and gave way. The Catholics, too, met with support from an unexpected and influential quarter, such as we may imagine they did not care for, and in a form they would be disposed to deprecate. But it probably had a great effect, nevertheless.

The emperor Maximus, the usurping emperor, if that term may be employed where there is no constitution and no rule of succession, intimated to Valentinian his strong disapproval of the measures taken against Ambrose, and the manner in which he was being treated, recommending the emperor to follow the example and abide by the faith of his father; and hinted that unless matters in this respect were altered for the better, he himself might find it necessary to march upon Milan.

As we might expect, the persecution of the orthodox, and of Ambrose in particular, came to a sudden termination. The action of Maximus was not entirely disinterested; he wanted a cause of complaint and a pretext for war, and was guided by motives of policy quite as much as by a keen sense of justice; but one conceives a certain respect for him, not merely as having been (whether sincerely or not) a champion of the true faith, but as having been able to see the greatness of Ambrose’s character, and as having had the magnanimity to espouse the cause of one who had so freely pleaded with him and so dauntlessly withstood him.



AD 386-387


The reverence with which Ambrose was regarded was soon after enhanced by a circumstance which was considered at the time as a proof of Divine favor,—the discovery of the bodies of the martyrs Gervasius and Protasius. He had been requested to consecrate a new church in the same manner as one which he had not long before solemnly dedicated—the “Roman basilica”, as it was called, from being situated near the Roman gate of Milan. “To do this”, he said, “I must find the remains of martyrs”; for the prevailing custom then was to build churches, if possible, over the tombs of those who had died for the faith, or else, when they were built, to hallow them by placing some martyr’s earthly frame to rest within them.

Search had to be made, nor did it seem likely to be rewarded, for Mediolanum had not been fruitful in martyrs. The bishop was led to desire an excavation to be made in front of the chancel of the church of SS. Felix and Nabor, otherwise called St. Philip’s. It is still in existence, though not used as a place of worship. There were found the remains of two tall men, the skeletons quite complete, surrounded by a quantity of blood. A corrupt practice had arisen, which later ages have only too faithfully copied, of breaking up such relics into fragments, carrying them about, and disposing of them for money; and a law against so doing was enacted by Theodosius in this very year. These bodies were not so treated: they were carefully embalmed and preserved entire, and were conveyed for the night to the church of Fausta (now the chapel of St. Satyrus). There they were watched, and the next day transferred to the new church, close at hand, which was called by the name of Ambrose himself. As they passed, a blind man received his sight.

Such is the account given by Ambrose in a letter to his sister Marcellina. The main points are repeated by St. Augustine, who adds what Ambrose himself stated in two sermons, of which he gives his sister a sketch, that many cures were effected and many evil spirits cast out by the instrumentality of the holy martyrs.

The bodies were identified as those of Gervasius and Protasius, two Milanese, who had suffered three centuries before, in the time of Nero or Domitian. Their place of burial had been forgotten, till the discovery of their remains brought it to the recollection of some old people, who remembered having heard their names and read the inscription on their tomb.

The Arian party denied the bodies to be those of martyrs at all, and derided the idea of miraculous cures, accusing the bishop of having hired men to personate demoniacs and to feign themselves to have been healed of diseases. Ambrose, however, writes apparently with the most perfect sincerity and good faith; Augustine and Paulinus evidently believed most implicitly in the truth of the whole story. The latter is no doubt a credulous writer : the life, or rather the memoir, of Ambrose, which we have under his name, contains a number of marvels, which are due to a loving but decidedly uncritical imagination. In this case, however, he expresses himself as if from personal knowledge. The man who received his sight was named, he tells us, Severus, and was often seen by him in later times as a constant worshipper in the Ambrosian church. He says he was cured on touch­ing the dress of the martyrs. Augustine, who writes as an eyewitness, tells us that the man was well known to all the citizens, and that he recovered his sight on applying to his eyes a handkerchief with which he had been permitted to touch the bier on which the holy relics lay.

The affectionate interest with which the early Church regarded the earthly remains of holy men, and especially of martyrs, is scarcely intelligible to us : we identify it with the thick crust of error which has grown up in the Roman Church around the doctrine of the communion of saints and the state of the departed. We shrink from a history which, thanks to papal perversion of the truth, seems to introduce us to a superstitious, if not idolatrous, veneration of a decaying creature. But what seems idolatry and superstition in the nineteenth century, after the false teachings of the thirteenth and the reaction of the sixteenth, was not necessarily such in the fourth, any more than the free expressions of an Ante-Nicene writer about the Son of God prove him to have held the doctrine of Arius.

