"As all men who live under the Roman sway engage in military service under you, the Emperors and Princes of the world, so too do you yourselves owe service to Almighty God and our holy faith. For salvation is not sure unless everyone worship in truth the true God, that is the God of the Christians, under Whose sway are all things; for He alone is the true God, Who is to be worshipped from the bottom of the heart; for 'the gods of the heathen,' as Scripture says, 'are devils'" St. Ambrose to Valentinian (Ep. XVII. 1).
During the first three centuries of the Church after Our Lord's death the State at various time interfered in the lives of Christians when it issued edicts to enforce them to submit to its demands to worship the Emperor and sometimes to surrender all its possessions. For example, the Emperor, Diocletian in 303, ordered all churches to be destroyed, all bibles and liturgical books to be surrendered, sacred vessels confiscated, and all meetings for worship forbidden. How much interference there was usually depended on particular emperors and or governors, and so it differed in various parts of the Roman world. When Galerius and Diocletian were causing havoc and disarray in the Eastern empire, the West under Maximian and Constantius had a time of relative peace. Constantius was stationed in Briton and when he died at York in 306, the troops proclaimed his son Constantine as Emperor, who like his father, worshipped the Unconquered Sun.
That appointment was to change the whole direction of the Church. It is said that before the battle at Milvian Bridge in 312 Constantine experienced a cross of light in the sky with the words, In hoc signo vinces. Victory here converted Constantine to Christianity, and henceforth the labarum, the standard of Constantine bore the monogram Chi-Rho, the initial Greek letters of the name Christ. It probably would not have been too difficult for Constantine to recognise Christ as the Unconquered Sun. Not long before Constantine, Clement of Alexandria, c.200 depicted Christ as the Sun-god mounting the heavens with his chariot, whilst Tertullian stated that many pagans believed that Christians worshipped the sun as they met to worship on Sundays and faced the east to pray.
In 313 at Milan Constantine and Licinius in the East agreed on a policy of religious freedom for all, and a restoration of property to churches and individual Christians. By 324 Constantine was sole emperor of the Roman Empire after defeating Licinius on the Bosphorus.
Although Constantine deferred baptism until his death-bed, a common feature at that time, he was a great benefactor to the church. In his newly founded capital on the Bosphorus, Constantinople, the New Rome, he built churches of which one was the original Sophia. In old Rome too, churches were either constructed or pagan temples converted to churches, but not in the city itself - The pagan Senate still controlled the city. Outside the city boundaries were built basilicas to SS. Peter and Paul built on their respective shrines that had been associated with them from at least 160. He even gave the palace of his second wife, Fausta to the bishop of Rome as an Episcopal residence (it remained as such until 1308). The Lateran Basilica, which became and still is the official cathedral still of Rome was not built immediately. When it was it was dedicated to the Saviour, "Basilica Salvatoris". The fact that the Vandals stripped it of all its treasures in the early fifth century suggest that it was built magnificently.
He assigned a fixed proportion of provincial revenues to church charity, and balanced this with Christian ideals in new laws in regards to children, slaves, peasants and prisoners. For example, an edict of 316 directed that criminals were not to be branded on the face 'because man is made in God's image'.
Having embraced Christianity Constantine soon found that this Church was not perfect. There were many doctrinal disputes, of which one was Donatism, which expressed the Church as a society for holy people rather than that for sinners. Its followers wanted to bar from membership any who had apostatised under persecution, and therefore opposed the election of Caecilianus as bishop of Carthage in 311. The first of five investigations within seven years was at a council held in Rome in 313. Constantine requested the bishops of Rome, Autun, Arles and Cologne to hear the representatives of both sides, i.e. the Bishop, Caecilianus, and Donatus. The result was the ex-communication of the latter. The next year a more important council was called by the Emperor to meet at Arles. Constantine was determined to have Christians united, and united too in common service to the State, and so he did all he could to make the meeting effective. He provided free transport to bishops, including three from far off England. Here Caecilianus was once again confirmed as bishop of Carthage and Donatus condemned. Other significant decisions were: 1. From henceforth three bishops were to share in the consecration of a bishop. 2. Christians could accept the office of magistrate, following the example of the supreme magistrate. 3. Christians who refused military service on the grounds of their faith faced excommunication. 4. Easter was to be kept on the same day by all churches. 5. The innocent party in divorce could not remarry.
