Tuesday, February 22, 2011


            Trier.  Ambrose was born here.  So, funny enough, was Carl Marx.  I was able to find the actual birthplace of the latter, and barely a sign of the former.  There is one relief on a wall inside the 3rd floor of the "Portus Niger" and a street named Gervasiusstrasse and that is about all I found...at least explicitly...  Of course part of the problem is that both the Episcopal and the State museums are closed indefinitely, so I am sure I missed things there.  In any case, the city provided some fantastic IV century experiences.

            Of the dowager capitals of the Roman Empire, Trier is unique...she is neither the capital of a modern country (Istanbul, Rome) nor a complete backwater town (Vienne, Aquileia).  It is somewhere in between.  I am surprised by how many people don't know about it.  Trier is the oldest city in Germany.  It sits on the Mosel River--home to the famed Riesling wines.  The Catholic diocese of Trier is one of the most completely documented, and longest, genealogies in our tradition.  In some ways, it is like many other small cities in Germany...a lot of "drippy gold leaf" rococo everywhere, pastel buildings, god-awful garden statuary, and fantastic pastries, coffee, worstel, and beer. 

            Ambrose's Trier was a bustling, thriving, growing, and confident city near the 'limes' or frontier.  It was celebrated by a contemporary of his, one Decimus Magnus Ausonius in his poem "Mosella" (which, in my view, suffers not a little from the Latin version of drippy gold leaf).  It had been given a huge boost by Maximinian, who started building the imperial palace.  As in other places, Constantine came along and changed all the signs and made sure that his fingerprints were everywhere.  The city still features the famed basilica along with other parts of the imperial palace, an impressive amphitheater, two sets of baths, some walls and the multi-story Portus Niger (the famed 'black gate' though as near as I can figure, it is only black because it is covered in a coat of soot or car exhaust). 

            I should mention too that tradition has it that a house owned by St. Helen (the mother of Constantine) is said to be here, and that it was given by her to the church.  This is one of those stories that seem suspiciously recurrent to me: the exact same thing is said of the place that has become St John Lateran in Rome.  Still, archaeologists have found a very elaborate private Roman house under and very near the city's "Dom" which is itself quite obviously a Roman building...not a building made of re-used Roman materials, but a Roman building that was massive even before it was re-worked by the bishops of this extremely important diocese (the Bishop of Trier became one of the Electors of the Holy Roman Emperor).  Anyway, Helen (or whoever) seems to have contributed no small bit to what would have been the imperial palace.

            Ambrose, as I think I’ve mentioned, was born here, the youngest of three children, because his father was an official serving at the imperial court.  Tradition has his father as the Consularis, but we aren't really sure.  Nor do we know what happened to him.  We know that he died and that his wife took three small children back to Rome.  One interesting theory is that he was caught up in the purge of Constantinius II...the last surviving son of Constantine and rather vicious against anyone by whom he felt threatened...including his own brothers.  If so, it is notable that his memory was not damned, his property confiscated, and thus the family ruined in both name and finances.  For Ambrose's family remained wealthy and well connected.

            The more well-known connection between Ambrose and Trier, and in many ways, the more important (certainly more telling of Ambrose's character) is that which took place decades later.  Let me set this up.

            Ambrose is the Bishop of Milan and has already asserted his influence at Aquileia and through his theological writings.  The Battle of Hadrianopolis is over, but the consequent troubles in the East are ongoing.  Theodosius has been named Emperor and is struggling to deal with the huge numbers of freely ranging Goths.  The West has its own problems with the German tribes and the young emperor, Gratian, is based in Trier, and is having some success, despite what seems to be the lukewarm enthusiasm for him by the troops.  One of the reasons for that seems rather trivial from our long view, unless we spend a few minutes thinking about how often important matters are triggered by trivialities.  It was this: Gratian had selected a troop of Alani to be his body guards.  These were associated with the Goths who had ravaged the East, so to many it looked like "Roman-killers" were now being favored by the Roman Emperor.  This is a scent of the larger "anti-immigrant" movement that seems to have pervaded both the military culture and secular society.  If you wanted to slur a rival, one need only allude to his non-Roman sounding name.  On the other hand, non-Roman sounding name owners had been ascendant in the Military for at least half a century.  In any case, while Gratian--and Theodosius, for that matter--was negotiating such delicacies, Gratian’s much younger half-brother, Valentinian II is with his mother, sometimes in Aquileia, but very often in Milan.  It was almost at this time exactly that Justina and Ambrose knock heads over the Portiana Basilica.