 We are, moreover, naturally reluctant to give credence to accounts of post-apostolic miracles. They are not needed by us, says St. Chrysostom, nor ought we to be grieved that we do not see them : they were given for those that did not believe. So we habitually reject each story as a whole, instead of criticizing the alleged miracle as such. In this case so distinct are the expressions of Ambrose and his disciples, that we cannot imagine them to have been simply mistaken, still less to have been deceived by a series of cleverly-arranged tricks; and we are forced either to admit that things did happen much as they describe, or else to believe, with the Arians and Gibbon, that the great bishop of Milan was guilty of an impious fraud; that he not only wrote to his sister, but also in solemn words, and in the name of his Master, asseverated, in a consecrated place, and before a company of Christians, what he and many of them knew to be an absolute falsehood; and that he either deceived those whom he taught, or persuaded them to conspire with him in bearing testimony to the lie which he had devised.

Whether we consider the occurrence to have been really miraculous or not, is quite another question. Without pronouncing decisively for or against the credibility of miracles later than AD 100, we may at least suggest that we have here the account of some exceptional phenomena, unscientifically given. Those who think it more likely that a Christian bishop should, with the connivance and approbation of other Christians, invent, solemnly assert, and propagate, a wicked untruth, than that cures apparently miraculous should have been wrought as described, will of course reject the whole tale; while those who admire the straightforward honesty of Augustine’s treatise De Mendacio will be disposed to think that he at least believed, and felt assured that the teacher whom he so revered believed also, what they have both recorded: and that they, and Christian people generally, did actually look upon what happened as a testimony from above in favor of the martyrs, and, inferentially, in favor of the Catholic doctrine.

The Paschal tide both of 385 and 3S6 had been a time of alarm and disquiet for Ambrose. That of the next year (397) was marked by a very different event—the baptism of his spiritual scholar Augustine, with his son Adeodatus, and his friend Alypius. Tradition, which has been over-busy with the lives of the saints, converting legend into history till history is mistaken for legend, has introduced here a story we could well wish it were possible to believe—that the glorious “Te Deum” was composed by bishop and neophyte in a burst of ecstasy immediately after the performance of the sacred rite, and chanted alternately by them as they returned from the baptistery to their places in the church. But it cannot have been. It is interesting that Augustine mentions the effect produced on him by the church music which Ambrose had introduced the year before; and there is very little doubt, also, that it is to the period of preparation of the catechumens of this year that we must refer, besides other treatises, the short but weighty exposition of the doctrine of the two sacraments which we know by the title “On the Mysteries”.

It was not long after this that Ambrose was once more called upon to appear in the character of a statesman. Maximus, who had for the past three years been observing with tolerable fidelity the compact made with the Emperors Theodosius and Valentinian after Gratian’s death, repeated the intimation, which he had not long before given under the pretext of espousing the cause of Ambrose and orthodoxy, of an intention to enter Italy and take the government of the West into his own hands. Ambrose was dispatched, as he had been in 383, to endeavor to prevent the invasion. He expected a private audience, as a mark of respect at once to his imperial master’s rank and his own episcopal dignity. This being refused him, he declined to accept the salutation offered him by the would-be emperor, complaining of the discourtesy which had compelled him to transact his business in the public consistory. Maximus, in his turn, complained bitterly of him as having, in conjunction with Bauto (a Frank general in the Roman service, who had been consul in 385, and whose daughter was the well-known Eudoxia, wife of Arcadius, and persecutor of St. Chrysostom), deceived him, and prevented his pushing his first success. Ambrose calmly pointed out that this charge was futile; that he had been guilty of no deception, and that all he, and Bauto too, had done, was loyally to defend the interests of the youthful emperor who had been entrusted to their guardianship. He also renewed his petition for the delivery of the body of Gratian; and finally made an emphatic protest against the cruel treatment of the Priscillianists, refusing to hold communion with Ithacius, Idacius, and the other bishops who had procured the capital punishment of Priscillian. Though he had grievously erred from the faith, his error did not justify the torture and death of himself and his misguided followers.


The diplomacy of Ambrose was this time unsuccessful. Abruptly dismissed, he forthwith quitted Treves, where the interview had taken place, and returned to Milan, where he warned the young emperor not to trust the usurper, but to exercise the utmost circumspection in dealing with him. Valentinian, however, thought that another might succeed where the bishop had failed, and sent a second embassy in the person of Domninus, a man of Syrian extraction and one of his officers. This man was, with flattery and presents, easily cajoled by Maximus, who persuaded him that he (Maximus) was likely to prove a good friend to the emperor, and actually induced him to take some troops back with him, under pretence of giving aid against a barbarian raid on Pannonia. The envoy, instead of checking, really facilitated the passage of the Alps; and so completely had the plans of the invader been organized, that an army followed hard upon his footsteps, and appeared un­expectedly before the walls of Milan.

Justina had obstinacy enough to defend a heresy and to persecute an orthodox prelate, but not sufficient nerve or courage to confront an invader and fight for an empire. On the appearance of the army from Gaul, she and Valentinian withdrew to Aquileia.

