|The Early Church, from Ignatius to Augustine|
|by George Hodges|
|An engaging introduction to the history of the early church from its emergence in the Mediterranean world dominated by Rome until the fall of Rome in the age of Augustine. Relates the story of Christianity's struggle for life during the early days of persecution; the defence of the faith against prejudice, heresy, and rivalry; the Arian debate; the rise of monasticism in the east and in the west; and the influence of Ambrose, Chrysostom, and Augustine. Ages 14-18 |
I. THE ELECTION OF A BISHOP
 IN the year 874, when the magician at Antioch was spelling out the name of Theodosius, a sudden crisis came in
the life of a Roman governor named Ambrose. The father of Ambrose, as head of one of the departments of the
empire, had ruled a great part of Europe. The son, at the age of thirty, was following in his father's steps.
He was already set in authority over upper Italy. The chief city of his province was Milan. In 874, the people
of Milan were assembled for the election of a bishop.
Episcopal elections had now become occasions of disorder. For example, Damasus, the contemporary bishop of
Rome, the protector of St. Jerome and himself entitled "saint," had gained his place after an election so
vigorously contested that when the enthusiastic debate was over, and the decision made, and the church emptied
of the congregation, there were found upon the floor a hundred and thirty-seven bodies of dead electors.
This disorder was due in part to the secular importance of the office. The bishopric of a
con-  siderable city was a place of power and wealth. The bishop of a large diocese was the equal of nobles and
princes, and did business with kings. The pagan prefect of Rome, PrŠtextatus, is reported to have said, "I
will myself become a Christian, if you will make me bishop."
Another cause of disorder was the part taken in episcopal elections by the people. The choice of a bishop was
a democratic undertaking. He might be selected at a town meeting. It is plain that a town meeting in Italy in
the fourth century was very different both in tradition and in temperament from a town meeting of the present
day in New England. The townsmen behaved themselves accordingly.
And the natural confusion and tumult of the occasion was frequently magnified, as in this instance in Milan,
by bitter party strife. The long war between the Arians and the Athanasians was still an undecided conflict.
Men went into the election of a bishop as if they were going into battle.
Thus the Christians assembled, under these critical and dangerous conditions, at Milan. The diocese was nearly
as important as the see of Rome itself. Indeed, while that ancient city still shone in the light of the glory
of its illustrious past, it had been politically superseded. The
 establishment of Constantinople, as a new Rome on the Bosphorus, and the division of the empire into two
parts, East and West, had reduced the influence of Rome in the East to insignificance. Even the Western
emperors had abandoned Rome, and had preferred to reside in Ravenna or in Milan. The city had ceased to be the
centre of the world. When Chrysostom in his exile wrote to influential bishops in the West, protesting against
the injustice of his condemnation, he addressed his letter in the same words to the bishop of Rome, the bishop
of Milan, and the bishop of Aquileia, making no distinction.
Under these conditions, Ambrose came to the election to keep the peace. Standing at the bishop's throne, in
the east end of the church, overlooking the crowded congregation, he addressed the people. Suddenly, in the
midst of a moment's silence, a small child, lifted to his father's shoulder and seeing Ambrose in the bishop's
place, called out in shrill surprise, "Ambrose is bishop!" Instantly the words were taken up, the rival
candidates were forgotten, everybody shouted, "Ambrose is bishop!"
The possibility of such a position had never entered into the mind of Ambrose. The plans which he had made for
his life were altogether different. A great noble, already well advanced in
 his civil career, he looked forward to political place and power. He was interested, indeed, in the Christian
religion; he believed in it, and tried to live according to it; but he had not been baptized. Nevertheless,
the people insisted, and Ambrose at last consented. Within the space of a single week he was baptized,
confirmed, admitted to the Holy Communion, and made deacon and presbyter and bishop. Much of his property in
land he gave to the church, much of his possessions in money he distributed among the poor. His business
interests he entrusted to his brother.