            Along comes a Roman general with a name like a video game villain: Magnus Maximus.  He was a Spaniard stationed in Britannia, where there had been a very serious series of attacks on the empire a few years before.  Now, and without order,
he brought his legions to Gaul and somehow lured the young and apparently unsuspecting Gratian into a trap and arranged for him to be murdered, perhaps by his own body guard, the hated Alani.  At the very least, they were an obvious scapegoat.  Maximus immediately moved his forces to Trier to seize this crucial center of power in the West.  At the same time he sent diplomatic letters in an effort to consolidate and legitimize his gains.  One letter went to Theodosius in the East, seemingly suggesting that they were related--they both being Spaniards.  Another letter went to the Court at Milan asking that they send the young Valentinian II to Trier so that he could look after him...he wouldn't want anything awful to happen to him as had happened to his unfortunate older brother.  Still another letter was addressed to Ambrose in Milan wherein the usurper reminded the good Bishop of his Nicaean credentials and suggested not so subtlety that he would be a lot easier to work with than that Aryanizing Justina and her boy-Emperor.  I suppose one does not try to take over an empire if one is not audacious.

            As I mentioned, it is at this precise time that Ambrose and Justina are involved in an intense squabble over the jurisdiction of the Portiana Basilica in Milan.  Ambrose had courted disaster by denying access to it for the Homoeans (he'd call them Arians) to celebrate Easter mass.  Maximus was essentially suggesting treason to the Bishop.  The situation was stunningly dangerous and exceedingly complex.  Ambrose had been loyal to the dynasty since Valentinian I, for whom he worked as Consularis of Aemelia and Liguria. He had developed an important relationship with Gratian as well.  The exact nature of that relationship is still contested, ranging from Ambrose as mentor to Ambrose as sycophant.   But it was a real relationship in the course of which Ambrose was trusted and of increasing influence.  But Valentinian II was being raised by his widowed mother as a Homoean, in Milan, and having even invited an 'Arian' anti-Bishop who even called himself Auxentius (the name of the long serving predecessor of Ambrose).  Ambrose as thoroughly committed to the end of Homoean/Arian Christianity in any place whereat he could exert his influence.  He was willing to die for this cause and one could imagine him legitimizing any strategy necessary to achieve that goal.  Now the Nicaean who killed Gratian AND the Homoean clan of Gratian were both soliciting his support.  Here's what he did.

            As I mentioned, the Constantinian basilica of Trier is still standing, though it is a few meters shorter, being sunk into the ground (or rather, as with so many other places, the ground having risen around it).  It had had a long and varied history...built by Maximinian, claimed by Constantine, a sometime church, palace, castle, an arms warehouse, stripped back to its ancient naked form by Napoleon--who was busy desecrating Catholic chuches all over his Empire (I don't know what was Napoleon's over-all impact on Trier, but I do know that his stripping the basilica and the Porta Niger back to their pre-churched architecture have been important to the city's tourism).  The basilica was bombed in World War II and lost its roof.  It was rebuilt and the building given to the Evangelical church, which has done a beautiful job of creating a space at once holy and pristine...which is to say, no drippy gold leaf.