Even this retreat did not seem secure. Embarking at one of the ports of Istria, they sailed through the Adriatic, and rounding the shores of Greece, ultimately reached Thessalonica, one of the principal seaports of the Eastern Empire. The flight of the emperor and his mother seemed to absolve his subjects from their allegiance, and at all events put an end to that personal bond of union between governor and governed which is so powerful in preserving an hereditary monarchy, and so indispensable to an elective empire. The Westerns submitted to Maximus without a struggle. But a terrible time followed. Piacenza, Modena, Bologna, and not a few other towns and cities were taken, spoiled, and partly overthrown, and many of their inhabitants made captive. Ever active in doing good, Ambrose exerted himself to procure means of ransom for these miserable sufferers, and even went so far as to break up and sell the sacred vessels of the churches to procure the necessary funds. This proceeding was made the ground of strong objection to him by the Arian party, but defended by his friends, and notably by Augustine.

Maximus, meanwhile, endeavored to get the Bishop of Rome on his side, and accordingly wrote Siricius, who had succeeded Damasus in 384, a letter, in which he professed the utmost respect for him and his clergy and a deep attachment to the Catholic faith. But that prelate was as wise as Ambrose, and possibly had had the benefit of his counsel. Maximus did not gain him as an adherent; and a decree was shortly afterwards issued restoring the idols which had been removed by the late emperor: the invader, having failed to secure the Catholics, made a bid for the heathen.

The capture of Milan was the last event of magnitude in the life of Justina. Worn out by the fatigues of her flight, or broken down by disappointment and shame, or overcome by exasperation at knowing that Ambrose had escaped her, and was thenceforth to be a power in Milan, she breathed her last in the middle of the next year (388); whether in exile or not is uncertain, but probably in her own home. Ambrose was freed from an implacable foe, the Church from a powerful protector of heresy, and the evil genius of her son and of the Western Empire was no more.



AD 388.

THERE could be no doubt of the policy which it behoved Theodosius to adopt. The weakness and confusion in which he found his empire in 379, and from which it had not recovered in 383, rendered it then expedient for him to temporize : the strength and order to which he had now brought his dominions made it not only possible but necessary for him to offer a vigorous and decided resistance to the invader of the West.

The same ambition which had led Maximus to move from Treves to Milan, would, if he were not checked and forced to retire, lead him in a few years to push on still further in the same direction : and it would be better to forestall such a movement, and to remove the possibility, rather than have to combat the actuality, of an eastern invasion. Moreover it was an admirable opportunity for satisfying the warlike longings of those barbarian subjects of the Empire who had come from the north of the Danube, and though settled, and as yet tolerably tranquil, were still but half-tamed. To employ their energies in a way congenial to their tastes, and at the same time to lessen their number, was both a safe and a politic measure. And honor and justice led in the same direction. The son of that Valentinian to whom he owed his early advancement, the brother of that Gratian who conferred on him the Imperial dignity, was now a fugitive and a suppliant within his dominions. Could he with honor refuse him the counsel and aid he sought, and stand by and see him dethroned without a single word or blow in his favor?

If we could find that Ambrose at this period had paid a visit to the East, or had written to Theodosius, we might well imagine that the voice which had twice pleaded for Valentinian with the usurper had not been silent before a duly-recognised emperor, and that the Bishop of Milan had urged on the ruler of the East the imperative duty of defending, and the shamefulness of deserting, his youthful colleague. Ambrose, however, though he appears to have quitted Milan, and found himself secure in that Aquileia which was not a sufficiently safe refuge for the lying empress and her son, does not seem to have gone any farther eastward. His retirement was necessary, owing to the confusion and tumult inseparable from the occupation of a city by troops, even though they were received as friends by the populace, who rather acquiesced in than desired their presence. The bishop himself had in fact nothing to fear, even had he been a man who feared anything : for Maximus was on the side of the orthodox, and, as we have seen, though passionate and ambitious, was powerfully impressed in his favor. Some men under such circumstances might have been induced to take the part of one who was at least a de facto sovereign and a probable friend. But Ambrose had tact enough, as a statesman, to see that his was not the winning side : and still more, as a Christian, could not, whatever he might gain by it, entertain the idea of deserting the cause of one who seemed to have been confided to his care.

To the policy and the sense of honor, each of which by itself would have been sufficient to determine Theodosius in his line of action, a third motive was subsequently added. He was a widower : his beloved and saintly wife, Flaccilla (or Placilla, or Placida, for we meet with all three forms of the name) had died in 385, about a year after giving birth to his second son, Honorius. The princess Galla, one of the three daughters of Justina, made an impression on him, which, mainly through the adroitness of her scheming mother, resulted in her becoming his second wife : and so to the other claims which Valentinian had upon him was superadded that of a brother-in-law.