He began the study of theology. Every day he celebrated the Holy Communion and preached. Every day he sat at a
table in the hall of his house with his books before him, and the doors open. People came to consult him upon
all manner of matters, great and small. In the free intervals between these consultations he gave his
attention to reading, sometimes in the Bible, sometimes in the writings of Origen, sometimes in Plato. His
mind was naturally conservative. He had an appreciation of the value of authority, which he had derived from
his experience as a statesman. He desired to know the mind of the church, as expressed in the best traditions
and in the instructions of the best teachers. This he would follow, this he would establish in his diocese. His
inclina-  tion to accept and administer the doctrine and discipline of the church as he found it was confirmed by the
conditions under which his ministry began. Absorbed immediately in the pressing business of his office, having
no time for study except in the midst of his constant problems of administration, he was compelled to take
things theological and ecclesiastical at the hands of tradition.
It was soon plain to Ambrose that his office in the church would bring him quite as close to the affairs of
the great world as the office to which he had looked forward in the state. Milan being one of the capitals of
the empire, and thus a place of residence for the imperial court, Ambrose had emperors and empresses among his
parishioners. Into the responsibilities of this relationship he entered heartily.
Thus he was brought into two important contentions. He had his part in the last contest between Christianity
and paganism, and in the last contest between orthodoxy and Arianism.
II. THE LAST STRUGGLE OF PAGANISM AGAINST CHRISTIANITY
The Roman Empire had now been nominally Christian for more than half a century. But paganism continued. The
persistence of the old religion in the country districts was so noticeable
 that the word "heathen," meaning one who lives on the heath, and the word "pagan," meaning one who lives in a
village (pagus), bear witness to it to this day. The tillers of the soil were off the line of progress. The
missionaries of Christianity addressed their message to the cities. Only very gradually did the new religion
make its way into the back districts. On the hills and in the woods the gods were still worshipped in the old
manner. Even in the cities, where there were many Christians, there were also many pagans. People do not put
off one religion and put on another quickly. The beliefs which are involved are venerable, and the
associations are too sacred, for that. Under the conditions of official change, while ancient institutions are
established and disestablished, some citizens are instinctively hostile, some are friendly, some are
enthusiastic, many are indifferent. The indifferent people are commonly in majority, going quietly about their
accustomed affairs, letting their excited neighbors fight it out, paying to the combination of politics and
religion no more attention than is absolutely necessary, and never consulting the morning paper before they
say their prayers to see under what name God is to be addressed that day. Thus passive paganism continued into
the Middle Ages. In the fourth century it was ready, upon
 any suitable occasion, to abolish the innovations of Christianity and to return to the old ways. Especially
among the Roman aristocracy and in the Senate the men were many of them pagans; their wives and daughters
might be Christians.
When the emperor Augustus returned from the battle of Actium, which made him master of the world, he set up in
the Senate-house at Rome an altar dedicated to Victory, with a golden statue of that goddess standing on a
globe in the attitude of forward flight. On this altar every senator for centuries had taken his oath of
faithful service to the state. It was still the custom of the pagan members of that body to offer incense at
this shrine. It represented the prosperity of Rome. In the general demolition of the images of the gods, the
statue of Victory had escaped. It had been prudently covered when the emperor Constantius came to Rome. But
the emperor Gratian had removed it. To this action he had been impelled by his Christian conscience, which
also forbade him to wear the vestments of the pontifex maximus. It meant that the time of compromise had
passed, and that the Christians who had pleaded in vain with pagan emperors for toleration intended to follow
their intolerant example. When Valentinian II came to the imperial throne of the West a last attempt was made
 to secure to paganism the right at least to exist. A petition was presented to the emperor asking for the
restoration of the altar of Victory.
The prefect Symmachus presented the petition, the bishop Ambrose presented the argument against it.
Symmachus declared that Rome with tears asked for the renewal of the ancient ceremonies. These rites, he said,
had in the old time repulsed Hannibal, and driven away the invading barbarians. Ambrose remarked that the gods
had been a long time in coming to the help of Rome against Hannibal; they had suffered nearly the whole
country to be devastated. As for the barbarians, they had forced their way to the very walls of Rome, and
would have entered had not the garrison been awakened by the cackling of frightened geese. "Where was your
Jupiter that night?" asks Ambrose. "Rome has been saved in all her perils by the courage of her heroes."
