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enough to support two competing factions. Indeed, the imperial court fuelled divisions within Milan's Christian community and contributed greatly toward making this city play a leading role in the political and theological controversies of the day. These controversies also contributed to the conversion of Milan's upper classes for they intensified allegiance to strong Christian leaders, perhaps the most successful of whom was the late fourth-century bishop Ambrose.

The Christian community in Milan was divided between two competing Christianities. One group, traditionally designated the 'orthodox' position, supported the idea of Christ's consubstantiality with the Father, as laid down by the Nicene Creed and advocated by Athanasius of Alexandria. Opposed to this view were Christians who held that Christ was merely similar to the Father. This position, denigrated as 'Arian' in antiquity and often associated with Easterners, is sometimes termed, in modern scholarly parlance, anti-Nicene. Both groups appealed to the emperor resident in Milan for support and many rulers, following Constantine's example, did intervene in favour of one or the other faction. A central figure in this conflict was the emperor Constantius II. Once firmly established in office by 353, he supported the anti-Nicenes and elevated the anti-Nicene Auxentius to the bishopric of Milan. Despite the opposition of the largely pro-Nicene bishops in Italy, this man held support from enough of Milan's Christian community and from the tolerant court of Valentinian I to remain in office down to his death in 374.

With Auxentius' demise, the pro-Nicene faction in Milan saw an opportunity for advancing their candidate. Conflict between these two factions soon led to outright fighting in the streets. A governor, the consularis of Aemilia, was sent to quell the rioting. This bureaucrat, himself an aristocrat, was only a catechumen, but he became the compromise candidate; Ambrose was baptised and consecrated bishop on 8 December 374. He soon disappointed the anti-Nicene faction, for he quickly revealed himself to be a strong pro-Nicene proponent, and one of the most actively Christianising bishops in all fourth-century Italy.

Ambrose's influence over the young co-emperor in the West, Gratian (359-83, regn. 375-83), who was early in his rule tolerant of the anti-Nicenes, was such that Gratian changed his opinion and adopted Ambrose's strong pro-Nicene position by the end of 378. Perhaps the most dramatic demonstration of Ambrose's position and the elite community that supported him occurred in defence of Nicene orthodoxy and episcopal authority during Holy Week of 386; Ambrose refused to hand over a basilica, the Portiana, to the anti-Nicene Christian community for the celebration of Easter. Ambrose's refusal flew in the face of a recent 386 law (CTh 16.1.4) of the young emperor, Valentinian

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