The envoys whom Maximus had sent to treat with him were dismissed with an indecisive answer, for he was not the man to throw away an opportunity by premature disclosures. He made ready secretly, as Maximus himself had done, and when all was ripe for action marched suddenly upon the invader, stimulated and assured of success by an Egyptian ascetic named John, in whom he had great confidence. He took the road to Milan : but all was decided before he reached that city. The troops of Maximus encountered him (August 27) in Pannonia, at Sissek, on the banks of the Save, and again at Pettau, on the Drave, and were almost annihilated : their master fled to Aquileia, while the wretched assassin Andragathias, who was now commander of the fleet, and had hoped to become the favored and confidential minister of a powerful potentate, flung himself despairing into the river. The people, who had so readily given up Valentinian for Maximus, were just as ready to surrender their new lord; and Ambrose, the loyal friend of the two emperors, was (probably) there, and, we may be sure, did not plead the cause of the vanquished leader, who found himself compelled to fly, and fell into the hands of the conqueror. He begged to be allowed to live and become his lieutenant or dependent; and for a while Theodosius seemed inclined to spare, if not to employ him, but the remembrance of Gratian was enough to extinguish any lingering disposition to mercy, and Maximus was surrendered to the soldiery, who lost no time in putting him to death. That his followers were treated with the utmost clemency was due mainly to the entreaties of Ambrose. The victor with his army entered Milan in triumph, where he passed the winter, and employed himself in restoring order to the recovered dominions of his youthful brother-in-law and colleague; one of his first measures being to rescind the order for the restoration of idols.

He soon found himself brought into collision with the bishop, who had now returned to his own city, and was as bold and determined in maintaining what he conceived to be the interests of the Church against an orthodox and victorious emperor, as he had been when contending for the rights of the orthodox with an heretical and weak-minded empress. In this particular instance, while we admire his frankness, we cannot but feel that, according to the rules of justice and charity, right was with the instincts of the emperor, whom he opposed and finally over-persuaded.

The Christians in a small town called Fort Callinicus, at no great distance from Aquileia, had, probably during the time of anarchy which must have succeeded the flight of Valentinian, in an outburst of fanaticism burnt a Jewish synagogue which had been erected in the town; and about the same time cer­tain monks in the same place had destroyed a chapel belonging to the Gnostic sect known by the name of Valentinians. The injured parties appealed to the emperor Theodosius, who forthwith ordered that the bishop of the town where the outrage had taken place, who was charged with having instigated it, should see that the synagogue was properly rebuilt; and added that the monks should be punished for what they had done in the matter of the chapel. With our tolerant habits and different modes of thought, we can scarcely understand the commission of the offence, but, supposing it committed, are inclined to consider the Imperial decree to have been most equitable, if not too lenient to the offenders.

We can agree with Ambrose in his refusal to surrender churches to the Arians; we cannot understand his taking the part of the rioters of Fort Callinicus. We should applaud a prelate who declined to allow a church in his diocese to be given up for Unitarian worship; but we can hardly imagine the bishop of a country city—say Ely or Bangor—recommending the forcible demolition of a synagogue or a Mormonite meeting-house; or, supposing for a moment his lordship to have been so inconceivably and ridiculously intolerant as to procure such a breach of the peace, we should scarcely expert the archbishop of his province to denounce the natural proposal that he should replace the ruined edifice. But things were different fifteen centuries ago, and in Italy Ambrose endeavored to obtain a modification of the emperor’s order, and finding his proceedings of no avail, addressed a letter of remonstrance to him.

It begins with an apology for doing what he felt to be his duty in expostulating, and a not undeserved commendation of the fairness and kindness of Theodosius. The writer then goes on to express his entire approval of the action of the bishop, and to avow himself ready to take on himself the responsibility of the deed, in terms which almost make it seem as if he had really had some share in it. To make a Christian bishop, he argues, replace a building in which Christ is denied, or to punish people for destroying a virtually heathen conventicle, where the thirty-two eons of the system of Valentinus are adored, would be to play the part of a second Julian, and to let Jews triumph over God’s Church; the synagogue so built might bear the inscription, “Temple of Impiety, erected out of the spoils of Christians”.

To the argument that setting a house on fire must be always punishable, whatever the character of the house, he dexterously opposes the fact, that not only had no notice been taken of the burning in past years of the houses of several of the prefects at Rome, but that a short time before, when the house of Nectarius, bishop of Constantinople, had been burnt in an Arian riot, Theodosius had been induced by his son Arcadius to overlook what had happened. Finally, he adds, alluding skillfully to the late victory gained by the person he is addressing, the majority of Christians at Rome had prophesied the fall of Maximus because he had published an edict in favor of the Jews under somewhat similar circumstances after the burning of a synagogue at Rome.

The letter is remarkable, as showing the feelings then entertained towards the ancient people of God. To the contempt and aversion felt for them by the Italians, apart from all religious considerations,—a sentiment of which we find abundant proof, for instance, in the Satires of Juvenal, to mention no other writer,—there was added the utter detestation and loathing which every Christian thought it his duty to entertain and express, as though each unfortunate Israelite were personally chargeable with and responsible for the murder of the Prince of Peace; that scorn and hatred which in later times marked out the Jewry and the Ghetto, and produced and won belief for the story of Hugh of Lincoln, and such-like tales of horror and profanation. It is strange to us to find such sentiments not only held and avowed, but gloried in, by a man like Ambrose.