Symmachus called attention to the fact that the removal of the altar had been followed by a famine, showing
the displeasure of heaven. Yes, says Ambrose, there was a famine last year, but how about the unusual plenty
of this year? Everybody knows that the years are different, that now there is abundance and now scarceness, in
all lands and under all conditions of religion.
 Symmachus pleaded for the ancestral ways. But life, says Ambrose, consists in progress. The world has grown
since the beginning of creation; we ourselves grow year by year. Can we maintain, then, that infancy is better
than maturity? Shall we say "that all things ought to have remained in their first beginnings, that the earth
which was at first covered with darkness is now displeasing because it is brightened with the shining of the
The arguments of Ambrose were effective with Valentinian; who, indeed, needed no arguments, his mind being
already made up against the restoration of the altar. They are interesting as showing how far Christianity had
come on in the Roman world since the apologies of Justin Martyr.
The attempt of paganism to save itself by the peaceful method of petition having thus failed, an attempt was
made to preserve the old religion by wager of battle.
Valentinian II being but a youth, Theodosius had given him as prime minister, and practical administrator of
imperial affairs, Arbogast the Frank. The appointment discloses the gradual manner in which the barbarians
were effecting the conquest of the empire. Sometimes, indeed, they proceeded by invasion, but often they came
 quietly, by dint of individual ability, into places of power. Then being in place, and possessing the power,
they used their opportunity. One day, Valentinian, irritated beyond endurance, discharged Arbogast. The prime
the letter of dismissal into the presence of the emperor, tore it in pieces before his eyes, and said, "You
are not my master." A few days later Valentinian was found strangled, and his throne was given by Arbogast to
a schoolmaster, Eugenius, a teacher of grammar.
The new government sought to reinforce itself against the inevitable vengeance of Theodosius by calling to its
side the forces of the old religion. The altar of Victory was replaced in the Senate-house, the closed temples
were reopened, the abandoned and forbidden ceremonies were resumed. As the pagans marched to meet Theodosius
among the foothills of the Alps, they vowed that on their victorious return they would stable their horses in
the cathedral of Milan. The armies met beside the river Frigidus, north of Trieste, as Constantine and
Maxentius, fifty years before, had met in the same kind of contention, between Christianity and paganism,
beside the Tiber. At first the armies of the pagans prevailed. Then Theodosius prayed, as Constantine had
prayed before. He led his army into
 battle crying, "Where is the God of Theodosius?" A great storm arose, the snow was blown fiercely into the
faces of the foe. It was as when the stars in their courses fought against Sisera. And the Christians won.
Thus finally fell the ban of the empire on the ancient paganism. It lingered long in secret places, in
recesses of the woods and hills. Here and there it rose, now and again, in local, ineffectual protest.
Gradually it got itself baptized with the names of Christian saints. Thus far it is alive to-day. But with the
denial of the petition of Symmachus and the defeat of the forces of Eugenius and Arbogast its existence as a
recognized religion came to an end. The sons of Arbogast and Eugenius sought refuge in Milan with Ambrose, and
by his intercession their lives were spared. The fact is a symbol of Christianity as a friendly conqueror, at
war with paganism but not with pagans, seeking not captives but converts.
III. THE LAST STRUGGLES OF ARIANISM AGAINST ORTHODOXY
While the Christians were thus contending with the pagans, another war was coming to an end, the war of the
orthodox against the heretics.
The Nicene faith was now, indeed, the established creed of the empire. But Arianism
con-  tinued. The intellectual difficulties which had brought it into being were not sufficiently met by the
imposition of a theological formula. Theodosius had attempted to stamp out Arianism by a series of decrees
against it, but the enactment and reenactment of the same decrees show that it had not been found possible, or
expedient, to enforce them.
The Theodosian laws ran with much more difficulty in the West than in the East; for the empress Justina, widow
of Valentinian, and mother of the young emperors, Gratian and Valentinian II, was an Arian. There ensued
accordingly between Ambrose and Justina a strife similar to that which Chrysostom waged with Eudoxia. The
conditions were different, in that the contention in Constantinople turned upon matters social and moral,
while the contention in Milan turned upon matters theological. The results also were different, because the
representative of the church in the one case had been trained in monastic life, apart from the world, while
the representative of the church in the other case had been trained in political life, coming to his ministry
straight from the governorship of a province.