When the Donatists did not accept this Council's decision Constantine confiscated their churches, and their leaders were exiled in 316. The history of Donatism after this took on a social colour with its identification with the poor against landowners and even the question, Quid imperatori cum ecclesia? Donatism survived into the next century, of which Augustine was a severe opponent and he eventually susmmoned force to defeat them.
Constantine was also to find schism in the Eastern Church. The Church was split over the heresy of Arianism, named after the presbyter Arius in Alexandria who taught that there was time when Christ did not exist. His supporters even ran amok throughout Alexandria chanting, 'there was a time when Christ was not'. In a synod held in 321 Arius was condemned and excommunicated by the bishops of Egypt and Libya and was forced to leave Alexandria from where he travelled east to Caesarea. Here he was well received by Eusebius, the bishop, and his namesake of Nicomedia, from where Arianism spread quickly even to the imperial court. At this point Constantine intervened for the sake of unity and sent his ecclesiastical adviser, Hosius, bishop of Cordova, to try and reconcile the two factions. This bishop's intervention did not solve the problem, and Constantine himself took the matter into his own hands, and summoned what has become known as the first cumenical Council at Nicea, not far from the imperial residence at Nicodemia. The emperor tried to make the Council as representative as possible of the Church but in reality most of the 318 bishops who attended were from the East. The Bishop of Rome, Sylvester did not attend but sent two legates.
The first day of the Council's gathering was held in the imperial palace. After an impressive entrance, the Emperor was welcomed by Eustathius, the bishop of Antioch, to which the Emperor made a brief reply in Latin, and publicly burnt letters written to him by various bishops incriminating their fellow bishops. As his knowledge of Greek was very limited, he could not chair the Council, and he was probably represented by Hosius. Bishops who supported Arianism, led by the two Eusebius's, issued their statement of belief, whilst the champion of orthodoxy was the young deacon from Alexandria, Athanasius, who had already written De Incarnatione. The creed as submitted by Athanasius emphasised, firstly, the unity of the three persons within the Trinity, which has always existed. 'The Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.' Secondly, that the second Person of the Godhead became man by the operation of the Holy Spirit and the co-operation of Mary, but was and is always perfect God and Man. It was this creed which all bishops, save two, accepted at Nicea, and which we recite at Mass on Sunday and Greater Holy Days.
THE CREED OF NICAEA
We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of all things both visible and invisible;
And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, only begotten of the Father, that is of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, Begotten not made, of one substance with the Father; Through whom all things were made, both the things in heaven and the things on earth;
Who for us men and for our salvation came down, and was made flesh, and was made man,
And rose again the third day,
Ascended into heaven,
Is coming to judge quick and dead;
And in the Holy Ghost.
But those who say, There was once when He was not, or He was not before He was begotten, or He was made out of nothing, or affirm that the Son of God is of a different hypostasis or substance, or is a creature, or is subject to change or alteration, these the catholic and apostolic Church of God anathematises.
As well as this doctrinal issue, the Council issued twenty canons, which dealt mainly with matters of discipline. Furthermore from henceforth most dioceses or provinces came under the jurisdiction of the sees of Alexandria, Antioch or Rome. And a special honour was given to the see of Jerusalem.
Yet Arianism did not disappear, as one would think after such an overwhelming vote against it. It seemed to grow in favour, especially through its brilliant leader, Eusebius of Nicodemia, who was able to have the orthodox bishops of Antioch, Eustace; Alexandria, Athanasius; and Anycra, Marcellus removed from office. When Constantine died in 337 Eusebius baptized him on his death-bed, and the Arian controversy took a sharper turn.
