Printer Friendly

Ambrose's Jews: The Creation of Judaism and Heterodox Christianity in Ambrose of Milan's Expositio evangelii secundum Lucam.

In recent years, the writings of Ambrose of Milan have enjoyed a revival of interest in historical and theological circles. The work of scholars like Christoph Markschies, Neil McLynn, Daniel Williams, and Marcia Colish has paved the way for a consideration of Ambrose's exegetical corpus, including his Expositio evangelii secundum Lucam, as well. Readers both ancient and modern have generally remarked upon two of the commentary's features: Its derivative nature, particularly Ambrose's generous borrowings from other third- and fourth-century writers; and its pronounced anti-Jewish tenor This article explores the latter aspect of Exp. ev. Luc. in light of the consistent rhetorical association of Jews and heretics, particularly so-called Arians, in Ambrose's commentary. Both groups are said to share a number of characteristics that Ambrose contrasts unfavorably with pro-Nicene Christianity. These include Jews' and heretics' "literary luxury" as opposed to pro-Nicene simplicity; their barrenness vis-a-vis pro-Nicene fruitfulness; and finally Jewish and heretical faithlessness in opposition to the Nicene faith that Ambrose constructs as the mark of true Christianity. Through a sustained examination of Ambrose's rhetoric in Exp. ev. Luc., this article seeks to uncover the framework Ambrose sought to create for his fourth-century audience by establishing and exploiting associations between Jews and heretics.


In recent years, the writings of Ambrose of Milan have received a revival of scholarly interest. The release of Neil McLynn's and Daniel Williams's biographies have opened the door to more intensive inquiry into the bishop's social and historical context, while Christoph Markschies's, Marcia Colish's, and, more recently, J. Warren Smith's writings have gone a long ways toward rehabilitating Ambrose as a theological thinker. (1) In addition, the work of these and other scholars have paved the way for a consideration of Ambrose's exegetical corpus, including his Expositio evangelii secundum Lucam (Exp. ev. Luc.). Compiled by Ambrose toward the end of the 380s from homilies he had preached over the course of the preceding decade, two of the commentary's features have generally attracted readers' attention: its derivative nature, particularly Ambrose's generous borrowings from other third- and fourth-century writers; and its virulent anti-Jewish tenor. Scarcely a passage of the voluminous commentary is free of venom; indeed, Ambrose's interpretation coopts even passages that appear unrelated to Jewish concerns for this purpose. (2)

It is hardly surprising, then, that Exp. ev. Luc. has significantly informed scholars' assessment of Ambrose's views on Judaism and his relationship with his Jewish contemporaries. (3) At the same time, however, the emphatic hostility Ambrose displays toward "the Jews" in his commentary has evoked a modicum of scholarly consternation. (4) Unlike some of his Eastern contemporaries, Ambrose and his church appear to have had little if any contact with a local Jewish community. The homilies from which Exp. ev. Luc. was composed, unlike, for example, those of John Chrysostom, do not even hint at the presence of "Judaizing" Christians in Milan. Ambrose's correspondence with Theodosius further suggests that he did not take action against the Milanese synagogue because it had already been divino iudico destroyed, suggesting that Ambrose's Jewish contemporaries lacked the resources to promptly rebuild the structure. (5)

By the same token, Ambrose appears to have shown little pastoral interest in any Jewish community he encountered in the course of his episcopal duties. In other writings, Ambrose concedes that the priest's office required him occasionally to leave the church and to exhort any Jew he might meet along the way. (6) Even in Exp. ev. Luc., Ambrose acknowledges the possibility of Jewish conversion to Christianity, implying the presence of Jews potentially open to conversion. Such a one "is no longer the fruit of the synagogue, but of the Church, and he who is reborn in the Church is not born of the synagogue" (Exp. ev. Luc. VII, 172). Overall, however, Exp. ev. Luc. leaves its reader with the distinct impression that for Ambrose the boundaries between church and synagogue were firm and that the possibility of converts crossing from one camp to the other did not unduly preoccupy the bishop. Neil McLynn thus acerbically notes that "there is no evidence that the bishop's disquisitions upon [the contrast between the "unbelieving, ungentle and sacrilegious woman of the synagogue" and the "spotless virgin of the church"] were complicated by actual contact with or even consciousness of the local Jewish community." (7)

In light of the evidence that Jews, for Ambrose, were primarily literary characters that he encountered in his reading of scripture, the virulence that the bishop unleashes against them is all the more surprising. (8) How might one explain this phenomenon? The suggestion that Ambrose simply took "his" Jews as he found them on the pages of Luke's gospel cannot account for Exp. ev. Luc.'s anti-Jewish tenor. Ambrose clearly exercised considerable latitude in his treatment of the gospel text. On the one hand, Exp. ev. Luc.'s discussion of Luke is noticeably incomplete, omitting significant and surprising portions. (9) His expositions, on the other hand, do not confine themselves to Luke but range freely over the other Synoptics, as well as frequently drawing explanations from John and the Pauline letters. Ambrose was thus no passive recipient of the text upon which he preached, but was rather actively engaged in shaping the biblical material he expounded to his readers and listeners. By the same token, Ambrose's tendency to tacitly incorporate other authors' work into his own--a practice for which Jerome sharply indicted him (10)--can hardly be responsible for the Exp. ev. Luc.'s anti-Jewish content. Indeed, the portions of the commentary where Ambrose borrows from Origen (Books I and II), Eusebius (Book III) and Hilary stand out as relatively free of such invective. (11) Any attempt to understand the motivations behind Ambrose's unrelenting abuse of "the Jews" in Exp. ev. Luc. cannot content itself with source-critical analysis but must begin with the text as it stands and its historical setting.

In this article, I propose a different solution to the puzzle of Ambrose's stridently anti-Jewish remarks in Exp. ev. Luc. A careful reader of the commentary cannot fail to notice the frequency with which the text associates Jews and "heretics," presented both generically as heredes or infideles and with greater specificity as Ariani, Valentinianes, or Sabelliani. Similar to his treatment of the Jews, Ambrose presents "heretics" as fixed and monolithic bodies. He nevertheless rhetorically insinuates that the various groups of heredes are connected in a variety of ways to one another, and, more significantly, to Iudaei. One common strategy seeks to establish guilt by association. For example, Ambrose's interpretation of the rich man who, according to Luke, cannot expect heavenly reward signifies "the Jewish people, or the heretics, or, indeed, the philosophers of the world who seduced by richness of words and the patrimony of vain eloquence have gone beyond the simplicity of true faith and hidden useless treasures" (V, 70). Similarly, Christians must "shake off the dust" (Luke 9:5-6) of both Jews and heretics, for "it is enjoined that the fellowship of heretics be avoided and the synagogue shunned. The dust is to be shaken off your feet, lest when the dryness of barren unbelief crumble the sole of your mind it is stained as if by a dry and sandy soil" (VI, 68). Jews and "heretics," Ambrose's rhetoric implies, are sufficiently similar that Jesus' sayings concerning the one can be unproblematically applied to the other.

The impression that Jews and heretics share certain essential qualities is further reinforced by Ambrose's use of "bait and switch" tactics. At several points Ambrose leads his audience to believe that he is addressing himself to one group, only to draw conclusions concerning the other. Ambrose thus applies the command against divorce in Luke 16:18 to signify the inviolable union between the believer and the Church: "Therefore, let not him whom God has drawn to the Son be separated by persecution, nor distracted by extravagance, nor ravaged by philosophy, nor tainted by Manichaeus, nor perverted by Arius, nor infected by Sabellius." Ambrose then summarizes his argument: "God has joined, let not a Jew separate. All who desire to defile the truth of faith and wisdom are adulterers" (VIII, 9). Jews and heretics, Ambrose suggests, assume parallel functions with regard to the Church. For Ambrose, the hardheartedness of the Jew that, according to Matthew 19:8, resulted in the possibility for a man to divorce his wife resembles the destructiveness of the heretic who induces a Christian to separate from the faith.

Most intriguingly, Ambrose suggests a genealogical connection between Jews and other "unbelievers," as when he argues that the punishment God metes out against idolaters into the fourth generation refers to those who carry the "seed of vices, rather than of generation.... For even the Jews are of their father the Devil, surely not by the succession of the flesh but through their offence" (IV, 54). Shared conduct points toward shared ancestry; those who share the "sacrileges of the Jews" can rightly be said to share their seed (W, 55). Ambrose thus argues that heretics of all stripes, namely "Manichaeus, Marcion, Sabellius, Arius, and Photinus, ... are none other than the brothers of the Jews, with whom they are joined by the kinship of unbelief' (VIII, 13).