            The basilica was originally an audience hall.  It was part of a massive imperial palace complex.  The entrance was a long narrow porch with an apse on one end (this is by now a really familiar shape...San Vitale in Ravenna to the mausoleum of Constantia in Rome).  One entered into a very long single nave building that would have been covered in marble.  At the far end was an apse separated from the hall by an enormous arch.  The apse was studded with windows that would have ensured that the emperor, whose throne was located there, would have caught any light there was at any time of day.  The walls would have been white marble, the better to capitalize on what Umberto Eco calls the "splendor" of the natural light reflected onto the throne.  The whole point of this massive building is to impress and intimidate.  Ambrose was neither.

            He crossed the Alps in early winter, patiently waited for an audience, finally made it to the waiting room (that long narrow porch, apse on one end), and then the hall itself.  There would have been dozens of people in attendance including bureaucrats whose ready knowledge of some detail might be needed, the body guard, visiting dignitaries such as Senator Semachus (whom we know had visited some years earlier), the Court, including family--Magnus had a son for whom he had dynastic aspirations--and artists like Ausonius.  Of course there were also representatives of the Church, almost certainly the local bishop (which suggests that Ambrose, at Milan, was also a frequent courtier). 

            Ambrose enters, walks the psychological gauntlet of the long hall, greets Maximus with the proper gesture (kneel, bow, prostrate?  I am not sure) and waits to be spoken to.  Eventually the wannabe emperor takes notice of him (no doubt Ambrose had taken that time to take the measure of the man he faced) and they negotiate.  Ambrose, speaking for Justina, thanks Magnus for his magnanimity in inviting Valentinian to Trier and indicates that this will be done...but not now: the winter is upon them and the Alpine passes will soon be closed.  And of course, when he does come, Ambrose makes clear, he will be accompanied by his mother, the redoubtable Justina.  We are not sure what convinced Maximus to accept this delay...it may well have been that he did not know how to deal with the Empress.  But the ploy worked and Maximus did not insist that the boy join him immediately, nor did he make any move on his own to take Milan.  This was a fatal mistake on his part, and Ambrose pulled it off.

            Flash forward till the spring when Maximus is beginning to consider the very real likelihood that he has been fooled.  He has lost his greatest opportunity to move swiftly on the empire while the Emperor of the East is distracted by the Gothic problem.  Enter Ambrose again.  He returns to Trier (I wonder if he got as tired of travelling as I do.  He may have had to go by wagon in all weather, but at least he didn't have to put up with airport lounges and late trains) and this time he is in a huff.

            He is again kept waiting in the outer room.  Again he is finally admitted.  This time, however, he does not enter meekly and obsequiously.  Quite the contrary.  He storms into the hall already talking and deliberately omits the gesture of submission. He demands to know why he is being so publicly humiliated by having to wait and then to appear in a public assembly.  His position, he asserts, requires that he be met in a private audience.  Maximus is a bit stunned and confused by this attitude and points out that the bishop had had no such concerns a few months ago.  The conversation does not improve from there.  Ambrose marches out of the hall--well wishers unobtrusively advising him to get out of town quickly or hide, as the emperor will no doubt demand his head.       

            Ambrose knows this is no idle threat, though no Christian bishop has--yet--been killed by a Christian emperor.  But that is all about to change.  Ambrose saw, among the courtiers, a number of bishops who were there, he knew, to offer the Judas kiss to one of their own, one Pricillian, a French bishop and a heretic.  He, like the Donatists, Novitians and others, insisted that a baptized person could not be forgiven for their sins after baptism.  Further, he demanded a harsh nearly Manichaean asceticism that not only disciplined the body, but considered bodily appetites to be evil in themselves.   Now Ambrose had written compellingly, powerfully and (in my opinion this is his best effort) theologically in favor of forgiveness.  Moreover, Ambrose and Damasus (of Rome) had led the fight to get Pricillian silenced.  Perhaps Maximus thought he could ingratiate himself to these Nicaean bishops by doing their dirty work for them.  He had had Pricillian arrested, put on trial and convicted.  It was at this time precisely that the would-be emperor of the west becomes the first Christian monarch to convict a Nicaean bishop of a capital crime and put him to death...for what was an internal doctrinal issue.

