Theodosius at the Court of Milan The Synagogue in Callinicum

In the summer of 388 C.E., Theodosius finally came to the aid of Valentinian against Maximus. After sending Valentinian with his mother Justina to Italy by sea, Theodosius traveled through Illyricum by land to meet Maximus at Aquileia. Theodosius had never been to Italy and had not been in the West for ten years. To celebrate his victory over Maximus,

Valentinian and the metropolitan Ambrose must have staged a grand reception for him in Milan. Theodosius seems to have understood that this was an opportunity for him to extend his power over the weak and younger Valentinian, who was technically his senior Augustus. To that end, he was willing to participate in the flamboyant public piety of Ambrose and to court the favor of the Roman senate.

Theodosius' grand victory reception in Milan had already turned sour by the end of 388 C.E. Only a few months after he arrived, he found himself in a no-win situation with the flashy Ambrose, who had no intention of losing his widespread influence regardless of who ruled as emperor. On the order of their local bishop, a group of Christians had burned a synagogue in Callinicum in Mesopotamia. When Theodosius ordered the synagogue to be rebuilt at the bishop's expense, Ambrose advised (Epis-tulae 40) the emperor that it would be sacrilege to resurrect "a house of impiety, a shelter of madness under the damnation of God Himself." Ambrose had an opportunity to preach on the topic in his own cathedral in Milan. He did not waste it. The sermon is mentioned in a letter to his sister (Epistulae 41) in which he explained that he had obliquely addressed the situation in Callinicum with the emperor in the congregation. When he came down from the pulpit, Ambrose wrote, Theodosius asked if it were he about whom Ambrose had just spoken. He then openly admitted there and then to Ambrose that he had been too harsh in his decision about the bishop's repairing the synagogue. Ambrose acknowledged that his sermon had been directed at the emperor, and he then offered to make a solemn sacrifice on his behalf. Theodosius accepted and then agreed to withdraw the edict. It was a prudent decision on the part of the emperor, but he had not yet fallen completely into the orbit of Ambrose.

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