In light of the frequency with which Ambrose connects rhetorical attacks against Jews with those against heretics, readers might ask what similarities between the two groups encouraged Ambrose to lump them together. To formulate the question in this way rests, however, on several assumptions. It presupposes, for one, the existence of clearly identifiable groups that could be labeled "Jews," "heretics," "Arians," or even "Christians." The question assumes, in other words, that the boundaries that separated "Jew" from "Christian" and "[orthodox] Christian" from "heretic" were as clear and impermeable as Ambrose urges his reader to conclude. By the same token, any inquiry about Ambrose's perceptions risks casting the bishop in the role of a passive observer and--more or less reliable--narrator of his surroundings. This methodological approach assumes that Exp. ev. Luc. offers historians, at best, insight into the historical situation Ambrose faced in late fourth-century Milan, and, at worst, a glimpse into the bishop's idiosyncratic perspective.

Without denying the potential benefits of the aforementioned approach, this essay will proceed under a different set of assumptions and will ask different questions. It will call into question first and foremost the ready separability of orthodoxy and heresy and, by extension, of Christians and Jews in Ambrose's Milan. Rather than viewing the categories through which Ambrose narrates the history of the Church in Exp. ev. Luc. as givens, this article will seek to understand them as creations of Ambrose's rhetoric. In other words, Ambrose's commentary, and the homilies upon which it is based, reveal far more about the framework that the bishop sought to create for his audience than about links--perceived or genuine--between Jews and heretics in fourth-century northern Italy.

Methodologically, I draw upon Denise Buell's concept of "ethnic reasoning"--early Christian texts' use of "culturally available understandings of human difference, which we can analyze in terms of our modern concepts of 'ethnicity,' 'race,' and 'religion,' to shape what we have come to call a religious tradition and to portray particular forms of Christianness as universal and authoritative." (12) Exp. ev. Luc. provides ample fodder for demonstrating most of the uses of ethnic reasoning Buell discusses. The text labors, for example, to create a historical pedigree for Ambrose's version of Christianness. (13) I will nevertheless confine myself to two related applications of ethnic reasoning in Exp. ev. Luc.: the text's polemic against other Christian groups by labeling them "heretics," "schismatics," and "Arians"; and Ambrose's endeavor to establish genealogical connections between two otherwise unconnected concepts, namely those of "Jewishness" and "heresy." (14)

In light of these considerations, I will later examine the essential qualities around which Ambrose orients his discussion of Jewishness and heresy, arguing that the parallels between them reflect Ambrose's endeavor rhetorically to connect different manifestations of unbelief in the minds of his readers and listeners. Three such shared essences--and their "Christian" counterparts--will receive particular attention: the "literary luxury" of Jews and heretics in contrast to Christian "simplicity"; the "barrenness" of Jews and Heretics vis-a-vis the "fruitfulness" of Christians; and the "faithlessness" of Jews and Heretics in opposition to Christians' "Nicene faith."

Before turning to the text itself, however, I will explore the historical context in which Exp. Ev. Luc. was created. Inquiry into, on the one hand, the composition of the homilies and other writings underlying the commentary, and, on the other hand, the collection and publication of Exp. ev. Luc. as a whole, may provide insight into the motivations underlying Ambrose's rhetorical strategies. (15) Internal and external evidence suggest a publication date toward the very end of the 380s for Exp. ev. Luc. The commentary was apparently put into circulation shortly after the so-called "Cathedral Controversy," a tense if brief stand-off between Ambrose and the Valentinian court in Milan over the use of one of the city's basilicas. The incident has been construed as the last gasp of Homoian Christianity in the West--the effective conclusion of several decades of Homoian ascendancy in Milan. (16) That "correct" Christology should be the overarching theme of a series of sermons preached over the course of the decade preceding this controversy is thus unsurprising. The question why Ambrose, who had shown himself only too ready to rail against the "Arians," (17) would couch his attacks against Homoian Christians primarily in terms of their rhetorically crafted "Jewishness" is a question I will explore further in the paper's conclusion.


Exp. ev. Luc. provides its reader with a number of clues concerning its historical context. For example, Ambrose refers to the anniversary of his ordination (VIII, 73) as well as the threatened invasion of northern Italy by the Goths and Armenians (II, 37). As becomes rapidly apparent, however, these hints point toward a disparate array of composition dates: they serve to situate the individual homilies of which Exp. ev. Luc. is constituted rather than the text as a whole. (18) As such, internal evidence provides a rough terminus post quem for the commentary's composition: F. Homes Dudden surmises that the latest dateable evidence suggests that "the completed work is certainly later than the autumn of A.D. 388, and probably later than the early summer of A.D. 389." (19)

While several of Ambrose's other writings refer to Exp. ev. Luc., the completed work's terminus ante quem comes in the form of Jerome's translation of Origen's homilies on Luke. (20) Shortly after the commentary's publication, Jerome's protegees Paula and Eustochium apparently complained to him that Ambrose's work "sported in words but slept in thought," as Jerome gleefully reports. (21) Jerome's preface to his translation of Origen suggests that he rushed to the task of providing his patronesses with a suitable substitute for Ambrose's unsatisfying commentary, even laying aside his work on the Hebraicae Quaestiones. Jerome's protestations, if reliable, may point toward a very early publication date for Exp. ev. Luc. and an exceedingly prompt response by Jerome: Hebrew Questions on Genesis were published in 389. (22) A somewhat later date for Jerome's work may be more appropriate. Pierre Nautin favors 392 as the publication year for the translation of Origen's homilies and between 389 and 390 for Exp. ev. Luc., (23) while Joseph Lienhard assigns a pre-393 date to Jerome's translation with Ambrose's work stemming from the year preceding Jerome's. (24) Broad scholarly consensus has thus located the text's date of publication somewhere in the 389 to 391 range. (25)

As such, the commentary's publication came at a crucial juncture in Ambrose's tenure as bishop. Milan had been the center of Homoian Christianity in the West; before Ambrose's election in 374, the metropolitan see had been held successfully by Homoian bishop Auxentius for almost twenty years. (26) Auxentius had enjoyed considerable support amongst local Christians, allowing him to resist attempted depositions by various councils as well as Nicene attempts at political intrigue. Indeed, in spite of the anxious concern of Ambrose's biographers to equip him with an impeccable Nicene pedigree, he likely succeeded as bishop during his initial years in Milan because he did not interfere significantly with the--largely Homoian--clerical hierarchy established under Auxentius. (27)

In 375, moreover, after the death of Valentinian I and the acclamation of the four-year-old Valentinian II as Augustus by his father's military generals, the child-emperor, his mother Justina, and their court established themselves in Milan. Unlike Valentinian II's brother (and co-emperor) Gratian, Justina, Valentinian II, and apparently the majority of the court officials were Homoian Christians. Their tenure in Milan thus led to tension with Ambrose's pro-Nicene faction, and within a decade of his election, Ambrose had emerged as one of the driving forces opposing Homoian Christianity in the West. (28) The 381 council of Aquileia turned into a trial of the Homoian bishops in attendance and the council's gesta reveals Ambrose as leading the charge. (29) The condemnation and exile of key Homoian leaders at Aquileia--combined with Homoian Christians' thoroughly justified suspicion that the council's composition and outcome had been manipulated by Ambrose and other pro-Nicenes--resulted in a Homoian backlash in Milan. By 385, Ambrose's feud with Valentinian II and his court had escalated. A counterbishop, Auxentius (II), had entered Milan and was making converts even among the pro-Nicenes. (30) Meanwhile, the court repeatedly sought to requisition one of the city's several basilicas for Homoian Christian Sunday services. (31) Ambrose refused the request, and the stand-offs resulting from the imperial court's attempts to sequester a basilica by force very nearly led to civil unrest and bloodshed.