Not satisfied with sending his letter, he took a still more decisive step. A few days after, the emperor, as usual, attended church, and the bishop took occasion to preach a sermon, of which he gives an account, as we saw he did of some previous discourses, in a letter to his sister. The Old Testament lesson of the day was Numb, XVII., the account of Aaron’s rod that budded; and the preacher deduced from it the priestly duty of rebuking and power of censure. The New-Testament lesson was from St. Luke VII., the story of the forgiven sinner in the house of Simon the Pharisee. “The Church”, he went on to say, “has tears to wash the feet of Christ, and hairs to wipe them withal, ointment to pour on them, and kisses to imprint on them; the synagogue, like the proud Pharisee, has none”. Then turning to the emperor, he reminded him how many gifts God’s providence had bestowed on him, and bade him in return offer water and kisses and ointment to the Body of Christ.

The drift of the sermon was palpable, and not least so to the emperor himself. As Ambrose descended from the pulpit, he exclaimed, “So, my lord bishop, you have been preaching at me this morning!” The bishop was about to celebrate holy communion, but a little dialogue ensued here. Such conversational interludes are permitted in synagogues among us at the present day, but are considered so unseemly in our churches, even after service is over, much more in service time, that we read the story with some surprise. Ambrose replied, “I have not been preaching at you, but rather for your good”. “Well”, replied the emperor, “my order about the rebuilding of the synagogue by the bishop was a little too severe, but that has been rectified. As to the monks, they are guilty of many offences”. On this Timasius, one of the chief officers, who was standing by, began to express himself strongly against the monks, when Ambrose cut him short, telling him bluntly that he was talking to the emperor, not to him; the emperor he knew to be a God-fearing man, he would deal with him (Timasius) very differently. One would have thought that enough had now been said on either side, considering the sacredness of the place and time, and the rank of the two parties. But Ambrose still remained standing before the emperor. At last he said, “Give me some security with regard to your future action in the matter, that I may be able to make the oblation with a quiet mind”. The emperor nodded, but said nothing; and still the pertinacious prelate remained standing. “I will have the rescript amended”, said the emperor. But Ambrose replied that that would not do for him; the whole proceedings must be quashed, so that there might be no possibility of the Christians sustaining any injury. The emperor promised it should be so, but the bishop was not satisfied till he had heard the formula equivalent to “On my sacred word and honor”. These words were at last pro­nounced, and Ambrose proceeded to the holy table.

This was not the only rebuff that Theodosius received, and, to his great credit, received without resenting, at the hands of Ambrose during the early-part of his stay in Italy. He valued the man’s inflexibility in the discharge of what he felt to be his duty, and saw clearly that such a faithful and intrepid servant of his God and of his Church would be a loyal adherent to his emperor. Fidelity to the Church has been by some thought incompatible with loyalty to the State, so that one’s duty to God is best discharged by resisting the powers ordained of Him; and, conversely, stanch Churchmen have been held open to the charge of being disobedient subjects.

This was evidently not the view either of Theodosius or Ambrose.

It was the custom in Constantinople that the emperor, after making his offering at the holy table, remained with the clergy in the sanctuary. On a certain great festival (probably Christmas, 388) which occurred during his stay in Milan, Theodosius went up and made his offering, and having done so, remained, as he had been accustomed to do, where he was. But the archdeacon was soon sent to desire him to depart from the place assigned to clergy alone, and to show him a post of honor without, not within, the holy place. “The purple”, remarked the bishop, “makes princes, but not priests”. Ambrose’s admonition seems to have had a strong effect, for on his return to Constantinople more than three years later, Theodosius, being invited as usual to continue in the sanctuary, declined to do so, adding a strong expression of approval of the conduct of the Milanese prelate, who had taught him the difference between a prince and a minister of the Church.

The affair is by some placed two years later, and at th; time of the emperor's readmission to communion, but it more probably occurred at this time.



AD  389-390.

In the early spring of the year 389 the two emperors removed from Milan, and entered in triumph the ancient capital of the Roman Empire. Short work was made with those relics of heathenism which the tolerance or weakness of preceding Christian emperors had allowed to remain. Symmachus pleaded for the altar of Victory; but as he had not long before written a panegyric on Maximus, his advocacy rather damaged his cause. Statues of gods were thrown down, the pagan temples and chapels, said to amount to 424 in number, were closed, the privileges of the pontifices, flamines, and all the idolatrous hierarchy abolished, and the offering of sacrifices forbidden; a special commission was given to certain officers of rank to search out and seize all instruments of idolatry, and to confiscate all heathen endowments for the use of the emperor, the army, or the church. An appeal for their restoration, supported by not a few Christians, was made to Valentinian; but he absolutely refused to listen to it. An edict which followed in the next year was even more stringent in its character. Any one offering sacrifice, or divining by entrails, was declared guilty of high treason, and liable to capital punishment; the minor offence of using other pagan observances was forbidden under pain of forfeiture of the building where the rite was performed, or of a heavy fine.

While Theodosius was thus busily employed in sweeping away all traces of religion other than that of the Christian Church, the bishops were turning their attention to the internal condition of the Church, and waging war against heresy and heterodoxy, as the emperor was extirpating idolatry.

