St. Ambrose of Milan—Letter to His Sister: State Authority Over Public Edifices, Not Sacred Ones
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“We beg, O Augustus, we do not battle. We are not afraid, but we are begging. It befits Christians to hope for the tranquility of peace and not to check the steadfastness of faith and truth when faced with danger of death.”
Alongside Gregory the Great, Augustine of Hippo, and Jerome, Ambrose of Milan has long been considered one of the four great Doctors of the Church. In particular, Ambrose is perhaps best known for having set the model for the Church’s relationship to the state. He’s famous for having said, “The emperor is within the Church, not above the Church.”
In this letter to his sister, St. Ambrose relates events at Milan connected with the demand of the Empress Justina for a basilica for the Arians, and how the people rose up in opposition. It includes sketches of two addresses he gave: the first, comparing their trials to those of Job; and the second, adapting the story of Jonah to the present circumstances, and relating the joy of the people at recovering their church.
Throughout, Ambrose makes clear the limits of the emperor’s authority: “You have been given authority over public edifices, not over sacred ones.”
Way of the Fathers, Ep. 33—Ambrose of Milan, How the Church Regards the State: https://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/33ambrose-milan-how-church-regards-state/
Letters, by St. Ambrose: https://verbum.com/product/120426/saint-ambrose-letters
Letter to His Sister full text at CatholicCulture.org: https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/fathers/view.cfm?recnum=2073
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