Ambrose eventually succeeded in stabilizing the relationship between his own pro-Nicene faction and the court by virtue of the subtle threat that the Western emperor, Maximus, a zealous pro-Nicene, posed for the Valentinian court. (32) Indeed, Williams argues that the last blow to organized Homoian worship in Milan was dealt when Maximus eventually attacked northern Italy in 387 and established his rule in Milan. Valentinian II appealed to the Eastern emperor, Theodosius, for vindication against Maximus; Theodosius complied, but made Valentinian II's embrace of Nicene Christianity and, more importantly, Theodosius's marriage to the younger emperor's sister preconditions for his military support. (33) In 388, Theodosius marched on Italy where he defeated Maximus and installed the newly Nicene Valentinian II as Western emperor. Valentinian remained such until his death in 392. (34)

In spite of the military upheaval that attended the end of the 380s, the years during which Ambrose compiled and published Exp. ev. Luc. appear to have been entirely hopeful ones for him. The Valentinian court's exodus from Milan and the entry of the known pro-Nicene Maximus surely signaled the change of an era for Ambrose. The "Arian" Christians of Milan had been dealt a serious blow, and no likely candidate for providing the group with imperial patronage was on the horizon. By 390, Ambrose had succeeded in establishing a positive relationship with Eastern emperor Theodosius. In the West, Ambrose could still place confidence in his mentoring relationship with "his" convert, Valentinian II. (35) Ambrose enjoyed considerable security, both in his own position as bishop of a city that had been, thanks to him, recently blessed with the discovery of its own martyrs, and as adviser to two emperors. In one of his final additions to the commentary, Ambrose could thus rejoice that "the hurricane of all disputes has subsided, all the heat of worldly desire and every passion with which the people of Italy were tormented through the fires, once of Jewish, then of Arian perversity, are now tempered by a calm breeze" (IX, 32).

At the same time, however, an ever-growing phalanx of Christian groups and leaders were being branded as heretical. In 389, Siricius, the bishop of Rome, informed Ambrose and "the church of Milan" of Jovinian's condemnation. (36) Within the decade, the Council of Toledo would condemn the followers of Priscillian as heretics, while one of Ambrose's own catechumens, Augustine of Hippo, would spend his career writing against Manicheans and later against Donatist Christians. Indeed, supporters of "Arianism" proved stubbornly unaware of having been dealt their final blow and continued to produce liturgical and polemical writings long into the fifth century. (37) In this setting, Ambrose undertook the compilation and publication of over a decade's worth of homilies and extraneous writings as Exp. ev. Luc. Even in light of the apparent defeat of Homoian Christianity, the commentary's central theme--Christ's identity as the Son of God, fully human and fully divine--had not lost its relevance for Ambrose. (38) The new era would bring new challenges to what Ambrose considered the central truth of the gospel. In Exp. ev. Luc., Ambrose set out to show that, whatever their identity, these new challenges were really as old as the scriptures themselves: heretics and Jews shared the same essential qualities.


Neil McLynn characterizes Ambrose's Jews as "drawn from Scripture to help point his favorite contrast between letter and spirit, their narrow literalism providing a foil for the fertility of the Christian vision." (39) McLynn is surely correct that scripture, far more than interpersonal experience, shaped Ambrose's depiction of the Jewish "other." By the same token, however, Ambrose, like other Patristic exegetes, interpretively shaped scripture to create meaning relevant to his and his audience's practical and theological concerns. Jesus' actions as they were narrated in the gospels seemed to Ambrose to address the concerns of later proto-orthodox Christians. When Jesus healed the leper in Matthew 8:2, Ambrose argued, he "says, 'I will,' because of Photinus; He commands, because of Arius; He touches, because of Manichaeus" (V, 4). (40) Similarly, the apastalic fathers did not hesitate to mine narratives that seemed to preserve only historical data--like the gospel accounts of encounters between Jesus and representatives of the Jewish community--for contemporary relevance. (41) Particularly in social settings like Milan, where little actual Jewish presence existed, one such application involved the construction of Christian and non-Christian identities. Daniel Boyarin and Denise Buell have argued persuasively that Christian anti-Jewish writings of the first four centuries not only served to carve out a separate identity for Christians within Judaism but also to create Jewish identity as a sparring partner for Christianity. (42) Exp. ev. Luc. similarly constructs Jewishness as an opponent for "true Christianity," using scripture as its starting point. Ambrose's anxiety about heterodox, particularly Homoian Christians in Milan, however, lends shape and direction to the text's construction of Jewishness: Jews and heterodox Christians in Exp. ev. Luc. are being created in one another's image.

Below, I will examine three instances that exemplify particular ways in which Ambrose constructed Jewish, heterodox, and, by contrast, pro-Nicene Christian identity. The first instance, the identification of Jews and heretics as bearers of linguistic "luxury," a quality that Ambrose juxtaposes with Christian "simplicity," shows how a feature previously attributed to heterodox Christians becomes posited of Jews. The second example--Jewish and heretical "barrenness," vis-a-vis orthodox Christian "fruitfulness"--suggests that Ambrose ascribed attributes previously identified with Jewishness to his Christian opponents as well. Finally, the theme of Jewish and heretical "unbelief' and its contrast with orthodox Christians' "true faith" illustrates Ambrose's overarching motivation for rhetorically and exegetically yoking his construction of the two groups: to persuade his audience who had long learned to reject Jewishness to reject non-Nicene Christianity by association.


The comparison [of the fig tree its owner ordered to be cut down; Luke 13:7] with the synagogue is fitting, because just as that tree, abounding in perishable leaves, defrauded its Owner's [God's] hope, through His vain expectation of a longed for crop, so also in the synagogue while its teachers, barren in works, nevertheless glory in words, as if profuse foliage, the empty shadow of the Law swells (Exp. ev. Luc. VII, 161).

Ambrose's exposition of the fig tree parable initially appears quite plausible. In Luke's account, Jesus addresses "the crowds" (tois ochlois; 12:54), some of whom remind him of the bloodshed caused by Pilate among the Jews (13:1); moreover, the parable follows on the heels of explicit teachings on judgment (Luke 12). While Ambrose dwells far more extensively upon the threatened felling of the tree than upon the reprieve granted for time to fertilize the ground, his identification of the tree in Jesus' teaching with the Jewish people is not intrinsically suspect.

However, Ambrose's identification of the tree as "abounding in perishable leaves"--the parabolic foundation for his interpretation of the synagogue as "glory[ing] in words"--is without basis in Luke's gospel. Ambrose, in his interpretation of the text, characteristically conflates numerous biblical references to fig trees, beginning with the Lukan text's synoptic parallels, Mark 11:12-14 and Matthew 21:19. (43) Both passages describe Jesus approaching a fig tree, finding only leaves--because, according to Mark, "it was not the season for figs" (11:13)--and cursing the tree for its fruitlessness. Exp. ev. Luc. selectively absorbs details of these accounts to flesh out its interpretation of the Lukan passage. The tree's condemnation is thus exaggerated, since neither Mark nor Matthew provide the hopeful ending recounted in Luke. Furthermore, in Exp. Ev. Luc. the tree's fruitlessness--the result of Jesus' condemnation in Mark and Matthew--becomes the reason for its proposed punishment. In other words, Exp. Ev. Luc. assimilates aspects of scripture that support or enhance Ambrose's reading of the Lukan parable while omitting or short-changing aspects of the original passage that conflict with this reading.

A similar theme emerges in Exp. ev. Luc. 's discussion of the rich man who enters the kingdom of heaven only with difficulty (Luke 18:25). His wealth, in Ambrose's interpretation, is a "richness of words and the patrimony of vain eloquence." Here, too, the Jews are, for Ambrose, bearers of this peculiar kind of affluence. This is, however, a burden they share with others. The rich man represents not only Jews but also "the heretics, or, indeed, the philosophers of the world" (Exp. ev. Luc. V, 70). Similarly, those who "seek the distinctions of words, the deceit of arguments, the vainglorious coverings of aphorisms," namely "Manichaeus, Marcion, Sabellius, Arius, and Photinus," are "the brothers of the Jews" (VIII, 13). Heretics thus resemble Jews as well as one another, Ambrose argues, by virtue of their wealth of words and arguments. Such linguistic debauchery threatens to spill over from intellectual to material or indeed political discourse: Arians, Ambrose's prototypical heretics, appear to be "lying in the purple and on couches made of linen." Their heretical sense of intellectual superiority, Ambrose argues, induced them to seek to establish their superiority in other ways as well, turning the state's military power against "the truth of the Church" (VIII, 17). (44)

By contrast, Ambrose's "true Christian" is poor and simple when it comes to complex arguments or verbal embellishment--a bold claim for Ambrose, whose Exp. ev. Luc. takes up 322 columns of Migne. The kind of Christian whom God desires resembles the Apostle Paul in his conviction that "nothing else should be confessed, save that [Jesus] is the Son of God" (VI, 93). To do more than affirm this supposedly simple theological truth threatens to become a stumbling block for those who "with the Jewish manner of unbelief ... muse upon some things, feign others in our speech, although in the last times our hidden thoughts--accusing or defending--are seen about to open the secrets of our minds" (VII, 109). (45) In sharp contrast to the "Arians" who inquired about the unfathomable details of Jesus' origin, Ambrose's "true" Christians must say to themselves "I am not permitted to know the sequence of his Generation, yet I am not permitted to be ignorant of the faith in the Generation" (VI, 93).

