Ambrose : biography
In this contested state of religious opinion, two leaders of the Arians, bishops Palladius of Ratiaria and Secundianus of Singidunum, confident of numbers, prevailed upon Gratian to call a general council from all parts of the empire. This request appeared so equitable that he complied without hesitation. However, Ambrose feared the consequences and prevailed upon the emperor to have the matter determined by a council of the Western bishops. Accordingly, a synod composed of thirty-two bishops was held at Aquileia in the year 381. Ambrose was elected president and Palladius, being called upon to defend his opinions, declined. A vote was then taken, when Palladius and his associate Secundianus were deposed from their episcopal offices.
Nevertheless, the increasing strength of the Arians proved a formidable task for Ambrose. In 385 or 386 the emperor and his mother Justina, along with a considerable number of clergy and laity, especially military, professed Arianism. They demanded two churches in Milan, one in the city (the Basilica of the Apostles), the other in the suburbs (St Victor’s), to the Arians. Ambrose refused and was required to answer for his conduct before the council. He went, his eloquence in defense of the Church reportedly overawing the ministers of Valentinian, so he was permitted to retire without making the surrender of the churches. The day following, when he was performing divine service in the basilica, the prefect of the city came to persuade him to give up at least the Portian basilica in the suburbs. As he still refused, certain deans or officers of the court were sent to take possession of the Portian basilica, by hanging up in it imperial escutcheons to prepare for the arrival of the emperor and his mother at the ensuing festival of Easter.
In spite of Imperial opposition, Bishop Ambrose declared:
The imperial court was displeased with the religious principles of Ambrose, however his aid was soon solicited by the Emperor. When Magnus Maximus usurped the supreme power in Gaul, and was meditating a descent upon Italy, Valentinian sent Ambrose to dissuade him from the undertaking, and the embassy was successful.
A second later embassy was unsuccessful; the enemy entered Italy; and Milan was taken. Justina and her son fled; but Ambrose remained at his post, and did good service to many of the sufferers by causing the plate of the church to be melted for their relief.
In 385 Ambrose, backed by Milan’s populace, refused Valentinian II’s imperial request to hand over the Portian basilica for the use of Arian troops. In 386 Justina and Valentinian received the Arian bishop Auxentius the younger, and Ambrose was again ordered to hand over a church in Milan for Arian usage. Ambrose and his congregation barricaded themselves inside the church, and the imperial order was rescinded.
Theodosius I, the emperor of the East, espoused the cause of Justina, and regained the kingdom. Theodosius was threatened with excommunication by Ambrose for the massacre of 7,000 persons at Thessalonica in 390, after the murder of the Roman governor there by rioters. Ambrose told Theodosius to imitate David in his repentance as he had imitated him in guilt — Ambrose readmitted the emperor to the Eucharist only after several months of penance. This incident shows the strong position of a bishop in the Western part of the empire, even when facing a strong emperor — the controversy of John Chrysostom with a much weaker emperor a few years later in Constantinople led to a crushing defeat of the bishop.
In 392, after the death of Valentinian II and the acclamation of Eugenius, Ambrose supplicated the emperor for the pardon of those who had supported Eugenius after Theodosius was eventually victorious.
Persecution of Paganism
Under Ambrose’s major influence, emperors Gratian, Valentinian II and Theodosius I carried on a persecution of Paganism.Byfield (2003) pp. 92–4: ‘In the west, such [anti-Pagan] tendencies were less pronounces, although they had one especially powerful advocate. No one was more determined to destroy paganism than Ambrose, bishop of Milan, a major influence upon both Gratian and Valentinian II. [p. 94] The man who ruled the ruler — Wether Ambrose, the senator-bureaucrat-turned-bishop. was Theodosius’s mentor or his autocrat, the emperor heeded him — as did most of the fourth-century church’.MacMullen (1984) p. 100: ‘The law of June 391, issued by Theodosius […] was issued from Milan and represented the will of its bishop, Ambrose; for Theodosius—recently excommunicated by Ambrose, penitent, and very much under his influence43 — was no natural zealot. Ambrose, on the other hand, was very much a Christian. His restless and imperious ambition for the church’s growth, come what might for the non-Christians, is suggested by his preaching’. See also note 43 at p. 163, with references to Palanque (1933), Gaudemet (1972), Matthews (1975) and King (1961)Roldanus (2006) p. 148Hellemo (1989) p. 254 Under Ambrose’s influence, Theodosius issued the 391 "Theodosian decrees," which with increasing intensity outlawed Pagan practises,King (1961) p. 78 and the Altar of Victory was removed by Gratian. Ambrose prevailed upon Gratian, Valentinian and Theodosius to reject requests to restore the Altar.