Twice Justina had appealed for aid to Ambrose. Twice Ambrose had gone at her request to meet the usurper
Maximus. Maximus had taken
ad-  vantage of the imperial situation in the West. The death of the emperor Valentinian had left Justina with her
two sons, Gratian aged seventeen, and Valentinian II aged four. The usurper had come down with the legions of
Britain at his back, had defeated and killed Gratian, and had taken into his possession the lands of Gaul and
Spain. In a first conference Ambrose had held him back from Italy until the passes were secured. A second
conference, however, had been unsuccessful. Down came Maximus over the Alps, and Theodosius had to come and
meet him in battle. When the weakness of Maximus became evident, his own soldiers seized him, tore his robe
of purple from his back and his sandals from his feet, and dragged him bound into the presence of Theodosius.
The part thus taken by Ambrose in these public perils indicates not only his political wisdom and his
commanding personality, but the importance of his office. He speaks and acts as a bishop on behalf of his
people. As citizens, indeed, they belong to the civil authority, to Justina; but as Christians they belong to
the ecclesiastical authority, to Ambrose. The inevitable contention between these two authorities arose by
reason of the request of Justina that a church in Milan might be used by the Arians.
 There were many Arians in Milan. The bishop who had preceded Ambrose was of that belief. The court was largely
Arian. The Goths who composed the imperial garrison were Arians.
These Gothic soldiers were disciples of a missionary bishop whose great place in the life of the fourth
century, and in the progress of religion and of civilization, has been obscured by the fact that he labored
among the barbarians, and that the Christianity which he taught was of the Arian kind. Neither Basil nor
Gregory nor Chrysostom nor Ambrose exerted an influence so determining and important as did Ulfilas, the
Apostle to the Goths.
The parents of Ulfilas had been carried captive out of Cappadocia in one of those incursions of the third
century when the Goths destroyed the temple of Diana at Ephesus, and spared the library at Athens, in order,
as they said, that the Greeks might be encouraged to read and not to fight. The lad had grown up among the
Goths, and had come to understand them as if they were his brothers. His parents taught him Greek and Latin,
and in the ten years he spent as a hostage, or an envoy, in Constantinople, he learned theology. The city was
then Arian, and the took Christianity as he found it there. He was made a missionary bishop, and returned to
 Goths, among whom he labored to the end of his days. A chief source of information about him is an account of
his life written by a pupil of his, Auxentius, whom Ambrose succeeded in the bishopric of Milan.
Ulfilas made two inestimable contributions to the history of Europe: he translated the Bible into the Gothic
language, and he converted the Goths. Ulfilas found the Gothic language spoken but not written. The Goths and
their Teutonic neighbors, the eventual conquerors of the empire and the progenitors of modern Europe, had no
literature. Ulfilas invented an alphabet out of Greek and Latin and Runic materials, and thereby, translating
the Bible, produced the first book in that language which was the mother of German and of English. The words
and sentences of Ulfilas differ from the words and sentences of Luther as the English which is spoken at the
age of eighteen months differs from the English which is spoken at the age of eighteen years. The name of
Ulfilas stands thus at the beginning of all Teutonic writing. He was the father of it.
At the same time, as the "Moses of the Goths," he had his great part in that conversion of the barbarians
which preserved the church in the midst of the downfall of the empire. Had it not been for him, the invaders
might have dealt with
 the church in the West as the Moslems dealt with the church in the East. The soldiers of Justina's bodyguard,
Goths but yet Christians, represent the mission of Ulfilas. There is a tradition that he omitted from his
translation the books of Samuel and Kings because there was so much fighting in them. He was afraid that his
Goths would like these books better than the Gospels. The age was filled with. the tragedy of war, but it
would have been worse had it not been for the ministry of Ulfilas.
Under the decrees of Theodosius, the Arians, whether they were soldiers or courtiers, had no church in Milan.
Their places of worship had been taken from them. Justina asked that they might have a church, either the
Portian Basilica outside the walls, or the New Basilica within. The request seems a reasonable one. "An
emperor," said Justina, "took our churches away, now an empress would restore one of them."