The contrast Ambrose evokes between, on the one hand, the alleged questioning and verbal extravagance of Jews and heretics, and, on the other, the simplicity of pro-Nicene Christians has interesting parallels in the anti-heretical writings of several Eastern fathers. As Christine C. Shepardson has demonstrated, Ephrem the Syrian in his Hymns on Faith contrasts the "innocence" of Christians with the "inquisitive" nature of Arians and Jews: the Pharisees who interrogate Jesus in the gospels, as well as the Homoian

Christians who question his divine origin represent the former, while Ephrem's pro-Nicene Christians embody the latter. (46) In light of Ambrose's concern for Jesus' divinity, Exp. ev. Luc. emphasizes the overarching narrative of Jewish faithlessness vis-a-vis God rather than the individual unbelief of the Pharisees' encounter with the historical Jesus. Both fathers nevertheless narrate their anxiety over non-Nicene theological reasoning through the lens of anti-Judaism. Much as in Ambrose's case, Ephrem's ability to disparage his Christian rivals depends on his ability to forge associations in his audience's minds between Arians and the Jews of the New Testament.

The formulation of wealth/knowledge as an essential quality of "Jewishness" is, however, neither obvious nor common in the literature of the first four centuries. By contrast, associating knowledge with heresy in juxtaposition to the simplicity of faith enjoyed considerable pedigree. Clement of Alexandria thus wrote: "Valentinus's followers attribute faith to us in our simplicity, but arrogate knowledge to themselves as saved by their nature." (47) Similarly, Basil of Caesarea suggested that the followers of Aetius "with technical terminology ... pervert the simplicity and artlessness of the faith." (48) In light of Exp. ev. Luc. 's attempts to ascribe univocality to all so-called heretics, the text's endeavor to paint Homoian Christians with the same brush that his predecessors had used, namely a dangerous overemphasis on knowledge and reason, is therefore unsurprising. (49) Thanks to Ambrose's commitment to linking "heresy" to "Jewishness," however, Exp. ev. Luc. demonstrates a further kind of "feature ereep"--attributes associated with a rival group of Christians become incorporated into Ambrose's rhetorical creation of Judaism. The flow of qualities in Exp. ev. Luc. is not, however, limited to "heretical" features attributed to Jews. It is, rather, bi-directional, moving from "Jewishness" to "heresy" and vice versa. Spiritual "barrenness" thus provides an example of a trait traditionally ascribed to the Jews in early Christian writings that becomes attributed to heterodox Christian groups as well.


While the reference to "leaves" in Mark's and Matthew's versions of the fig tree story allowed Ambrose to level a blow against Jews' and heretics' supposed wealth of words and arguments, Exp. ev. Luc. focuses still greater rhetorical firepower upon another aspect of the parable: the barrenness of the synagogue, and the contrasting fruitfulness of the Christian Church (VII, 161-72). The synagogue, Ambrose argued, had produced fruit--the Jewish people and its ceremonial observances. This fruit, however, was only the useless, unseasonal kind that was cast off to make room for the real, ripe fruit that the tree's owner desired, namely Christians and their works: "Look, now, upon the disposition and religious practices of the Jews, who like the firstfruits of the well-nigh barren synagogue rush to destruction in imitation of a falling, unripe fig, so that they are supplanted by fruits which will survive beyond the era of our race" (VII, 163).

The common fig's ability to produce crops of both inedible "green" figs and edible "ripe" figs, provided Ambrose with an analogy for asserting Christian priority vis-a-vis the Jewish people. First in timing, the Jewish fruits were unripe and worthless, a condition that Exp. ev. Luc. attributes to the "strictness and pride of the Jews ... the hardness of their hearts ... the dullness of their minds" (VII, 168). Only the later Christian fruit may be counted as the legitimate offspring from the tree's Abrahamic root. Rhetorical strategies of this nature allowed early Christian writers to create a respected historical pedigree for pro-Nicene Christianness; moreover, "they could also position Christians as a distinct people because they embody the best preservation or perfection of the truth(s)." (50) By invoking the fig tree as a symbol of the "true Israel," Ambrose laid claim to antiquity, distinctiveness, and superiority for Christianity vis-a-vis Judaism.

Exp. ev. Luc., like the gardener in Luke's parable, expresses hope for the tree's redemption and eventual fruitfulness. This hope, however, comes only by way of the second, Christian harvest: "It is thereby revealed that the Holy Temple of God, which is the Church, would be established at the very end of the declining year, that is, in the west of the dying age; by its Grace, through the sanctification in Baptism, the peoples of the Jews and of the Gentiles could possess the fruit of their own merits" (VII, 169). By definition, only baptism and the Church could effect a Jew's standing amongst the "good figs." At the same time, however, conversion effaced the convert's Jewish origins: "He who believes is no longer the fruit of the synagogue, but of the Church, and he who is reborn in the Church is not born of the synagogue" (VII, 172).

The "sterility of the synagogue" and the corresponding fecundity of the Church are common themes in Ambrose's writings. (51) Aside from Exp. ev. Luc., similar references appear in De Abraham, the Hexameron, Expositio Psalmi, and several epistles. (52) In Exp. ev. Luc., however, he attributes a similar fruitlessness--and commends the same remedy--to other groups as well. For example, he writes that the hearts of Gentiles were "parched, but afterward grew moist through Baptism with the dew of the Spirit" (VII, 95). In certain cases, baptism apparently failed to cure the recipient's spiritual infertility; indeed, Ambrose suggests in Exp. ev. Luc. that Christian heretics suffered an aggravated form of the fruitlessness that afflicted Jews, namely the ability to destroy the fruit of others. Leaders of heterodox movements are thus said to be themselves fruitless; in Exp. ev. Luc., Ambrose characterizes their teachings as "empty houses" (VIII, 41). Just as significantly, the commentary draws elaborate analogies between heretics and wild beasts who burn Christian crops and rip sheep from Christian herds. Heretics are said to resemble wolves who seek to prey on (pro-Nicene) Christian flocks in the absence of their shepherds (VII, 49-53), as well as foxes who plot against the hen to which Jesus compares himself in Matthew's gospel (Matthew 23:37). Drawing upon Judges 15:4, Exp. ev. Luc. argues that the latter furthermore "try to burn the fruits of others.... with speech free at present but the end already set to the future, shewing the burning of their end with the torches of their tails" (VII, 31).

The alleged fruitlessness of the synagogue must have appeared far more obvious to Ambrose than to some of his contemporaries in cities with a greater Jewish presence. In Exp. ev. Luc., Ambrose interprets Judaism as a regrettable but necessary detour in God's grand scheme for redeeming humanity through Christ. (53) The proliferation of heterodox Christian groups, each of which laid claim to the same or a similar genealogy of divine blessing as Ambrose, was far more unsettling. The imagery in Exp. ev. Luc. suggests as much: the passive, non-threatening green figs employed by Ambrose to represent Jewish believers contrast sharply with his portrayal of heretics as destructive beasts. Both signifiers nevertheless share common ground, in that neither can be integrated into the orderly, domestic image Exp. ev. Luc. creates for "true Christianity." Heretics, like foxes, do not "ever grow tame ... nor [are] even useful as food" (VII, 31). Similarly, the degenerate fruit of the Jews, like green figs, "fell as being useless" (VII, 163).