Jovinian, an Italian monk, a native either of Milan or Rome, and at one time an inmate of a monastery maintained at Milan by Ambrose, had broached certain opinions, which, though we should entirely agree with some of them, and consider others permissible, were by no means in accordance with the general feeling of the majority of Christians of the time. Those who contradict, with whatever truth, the current opinions of their own day, are often betrayed into maintaining, and still more often accused of maintaining, some directly erroneous propositions. Wiclif, and Luther, and Ridley, and Wesley, said and wrote things that might better have been left unsaid and unwritten; and were charged with saying and writing and doing much more, which in their hearts they utterly rejected and abhorred. Jovinian was no exception to the rule. Himself unmarried, and of abstemious, if not ascetic, habits, he held that celibacy and fasting were not in themselves meritorious, and that the married life was as holy as the unmarried; that all sins, as such, were equal in the sight  of God; and that all future rewards, as due only to the merits of Christ, would be equal also. To these propositions he added, or was said to have added, an indiscreet expression about the Virgin Mary, and the doctrine that one could not sin after baptism. For this he was styled a Manichaean, a blasphemer, a wolf howling in the fold of Christ. One does not see anything wolfish or blasphemous even in his erroneous theories; and as to Manichaeism, his depreciation of asceticism was opposed to Manichaean theory, certainly; though, according to Augustine, the practice of the Manichaeans of the time was inconsistent with their principles, being extremely lax and immoral.

Siricius, who had, as has been already mentioned, succeeded Damasus as Bishop of Rome five years before, held a synod of Roman clergy, which declared Jovinian’s teaching heretical, and excommunicated him, with eight of his followers. The accused, who had up to this time been living at Rome, then removed to Milan, where their opinions had been first published. The Bishop of Rome immediately sent three of his presbyters with a letter addressed to the Church of Milan, announcing the Roman decision and sentence. The letter, it may be observed, contains no trace whatever of any assertion of Papal authority. The Milanese clergy soon met in synod, and repeated the condemnation pronounced at Rome. The epistle sent to Siricius in reply to his own, salutes him as a brother (not as Vicar of Christ or Head of the Universal Church), examines and answers some of Jovinian’s teachings, and announces the excommunication of their author   and his adherents by an unanimous vote of the Milanese synod. The (so-called) heresy, Augustine remarks, was soon repressed, and became extinct, never having gone beyond the perversion of a few priests.


The organization of the West was a longer task than Theodosius had calculated on. Instead of being able to return to Constantinople within a few months from the death of Maximus, it was more than three years before he thought it safe—and even then he was mistaken—to entrust the reins of government to a mere youth like Valentinian, however promising, upright, and energetic. His absence from his own dominions was far from being without its effect. Personal rule requires that the personal presence of the ruler should be continually felt; his absence can hardly be compensated even by the ablest of lieutenants. The protracted stay of Theodosius in Rome and Milan was indirectly the cause of a terrible tragedy.

The people of Thessalonica, an important and populous seaport and metropolis of the province of Illyria, already well known to us as the refuge of Valentinian and Justina, were on bad terms with the magistrates of their city; but their ill-temper had for a time vented itself in words rather than deeds. Botheric, a Goth, the commander of the garrison, had, in the early part of 390, imprisoned for a gross offence one of the most popular charioteers of the circus. The devotion of the Thessalonians to the chariot-race was as entire as that of the people of Rome or Constantinople; and the populace on the day of the games lamented the absence of their favorite, and clamored for his release. Botheric was inflexible. Enraged by his stern refusal, and already fancying themselves to have grounds for dissatisfaction with the ruling powers, they burst into open rebellion, seized him and several of his officers, murdered them brutally, and dragged their corpses about the streets.

Tidings of the riot were brought to Milan. The Spanish blood of Theodosius was roused at the news, and he began to threaten the direst vengeance against the guilty city. But Ambrose was at his side, and succeeded in calming his excitement for the time, and obtaining from him a promise that the affair should be calmly and judicially dealt with. Unhappily, however, the bishop was required to preside at a synod which sat to repeat formally the solemn protest which he had already made before Maximus against the cruelty of Ithacius, bishop of Sossuba, towards the Priscillianist heretics. During his absence other counselors came to the emperor’s side. They roused his fiery temper by sensational accounts of the Thessalonian outrage, and argued that lenity would be misplaced and dangerous; it might be construed into a confession of weakness, and instead of exciting admiration of his calmness and justice, would only tend to inspire the disloyal and excitable people of the East with the hope of further impunity for still more grievous offences. In an evil moment—for it was the work of a short time—he yielded to the promptings of his own choleric disposition and his evil advisers, and sent orders that the people (assembled in the circus) should be put to the sword.