Ambrose dealt with the matter as he dealt afterwards with the demand of Theodosius, that the Christians
rebuild a synagogue which they had burned. He said that the rebuilding of a synagogue was against religion. He
declined to consider the justice of the case. He intimated that the Jews may have burned their own synagogue
so that the Christians might be compelled
 to build them a better one. Anyway, he said, it was a cheap synagogue; the whole town of mean houses was of
little value. And remember, he added, how the Jews used to burn our churches: we never got anything back from
them. But the main point is that we are right and the Jews are wrong, and that in a contention between such
sides justice does not count. This, said Ambrose, has to do with religion; concerning pecuniary causes consult
your officers, but concerning religion consult the priests of God.
He took the same course with Justina. It is impossible for us, he said, to surrender a church in which you may
worship according to the errors of heresy. In a letter to his sister, Ambrose described the contest which
ensued. "Some great men," he says, "counsellors of state, begged of me to give up the basilica, and to manage
that the people should make no disturbance. I replied, of course, that the temple of God could not be
surrendered by a bishop." The next day was Palm Sunday, and it was reported to Ambrose in the New Basilica
that men were putting up the imperial hangings on the outer walls of the Portian Basilica to mark it as the
property of the court, and that the people had seized an Arian priest and were at that moment beating him in
the street. Ambrose sent and rescued the man from
 further violence. At the beginning of Holy Week, fines were laid upon the merchants of Milan for their
sympathy with Ambrose, and preparations were made to have the doors of the Portian Church forced by the
soldiers, and the defenders who were within thrown out. Again the counts and tribunes begged Ambrose for the
sake of peace to yield to the imperial demand. They feared the raising of a tumult which might destroy the
city. But Ambrose would not yield. Indeed, it became so plain that he had the people on his side that none of
the Arians dared appear alone upon the streets.
The services of the Holy Week proceeded, and Ambrose preached daily upon the appointed lessons from the Book
of Job. He commented upon the statement that Job's wife urged him to curse God and die. He referred to other
women in the Bible who had been in error: Eve, he said, deceived Adam, Jezebel persecuted Elijah, Herodias
procured the death of John. He did not apply these illustrations to the conduct of Justina. He left the
congregation to do that. As the week went on the state of public opinion was so plain that some of the
hangings on the Portian Church were cut down by the boys. Even the soldiers sided with the bishop. At last, on
Good Friday, the court withdrew the soldiers, repaid to the
 merchants the fines which had been imposed upon them, and confessed defeat. Ambrose told his sister that when
the nobles were entreating the young emperor to yield he said, "If Ambrose bade you, you would deliver me up
to him in chains."
A year passed, and the struggle was renewed. By this time the Arians had elected a bishop of their own,
another Auxentius. Under his influence Valentinian issued a decree which was understood to give liberty of
worship to Arians, and to put the orthodox in peril. It sounded like the renewal of the war of religion, and
the revival of persecution. Ambrose refused to enter into a public debate with Auxentius. There was nothing,
he said, in his position which he could change; there was no room for concession or for arbitration. It was
rumored that his life was in danger.
Ambrose took up his residence in the New Basilica, and the people continued with him to defend him, day and
night. Finding that the time was likely to be long, and perceiving the need of keeping up the courage of his
devout garrison, he introduced into the services in which they were continually engaged that antiphonal manner
of singing which Chrysostom undertook to use against the Arians in Constantinople.
To this singing Ambrose contributed both words and music. He took the ancient melodies
 of Christian worship,—derived perhaps from the synagogue, or perhaps from the cadences of the chorus in
the Greek plays, or perhaps from the natural intonations of the voice,—and set them in definite order,
making the kind of chant which is called "plain-song." Afterwards Gregory developed the Ambrosian chant into
Ambrose wrote hymns, some of which continued long in the worship of the Western Church. Augustine says that
Monica, his mother, attended these meetings, and he records the impression made on his own soul by the music
which Ambrose had thus enriched. "How did I weep," he says, "in thy hymns and canticles, touched to the quick
by the voices of thy sweet-attuned church! The voices flowed into mine ears, and the truth distilled into my
heart, whence the affections of my devotions overflowed, and tears ran down, and happy was I therein."