By the same token, Jewish barrenness and heterodox destructiveness originate from a common source, namely their lack of (proper) faith. The fertile "faith of the Church," by contrast, must be protected from the infertilizing stain of Jewish or heterodox thought: "Lest an unbelieving people or a heretical teacher disfigure [the faith's] habitation, it is enjoined that the fellowship of heretics be avoided and the synagogue shunned. The dust is to be shaken off your feet, let when the dryness of barren unbelief crumble the sole of your mind it is stained as if by a dry and sandy soil" (VI, 68). Unbelief is then, for Ambrose, the bond shared by Jews and heterodox Christians and the foundation of their genealogical tie. Once the rejection of the "the faith" has taken root in a person--an act Ambrose attributes to the machinations of the devil--it turns all heretics into "brothers of the Jews, with whom they are joined by the kinship of unbelief" (VIII, 13). (54)

Ambrose is obviously not the first to issue wholesale condemnation of the Jewish people for their lack of faith in Jesus as the Christ. The historical pedigree of this accusation traces itself from Paul (confer Romans 11:20), through the evangelists, the apostolic fathers (confer Barnabas 4:9), and early apologetic literature (confer Dialogue with Trypho, xxxiii), to Ambrose's contemporaries. Heterodox Christians, on the other hand, emphatically affirmed their faith in Christ, even arguing for their superior faithfulness vis-a-vis pro-Nicenes' faith. In order to establish rhetorical kinship between Jewish unbelief and the defective faith of heterodox Christians, Ambrose had to introduce nuance to his definition of faithlessness. No longer in Exp. ev. Luc. was it enough to affirm Jesus as Christ or even as son of God--the particulars of Christ's relationship with the Father could differentiate true Christians from heretical unbelievers. In light of the commitment in Exp. ev. Luc. to synchronizing charges brought against Jews and heterodox Christians, the retrojection of this more developed definition of "faith" onto the Jews of the gospel accounts is unsurprising.


In Exp. ev. Luc., Ambrose rehearses several interpretations for Luke's "Day of the Lord" discourses (Luke 17:20-37). The saying about two men in the field, of whom one will be taken away and one left behind (Luke 17:36) is read first inwardly--two minds at work in each person--and thereafter outwardly--with regard to the impending judgment of humanity: "Nor is it unknown to interpret two peoples, namely that in this world, which is often likened to a field, there are two peoples, the one of believers, the other which does not believe, who will receive the reward of their merits, and, therefore, the one which is faithful is taken, the other which is faithless is left" (Exp. ev. Luc. VIII, 52).

The faith that distinguishes those who are taken from those who are left behind revolves, unsurprisingly, around the person and status of Jesus. To confess Christ, for Ambrose, meant to confess a quasi-creedal set of propositions, including his birth from a virgin, his miracles, and his death and resurrection: "If ye have gainsaid one of these, ye have gainsaid your own salvation. For even heretics seem to have Christ for themselves, for one denies the Name of Christ but he who does not confess all things which are of Christ denies Christ" (VI, 101). In Exp. ev. Luc., Ambrose provides brief vignettes of the kind of "heretical Christ" that preoccupied him. Heretics might thus claim that Jesus was in some way imperfect (II, 65); that he lacked pre-existence, taking his origin from his human birth (I, 25; II, 12); or, conversely, that Christ did not preside over eternal life (VII, 53) or lacked the attributes associated with the Father (X, 68). Heretical misconceptions about the nature of Christ could also impact their understanding of the Father: In Exp. ev. Luc., Ambrose envisions heterodox Christians who claim that God reigns alone (II, 12; II, 92), or that each member of the Trinity represents a separate and distinct power (VII, 248).

As will have become apparent, the primary issue at stake in Exp. ev. Luc. for differentiating "Christians" from "heretics," faithful from faithless, is the question of Christ's divinity. Ambrose makes this explicit when he--by way of a rather awkward argument--declares denying that Son and Father share the same divine substance the unpardonable sin (Luke 12:10). By virtue of their shared work, Ambrose argues, the members of the Trinity can be said to co-inhere in one another. As a result, all that is predicated of the Spirit may also be predicated of Christ: "If then, Christ is each [member of the Trinity], what is the difference that we may know that we are not allowed to deny the Divinity of Christ? Thus, whoever does not confess that God is in Christ, and Christ is from God and in God, is not worthy of forgiveness" (VII, 120). Failing to recognize Christ's divinity is said to "bind him" in the same way "the Jews" bound Jesus after his arrest. Indeed, Ambrose suggests in Exp. ev. Luc. that the shared impiety of both actions allows for the equation of Ambrose's heterodox contemporaries and the Jews to whom the gospel accounts attribute Jesus' crucifixion: "For those who think Christ a mere man bind Him, those who do not think Him prescient bind Him, those who do not confess Him as omnipotent bind Him. Evil are the Jews' fetters by which they bind not Christ, but themselves" (X, 68).

On another occasion, Ambrose attacks "those who seem to themselves to be experts on the Law, who keep the letter of the Law but disregard its spirit." They nevertheless reveal their ignorance by ignoring that from its first chapter, "the Law proclaimed both the Father and the Son and announced the sacrament of the Divine Incarnation." Accordingly, "he who does not know Christ does not know the Law either" (VII, 69). On its surface, this argument appears to direct itself against the Jews; accusations of focusing on the narrow letter rather than the spirit of the scriptures and in the process misapprehending their very message are standard tropes in the early Church's anti-Jewish writings. Yet the text, according to Exp. ev. Luc., belongs with those treated by Ambrose in "the little books which I wrote concerning the Faith" (VII, 68), that is to say, in the several volumes of De Fide, in which Ambrose defends himself against charges of heresy by bitterly attacking Arianism. (55) Ambrose thus appears to have in mind those Christians who have, in his view, through their misplaced emphasis on monotheism, fallen into doctrinal error. (56)

Furthermore, in Exp. ev. Luc., Ambrose invokes the parallel between those beguiled by heretical leaders--each of them an Antichrist, in Ambrose's rhetorical assessment--and "the Jews who denied the True Christ" (X, 21). Similar to Athanasius's Contra Arianos, Ambrose's Exp. ev. Luc. thus establishes a trajectory of Christ-denying unbelief that traces itself from the devil through the alleged founders of heterodox movements. (57 Unlike Athanasius, however, Ambrose expressed no confidence that Arianism would be the final, crowning heresy; instead, Exp. ev. Luc. anticipates an ever-growing chain of Antichrists, including Arius, Sabellius and "all who beguiled us with perverse interpretations" (X, 21).

Given Ambrose's social context and the doctrinal foci of his attacks, the obvious candidate for the Christological heresy that preoccupied Ambrose is "Arianism." Ambrose readily identifies it as such when he asks rhetorically, "Where are the Arians, to whom the Son, in Whom the Father is well pleased, is not pleasing?" (II, 95). Indeed, despite Ambrose's occasional moments of triumphalism, (58) there were unquestionably many Milanese Christians who had come to the faith under Auxentius and continued to harbor doubts about Ambrose's version of Christianity. By the same token, the rhetorical link Ambrose sought to create between "Jewish unbelief" and Christian doctrine that did not agree with his own pro-Nicene proclivities amplified not only the persuasive power his sermons but also their historical flexibility. For one thing, the association of Arianism with the gospels' harsh portrayal of Judaism, further enhanced by Ambrose's vitriolic interpretation, served to exaggerate the differences and dramatize the antagonism between pro-Nicene and Homoian Christians. For another, the general nature of Exp. ev. Luc.'s accusations--unbelief, argumentativeness, and destructiveness to true Christianity--seems to anticipate their being "repurposed" for as-of-yet undiscovered heresies. The doctrinal incoherence resulting from Ambrose's haphazard association of disparate heterodox groups with one another further focalizes the sharply polarized portrait Exp. ev. Luc. paints of Christian existence. True Christianity, Exp. ev. Luc. suggests, is simple and unified. Its rejection, on the other hand, takes many different guises. (59)


Averil Cameron, in her discussion of Eusebius's heresiology, observed that "what may seem now to be distinct and separate sets of issues--Christianity versus Judaism, Christianity in relation to polytheism, and true as opposed to 'false' belief within Christianity--were close together in the minds of early Christians and approached in very similar ways. Naturally the edges became blurred." (60) Exp. ev. Luc. demonstrates how pervasive such rhetorical "blurring" of Judaism and heterodox Christianity had become by the end of the fourth century. The commentary's attempted linkages between "Jews" and "Arians" rely upon the rhetorical construction of the movements in question as monolithic and as genealogically related, with Arianism as heir to Judaism's most unfavorable qualities. Such a correlation also relies upon their direct juxtaposition with "true"--that is to say, pro-Nicene--Christianity. (61) The traits singled out for Arianism and Judaism in Exp. ev. Luc. center around both groups' alleged "luxury" of argument and aphorism, upon their fruitlessness and destructiveness to Christian fruit, and, most significantly, upon their shared lack of faith in Christ as the fully divine Son of God. These analogies do not, generally speaking, arise from Ambrose's study of either group; instead, they are consciously created as foils for the traits Ambrose sought to highlight in pro-Nicene Christianity, namely simplicity, fruitfulness, and a correct apprehension of the person of Christ.