After Constantine's death, the empire was initially ruled by his three sons: Constantine II took the western provinces, Constantius I the eastern, and Constans, Italy and north Africa. Those bishop who had been exiled such as Athanasius tried to return to their sees,but Eusebius who had moved his see to Constantinople, had also won the favour of Constantius. They were thus forced to withdraw to the West where both Athansaius and Marcellus were welcomed to communion at Rome by Julius. This welcome only added fuel to the fire and the Arian issues developed into a crisis between East and West. Yet in the forties attempts were made to reach agreement on the Church's creed. After Nicea the first was made at a council at Antioch in 341. Here the creed made the first reference to the affirmation that Christ's "kingdom shall have no end." The second attempt was at Serdica (modern Sophia in Bulgaria) in 343 where the Western bishops reaffirmed the creed of Nicea, but the Eastern bishops did not. One of the interesting outcomes of this meeting was that if any bishop felt aggrieved by any action taken against him on the part of a superior he should have the right to appeal to the Bishop of Rome. This was thus the beginning of the appellate jurisdiction of the Roman See. The third attempt for a creedal agreement was made the following year in 344 at Antioch. The extremists on both sides were condemned, and a conciliatory creed called the Macrostich was issued. This gave comparative peace for ten years and Athanasius returned from exile in 346, Eusebius having died in 342.
But Arianism was far from being overthrown, and a change in the political position was to its favour. By 353 the whole Empire was under the rule of Constantius, an avowed opponent of the Nicene Creed. For almost the next twenty years at various councils, creeds of varying Arian teaching were adopted. The few orthodox bishops in Christendom (Hilary of Poitiers, Dionyius of Milan, Liberius of Rome, Eusebius of Vercellae, Lucifer of Sardinia as well as Athanasius) were exiled by the emperor at the Council of Milan in 355, and replaced by Arian bishops. After the Arian bishop was appointed in 356 for Alexandria, Athanasius fled to the desert where he successfully evaded all attempts to find him. This was due in no small part to the loyalty of the desert monks. Here he spent his time writing against Constantius and Arianism, in which he constantly maintained that the Son must be 'of the same essence' as the Father (homoousios) rather than 'of like essence' (homoiousios) as taught by Arians.
The other great Christian centre, Antioch, had a radical Arian, Eudoxius, as its bishop. The occupation of these two sees, Alexandria and Antioch by Arians supported by the Emperor caused great alarm in the Greek East amongst its theologians, especially those we know to-day as the Cappadocian Fathers: Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory Nanzianus.
Soon though the political climate changed swiftly when in 359 troops in Paris mutinied against an order sent by Constantius, and proclaimed Julian as Emperor. Constantius died en route to battle.
Julian had been reared as a Christian and was a fellow student of two of the greatest theologians of the 4th century, mentioned above: St. Basil and St. Gregory of Nanzianus. However when he became emperor he renounced Christianity for philosophy. He even revived the pagan sacrifices, and all pagan buildings and lands that had been confiscated were to be returned. No Christian teacher was allowed to instruct in pagan schools, clergy were deprived of their privileges and made to pay any grants they had received from the State. Julian's hostility towards the church had the effect of closing ranks amongst the bishops, clearly seen in the Council summoned by Athanasius in Alexandria in 362 when the Arian issue was settled.
Fortunately for the Church Julian's reign was short, and his successor, Jovian, a Nicene-Christian, also reigned only for a short time. His successor Valentinian I decided to divide the empire once again he reigned in the West, and gave the East to Valens (364-378). Valentinian was orthodox, but his co-ruler wanted the East to embrace Arianism, especially through the influence of his wife. In this he was thwarted by that great theologian Basil, who was ably helped by his younger brother, Gregory, a theologian of great repute, and his friend, Gregory of Nanzianus. In 378 Basil sent him, a most powerful preacher on a mission to Constantinople to convert Valens. Still he was not completely successful. However that year Valenes was killed in the battle of Adrianople against the Goths, and his successor Theodosius was a Nicene Christian. Indeed he sent advance warning to the Greek world that the terms of ecclesiastical recognition were to be acceptance of the Nicene Creed and communion with Pope Damasus of Rome and Peter, bishop of Alexandria, Athanasius' successor.