            As Ambrose left Trier several thoughts were on his mind.  He was very sorry that the heretical bishop was being turned over to state authorities, though he himself was one of his harshest critics.  He believed that this was an internal matter to be handled by the Church without government interference.  He was also thinking that if Maximus could kill one bishop he didn't like, then he could kill others.   Ambrose had many enemies, even within the Church, who might have provided the same veneer of legitimacy to such a move as others had done in the case of Pricillian and his followers.  He must also have been wondering if he had played his cards correctly.  He could be arrested at any moment.  He may have backed the wrong claimant.  He might not get any good at all out of what he had precipitated, which is nothing less than the invasion of Italy by the armies of an usurper.  I imagine him looking over his shoulder one last time at the great basilica and the palace complex behind it as he passed through the walls and around the great baths complex and headed home.

            It is both obvious and difficult to keep in mind that Ambrose was as clueless about the future as any of us are.  His future being our long past, we are tempted to imagine that he saw it all playing out in some grand scheme, but of course that is as ridiculous as it would be for any of us to be asked what our lives, our nations, our religion will be like, even if we are working hard to direct all of these in a certain general direction.  Did Ambrose know that Magnus Maximus would invade?  Yes, probably, and he began preparing his people to receive the inevitable war refugees.  Did he know that he would not be caught up in a program and killed?  He could not have, though he might have been astute enough to have considered it an unlikely threat.  Did he know that Theodosius would prevail in a series of battles against Maximus, have him and his son Felix (an unfortunate name: it means "Lucky") killed; that he would marry the sister of Valentinian II; that the boy emperor whose life he had saved would die soon afterward, leaving the empire in the hands of a single emperor for the last time in its history; that this death would trigger yet another civil war that would pit Christians against Pagans; that, in prevailing Theodosius would divide the empire between his two young sons and then promptly die?  No.  He knew none of that and, as formidable an intellect as he was, he could have guessed little of what happened.

            How, then, did he choose his battles?  On what basis did he act, if not to ensure, or at least advance, his version of the future?  I suggest a tentative hypothesis that, like his great pagan mentor Cicero before him, Ambrose acted out of a sense of duty.  His beliefs were informed by his faith, his conscience, and his intellect (not to mention his education, his culture, his family, and his temperament).  In a word, his character, not the outcomes, determined his choices.  He acted, I think, not to achieve a given end, but because he believed a certain course of action to be required by Truth.

            So Ambrose headed home to his community.  That thought must have been comforting to him and sped him along his way.  The road was not without perils and he was not without enemies, but he was headed home.  He anticipated great things coming and was unflagging in the energy he would commit himself to safeguard the good and combat its threats, so he wasn't going home to retire.  But I suspect he was anticipating a bit of a break...perhaps a good bath, some great old home cooking, and the companionship of his closest friends such as Simplician and Marcellina.  His work was not finished, far from it, but when is it ever, for any of us?  I realize I am now in the realm of pure projection, but I can see him turning his eyes away from Trier's walls and down the homeward bound road and murmuring in what was as much a prayer of petition as of thanksgiving: "I love my life!"

Monday, February 21, 2011


            Vienne...not to be confused with Vienna. That is o.k. everyone does, even train ticket salesmen.  Not that you could mistake the two cities, mind you (though both are Roman).  Vienna has emerged as a great city with a long and very distinguished history that could stand on its own without the Roman basis (in fact, it does: it being the home of Marcus Aurelius is NOT what you think of, is it?)  But Vienne, which is in the southern part of France, by the way, a few kilometers from Lyon and, like it, on the Rhone, has survived as a very small place whose Roman origins are nearly as hard to avoid as they are in Ravenna...including the fact that in the "Roman" neighborhood, nearly all the buildings boast at least a few huge chunks of re-used marble from. 