The connection between Arianism and Judaism pursued in Exp. ev. Luc. provided Ambrose with considerable rhetorical benefits. Given the limited Jewish presence in Milan during the late fourth century, the familiarity of Ambrose's audience with the Jewish people was likely confined to Jews' portrayal in scripture, as expounded by Ambrose. Exp. ev. Luc.'s identification of heterodox Christians with the literary depictions of Jews as Jesus' opponents left its hearers and readers with powerfully negative associations. By the same token, Exp. ev. Luc.'s seemingly haphazard treatment of a wide range of non-Nicene Christian movements as functionally equivalent to one another as well as to Judaism created a clear "us vs. them" rhetoric. In Cameron's words, Ambrose employed "the language of binary opposition that is standard when labeling one's enemies as 'the other': the language of disqualification." (62) As a result, Christians in Ambrose's congregation were encouraged to view themselves as adherents of the only true form of Christian faith. By contrast, all outsiders formed an undifferentiated mass of "otherness," which constantly threatened to impinge upon the true flock and its faith.

Lastly, the chain of heresy that connected Judaism to Arianism and other heterodox Christianities could be extended indefinitely into the future. By the time Ambrose published Exp. ev. Luc., Homoian Christianity was waning in northern Italy, but "true" Christianity remained at risk. Indeed, Ambrose conjectured that heresies had to exist "that good men may be tested" (IV, 77). Whatever shape the heresies lurking just beyond the horizon took, however, they were, in substance, mere descendants of Judaism and siblings of long-rejected Christianities. In the last instance, Exp. ev. Luc. thus seems to be invested in its longevity: as long as all heresy resembled prior heresy and all heterodox Christianity was kin to Judaism, Ambrose's arguments in defense of the pro-Nicene faith would never lose their vigor and validity.

Exp. ev. Luc. ultimately did not enjoy the lasting appreciation for which Ambrose had likely hoped. Within a few years of its publication, the commentary had been judged ponderous, theologically questionable, and hopelessly derivative. Ambrose's rhetorical strategy of associating Jews and heretics, on the other hand, survived in the polemics of his successors. Augustine thus bemoaned that "the heretics, Jews and Pagans have formed a unity against [our] unity." (63) While much of contemporary scholarship has judged Exp. ev. Luc. as testimony to Ambrose's virulent anti-Judaism, a more accurate assessment of the text's legacy must therefore speak first and foremost to its contribution to the development of Christian heresiological polemic in late antiquity.

doi: 10.1017/S000964071100120X

(1) See, for example, J. Warren Smith, Christian Grace and Pagan Virtue: The Theological Foundation of Ambrose's Ethics (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011); Marcia L. Colish, Ambrose's Patriarchs: Ethics for the Common Man (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005); Christoph Markschies, Ambrosius von Mailand und die Trinitatstheologie: Kirchen- und theologiegeschichtliche Studien zu Antiarianimus und Neunizanismus bei Ambrosius und im lateinischen Westen (364-381 n. Chr.) (Tubingen: Mohr, 1995). Assessments of Ambrose as unoriginal and primarily motivated by political concerns appear, for example, in the works of Hans Freiherr von Campenhausen (Ambrosius von Mailand als Kirchenpolitiker [Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1929]). In recent years, however, the work of especially Christoph Markschies has gone a long way toward rehabilitating Ambrose as an independent and influential theological thinker. Markschies thus concludes that "mir scheint ... die theologiegeschichtliche Bedeutung des Ambrosius darin zu liegen, dass er zugleich ein guter Kirchenpolitiker und Theologe genannt werden muss und es gerade seine Bemuhungen im Ubersetzung und Ubertragung, also eine dezidierte Nicht-Originalitat, sind, die das Pradikat "guter Theologic" verdienen." "War der Bischof Ambrosius von Mailand ein schlechter Theologe?" in Jahrbuch der Akademie der Wissensehaften in Gottingen 1994 (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1995), 63-66, 64-65.

(2) Exp. ev. Luc. thus understands the person from whom an unclean spirit has gone out (Luke 11:24-26) only to have the spirit return with seven others to once again take possession of the person as "the likeness of the whole Jewish people" (VII, 95). Indeed, even passages that speak of Jews in positive terms are used to level blows against the Jewish people: the healing of Jairus's daughter in the presence of only a handful of people, in Ambrose's reading points to the small number of Jews who would ultimately experience salvation (VI, 61-64).

Unless otherwise noted, all quotations from Exp. ev. Luc. are taken from Saint Ambrose of Milan, Exposition of the Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke, trans. Theodosia Tomkinson (Etna, Calif.: Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 2003).

(3) The question of Ambrose's attitude toward Judaism has failed to inspire scholarly consensus. Gregory Figueroa thus argues that, in spite of the "wide gulf" that exists between Church and Synagogue, Ambrose's attitude toward Jews and Judaism is not wholly negative. (Gregory Figueroa, The Church and the Synagogue in St. Ambrose [Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1949], 38). Wilhelm Wilbrand, argues for an even stronger reading of Ambrose's "anti-Judaism": "Wenn wir die Ausserungen des Kirchenvaters in ihrer Gesamtheit werten, so weden wit sagen mussen, dass die ungunstigen Urteile doch uberwiegen" (Wilhelm Wilbrand, "Ambrosius von Mailand und sein Verhaltnis zum Judentum," in Veritati: Eine Sammlung geistesgeschichtlicher, philosophischer, und theologischer Abhandlungen, als Festgabe fur Johannes Hessen zu seinem 60. Geburtstag, ed. Willy Falkenhahn [Munich: Reinhardt, 1940], 156-61, 161).

(4) See, for example, F. Homes Dudden's regretful remark "how religious prejudice could so warp the judgement of a good and wise man" (E Homes Dudden, D.D., The Life and Times of St. Ambrose 2 vols. [Oxford: Clarendon, 1935], 376).

(5) Ambrose, Epistula 74, 8, in Ambrose of Milan: Political Letters and Speeches, trans. J. H. W. G. Liebeschuetz (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2005), 100. Ambrose's intended meaning is unclear, although Ernst Dassmann surmises that Ambrose is referring to the synagogue's destruction by lightning (Ernst Dassmann, Ambrosius von Mailand: Leben und Werk [Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2004], 184).

Shlomo Simonsohn has taken this passage to indicate "the saint's declared intention to set fire to a synagogue" in Milan (The Jews in the Duchy of Milan, 1:1387-477 [Jerusalem: The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1982], xiii). In context, however, it is clear that Ambrose is defending himself against charges of inconsistency--he excuses and even praises the burning of the Callinicum synagogue without taking similar action against its Milanese counterpart.

At the same time however, Simonsohn's monograph offers archeological evidence for at least some level of Jewish presence in Milan at the turn of the fifth century. Simonsohn thus notes the discovery of three Jewish tombstones from the fifth and sixth centuries uncovered in the city area (Simonsohn, Jews in the Duchy of Milan, xiv). Clearly, at least a few Jews existed in Ambrose's Milan; the evidence nevertheless suggests that their numbers and the influence they exercised upon the Church were limited. Moreover, Ambrose himself mentions the existence of a synagogue--albeit once again in conjunction with the hated Homoians--in Ep. 11, when he alleges that the Arians hold "private meetings sometimes before the doors of the synagogue and sometimes in the houses of the Arians" (Ep. 11.3, PL 16.0945C).

(6) Ambrose, De Noe et Arca 19.70, PL col. 14.0395A.

(7) Neil B. McLynn, Ambrose of Milan: Church and Court in a Christian Capital, Transformation of the Classical Heritage, vol. 22 [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994], 303-4).