To settle the dispute over the nature of Christ, hopefully, once and for all, Theodosius summoned an cumenical Council to Constantinople in 381. This Council upheld the Nicene Creed, that is, Christ was of the same essence or substance as His Father. It also added an article concerning the Holy Spirit, reflecting Basil's teaching that the Holy Spirit is to be worshipped and glorified together with the Father and the Son, and that the difference between the Son and the Spirit is to be seen in that while the Son is 'begotten of the Father,' the Holy Spirit 'proceeds from the Father.' This decision ended the Arian attempt to capture the Church, but it lived on amongst the Goths because they had been converted by Arian missionaries.
The West also had a problem with Arianism. Constantius had appointed an Arian bishop, Auxentius, to the see of Milan, whilst in Rome through the enforced exile of Bishop Liberius, imposed by Constantius, two rival parties formed. After Liberius' death both sides put forward its own candidates: Ursinus and Damasus, which resulted in ugly riots and fighting. Damasus eventually won as he had the support of the city prefect, but at a fearful price in public discredit to the Church. This discredit worsened when the new prefect accused Damasus of homicide, and he was only saved from utter disgrace when rich friends were able to obtain the intervention of the Emperor on his behalf. Still Damasus compensated for his weakened moral position by exalting the spiritual dignity of his office and encouraged a prodigious scholar from Dalmatia, Jerome, to compile a new edition of the Bible, which came to be known as the Vulgate, and became the most commonly used and after the Council of Trent in 1546 the official version until it was replaced by Jerusalem Bible with the reforms after Vatican II.
As already intimated for Christians to-day it is Ambrose sermons and commentaries that are the most helpful for enriching our understanding of the Christian faith. Thus included for reflection is his commentary on Psalm 118.
Let your door stand open to receive Christ, unlock your soul to him, offer him a welcome in your mind, and then you will see the riches of simplicity, the treasures of peace, and the joy of grace. Throw wide the gate of your heart, stand before the sun of the everlasting light that shines on every one. This true light shines on all, but if any close their windows they will deprive themselves of eternal light. If you shut the door of your mind, you shut out Christ. Though he can enter, he does not want to force his way in rudely, or compel us to admit him against our will.
Born of a virgin, he came forth from the womb as the light of the whole world in order to shine on all. His light is received by those who long for the splendour of perpetual light that night can never destroy. The sun of our daily experience is succeeded by the darkness of night, but the sun of holiness never sets, because wisdom cannot give place to evil.
Blessed then is the person at whose door Christ stands and knocks. Our door is faith; if it is strong enough, the whole house is safe. This is the door by which Christ enters. So the Church says in the Song of Songs: 'The voice of my brother is at the door.' Hear his knock, listen to him asking to enter: 'Open to me, my sister, my betrothed, my dove, my perfect one, for my head is covered with dew, and my hair with the moisture of the night.'
When does God the Word most often knock at your door? When his 'head is covered with the dew of night'. He visits in love those in trouble and temptation, to save them from being overwhelmed by their trials. His head is covered with dew or moisture when those who are his body are in distress. That is the time when you must keep watch so that when the bridegroom comes he may not find himself shut out, and make his departure. If you were to sleep, if your heart were not wide awake, he would not knock and go away; but if your heart is watchful, he knocks and asks you to open the door to him.
Our soul has a door; it has gates. 'Lift up your heads, O gates, and be lifted up, eternal gates, and the King of glory will enter.' If you open the gates of your faith, the King of glory will enter your house in the triumphal procession in honour of his passion. Holiness too has its gates. We read in Scripture what the Lord Jesus said through his prophet: 'Open for me the gates of holiness.'
It is the soul that has its door, its gates. Christ comes to this door and knocks; he knocks at the gates. Open to him; he wants to enter, to find his bride waiting and watching.