The decree, unfairly obtained, was treacherously executed. Not a word of the coming punishment was breathed in the doomed city. A fresh exhibition of games was announced, and, in order to make the number of victims as large as possible, the whole people were invited to witness it in the name of the emperor. Absence, it was hinted, would be considered as an intentional mark of disrespect. Anxious to stand well in his good graces after what had happened to incense him, the Thessalonians crowded to the circus. Botheric’s troops were ready : always greedy of blood, they now thirsted for vengeance also. The signal was given, and no games began, but a promiscuous massacre. Before the sun had set, seven thousand at least—some said more than double the number—of all ages, sexes, stations, and nationalities were lying silent in death; mown down, says Theodoret, like ears of corn at harvest-time. A counter order eventually arrived from the emperor. It put an end to the slaughter, but could not resuscitate the victims.

The dreadful news was communicated to Ambrose in a letter from Anysius, the successor of his sainted friend Ascholius in the bishopric of Thessalonica. It is a curious specimen of the rhetorical and inflated epistolary style then in vogue. After giving Ambrose to understand that a terrible blow had been struck at their happiness and prosperity, the good bishop goes on to entreat his kind offices with the emperor in favour of the afflicted city: “for certain abandoned and accursed men, tools of the devil, have torn her locks and brought the baldness of reproach on her  head. She who once was beautiful and well-favored, with joyous eyes like Rachel, is now tender-eyed, like Leah, with affliction; she who was of good address, is now covered with shame; she who was free of speech in joy, is now silent in disgrace; she who once sheltered strangers, is now stripped bare by strangers. And if Rachel now weeps at seeing all her children slain, it is said to her, 'How is the faithful city Zion become an harlot!' But she cries aloud to you, father, from afar, like the woman of Canaan; she falls down to you, as the woman with the issue of blood to the Saviour, desiring to touch the hem of your dignity : and who can be her helper but your Holiness? Guide the sacred ears of our lords to pity; exhort the pious, supplicate the compassionate, who under the seal of Christ have silenced the Western thunder of tyranny, that they may have mercy on those whom they have saved from the barbarians, that they may rescue the vessel now sinking with all her crew. Let not the devil, who raised the tumult, say, 'I have prevailed!' for even God disregarded not a disobedient and gainsaying people”.


Ambrose was overwhelmed with horror at the tragical tale, and confounded at the way in which the emperor had been cajoled into violating his promise; his dismay was shared by the bishops who were with him on the business of the synod. Theodosius was absent from Milan at the time when the news came, but returned a few days after, and in due course of time proceeded to the church at which he usually worshipped. He was met at the door by the indignant prelate, who addressed him in a speech preserved by Theodoret, which cannot he better exhibited than in the rendering of our own Hooker:— “Emperor, it seemeth that how great the slaughter is which thyself hast made thou weighest not; nor, as I think, when wrath was settled did reason ever call to account what thou hadst committed. Notwithstanding, know thou shouldst what our nature is, how frail a thing and how fading; and that the first original from whence we have all sprung was the very dust whereunto we must slide again. Neither is it meet that being inveigled with the show of thy glistering robes thou shouldst forget the imbecility of that flesh which is covered therewith. Thy subjects, O emperor, are in nature thy colleagues; yea, even in service thou art also joined as a fellow with them. For there is one Lord and Emperor, the Maker of this whole assembly of all things. With what eyes, therefore, wilt thou look upon the habitation of that common Lord? With what feet wilt thou tread upon that sacred floor? How wilt thou stretch forth those hands from which the blood as yet of unrighteous slaughter does distil? The body of our Lord all-holy how wilt thou take into such hands? How wilt thou put His honorable Blood unto that mouth, the wrathful word whereof hath caused against all order of law the pouring out of so much blood? Depart, therefore, and go not about by after-deeds to add to thy former iniquity. Receive that bond wherewith from heaven the Lord of all doth give consent that thou shouldst be tied, a bond which is medicinable, and procureth health”.

The emperor retired, for he knew Ambrose to be inflexible. He either invited the bishop to meet him, or proposed to visit him himself; but the prelate declined, and addressed to him a letter, to the same effect as his speech. He expresses in it his great personal regard for him, and acknowledges his piety and zeal, but hints in guarded words at his own disappointment in finding that the emperor’s natural impetuosity had not been repressed by good counsel. Then he denounces the Thessalonian crime, and declares that penance, public penance, must be done for it, after the example of David. Till it should be done he could not celebrate the Eucharist in his presence. This determination, he declares solemnly, was forced on him in a dream, in which he saw the emperor come to church, and found himself unable to officiate at the holy table.

No reply was made to this letter, nor did either of the parties move for a long time. The bishop had spoken, and it was not for him to take the initiative, or proffer a pardon which was not sought for. He went on with his pastoral work and study, among other things, holding a long conversation with two eminent Persians, who had come to Italy on purpose to visit and confer with him. The imperial offender was perhaps unable to bring himself to a public confession of his fault, or to comply with the terms on which alone he could be admitted to the full privileges of a Christian. His pride revolted at what his conscience told him he deserved; and so, though that conscience was still active, he made no sign. In this way eight months passed, while he remained still at Milan

Christmas-time now drew near, and all were preparing for the glad celebration of the Saviour’s birth, but the excommunicated emperor sat sorrowful in his palace. Rufinus, the magister palatii—lord steward of the household we might call him—ventured to ask the cause of his grief. Theodosius replied with tears, “You are mocking me, Rufinus; you do not comprehend the nature of my trouble. I am lamenting my unhappy lot; the holy Church is open to slaves and beggars, but is shut to me; and heaven is closed to me, for I remember the words of our Lord which distinctly say, ‘Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven’.”