(8) See, for example, Dassmann's comment that Ambrose's polemic against the Jews remains "ein wenig literarisch" or McLynn's assertion that Ambrose's Jews are "drawn from Scripture ... a foil for the fertility of the Christian vision" (Dassmann, Ambrosius, 184; McLynn, Ambrose of Milan, 304). Paula Fredriksen describes a similar phenomenon in the context of Justin Martyr's Dialogue with Trypho. "The 'Jews' of [Christian apologists'] arguments are a construct: They are 'rhetorical Jews,' not historical Jews. The image of Jews used in these polemics did not derive from these authors' observing and then describing their Jewish contemporaries, but from their deploying literary-rhetorical techniques in disputes over sacred texts.... Put differently: The "Jews" of such intra-Christian writings, whether those of formative first century authors (eventually gathered in the New Testament) or those of their later theological avatars ... are first of all a rhetorical strategy. They are conjured in order to assist their authors in positioning themselves advantageously within the agon of intra-Christian theological dispute, which for Paul and the evangelists had been an intra-Jewish dispute as well" (Augustine and the Jews: A Christian Defense of Jews and Judaism [New York: Doubleday, 2008] 226-27).

(9) Ambrose thus fails to comment on such central Lukan passages as the Magnificat.

(10) Jerome, Prologus in Didymi libro de Spiritu Sancto, PL 23, coll. 99-154; see also Jerome, "Preface to Translation of Origen on St. Luke," in NPNF2, vol. 6 (New York, 1893), 496.

(11) Confer George E. Saint-Laurent, "St. Ambrose of Milan and the Eastern Fathers," Diakonia 15, no. 1 (1980), 23-31.

(12) Denise Kimber Buell, Why This New Race: Ethnic Reasoning in Early Christianity (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), 2.

(13) See, for example, Exp. ev. Luc. III, 43-49.

(14) To further explore Exp. ev. Luc. 's establishment of "Arianism" as heresy par excellence this paper will further draw upon Rebecca Lyman's "A Topography of Heresy: Mapping the Rhetorical Creation of Arianism," in Arianism after Arius, ed. Michel R. Barnes and Daniel H. Williams (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993), 45-62.

(15) Confer Thomas Graumann's observation: "Zu klaren, was denn mit dem hermeneutischen Hinweis auf Chrisms inhaltlich gesagt, d.h. welches Christusbild und welche Christusinterpretation in der Exegese wirksam werden soll, musste fur Ambrosius umso dringlicher werden als er sieh ja mit dem 'Arianismu' einem kontraren Christusverstandnis gegenubersah, das er heftig als ein haretisches bekampt. Die ambrosianische Hermeneutik gewinnt erst im Kontext dieser zeitgenossischen theologischen Debatte ihr wahres Profil" (Thomas Graumann, "Die theologische Grundlage der Auslegung in der Expositio evangelii seeundum Lucam des Ambrosius von Mailand," Studia Patristiea: Papers presented at the Twelfth International Conference on Patristic Studies held in Oxford, vol. 30 [Leuven: Peeters, 1997], 19-27, 20).

(16) Daniel H. Williams, Ambrose of Milan and the End of the Arian-Nicene Conflicts (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 215-16.

(17) The question presents itself how to identify the Milanese Christians addressed by Ambrose whose Christology diverged from the pro-Nicene group he represented. Ambrose, of course, refers to this group consistently as "Arians," whereas contemporary scholarship prefers the more nuanced "Homoian" label. See, for example, Peter Kaufman, "'Diehard Homoians and the Election of Ambrose," Journal of Early Christian Studies 5, no. 3 (Fall 1997): 421-40, 423-26. For purposes of this paper, I will use the terms "Arian" and "Arianism" to reflect Ambrose's labeling of this Christian faction, without implying a direct link between the group in question and the teachings of Arius.

(18) For a fuller listing of passages pointing to particular composition dates, see Dudden, St. Ambrose, 692-93.

(19) Dudden, St. Ambrose, 693.

(20) Joseph T. Lienhard, Origen, Homilies on Luke: Fragments on Luke (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1996), 3. For a partial list of Ambrose's own writings that reference Exp. ev. Luc. see, Dudden, St. Ambrose, 693-94.

(21) Jerome had previously anathematized the bishop's alleged plagiarism of Didymus the Blind's treatise on the Holy Spirit in (Ambrose's) De Spiritu Saneto. Whether Jerome leveled a similar charge against Ambrose in the introduction to his translation of Origen is subject to debate; Rufinus certainly accused Jerome of doing so. Furthermore, Jerome's caricaturing of his unnamed opponent as a crow is common to both texts, although it appears far less clear that the charges brought against Ambrose in the latter work involve plagiarism. Rufinus, Apol. 2.26 (CCL 20:101). For an argument that Jerome attacks Ambrose's inept exegesis rather than his plagiarism, see, for example, Neil Adkin, "Jerome on Ambrose The Preface to the Translation of Origen's Homilies on Luke," Revue Benedictine 107 (1997): 5-14.

(22) While Lienhard confidently identifies the work referenced by Jerome as the Hebrew Questions on Genesis, Jerome's mention of libros (pl.) in his preface suggests that he may have been thinking of a different, no longer extant work than the surviving Hebrew Questions, which encompasses only one volume. For an in-depth discussion of this problem, see Adam Kamesar, Jerome, Greek Scholarship and the Hebrew Bible: d Study of the Quaestiones Hebraicae in Genesim (Oxford: Clarendon, 1993), 74-75; C. T. R. Hayward, Saint Jerome's Hebrew Questions on Genesis (Oxford: Clarendon, 1995), 23-27.

(23) Pierre Nautin, "L'activite littrraire de Jerome de 387 a 392," Revue de Theologie et de Philosophic 115 (1983): 247-59, 252.

(24) Lienhard, Homilies on Luke, xxxiv.

(25) Dudden, St. Ambrose, 694.

(26) For an exhaustive discussion of the development of Homoian Christianity in the West, see Williams, Ambrose of Milan. Concerning the reasons underlying the Homoian Christian success vis-a-vis the Homoiousian church party at and particularly after the Council of Ariminum, see Winrich Lohr, "A Sense of Tradition: The Homoiousian Church Party," in Arianism after Arius, ed. Barnes and Williams, 81-100.

(27) In his discussion of Ambrose's life, Williams treats both Rufinus's and Paulinus's portraits with healthy skepticism. Where "facts" reported by either cannot be substantiated independently, as is the case, for example, with Ambrose's alleged baptism by a pro-Nicene bishop or his participation in the ordination of Arnemius in Sirmium, Williams generally rejects their historicity. Williams thus argues that Ambrose during the initial years of his episcopate remained religiously neutral, an extension of imperial policies (Williams, Ambrose, 117-00). For an older perspective that views Ambrose as "unreservedly committed to the Symbol of Nicea [sic]" from the cradle onward, see, for example, George E. Saint-Laurent, "Saint Ambrose of Milan and the Eastern Fathers," Diakonia 15, no. 1 (1980): 23-31.

(28) That both court and bishop managed to co-exist for twelve years, until Maximus's entry into Northern Italy forced Valentinian II's evacuation, nevertheless speaks to a level of mutual toleration, and at times even co-operation, between the two parties. On two occasions, Ambrose thus served as an envoy from Valentinian II's court to that of Gratian's successor, Maximus (McLynn, Ambrose of Milan, 160-62).

(29) Williams, Ambrose, 169-84, esp. 175-81.

(30) Williams, Ambrose, 202-10.

(31) These events are narrated in Ambrose's epistles 75 and 76, as well as his sermon Contra Auxentium (Ep. 75a). In light of the fact that Ambrose is the only source for these events and doubts concerning the reconstruction of the sequence of letters and sermon, several different chronological reconstructions have been proposed. Scholars disagree particularly whether the two attempts at basilica sequestration took place over the course of two years (385-386) or occurred during the same year (386), within a few months of one another. For a proponent of the two-year hypothesis, see McLynn, Ambrose of Milan, 173-208; J. H. W. G. Liebeschuetz, Ambrose of Milan: Political Letters and Speeches (Liverpool University Press, 2005), 125-33. In favor of the one-year hypothesis see, Andrew Lenox-Conygham, "The Topography of the Basilica Conflict of A.D. 385/6 in Milan," Historia 31 (1982): 353-64; Williams, Ambrose, 212-17. While the author personally favors Lenox-Donygham's reconstruction of the events in question, the arguments of this paper do not turn on the reader's acceptance of one or the other chronology.

(32) Williams, Ambrose, 216; confer McLynn, Ambrose, 160-64.

(33) Williams, Ambrose, 228.

(34) McLynn, Ambrose of Milan, 336. See also Brian Croke, "Arbogast and the Death of Valentinian II," Historia 25 (1976): 23544. For a more skeptical reading of Valentinian II's supposed suicide, see Williams, Ambrose, 229-00.