From his retreat in the New Basilica,—already called the Church of Ambrose and retaining that title to
this day,—the bishop defied his enemies. Against Auxentius the Arian, he preached with all confidence.
"I see," he says to the congregation, "that you are unusually excited and disturbed to-day, and that you are
watching me with all your eyes. I wonder why.
 Have you heard that I have received an imperial order from the tribunes that I may depart in peace, provided
only that I leave the city? To that order I returned the reply that the wish to desert the church has never
entered into my mind. I fear the Lord of the universe, but I do not fear any emperor on earth." "The emperor,"
he added, in words which served as texts for sermons for a thousand years, "the emperor is within the church,
not above it." "As for the soldiers, the clash of whose arms you hear as I speak, do not be afraid of them;
they will not harm you."
In the midst of this state of siege there appeared unexpected reinforcements. Ambrose describes the dramatic
event in one of his letters to his sister. The people asked him, he says, to consecrate the church, and
especially to hallow it, if possible, with relics of martyrs. He replied that he would do so if he could find
any. Then, he says, "a kind of prophetic ardor seemed to enter my heart." Under the influence of this "ardor,"
he sent men to dig away the earth before the chancel screen of the Church of St. Felix and St. Nabor. And as
they dug, behold, the blood and bones of two men of marvellous stature! Surely, cried the oldest inhabitants,
the bodies of Protasius and Gervasius, martyrs long
for-  gotten! To this happy identification the relics immediately and generously responded. A blind man, named
Severus, who had been a butcher but had lost his job by reason of his failing sight,—the details are
from Ambrose's letter,—did but touch the hem of the cloth which covered these precious relics when his
eyes were opened, and he saw plain; and others who followed him were likewise healed.
The martyrs were brought over to the Ambrosian Basilica and buried beneath the high altar. There stand their
tombs in the crypt to this day. The two saints had come to the rescue of the true faith as the two gods,
Castor and Pollux, came to the aid of the Romans at Lake Regillus. The new enthusiasm swept the city, it was
now so clear, beyond all doubt, that Heaven was on the side of Ambrose, that the Arian aggression ceased.
IV. THE PENITENCE OF THEODOSIUS
The most dramatic event in the life of Ambrose, exceeding his debate with Symmachus over the altar of Victory,
and his contention with Justina over the possession of the churches, was his repulse of Theodosius after that
emperor's great sin.
Theodosius, both in position and in person, was
 one of the greatest of the emperors of Rome. He was the last ruler of the undivided empire, the last sovereign
to bear sway both in Constantinople and in Rome. But he was an unsuccessful ruler of himself. Upon a memorable
and tragic occasion he lost his self-control over the conduct of the people of Thessalonica. On the eve of a
chariot-race in which the Thessalonians were excitedly interested, one of the chief charioteers committed an
abominable crime, and the governor, Botheric, put him in prison, and refused to let him out, even for the
race. Thereupon the city rose in riot, released the prisoner, and put the governor to death. Theodosius, urged
by his ministers of state and by his own fierce anger, sent a company of soldiers to take vengeance on the
city. One account says that the people were assembled in the circus, and that the soldiers, marching in and
locking the gates behind them, killed everybody in sight. Accounts agree that the massacre lasted for three
hours, and resulted in the murder of seven thousand persons. The innocent perished with the guilty.
The tragedy stirred even that blood-stained world. It was perceived to be a crime not only against religion,
but against civilization. It was an assertion that the sovereign is outside the range of law and justice, and
may work his own
 will without restraint. That was a commonplace with Caligula and Commodus, but the world was older now and the
emperor was supposed to be a Christian, "within the church," as Ambrose said, "not above it": within and not
above the kingdom of Christ.
Ambrose wrote to Theodosius. "Listen, august Emperor," he says. "I cannot deny that you have a zeal for the
faith; I do confess that you have the fear of God. Nevertheless, there was that done in the city of the
Thessalonians of which no similar record exists in the history of the world. Are you ashamed, O Emperor, to do
that which royal David did, who when his offence was pointed out, and he was condemned by the prophet, said,
'I have sinned against the Lord'? Put away now this sin from your kingdom: humble your soul before God. Sin is
not done away but by tears and penitence. I am writing with my own hand that which you alone may read. I had a
dream about you, that you came to church, and that the Lord did not permit me to offer the holy sacrifice
while you were present. The dream was a revelation of the truth. You are to pray, you are to repent; then, and
not till then, may you approach the table of the Lord."