Ambrose set the example of Christian living with his ascetic and prayerful approach, and he expected his clergy to live similarly. Above all he was a pastoral bishop, he preached Sunday by Sunday, and prepared catechumens for baptism each Lent. In that class of 387 there was one named Augustine. Ambrose was also was one of the great orators of the church; indeed it was for this reason that Augustine first came to listen to him, and of course was eventually converted and baptized by him. To-day, as then, it is still his sermons that most powerfully speak to us. Yet his thinking was not original but he successfully synthesized the thoughts of others after having read extensively from the beginning of his episcopate. As a Greek scholar he interpreted Eastern theologians for the West, a work that was much needed.
Other contributions Ambrose made to the Church were to Liturgy, the Ambrosian rite was quite famous, and also to music. He wrote hymns, some of which have survived in hymnals. He is perhaps the first writer of Christian hymns with rhyme and (accentual) metre, and northern Italy still uses his style of plainchant, known as Ambrosian chant, rather than the more widespread Gregorian chant. Ambrose taught his people the art of antiphonal chanting, thus introducing congregational singing. St. Augustine tells in his Confessions how deeply the charm of this novel method had moved him when attending services in Milan, even stirring him to tears.
In theology, his main contribution was on the Church and Sacraments. According to his view, man fell from grace at the Fall, which then has been passed on to all at conception. The effect must be counter-balanced by grace, which is given in the Sacraments, but can only be effected by faith. Faith itself is so effective that it can in some cases, such as those of the martyrs and confessors, even take the place of the Sacraments, and it can above all make possible a mystical union between Christ and the believer. Thus in two respects, in the emphasis on the ruin brought by sin and upon a personal union with Christ, Ambrose influenced Augustine and through him the whole future theology of the Western Church.
He laid great emphasis on the terror of the Last Judgement. He believed in an eternity of graduated bliss or punishment in various departments of purgatory. Although he did not claim that anything we could do for the dead would affect their future destiny, yet he held that prayers and Masses for the faithful departed might ease their situation before the final goal was reached.
Ambrose was indeed a great orator and bishop but he had little time for women performing any kind of ministry within the Church, except as veiled virgins cloistered away. Thus the role of virgins in the early church changed almost single-handedly by him through his theology on Mary. It is he who defined the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary. He transformed Mary into a 4thC aristocratic virgin who bore little resemblance to the Mary of the gospels. He particularly highlighted the physical aspects of Mary's virginity, rather than her obedience to do God's will. According to Ambrose virgins emulated Mary's model. To achieve this they had to be secluded from the world and live a life of asceticism and prayer in reciting the psalms seven times a day. In the basilica they has their special place, which was railed off in pure white marble. By consecrating their virginity to the Lord they made amends for being the daughters of Eve, and wearing a veil signified this. They were indeed the brides of Christ, as projected in the Song of Songs.
They were also the glory of the Church. Ambrose and after him bishops were surrounded by hundreds of virgins as they processed from one domain to another. The role of the consecrated virgin in the life of the church reflected a new trend in Christian thinking about women.
Ambrose wrote extensively on the Bible, theology, and asceticism. His writings on doctrinal subjects include 'catechism lessons' (De mysteriis) to the newly baptized on baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist. His most famous work, De officiis modelled on the work of Cicero, is a manual on moral responsibilities addressed to the clergy.
Once the State had legalized the Church, titles, ceremonial and dress of the imperial court began to infiltrate within, especially in the East. As early as the Council of Arles in 314, a year after Constantine and Licius announced religious toleration, the bishop of Rome was addressed as 'most glorious'. As the bishops acquired social rank, they acquired a corresponding insignia, and it is in this way that bishops acquired staff, mitre and pallium. Court ceremonial even influenced some of the externals of Eucharistic worship such as the use of candles. Of course there were some Eastern bishops who deplored these imperial effects on the Church. One was John Chrysostom who as bishop of Constantinople refused to give lavish hospitality, believing that he and all Christians should live ascetically. In the West the clergy did not wear distinctive dress, and they celebrated the Eucharist in their ordinary clothes. Hence what the Western Church has always called 'vestments' are simply the ordinary secular costumes of ancient Rome.