            If Aquileia was hard to get to because of its geographical isolation, Vienne was hard to get to because I tried to get there from Aquileia in one day.  I didn't make it, quite.  Ended up having to halt in Lyon.  You know it is harder to book a train through Europe now than it was prior to the EU.  No one seems to be able to get me any further than the first trainstop into the next country, and then I have to get out, get a new ticket, and reboot the trip.  Crazy.  So I ended up in Chambery, France needing to get to Lyon.  I knew that there was one more train going that night and that it left in 30 minutes.  I had an electronic ticket and instructions to get a hard ticket printed, so I started asking for help from this nice kid in an information booth ("kid" means he looks like one of my students).  At this point I could not dredge up any college French through the thick layers of Italian so I went rookie:

Which machine can I use to print up my ticket?
"*****" (which is to say, he said something I couldn’t understand)
"Yellow one: you know (now he sings) 'we all live in a yellow submarine'?" 
We both laugh

            Yellow machine doesn't accept my card, I go back, and he enlists help from a person whom, I presumed, was enlisted because he spoke English, nope.  After two more tries they both concluded that it was a shame that the machine wouldn't accept my card, but that it was o.k. as I could just get on the train and pay then.

            This does not work for me: in Italy, even if you have a TICKET, you have to have known to activate it yourself--no one tells you this-- or you get fined 500 E.  I sneak past these two helpful joes to try to just buy another ticket at a RED machine.  Twice it tried to eat my card: hands full of documents and pen and notebook, about 1mm of card sticking out of the machine and me prying it out of the jaws of the Cerberus of credit cards.  Yellow Submarine kid comes up behind me and says:

It is O.K.  You can get your ticket on the train.  That he said this in French and that I got the gist of it is part of the miracle of this story.

            I looked him in the eye, put my hand on his shoulder and said, in English,
"I trust you."  Which was one of the more serious acts of faith I have made lately, mostly because I just wanted to trust him, I was pretty sure I was, well, in a jam.

            I went to the track that older guy had told me to go to and Yellow Submarine kid, who by now has earned the appellation "Guardian Angel of the French Rail System" approaches me yet again (remember he is supposed to be snuggly sitting in a heated room waiting for people to talk to him through panes of glass that convert human language into 
the sound of birds singing under water) with a schedule to point out to me that I am on the wrong track.

            I board the train, I seek out the conductor, I explain (90% English, 10% French...so clearly my French is improving under stress).  He stares into space and stands there for a very long time without saying anything.  Now, I am the only person in this part of the train car, so it is a bit unnerving...like having Sr. Mary Blandina standing over your desk in 4th grade.  Finally he announces that I owe him 16 E.  I try to argue that I have already paid for the ticket, I just can't print it, but nevermind.  I offer him a 50.  He rolls his eyes, I shrug, it is all I have.  He walks away.  The train has left, so at worst I will end up at Gare Part Dieu with a whopping fine to pay, with which, by this point, I am fine.  Then I find a 10E note in a pocket, and some change.  I track him down.  He's chatting with a young girl (meaning high school) who looks "goth" and anyway has a boyfriend with her and anyway the conductor is at least my age, but anyway, I offer him the bill and the coins.  He shrugs and prints something into his little electronic devise and I get a bill for 12 E, which is exactly what I have in my hand.

            Arriving at Lyon at 11:00 p.m. I made my way, by memory (I'd googled a map earlier and had committed to memory and notebook the streets I needed to make a bee line to the hotel).  Unfortunately the most direct route to the hotel takes me through a neighborhood that reminded me of that French rat chef movie...all gutters and piles of restaurant garbage and no street lighting, just a bunch of young Near Eastern guys lounging around the Hamam, the Kabab shop, the place with the water pipe...I would say that it felt like I was back in Istanbul except that I never felt that uneasy in Istanbul.

            I made it to the hotel, tapped to be let in, got my key, and could not get my door unlocked for nothing, especially when the hallway light kept going out--motion sensitive, but not catching my rattling and shaking the damn door.  Finally the young bored guy at the desk had to come help me, but not before making a big deal of taking the 18E in petty cash to some undisclosed destination, taking every postcard off of every rack in the stand, and letting in 2 other sets of guests.  You guessed it: he opened it immediately: in 1/3 way, turn clockwise, in 100%, turn counter clockwise.  I made him wait to demonstrate that I could not work that alchemy, but he shrugged and said he had to get back to his desk.  "Why?" I thought, "there are no postcards to steal."  But I was tired and despite the bed that felt like it was stuffed with straw and the walls that emitted a sound like pebbles dropping through cracks till they get stuck again, I went to bed. O.K. I feel better for having told that story.

            So: how did Ambrose get to Lyon, or Vienne, or Aquileia, or Bologna...?   Since Constantine, Bishops had had the use of the Royal Post, which meant, presumably, they could not only send letter carriers, but go themselves.  Anyway, Ambrose was often travelling in the service of the State, even after being made bishop, so I am sure they would have outfitted him well.  But he had no choice about when he travelled, that being dictated by circumstances--no moreso than on his ill fated trip to Vienne--and my travails (hmmm is that word related to travel?  Should be) were nothing to what he would have taken for granted.  He would have gone about 20 miles a day.  He would have stayed in the home of an acquaintance, or the acquaintance of an acquaintance, or a public house, or, I can well imagine, outside.  At least I had a warm shower waiting for me, well, mostly: once in a while it has been dang cold...but still.

            Vienne, and Lyon, for that matter, are Roman cities because they found little niches along the huge canyon that is the lower Rhone River out of which to carve a city.  So, did Ambrose come by water from Arles (yet another Roman city)?  I don't think so.  There was a good Roman road through the Alps and a much shorter route from Milan straight to Vienne.  The other night, having come back from Vienne to my nasty smelling and creepy sounding and disturbingly located hotel in Lyon, I walked a new route...longer but a little less unnerving and anyway it was earlier.  It had rained all day.  Going through an underpass I glanced to one side and saw an older gentleman lying in a little nook in the passage and wrapping an old carpet around himself.  No, I had nothing at all to complain about.  I can well imagine Ambrose, up on a wagon with a roof but no suspension system, rocking and rolling through a muddy French countryside feeling rather sorry for himself until he caught sight of the barefoot and sodden peasants walking to and from their fields.  How did that make him feel?

            We know that part of everyday Ambrose administered what we'd call a soup kitchen out of the church of Milan.  Obviously he did not personally attend to those good folks all the time--he travelled a lot, and travel takes a lot of time...months at a time at least--and those sorts of services have to be regular and reliable or they are worthless, so I am sure he had a system going.  But I also bet that when he was in town he made it a point to go to those in need personally and directly.  Am I romanticizing to imagine this well groomed aristocrat sitting with a homeless woman over a bowl of soup talking about her 

            But what did I make that trip for?  Why did I end up in Vienne?  To be honest, it was not on my itinerary, but the few days in Roccantica and the longer time I spent in Bologna and Aquileia forced me to make some changes.  At Milan the other night I had to decide: Vienne, in France, or Srijemska, in Croatia?  The latter was more important, it was where Ambrose spent 5 years as a magistrate before coming to Milan.  But it took me a lot further away from Trier, where I had to be in 3 days, so Vienne.

            But again, why Vienne?  The short answer is Valentinian II.  Quick synopsis of his life: he was the 2nd son of Valentinian I.  When he died and Gratian, Valentinian II's older half brother, was made emperor--at the age of 16 I think--the troops, or at least folks interested in having a handle on power--insisted that the 3 year old (I think) little half brother be named co-Emperor.  Gratian graciously accepted this which means that at the age of 16 (I think) he had mastered a crucial virtue: accept that which you cannot change.  Gratian survived a few years, and did well, until he was lured to a trap and murdered by Magnus Maximus, who had come from Britain to wrest the West from the boy emperors.  After the debacle that killed his uncle Valens and destroyed the armies of the East, Gratian had recalled the son of the general that his own father, Valentinian I, had killed, and had set him up as the Emperor of the East.  This was Theodosius and he was several years older and much more experienced than was his "senior" Emperor.