“Let me run”, said Rufinus, “and persuade the bishop to release you from your bonds”.

“You will not be able to do so”, replied the emperor; “I know the justice of his sentence, and am sure that he will not violate the Divine law out of respect for Imperial power”.

Rufinus, however, eventually succeeded in obtaining leave to make trial of the bishop. He seems to have treated the matter all through with considerable levity, and probably did not conceal his sentiments when he accosted him. But he received a very different answer from what he had expected. “You are as impudent as a dog, Rufinus”, said the prelate. “It was you who advised the horrible massacre, and yet you exhibit no shame; you neither blush nor tremble, though you have offered such violence to the image of God”. The lord steward, whose character Ambrose had not untruly, though rather brusquely, described, persevered in spite of this unfavorable reply, and remarked that the emperor was coming, and would be there presently.

“I warn you”, was the answer, “that if he does come, I shall prevent him from entering the sacred portal. If he then chooses to convert his imperial authority into tyranny, I shall gladly receive death at his hand”.

Rufinus took a thoroughly anti-ecclesiastical view of the affair; he would probably have been happy to do for his master what some eight centuries later our Henry II is said to have wished his courtiers to do for him to an unaccommodating prelate—“rid him of a proud priest”; and would certainly, if he had dared, have counseled its being done. He did not, however, go so far as this, but simply sent a message to Theodosius telling him of the result of his interview with the bishop, and begging him to remain in the palace. The message was delivered as the emperor was either passing through or transacting business in the Forum. Reluctant as he had felt to submit to the direction of Ambrose, he was still less inclined to be dictated to by his lord steward; and the attempt made to induce him to resist the authority of the spiritual ruler perhaps confirmed him in the intention of submitting to that authority, and hastened its execution.

“I will go”, he exclaimed, “and receive the chastisement I deserve”. Proceeding to the consecrated precincts, he refrained from entering the church, but went into a parlour where the bishop was sitting, and begged for absolution. After the behavior of Rufinus, it is not surprising that Ambrose looked upon the visit in the light of a menace, and taxed the emperor with tyranny, insolence towards God, and contempt of His laws. But he received an assurance that he was mistaken. “I am come in no spirit of rebellion against constituted laws, nor am I intending to force my way through the sacred gates. I am here to beg that you will grant me release, remembering the mercy of our common Lord, and not close against me that door which He opens to every penitent”.' The bishop evidently considered the eight months’ delay in making this request as a contumacious resistance to spiritual authority, and an obstinate refusal to exhibit or feel anything like true contrition; and it is far from improbable that men from the court had expressed themselves to him in a manner which by no means gave him a just idea of the drift of Theodosius's thoughts. Those who had advised the massacre and those who hated Ambrose would join in using their utmost endeavors to prevent the emperor from expressing sorrow for his hasty and cruel order, and in doing all they could to keep up an impassable breach between him and the bishop.

The answer to the emperor’s humble words was still a stern one. “What penitence have you been showing for your great fault? What remedy have you applied to the incurable wound you have inflicted?”

“It is your duty”, answered the penitent, “to prepare the remedies; mine to accept what is offered me”.

 “Since, then”, said Ambrose, “you allow your temper to act the part of judge, and permit anger instead of reason to pronounce sentence, you must make a law which shall render such hasty orders null and void. When a sentence of death or confiscation of property is pronounced, let thirty days elapse before it is put into execution. After this time has passed, and you have become cool, let your decree be shown to you. You will then be able to decide rationally whether it is just or not. If the latter, then the writing can be destroyed; if the former, it may be ratified. Where the judgment is right, a little delay will do no harm”.

 The emperor consented. The regulation suggested by Ambrose was not new to him; a similar rule had been laid down by Gratian, but had been either forgotten, or not adopted by himself. The necessary document was speedily prepared and signed, and the excommunication was removed. Laying aside every ornament that could mark his rank, Theodosius entered the church with a deep sigh of relief, and fell prostrate on the floor, smiting his breast, and crying, “My soul cleaveth unto the dust: O quicken Thou me according to Thy word”; and with every sign of the profoundest compunction besought and received absolution and readmission to the communion of the Church. To the day of his death he never ceased to deplore his error, and was so watchful over himself and so careful not to offend, that the more he was irritated the more ready he was to pardon; and offenders were said not to fear, but to wish, to see him angry. Ambrose testified his belief in the sincerity of his repentance by inscribing to him the book he had written in 384, entitled, “The Defence of the Prophet David”.