Although there were benefits from support by the State, the Church soon realized that it enjoyed less freedom and self-determination. For example episcopal appointments began to be made by emperors from the time of Constantine. Originally bishops were freely elected by the people, but by the mid - 300's the laity no longer was able to express its assent or dissent at appointments, especially in the East. Not only was the State making its own appointment in various sees, but also the Patriarchs in Antioch, Alexandria and Constantinople were increasing their control over other metropolitans. Yet in the East, unlike the West, the Church did not see the world as distinctly secular and sacred, but as a single society in harmony with the emperor as the earthly counterpart of the divine Monarch. Of course the balance of this theory could be upset if the State tried to dominate the Church too much as obvious under Constantius.
However the Western Church did not see itself in the same light. The Church was not to be subordinate to anyone, be he emperor or king. This view is clearly seen in the attitude of that great bishop of Milan, Ambrose who himself was acclaimed bishop by the people.
When the Arian bishop, Auxentius died in 374, he was the provincial governor of Milan, and a well-known and respected orator. When the meeting in the basilica was called to elect a new bishop, Ambrose went along to appeal to both the Orthodox and Arian supporters for good order. His own sympathies were with the former, but he had no intention of interfering, unless the meeting became too rowdy and out of hand. Amidst the loud confusion, a child's voice was distinctly heard, "Ambrose for bishop". This had a calming effect on the meeting, and both sides agreed to Ambrose. But he was still a catechumen, refused and went into hiding. Appeal was made to the emperor, Valentinian I, who was proud that his favourable opinion of Ambrose had been so fully ratified by the voice of clergy and people, and so he confirmed the election. At last Ambrose agreed and was baptised and on 7th December, 374 consecrated bishop. Conscious that he was no theologian, he began reading Philo, Origen, Basil, and Athanasius in order to deal with the heresies in his midst. Within two years he had written his first theological treatise, and would become one of the greatest theologians and bishops in all Christendom.
During his episcopate two of Ambrose's main concerns were to eradicate Arianism and to insist that all Christians from Emperor down must obey the Church's teaching, and be subordinate to the authority of the Church. This of course led to the Emperor, Valentian I remonstrating with Ambrose over the severity of this rule. Yet the Emperor's reply reflected honour for himself and respect for Ambrose: "Well, if I have offended, prescribe for me the remedies which the law of God requires."
Shortly after this Valentian died and was succeeded by Gratian who had been raised as a Christian by his mother. Ambrose found that he had a friend in spiritual matters. At the Emperor's request he wrote De fide to counter Arian doctrines. De fide was important as its arguments did not rely on rhetoric, but on the authority of scripture texts. Nevertheless Arians were still a force as in 378 they seized one of the Milanese churches, only to be ordered in the next year by Gratian to return it to Ambrose. He also issued an edit for the cessation of all heresies.
When the Eastern Emperor, Valens, was killed at Adrianople by the Goths in 378 many Christians were taken captives. St. Ambrose sold Church plate to redeem them, and the following year Theodosius was proclaimed Augustus. In that same year as Gratian was returning from Thrace he requested Ambrose to meet him, whereupon he received the first two books of De Fide. He further requested Ambrose to writer on the Holy Spirit.
In 380 Ambrose used his position to ensure that the vacant see of Sirmium, a former Arian stronghold, was filled by an Orthodox Christian, and thereby consecrated Anemius its bishop.
One of the last acts of Gratian before his assassination by the usurper Maximus in 383 was to remove the pagan image of Victory from the forum at Rome. After Gratian's death pagan senators, led by the famous orator Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, wanted the heathen goddess of Victory returned, but Ambrose was adamant that it would not be returned, and insisted that the emperor should support the Christian religion and to eradicate paganism. Rome never saw her Altar of Victory again, despite another plea to Valentinian in 392.
Another example of Ambrose's intervention in State matters was when Priscillian and his six companions who preached an extreme asceticism in reaction to the growing worldliness of the Church were condemned to death at a synod at Bordeaux led by Bishop Ithacius on a charge of Manicheism in 383. Priscillian, supported by Ambrose, Martin and other bishops, appealed to Maximus, who was also under pressure from Ithacius and his supporters. Maximus supported Ithacius, and the death of Priscillian and his six companions became the first time that Christians killed fellow Christians. Ambrose promptly excommunicated Maximus and his accusers for their part in the execution.