            Maximus claimed to be a distant relative of Theodosius (they were both from Spain) and he made a big deal to Ambrose that he was a Nicaean.  Valentinian II, still a boy, had been raised by his mother (Justina: try to keep up) as an "Arian."  Maximus was well aware that Ambrose had been having troubles with Justina and thought it would be easy to enlist the bishop to lure the boy to him so that, as he said, he could "take care of him."  He had, you know, killed Gratian by now, but anyway, that story will have to wait for Trier, as that is where Maximus had set up shop.  Leave it for the moment that Valentinian survived and even helped Theodosius destroy Maximus in a brilliant series of carefully orchestrated attacks, subtly nuanced and disingenuous promises, and not a little fast purchasing of barbarian help.

            Maximus' head was delivered to Theodosius at Aquileia.  Theodosius had married Galla, the sister of Valentinian II.  Valentinian II, by the way, had acquitted himself well, for a boy of 16 (I think).  But Theodosius had two sons and only one empire.  Justina had died, who was the only bulwark of her dynasty.  Theodosius assigned the boy-emperor to Vienne and gave him a care-giver whom he considered to be loyal, one Arbogastes, the nephew of a trusted general.  Is this boring?  Are there too many names?  Take a break and come back: this is important and I need you to care about it.

            Are you ready?  Good.  Re-read the last 3 paragraphs, then join me here.  O.K.  Valentinian II was relegated to Vienne with a powerful and confident overseer in the service of Theodosius.  He could not act independently, apparently he could not even govern his own palace.  He was in despair.  He wrote Ambrose of Milan a despairing letter and begged the good bishop to come to him: he wanted to be baptized.

            Now there a few interesting and unsolvable questions here.  Why wasn't Valentinian II resident at Milan--the capital of the West?  Was it to keep him away from Ambrose?  Theodosius had not met Ambrose yet, but he had good intelligence on his relationship with Valentinian I (for whom he worked) and Gratian (whom he taught).  So maybe Theodosius wanted to keep the kid away from a powerful, but untrusted, mentor?  Was it just to marginalize him?  Vienne was no mean city but it should be noted that despite the best archaeology I have seen, they have not uncovered any imperial palace.  Think about that: what if he were shunted off to a place where there wasn't even a temporary imperial residence?  The signal from Theodosius to Arbogastes would have been quite clear: this kid is nothing (and oh, by the way, I don't want you to become anything either).  In other words: was this an exile?  Was it a double exile?  (get rid of Valentinian II, but also tether Eugenius to an obscure location).  And finally: we know that it was still customary to delay baptism until one was dying.  Was Valentinian II sending a code to Ambrose that he was that desperate?

            We don't know.  Vienne was no mean city.  It was small, to be sure, but any city other than Rome was small, even Constantinople or Milan...and all other imperial cities (Trier, Ephesus, Vienne, Ravenna) were smaller yet.  It wouldn't have been mean, but it would have been out of the way...I hesitate to make analogies, but say the Church wanted to send a message that a priest was not Bishop material, but still competent?  Would he be sent, say, to Bluegrass, Iowa (that was a joke, just to see if anyone there is reading!).

            But Valentinian II itched.  He was of imperial blood and he seemed to be competent.  He had been through a lot and had come through it well.  He wanted out, but had no way to dodge Arbogastes.  I can't get this out of my head.  If found the forum, I found the city basilica, the baths, the circus, the theatre, even an odion (one of only three in all of France), but according to the very pretty and nice young girl (meaning she looked like one of my students) who ran the history information room--yes, there is such a thing--archaeologists have found no trace of an imperial palace.  Was there one?  For my money, I'd start digging out near the race track and city walls.  That is where you'd find it in Rome, in Constantinople, in Thessaloniki, but that is me.  Maybe there wasn't one.  Anyway, Valentinian II felt trapped and after some time of it, he wrote a letter to Ambrose and asked him to come baptize him.

