Ambrose On the Death of Theodosius

Before he became bishop of Milan (from 374 to 397), Ambrose was a politician, serving as provincial governor before being abruptly drafted (according to his biographer) into episcopal service. Ambrose's political savoir-faire may explain his success in crafting a particular relationship between the ecclesiastical and political hierarchies. As bishop, he triumphed in several notorious confrontations with Roman officials: the prominent pagan prefect Sym-machus, who unsuccessfully sought to have a pagan altar restored in Rome; emperors and empresses labeled heretical, such as the "Arians" Valentinian II and his mother Justina; and even good orthodox emperors, whom Ambrose nonetheless felt empowered to challenge, such as Theodosius (in incidents Ambrose alludes to here). His funeral oration at the death of Theodosius I (in 395) does not just eulogize an emperor, but subordinates imperial power to Christian authority. Ambrose advises Theodosius's sons and heirs, Arcadius and Honorius, above all to be "humble" and obedient to their mother Church (and, presumably, her bishops) as their father had been. He concludes by emphasizing the debt owed by imperial power to the holiness of Christ and the church through an account of Helena's discovery of the True Cross (see Chapter 10) .

(1) Severe earthquakes, continual rains, and darkness denser than usual gave notice of this, that our most merciful Emperor Theodosius was about to leave the earth. The very elements, then, were mourning his death. The heavens were veiled in obscurity, the air was shuddering in unbroken gloom, the earth was shaken by tremors and filled with floods of waters. Why should not the universe itself bemoan the fact that this prince was presently to be snatched away, for was he not accustomed to alleviate the hardships of this world when by forgiveness he forestalled the punishment of crime?

(2) And he has indeed departed to receive his kingdom, which he did not lay aside, but, admitted by right of piety into the tabernacles of Christ, he has exchanged it for the heavenly Jerusalem. Having taken his place there, he says: "As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the Lord of hosts, in the city of our God," which "God has founded forever" (Ps 48:8). But he has left behind many deprived of a

From Funeral Orations, trans. Leo McCauley. New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1953. Used with permission.

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