(35) In his letter to Theodosius after Valentinian II's death, Ambrose thus portrays the latter as one who "was so tenderly attached to myself, as to love one whom he had before persecuted, and to esteem as his father the man whom he had before repulsed as his enemy" (Ep. LIII, 2). While ulterior motives surely colored Ambrose's presentation of his relationship with Valentinian to Theodosius, the fact that Ambrose was on a--long-delayed--journey to Vienne where he planned to baptize Valentinian II speaks to an ongoing relationship between the bishop and the young Augustus.

(36) Ep. 42.

(37) See, for example, Neil McLynn, "From Palladius to Maximinus: Passing the Arian Torch," Journal of Early Christian Studies 4, no. 4 (Winter 1996): 477-93.

(38) Graumann, "Theologische Grundlage," 19-27.

(39) McLynn, Ambrose of Milan, 304.

(40) Elizabeth A. Clark's assertion that "for ancient commentators, all Scripture was revealed truth relevant to present Christian experience, not merely historical narration, and was to be aligned with their endorsement of asceticism's superiority" applies as fully to the Ambrose's anti-heretical writings as to the ascetic treatises of desert monastics (Reading Renunciation: Asceticism and Scripture in Early Christianity [Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999], 9).

(41) Clark's account of Christian ascetic appropriation of ritual texts from the Hebrew Scriptures provides an apt parallel (Clark, Reading Renunciation, 204-32).

(42) See, for example, Boyarin's conclusion that "at least one major impetus for the formation of a discourse of heresiology, on my reading, is the construction of a Christianity that would not be Judaism" (Daniel Boyarin, Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity [Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004], 14). Similarly, Buell observes that contemporary readers "should not envision Justin [Martyr] drawing on an established Jewish framework or social formation as a foil for his own process of Christian self-definition. Rather, contemporaneous with Justin's own construction of Christianness ... Jewishness is also being constructed" (Buell, Why This New Race, 97).

(43) Ambrose even goes so far as to argue that Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden for plucking the leaves of the fig tree, withdrawing from God, "covered as regards their shameful deeds by veils of smooth words like leaves" (Exp. ev. Luc. VII, 164-65).

(44) Ambrose explores a similar theme in his discussion of the casting-out of the money-changers from the temple (Matthew 21:12-17). Comparing Arian Christians to deceitful money hangers, Ambrose exhorts his listeners to not "mingle the image of your Prince, diminished by the deceit of Arian treachery, with your treasure nor tempt the ear of the Faithful with the sound of money, so that the ring of brass prevents the hearing of pious writings, or the desire for possession is mixed with pious feelings" (Exp. ev. Luc. IX, 18).

(45) Ambrose likewise describes "true Christians" as high on simplicity and low on ambition: "The Lord searched not for colleges filled with crowds of the wise, but a simple people which would not know to embellish hand distort what they heard; for simplicity is sought and ambition is not desired" (Exp. ev. Luc. II, 53).

(46) "The emphasis on the verbs for searching [bs'], seeking [bc'], and investigating [cqb] in Ephrem's rhetoric is frequently an attack against Arian Christians who, Ephrem argues, inappropriately seek to know God trough reasoned inquiry rather than simply believing through faith." Christine Shepardson, "Exchanging Reed for Reed: Mapping Contemporary Heretics onto Biblical Jews in Ephrem's Hymns on Faith," Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies 5, no. 1 (2002): 4. For a fuller development of Shepardson's argument, see Anti-Judaism and Christian Orthodoxy: Ephrem's Hymns in Fourth Century Syria (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2008).

(47) Clement, Stromateis 2.3.1., quoted in Buell, Why This New Race, 120 (as Strom. 2.10.2.).

(48) Basil, On the Holy Spirit, VI.13 (NPNF2, vol. 8), 1-50, 8.

(49) In commenting on the "little apocalypse" of Luke, Ambrose thus compares the fleeing princes mentioned in Luke to the leaders of various Christian groups: "Sabellius is wounded, Valentinus is wounded, Arius is wounded, for they were found in empty houses" (Exp. ev. Luc. XI, 41).

(50) Buell, Why This New Race, 93.

(51) Figueroa, Church and Synagogue in St. Ambrose, 29-36.

(52) See, for example, De Abraham I, 7, 61 (CSEL 32, Sch. 542-43); Exameron II, 4, 16 (CSEL 32, Sch. 55); Explan. Ps. 35, 20 (CSEL 64, Pet. 64); Epistle 31, 5 (PL 16, 915); Epistle 70, 10 (PL 16, 1064); Expos. Ps. 118.2. 10 (CSEL 62, Pet. 25).

(53) Confer Figueroa's claim that Ambrose "places the raison d'etre of fertility in Christ" (Figueroa, Church and Synagogue, 29).

(54) Exp. ev. Luc. IV, 10. Ambrose further suggests that this involvement may be, in fact, of a generative nature. Drawing upon the Johannine saying, according to which Jesus calls the devil the father of the Jews (John 8:44), Ambrose argues that such a relationship is not based on biology or, it appears, ethnic identity, but upon the shared patrimony of vices (Exp. ev. Luc. IV, 54). Interestingly, a "counter-genealogy" is found in Athanasius's writings against the Arians, where Athanasius classifies the devil as the father of all heresies who has previously brought forth other false teachings as the "elder sisters" of the ultimate heresy (Contra Arianos 1.1; confer Lyman, "Rhetorical Creation of Arianism," 54).

(55) Ambrose there discusses the passage, or perhaps its synoptic parallel, Matthew 11:27, in the context of an argument for the equal status of all three persons of the Trinity (De Fide V, 200). Daniel Williams has argued that Ambrose's strategy of "guilt by association" appears already in the first two volumes of this work, particularly in his linking of "Arians" and "Pagans" (Daniel H. Williams, "Necessary Alliance or Polemical Portrayal? Tracing the Historical Alignment of Arians and Pagans in the Later Fourth Century," Studia Patristica. xxix, Papers presented at the Twelfth International Conference on Patristic Studies hem in Oxford 1995, ed. Elizabeth A. Livingstone [Leuven: Peeters, 1997], 178-94, 189).

(56) Confer Exp. ev. Luc. IV, 10: "Another hears that there is One God, from Whom are all things, adores and worships; the Devil lies in ambush for him and closes his ears, lest he hear that there is One Lord by Whom are all things; thus he compels him to be impious with excess piety, so that while he separates Father from the Son, he confuses the Father and the Son, and thinks the Person, not the power, to be one. Therefore, whereas he does not know the measure of faith, he falls into the hardship of unbelief."

(57) Contra Arianos 1.1. Confer Lyman, "Rhetorical Creation of Arianism," 54-55.

(58) See, for example, Exp. ev. Luc. IX, 32.

(59) Compare, for example, Ambrose's portrayal of Heresy as the rich man, who "has composed many gospels, but Faith, the pauper, has retained only the Gospel which she received; philosophy, the rich man, created many gods for herself, but the Church, the pauper, knows but One" (Exp. ev. Lue. VIII, 17).

(60) Averil Cameron, "Jews and Heretics - A Category Error?" in The Ways that Never Parted." Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, ed. Adam H. Becker and Annette Yoshiko Reed (Minneanapolis: Fortress, 2007), 345-60, 350.

(61) Daniel Williams has argued similarly that anti-Arian polemic in the late fourth century rested, in part, upon the association of Arianism and Paganism with one another by virtue of a number of supposedly shared qualities (Williams "Necessary Alliance or Polemical Portrayal?" 194).

(62) Cameron, "Jews and Herettcs--A Category Error?" 350.

(63) Sermo 62, 18 (PL xxxviii, 425), cited in Williams, "Necessary Alliance or Polemical Portrayal?" 194.

This article has benefited from the input and support of numerous individuals. Chief among these are Elizabeth A. Clark, for whose seminar the essay was first composed; J. Warren Smith, whose expertise on Ambrose remains a most welcome resource; Bart Ehrman, and the Duke/ UNC Christianity in Antiquity reading group he convenes; as well as the anonymous referees, whose suggestions have added to the work in most helpful ways. I am profoundly grateful to all of them.

Maria Doerfer is a Doctoral Candidate in Religion at Duke University.
COPYRIGHT 2011 American Society of Church History
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2011 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Doerfler, Maria
Publication:Church History
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2011
Previous Article:Inventing Church History.
Next Article:From authentic miracles to a rhetoric of authenticity: examples from the canonization and cult of St. Vincent Ferrer.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters