Sunday, May 15, 2011


            Ammianus called it the "Mother of All Cities" though it is doggone hard to figure out why.  St. Ambrose of Milan lived in Sirmium for 5 years as a court lawyer.  His brother Satyrus may have gone with him and in the same capacity.  They did seem to be working the same track to success, he was at least nearby.  Ambrose, at least, got his appointment due to a favorable reference to Senator Probus, who was then consularis of the province.  Notably, Probus was a Christian (though he seems not to have worked very hard at it).  This appointment speaks something of the prestige of Ambrose's family name (and wealth) which must have survived intact whatever fate had befallen his father under Constantius in Trier.  Certainly it was only a first posting, but it was to an important place that had an imperial residence.

            Sirmium is now known as Sremska Metrovica (phonetic till you get to "c" pronounced as an "s").  It is a very old city, indeed it is claimed to be the oldest city in Europe (oddly enough, Trier too makes that claim).  In any case it was pre-Roman and Celtic.  It was Romanized over the course of the II* and by the IV* it was one of the great capital cities of the empire.  No fewer than five emperors were born here, which is also a record matched by no other city--I am not even sure that Rome gave birth to 5 of her emperors.  Like Trier, Milan, and Aquileia it was near the frontier and like them it was a relatively small capital city, at least compared to Rome, boasting perhaps 1/2 million people, but again like them, it had an impressive aqueduct fed bath, an imperial palace adjacent to a circus that was linked to the walls.  It sat on the banks of the broad and navigable Sava River not far from its confluence with the Danube...the barbarian frontier.

            Today it takes up more land but has far fewer people, not more than 40,000.  It has turned its back on the Sava, preferring the prudent flood wall to the view.  It takes about 30 minutes to walk from the river all the way across town to the bus station (the train station is also right there, but I was advised against the trains due to their unreliability: the bus ride from Belgrade was easy and the station had a constant flow of busses in and out.

            Ambrose returned there at least once, maybe twice, after becoming bishop of Milan.  We know that he influenced the selection of a proper Nicaean bishop and he may have been present at a council held here.  During the bus ride in, I got to wondering what his reception would have been like the second time, since he would have been well known and recognized by the locals.  At least the Nicaean Christians would have greeted him warmly and may well have claimed him as one of their own because, although not yet baptized when he lived there, he clearly carried himself as a man of faith.  When he left to become consularis of Milan, his mentor Probus was said to have quipped "go: act not like a governor, but like a bishop."  Enigmatic for sure and odd advice for one who certainly did not follow his own council but it does speak to Ambrose's disposition.

            Ambrose's Sirmium is hard to make out in the rather sleepy blue-collar town that is Sremska.  Most of the archaeology is still underneath the ground.  I was walking down a street that I knew to be in the vicinity of where the circus had been and sure enough I found a great sign with a map that revealed that I had been walking right down the "spina" (spine, in English: it is that low wall that runs length of the circus separating the outbound track from the inbound track, so to speak).  But of the circus itself nothing is above ground.  Later I tracked down what was supposed to have been a ruin and once again it was just a sign telling me that I was standing where the aqueduct ran into the city.  I didn't even bother the back streets for evidence.  Besides the palace there is one small neighborhood adjacent to a fragment of the wall and that is really about it.  The local museum is really a dusty old barn with things (mostly sarcophagi) stacked on top of one another.  The upstairs exhibition rooms are...quaint: a few scant relics mounted or sitting on tables with some signs, in Serbian only.  Unlike every other museum I've ever been in, no one seemed to care what I was about and ignored me.  I took what photos I wanted (not many) and I suppose I could have walked off with a vase or coin if I'd been inclined.

            In this regard, as in others, Sirmium is the anti-Aquileia: there emperors died and the city retains much of its archaeological heritage.  Here emperors were born and most traces of the Roman presence remain underground.  Sirmium never actually died, but the intervening history has left so many marks that Roman Sirmium is just one photo in the family album.  This stands to reason: the point of making it a capital was that it was near the frontier--that is to danger--and it was more vulnerable even than the other frontier capitals.   No one I met seems to know (or care) that its one-time magistrate would become the most powerful churchman of the Latin Church of the IV century and one of the most important bishops in all of Catholic Christianity's history.  "Metrovica" refers to "Demetrius" the martyr-saint who is also associated with Thessaloniki.  He may have been born here and devotions transferred to there, or perhaps he was brought here from one really knows, but this martyr is indelibly linked to both cities.  Sremska may be a derivation of Sirmium.

            Of course, no one who knew him then would have thought that much about his future fame.  It was Ambrose's job to interpret and enforce the laws in what had been an imperial city since the time of Diocletian.  The imperial palace here is preserved within an impressive modern structure that puts the whole thing under one roof, along with a modest gift shop and a tidy little bar and a 3rd floor gathering space.  A rather stunning departure from the archaeology-as-sign I'd already come to expect.  Various emperors occupied the palace for at least a fraction of their reign (from the III* on emperors were perapetic, which meant that they had to be where the most immediate threat was).

            Because of the long gaps between actual imperial residence, it is conceivable that the authority of the city rested with its governor and his staff.  I have no idea whether or not they would have used the palace as their headquarters, but it stands to reason that the place would not have been locked up between imperial visits.  It was the temporary seat of government for Diocletian. Licinius, Constanatine, Constantius II, Julian, Valentinian, Gratian, and Theodosius.  At the period when Ambrose was magistrate no emperor was resident, Valentinian being in Trier and Valens off to Persia.  Valentinian I and Valens had met here to officially divide the East and the West between them, Sirmium was just inside the Western Empire.

            Ambrose would have gotten to know this region, then known as Pannonia Inferiore, and one could imagine that he would have travelled a bit during that time.  Though officially part of the West, he was closer to Constantinople and Thessaloniki than to Milan or Rome.  The region is broad and flat agricultural land.  Beyond the Danube to the North it is still heavily wooded hill country, giving one the impression of how valuable (and vulnerable) this area would have been to those who were being pushed from behind by the inexorable pressure of the Huns.

            Ambrose would have considered it small and provincial to his experience of Rome, but it was also closer to power...emperors rarely visited Rome, but they resided least occasionally.  The record of his time here is scant, but not that hard to imagine: he had to balance his disdain for a frontier posting against the odds that he would be noticed by the emperor and so rise to new heights.  This was the path of the Cursus Honorus...the route to power.  There is no reason to suspect Ambrose of any other ambitions than that.  Evidence of Christian influence at this time is scant and unclear.  There is a sarcophagus from the mid IV century that portrays a Roman magistrate with scroll in hand in one medallion and his wife with a dove in her hand in another.  This dove may represent a vague hint of the woman's Christian faith but it is worth noting that even in the IV century such an association was still "coded" and not explicit.  The first bishop of Sirmium was one Iranaeus, who was tortured and thrown into the Saba several decades before Ambrose came there.

            In the end, the archaeological traces of IV century Roman Sirmium are as obscure as the historical record of Ambrose's time here.  It was crucial to his formation, being his first official posting.  He was here for 5 years and went from here directly to Milan.  Here, though there is little evidence of it, Ambrose would have cut his teeth.   He would have learned the difference between official law and common practice, the gap that separated the rule from application, the ideal from the real.  He would have wanted to prove himself, but without (as Probus' comment suggests) acting contrary to his faith.  Though as of yet an unprofessed Christian, he acted like one and this means that while he had the power to torture and to execute, he very likely resorted to neither of these. 

            Sirmium in Ambrose's time was a scary place.  There were constant threats from the frontier and the defeat of Valens is just a few years in the future.  There was increasing pressure from Goths in the East...just across the border from Sirmium...and Ambrose would have been hard pressed to maintain public order and discipline against the urging of panic among his fellow citizens.  He would have been consoled by the near presence of his brother Satyrus but both would have been terribly pressured to deal with increasing threats from across the border.  He was in his mid-30's at the time and would have used this crucial time to balance the difference between learned theory and actual practice.  This, of course, is the most crucial phase in the education of anyone.

            Threats aside, Sirmium was not over-run until the Avars of the VI century.  There is a sad brick plaque in the archaeological "museum" that reads in abbreviated and sloppy Latin: "CHRIST OUR LORD, help our city to halt the Avars, protect the Roman Empire and he who has written this.  Amen."

            That prayer was not answered.

            The record seems to be pretty blank, to be quite blunt.  We can use our analogical imaginations (borrowing from David Tracy) but of course that is suspect.  Ambrose and perhaps also his brother would have learned how to think on their feet and make quick adjustments to the exigencies of place and time.  He would have had to figure out how to interpret the law and to maintain order, all without violating his own personal faith convictions.  He would have juggled the honor of an imperial appointment with the lived practice of mundane responsibilities.  He would have come face to face with the contradictions between his faith and his position, his beliefs and his loyalties.  Here too he reinforced his loyalties to the family of Valentinian, despite that one's obvious hands-off attitude toward matters of religion and his own brother's heresy.  He would have developed the cardinal virtues of the Roman as well as probity and the Christian virtues he had picked up from his mother and elder sister.  Mostly, I suspect, his experience was mundane...the daily tasks of interpreting the law, keeping the peace, and explaining it all in a way that was both compelling and non-contradictory to his convictions.  He solved problems between land owners; he interpreted tax laws; and he prosecuted those who sought to avoid military service for themselves or their farm workers.  He decided what was traitorous from what was merely opinion.  He must have had a very hard time being balanced when the protagonists were Christian and pagan or Jew, but I would like to believe that he maintained fairness, he being the administrator of justice, after all.  There is a clue to his fairness in that later, in Milan, he was the unanimous popular choice of both Nicaeans and Homoeans.  Of course Jews and pagans didn't have a vote and there will be his decidedly intolerant rhetoric about the Callinicum affair. 

            In the end, it is not particularly obvious that I have gained any insight into Ambrose from having visited this, his home for 5 years.  The geography is important for what it says about its allure to barbarian incursions.  Its political location as one of the great frontier imperial cities goes without mention.  Its amenability and also its unimpressive comparison with Rome are also evident.  We can speak in broad generalities about what he would have faced, but that is about it.  Perhaps the most concrete thing that can be said is bare and lacking in detail:

He held power for the first time, representing Roman law
He saw firsthand the threats of the frontier
He had to be both a Roman administrator and a (closet) Christian
He was still climbing the ladder of success and would go where it led
He would not do anything that openly contradicted his (covert) faith
He may well have visited, and was certainly in communication with, the East, including Constantinople and Thessaloniki as well as points west: Aquileia and Milan.

Monday, March 7, 2011



            This will be the last entry of this blog for several months, as I will put up my feet at least till May, when I hope to add a site or two to the Ambrose trail.  And anyway, this will be a curious post, as Ambrose never set foot in Scotland, where I am now sitting by a coal fire in a country house overlooking the island of Mull on the west coast...possibly my favorite area of Scotland...but why is it relevant? Not only did Ambrose never visit here, I am, for the first time in 2 months, outside the Roman Empire...though it's influences are to be readily seen in such things as the Harry Potter bridge--a tressal not far from here that you'd recognize if you've seen the films--which is essentially aqueduct technology.  Then there is the mound of earth that still runs through Falkirk...remnants of Aurelian's wall.  Ideas, such as Romanitas, may be harder to spot but are no less evident, and were broadly diffused.  So was Roman Christianity.  How?

            You will remember Magnus Maximus from earlier posts.  He was the Spanish born usurper who killed Gratian and with whom Ambrose had contended to save Valentinian II and to avert or at least mitigate an impending civil war.  Scotland explains the rise of Maximus from a not particularly successful career as a military man to a not particularly successful usurper.  Scotland also tells something of the story of the dissemination of Rome's new faith.

            Valentinian I had a rough relationship with his generals because he was in constant dread of being bumped off by one of them.  This was not pure paranoia.  I believe that only one emperor in the III century died a natural death, and those since Constantine in the IVth hadn't done much better.  In any case he had sacked a certain Theodosius (the father of the future emperor of the same name) but had had to restore him because of Scotland. 

            It is known as the "Great Uprising" and it involved a coordinated attack on the Roman diocese of Britannia by the Scoti and Attacotti of Ireland, the Picts of Scotland and the Saxons of Germany.  Further, it seems to have been masterminded by a certain Valentinus, a rogue Roman soldier who had been disgraced and discharged.  One curious problem that the Romans struggled with is how all these disparate parties could have coordinated so well.  Ammianus Marcelinus, the chronicler of the age, concluded that it was the Areani...sailors by trade, spies by vocation.  They were used by the Roman administration as informers, but it seems that in this case they turned coats.  Theodosius rounded up as many of them as he could find, bound them to stones and cast them into the English Channel.

            It took two campaign seasons for the Romans to finally put down the threat, the whole North having been ravaged with local governors dead or missing.  He reorganized the political structure of Britannia and was himself named Comes Britannia: Count of Britain.  He didn't have long to enjoy that position, however, as he had to dash off to Africa to extinguish another uprising.  In this case the corrupt official on the ground, one Romanus, was extorting the locals so badly that in frustration, they rose up.  The situation was complicated by the fact the leader of the rebellion had a brother who was an ally of Romanus.  Further, Firmus (I think that was his name) had been mantled in purple by his troops, thus translating him from a righteously indignant victim of official corruption to a usurper.  Theodosius handled this situation as he had Britannia and as his son would the Goths.  He used equivocation, bribery, stall tactics, and ruthless strikes to destroy the native insurgency and punish the corrupt Romanus.  His right hand in both campaigns was Magnus Maximus.

            Shortly after this campaign a number of strange and unclear events took place.  Young Theodosius was shamed when some troops under his command broke in a skirmish.  The emperor, Valentinian I, may have tried to have the young man executed and his father may have intervened.  Then there is the case of the Ouija board...some courtiers in Constantinople apparently participated in some sort of magic ritual in the course of which a pointer moved around a board "landing" on certain letters of the alphabet.  It had been asked the question: "Who will be the next emperor?" and the thing spelled the letters Theta, epsilon, omega, delta...or "Theo..."  Soon afterward the elder Theodosius was put to death and the son sent off to banishment in Spain.  Magnus Maximus, who had survived his own scandal already (he had been part of the Batavia Legion, which had broken in battle, which resulted in a humiliating defeat and heavy losses for the Romans.  Valentinian had ordered the entire legion to be crucified, but had been talked out of it.  The pendulum now swung wildly after that: Maximus was named Comes Britannia.  Then, in an almost comical episode, Valentinian died of an apoplectic seizure while screaming madly at a bunch of Saxon chieftains whom he accused of duplicity.  The troops raised his teen aged son Gratian to the crown while certain influential courtiers simultaneously offered co-emperor position to his toddler half brother Valentinian II. 

            It gets crazier: Valens was very soon afterward defeated at Hadrianopolis and Gratian had to recall the younger Theodosius from exile to take over the Eastern Empire which was without an army or an economy.  It would take him three years to fix things in the East.  The moment seemed opportune for Magnus to act: he launched his own bid for the thrown of the West and, in so doing, left the recently subdued Britannia with a skeleton defense; he moved first to Paris, picking up allies, luring disaffected officers from Gratian, then assassinating the young emperor.  From there he went to Trier.

            Britannia was not completely abandoned, but the writing was on the wall.  Caesar had crossed the channel briefly, Claudius had subdued it.  Aurelius had built an earthen and timber wall---parts of which can still be seen in neighborhoods around Glasgow and Falkirk in Scotland--but Hadrian's more permanent wall marked a more sustainable line which runs roughly from Carlisle in the West to Newcastle on the East.  Even so, Britannia had never really paid for itself.  It was expensive to maintain and the exports were not vital: tin, mostly, and agricultural produce.  Local Britans (Celtic) and colonists were building cities like London, Bath, York, Chester, Lincoln and others.  The military was building important roads and defenses.  Lucky week-end treasure hunters are still discovering hoards of Roman coins while archaeologists find surprisingly elaborate villas and tombs (including one, recently, of gladiators--one of whom was a woman).  But in general the diocese was a drain on the exchequer.  In just a few decades after Magnus depleted the frontier troops the great general Stilicho, who was managing the West for Theodosius' son and grandson against what turned out to be insurmountable odds, would write the famous letter to the good Romans of Britannia explaining that they were on their own...the lights of the empire began to extinguish like abandoned hearths.

