AMBROSE°


AMBROSE°
AMBROSE° (339–397), church father, bishop of Milan from 374; canonized by the Catholic Church. Nothing in Ambrose's works points to his having had personal relations with Jews, and he seems to have avoided any such contact. One of the reproaches he directed against the anti-Pope Ursinus was that he had had dealings with Jews (Epist. 11:3). Ambrose took up his most violent anti-Jewish position in connection with an incident in Callinicum (Ar-Rakka) on the Euphrates; on August 1, 388 the Christians of that city, at the instigation of their bishop, had pillaged and burned the synagogue. The emperor theodosius I thereupon ordered the perpetrators to be punished, and the stolen objects restored, instructing the bishop to pay for rebuilding the synagogue. Ambrose addressed a long letter (Epist. 40) to the emperor to persuade him to withdraw these instructions, asserting that to have the synagogue rebuilt with public or Christian funds would be tantamount to permitting the enemies of Christ to triumph over Christians. The arguments he mustered are that the destruction of the synagogue was a meager vengeance for the many churches or basilicas destroyed by the Jews in the reign of julian the apostate , when objects had also been stolen and never restored. Moreover, Ambrose asks, what precious things could there have been in the synagogue of a remote garrison city? Ambrose declared that the bishop must not be faced with the painful alternative of disobeying the emperor or Christ. There was no necessity to search so far for the guilty since Ambrose would gladly offer himself as a substitute for the bishop of Callinicum. If it were asked why Ambrose did not then set fire to the synagogue in Milan, the answer was that God had spared him that task, as it had been struck by lightning. Despite these assertions, Ambrose did not question the legal right of synagogues to exist, as months before he had not protested when Emperor maximus had ordered the rebuilding of a synagogue destroyed by the people of Rome. Theodosius later revised his instructions and directed that the Callinicum synagogue was not to be rebuilt at the expense of the bishop but out of the state or municipal funds, although still demanding that the stolen objects were to be returned and the guilty punished. Sometime later, however, when Ambrose celebrated mass in Milan in the presence of Theodosius he extorted a promise from the emperor, under a thinly veiled threat of excommunication, to suspend further prosecutions in the Callinicum affair (Epist. 41). Several of Ambrose's other missives, dated probably 378, contain anti-Jewish polemics. They include an attack on circumcision because the injunction had been abolished by the death of Jesus (Epist. 72); a disquisition on Old Testament law, to be understood not literally but spiritually (Epist. 73 and 74); and juridical argument to refute the claim of the Jews to be the heirs of the Covenant (Epist. 75). The Apologia David altera, a polemic directed against paganism and heresy, which has been attributed to Ambrose, also contains an anti-Jewish section (4). Heretics (mainly Arians) are frequently charged by Ambrose with being Jewish in outlook and manners (De fide, 2, 15, 130; 5, 9, 116; De incarn., 2, 9). Ambrose cannot be said to have had any real influence on church policy toward the Jews. His intervention in the Callinicum affair exemplifies the fierce hatred felt by the church against the Jews in the fourth century, but it had little effect on imperial policy. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: G. Figueroa, Church and the Synagogue in St. Ambrose (1949); F.H. Dudden, Life and Time of St. Ambrose (1935); B. Blumenkranz, Die Judenpredigt Augustins… (1946), 37 ff.; Wilbrand, in: Festschrift… J. Hessen (1949), 156 ff.; F.R. Hoare, Western Fathers (1954), 165–7, 171. (Bernhard Blumenkranz)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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