            For whatever reason Ambrose delayed (I can't help but think of the Gospel story wherein Jesus delayed coming to Lazarus).  By the time he had started out on the not particularly comfortable trip he received word that he'd come too late: Valentinian II was dead...he'd been found hung. 

            Did he commit suicide?  Did he give up waiting on Ambrose?  Was he murdered?  In his funeral homily for the boy, Ambrose insists that Gratian himself receives his little brother into paradise.  This is odd, since he died without being baptized and may have been a suicide.  Ambrose was walking a very, very dangerous line here.  Was he suggesting that he had been murdered?  That would put him in an awful place against Arbogastes, who immediately moved by making one Eugenius (a fairly non-descript, but respected PAGAN) as emperor of the West.  It is also theologically awkward, since suicides are--according to one rather cold reading--guilty of the sin of despair and so not eligible for paradise.  Ambrose has no such quibbles: Valentinian II is in Paradise. This is a bold theological position to take and a dangerous political position to take...Eugenius and Arbogastes were headed for Milan.

            Why did he stake that claim?  I think there are several reasons: first, whatever he might have believed about death prior to baptism before, his love for Valentinian (which means his devotion to the whole clan, despite his frustrations with Justina) made him consider options.  Theology is like a long difficult journey...when it comes down to it, one has to have faith.  His prior experience could not dictate to him what his next move was: he had to believe that his heart was right.  Secondly, I think he took the position because he knew there was no dealing with Arbogastes anyway.  The latter had swiftly appointed a certain Eugenius as his titular Emperor...Eugenius was one of the leaders of the Pagan assembly of the Roman senate and this was a last (as it turned out) bid to reclaim the Empire for the ancient gods of Rome.  Besides, Arbogastes might have considered that his foreign sounding name would not make him the most popular candidate with those traditionalists whose money would be needed to win this campaign.

            Eugenius and Arbogastes headed out from Vienne at the head of an army to take on Theodosius.  In a way, Theodosius brought this on himself.  He had two sons for whom he had dynastic ambitions of his own, and Valentinian II was something of an obstacle.  Not to say that he killed, or wanted killed, the emperor of the West, but in an odd way, it played into his hands too.  If he should defeat his one-time general and company, the road was open to the succession of both his sons to the thrown at the same time. 

            He did win, at the Battle of Fridigus, near Aquileia.  Though some of his barbarian Goth warriors switched sides at the last minute (they being mercenaries for hire) a fortuitous wind came up that, chronicalists say, blew the enemy arrows back into their own ranks.  Further, SS John and Phillip were seen hovering over the heads of Theodosius' armies (much as had, the Diascori--Castor and Pollux--in older, pagan times).  It was the last time that Romans would bear the banners of Hercules and Zeus into battle.  From now on, it would be the banner of Constantine only: the Chi Rho the anagram for the name of Christ.  Theodosius was the last man to rule the West and the East.  He set up his two sons to inherit the two halves and was dead a few months after Fridigus.

            Did Ambrose even get to Vienne?  Or did he hear the news and turn back?  To continue on would have been, perhaps, to walk into a trap...if the boy had been murdered.  Personally, I imagine that he went on into the city, anointed the body, and accompanied it back to Milan where he delivered his well known homily and established in no uncertain terms that the Church would not be intimidated by the machinations of usurpers--he hadn't backed down to Maximus, who claimed to be a Nicaean--he wasn't about to back down to a man who signaled clearly his intention to re-establish the precedence of the pagans.  No, he continued down the road...regardless of the inconveniences and the uncertainty of the destination.  He looked his own guardian angel in the eyes, put his hand on his shoulder and said: "I trust you."