Ambrose of Milan - Bishop Ambrose answers questions

Ambrose of Milan


In the later 300s AD, with the Roman emperors all Christians, more and more of the people of the empire began to convert to Christianity. One of the most important men who encouraged people to convert, and who created the relationship between the emperors and the church, was Ambrose, the bishop of Milan in northern Italy.
The most important thing that Ambrose (AM-broze) did was to insist that even Roman emperors had to do what the church told them to do, or they would go to hell when they died and burn forever. The emperors, who were used to being treated like gods themselves, did not like this idea, but in the end they did have to do what Ambrose said.


In the 380s AD, the emperor Theodosius heard that the Christian bishop of a Roman town had told his followers to go and burn down the Jewish synagogue of that town, and the Christians had burnt it down. The Jews appealed to Theodosius for justice, and Theodosius said that the bishop should pay to rebuild their synagogue. But Ambrose wrote to Theodosius and said that was wrong, because Christian money shouldn't be used to pay for Jewish things. Theodosius still thought that it was right to pay for what you had broken, and so Ambrose threatened to not let anybody in Milan take Communion until Theodosius let the bishop off. And in the end, Theodosius did let the bishop off (though he did punish the Christians who had actually burnt down the synagogue).

Soon afterwards, Ambrose and Theodosius had another fight. Some people of Thessaloniki in northern Greece had murdered some Roman soldiers who were acting as security guards, just because their favorite charioteer wasn't going to be in the horse race they had come to see. Theodosius was angry that people had attacked Roman soldiers and killed them, and he wanted to teach them a lesson. He ordered that all the people at the races on a certain day should be killed to pay them back. And Roman soldiers did go and kill all those people, even old people and children who hadn't done anything - seven thousand people altogether.

Well, a lot of those people in Thessaloniki were Christians. Thessaloniki had had Christians for a long time, because it was one of the places that Saint Paul went to when he was converting people. When Bishop Ambrose heard about these Christians being killed, he was very angry himself. He told the emperor Theodosius that he had to say he was sorry, in public, for killing those people, before he could go to heaven anymore. Ambrose said he would excommunicate Theodosius if he didn't apologize. Theodosius really didn't want to do that, but finally Ambrose made him do it.

Ambrose was also one of the teachers of Augustine.

Learn by doing: visit a synagogue
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Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

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