Another example of Ambrose's not bowing to pressure from the Court was when the Arian empress Justina, widow of Valentinian I, wanted a church for Arian worship so that her Gothic soldiers could worship. Ambrose stated, "The Emperor has his palaces, let him leave the churches to the Bishop." To prevent soldiers taking possession of it, he and his people occupied the church where they sung hymns composed by the bishop to the glory of God. When the soldiers surrounded the church and heard the hymn-singing they were unwilling to enter and attack the congregation. Ambrose won once again in 385. However the following year an edict was proclaimed giving tolerance of Arian worship and equal rights to Arians. As a result the Orthodox Christians during Holy Week were persecuted by Justina. Ambrose was subpoenaed, next the Court claimed the Church's plate, and for Ambrose to leave Milan. He refused and took refuge in the new basilica where he spent the time preaching and instructing the congregation in the art of antiphonal singing, using some of his own compositions. The Emperor Valentinian II had to capitulate, and once again Ambrose was victorious for the Church.
Once the Eastern Emperor, Theodosius, killed Maximus in battle, he virtually controlled the whole empire. Although he was an Orthodox and pious Christian, he too felt the Ambrosian weight. The first incident was over the order of Theodosius for Christians to rebuild a Jewish synagogue that they had destroyed in Kallinikum, Mesopotamia. Ambrose forced him to rescind the order and told him that no Christian could be compelled to provide money for the building of a non-Christian house of worship, no matter what the circumstances.
But worse was to follow for Theodosius. In 390 Ambrose imposed public penance on the emperor after he butchered 7,000 in a circus ring in reprisal for a Thessalonikian mob killing a Roman army commander after he had imprisoned their favourite charioteer. Ambrose told Theodosius to submit to public penance as "the emperor belongs to the church, but is not its superior." Theodosius did his public penance and was readmitted to communion. This was the turning point for Theodosius' control in bowing to Ambrose who represented the authority of the Church, and in the Emperor's domination of the Church. Thereafter, the public treasury no longer funded restoration or maintenance of pagan altars. As extant letters show Ambrose never hesitated to remind the emperor that he owed allegiance to God, just as his military owed obedience to him.
With the support of Ambrose, not the bishop of Rome, Theodosius in 391 forbade all public observances of paganism (which wasn't actually enforced in the West, but led to civil disturbances in the East). The next year the emperor forbade all private observances of paganism. Christians endeavoured to facilitate the transition by fixing, wherever possible, the dates of Christian festivals to coincide with those of the old pagan feasts. Some of the pagan temples were converted to churches.
In 393, Valentinian II was murdered in Gaul by Arbogastes, whose envoy, Eugenius, had attempted to restore paganism. Ambrose denounced the murder but it was Theodosius' victory over Eugenius that finally ended paganism in the empire. When Theodosius died a few months after his victory, it was in the arms of Ambrose, who later preached at his funeral.
It is to Ambrose more than any one else that the Church triumphed over Paganism and domination of the State. His unflinching belief that all Christians, irrespective of rank, should be subservient to the Church' teachings won the day. He also exercised a considerable influence over North Italy, and by his intervention enabled the various sees to have Orthodox bishops, so by the time of his death in 397 Orthodoxy had virtually captured state and society. Whether that was a good thing or not has always been a matter of contention. After Ambrose the Church for well over a thousand years was to dominate every sphere of life, and every person's life from the highest to the lowliest.
Yet this domination by the Church had its down-side. The episcopate of even moderately important cities became an established career to which a man might aspire for reasons not exclusively religious. Churches became substantial landowners, especially with the rise of Monasticism, but they did support many poor folk. Bishops became advocates for his people in secular affairs as well as spiritual, whilst clerics and laity began to hold high office in government. This secularisation of the Church would eventually lead to various reforms during the mediæval period, and open rebellion by the 16thC.