The Church of St. Ambrose in Milan is still approached by a cloistered courtyard, opening
 from the street. The present structure is perhaps no earlier than the twelfth century, but the court-yard
follows the ancient lines, and the oak door, carved with scenes from the life of David, is said to have
belonged to the original church. There Ambrose met Theodosius. The emperor, paying no attention to the letter,
was about to enter when the bishop repelled him. He laid hold upon Theodosius by his purple robe, and turned
It is one of the supreme scenes of history. We remember as we look upon it how Henry IV of Germany stood
barefoot in the snow at Canossa before the closed door of Pope Gregory VII, and how Henry II of England
suffered himself to be scourged by the monks of Canterbury for the death of Thomas Ó Becket. It was a
precedent for ambitious prelates throughout the Middle Ages. Here the church confronted the state, and rebuked
the ruler of the world.
But of all this there was no more in the soul of Ambrose than in the soul of Nathan before David, or of John
the Baptist before Herod. Ambrose had, indeed, the pride of his order. It is true that he once said that
priests ought to judge laymen, and not laymen priests. It cannot be denied that he behaved himself as an
ecclesiastic rather than as a Christian in the matter of the rebuilding of
 the synagogue. He was an imperious person temperamentally and officially. But that day at the church gate he
represented the Christian ideal of a right life over against the spirit of the world. The church, speaking by
his voice, was at its best that day. Theodosius was the greatest man on earth, the ruler of the world, but
Ambrose was stronger than Theodosius in the strength of the moral law of God.
Eight months passed before the emperor was readmitted to the church. They liked to tell in the old days, how
he laid aside: his imperial robes and spent the time in prayer and penitence, and how, coming at last a humble
suppliant and received by Ambrose, he prostrated himself upon the floor of the church in the presence of the
congregation, crying with tears, "My soul cleaveth unto the dust; quicken thou me according to thy word." It
is certain that Ambrose subjected Theodosius to penitential discipline, and that he required him to make a
law, which is still in force in Christian countries, that a space of thirty days must intervene between
condemnation and punishment.
One day, after the emperor had been restored to the privilege of the Holy Communion, he remained in the
chancel among the presbyters. Remembering how his predecessor Constantine
 had been the head of the church, and the bishop of the bishops, even before he was baptized, such a place of
honor seemed appropriate. The kings of the old order, David and Solomon and their successors, had offered the
sacrifices: were not the kings of the new order as good as they? The polite Nectarius, who preceded Chrysostom
in the bishopric of Constantinople, formally invited Theodosius to a place in the sanctuary. Not so Ambrose.
He sent a messenger to remind the emperor that "the purple makes emperors, not priests." And Theodosius
quietly took his place among the laymen.
It meant at the moment that the man with the gold ring was being treated according to the counsel given in the
Epistle of St. James. Ambrose had no respect of persons. It meant also that there was a spiritual power in the
world before which the claims of wealth and position had no place. The time came when imitators of Ambrose
were filled with ambition, and authority in the chancel was no more spiritual or moral than authority in the
nave: they were both secular together, differing only in their dress. But in the time of Ambrose, and long
after, the great need of the confused and troubled world was a clear assertion, such as he made, of the
ever-lasting supremacy of religion.
 In the beginning of his Life of Ambrose, Paulinus, who had been his secretary, says that in his infancy
as he lay asleep in his cradle a swarm of bees settled on his face; and that in his old age, as he preached, a
flame of soft fire glowed about his head. It is remembered of him that he was as kind is he was commanding.
One time, to pay the ransom of captives taken in battle, he took the silver vessels from the altar, melted
them down and sold them. He was a plain, uncompromising, faithful and fearless preacher. "When I came down
from the pulpit," he wrote to his sister, "the Emperor said, 'You spoke about me.' I replied, 'I dealt with
matters intended for your benefit.'"
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