            But not before one other important event happened.  Britannia had not only been Romanized, it had even more thoroughly been Christianized.  Tribal Celts took to the new religion with passion, devotion, and with their own peculiar stamp on things.  Their missionaries went beyond the empire (as, indeed, other Roman Christians had gone to Persia/Parthia, Gothica, and Burber North Africa).  The Celtic Christians introduced their faith to the tribes in Ireland.  When Christian Britannia was finally overrun by the pagan Angles, the Saxons, the Jutes, and Vikings, Celtic Christianity was preserved in and then re-imported to Scotland and England by the Irish.  St. Patrick, they say here in the west of Scotland, was a local boy, born appropriately, at Kilpatrick.  King Arthur (whose full name, intriguingly, was Arturus Aurelius Ambrosianus) was probably a Celto-Roman warlord whose niche in history is that he gave Britannia 50 years of respite from foreign invasion...enough time for the Gospel to spread like clover in Ireland.  Celtic gods and goddesses, such as the marvelous Winifred of Holywell, Wales, at whose holy well I once spent a great summer as a volunteer, became Christian saints, the ancient sites continued to attract pilgrims.  Place names and legends morphed and merged pre-Christian stories with the lives of the saints.  The many mutations of Merlin's name include Aneurin, Myrdden, Talesian, and Emrys---the last of which is a form of the word Ambrose. 

            The Irish missionaries came first to Iona, the little island just beyond Mull, and then to Lindesfarne, so close to the east coast of England that we drove our car out across the causeway...mindful of the time of the incoming tide.  Such remote sites were chosen for two reasons, Celtic monasticism was as rigorously ascetical as the Egyptian anchorites...though they lived in community...and then there were the Viking raids.  Even centuries later, the Border wars between the kingdoms of Scotland and England made life very difficult indeed. I found a poem of rather dark humor on that subject:

From Goswick we've geese
From Cheswick we've cheese
From Buckton we've venison in store
From Swanhoe we've bacon,
But the Scots have it taken,
And the priory is longing for more.

Despite these problems, the two holy islands became the launching points for missionaries that would spread across Europe and beyond.  It was a form of Christianity that would have seemed strange to Ambrose, and indeed, at the council of Whitby in 664, it had to be rather aggressively forced to integrate to what was, by then, Roman Catholicism. 

            Ambrose's own practice of Christianity was thoroughly loyal to the broader, even if the so-called Ambrosian Rite is noticeably different from what most of us know as the norm.  Regional idiosyncrasies were mostly eliminated but Ambrose's reputation was such that Milan got to retain something rather distinct, to this day.  I don't know what he would have made of the Celtic Christianity that he, indirectly, helped nurture (without his interventions, I believe, the West would not have lasted as long as it did.  Besides, and of this I am more confident, Ambrose was the advocate or, if not the inventor of, what we now can call Roman Catholicism--this stands to reason, he being both thoroughly Roman and completely Catholic...which means, in essence, that he found ways for indigenous culture to be converted and thus not destroyed.  In an odd way, this is what Aiden and Columbanus and other Celtic missionaries were all about.

            The dissemination of the faith was part of Ambrose's agenda--that is why he took relics to such places as Florence from Bologna.  It is why I had to go as far away as Efes in Turkey and Vienne in France to look for his finger prints.  It worked.  It still works.  The other day one of my dearest friends and I went for a walk up into the braes above the place we were staying.  We found a miraculous little pool of tranquil water perfectly reflecting the bare branches of the winter trees above it, except for the odd dapples caused by the softest rain--the kind that doesn't even let you know that you are getting wet.  It was surrounded by old pines covered in moss and vines.  I would not have been in the least surprised if a woman's hand had risen out of the pool bearing a sword for me.  My friend commented that he used to consider the likes of Tolkein and Joyce as genius but now he realizes they were just describing what they saw.  The murky pools of the past continue to allure and intrigue as they had well before Christianity ever reached these shores.  But the Lady of the Lake was a Christian, or at least Arthur was a Christianized take what was there and convert it to the faith's understanding of the world is exactly in line with what Ambrose was all about.

            I have spent several days now in the company of great people, many of whom were educated by the Catholic Church.  None of them are priests or nuns, but they all bear the imprint of their learning in discipline, tradition, liberal arts, and faith.  They are now leaders in their societies: teachers, professors, lawyers, engineers, nurses, accountants and computer technologists, even wine buyers and designers.  Ambrose is just one person, one leader who led a long time ago, but he cut a groove that we are still pouring through, or rather, that the Spirit is still pouring through.

            Tonight I am in Milan on my way home (don't ask) and I made a trip down town to see the saint one more time.  It is comforting to see his image so prominently and proudly displayed here in his city after all these centuries, and I am encouraged to help make his story told to others who, knowing it or not, are in some small way influenced by this great disseminator of the faith.

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 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 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% 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 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."