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A History Of The Church In Nine Books by Sozomen

AFTER the death of Eugenius, the emperor went to Milan, and repaired towards the church to pray within its walls. When he drew near the gates of the edifice, he was met by Ambrose, the bishop of the city, who took hold of him by his purple robe, and said to him, in the presence of the multitude, “Stand back! a man defiled by sin, and with hands imbrued in blood unjustly shed, is not worthy, without repentance, to enter within these sacred precincts, or partake of the holy mysteries.” The emperor, struck with admiration at the boldness of the bishop, began to reflect on his own conduct, and, with much contrition, retraced his steps. The crime alluded to had been committed under the following circumstances. A charioteer had made a declaration of obscene passion to Buthericus, a military chief of Illyria, and had in consequence been committed to prison. Some time after, some magnificent races were to be held at the hippodrome, and the populace of Thessalonica demanded the release of the prisoner, considering him necessary to the celebration of the games. As their request was not attended to, they rose up in sedition and slew Buthericus. On hearing of this deed, the wrath of the emperor was excited to a fearful height, and he commanded that a certain number of the citizens should be put to death. The whole city was deluged with blood unjustly shed, for strangers, who had but just arrived there on their journey to other lands, were sacrificed with the others. There were many cases of suffering well worthy of commiseration, of which the following is an instance. A merchant offered himself to be slain as a substitute for his two sons who had both been selected as victims, and promised the soldiers to give them all the gold he possessed, on condition of their effecting the exchange. They could not but compassionate his misfortune, and consented to take him as a substitute for one of his sons, but declared that they did not dare to let off both the young men, as that would render the appointed number of the slain incomplete. The father gazed on his sons and wept bitterly, and loving them both equally, he could not make choice between them; he was still standing irresolute, and utterly unable to decide, when they were both slain before his eyes. I have also been informed, that a faithful slave voluntarily offered to die instead of his master, who was being led to the place of execution. It appears that it was for these and other acts of cruelty that Ambrose rebuked the emperor, forbad him to enter the church, and excommunicated him. Theodosius publicly confessed his sin in the church, and during the time set apart for penance, refrained from wearing his imperial ornaments, as being inconsistent with a season of mourning. He also enacted a law prohibiting the officers entrusted with the execution of the imperial mandates, from inflicting the punishment of death till thirty days after the mandate had been issued, in order that the wrath of the emperor might have time to be appeased, and that room might be made for the exercise of mercy and repentance.

Ambrose, no doubt, performed many other actions worthy of his priestly office, which are known only to the inhabitants of the country. Among the illustrious deeds that are attributed to him, I have been made acquainted with the following. It was the custom for the emperor to take a seat in assemblies of the church within the palisades of the altar, so that he sat apart from the rest of the people. Ambrose, considering that this custom had originated either from subserviency or from want of discipline, caused the emperor to be seated without the trellis work of the altar, so that he sat in front of the people, and behind the priests. The Emperor Theodosius approved of this wise alteration, as did likewise his successors; and we are told that it has been ever since scrupulously observed.

I think it necessary to mention another magnanimous action performed by this bishop. A Pagan of distinction insulted Gratian, affirming that he was unworthy of his father; and he was in consequence condemned to death. As he was being led out to execution, Ambrose went to the palace to implore a pardon. Gratian was then engaged in witnessing a private exhibition of horseracing, for it was frequently the practice of the emperors to engage in these diversions at times that the public were excluded: the officers at the gates of the palace would not therefore interrupt him by informing him that Ambrose solicited an interview. On finding this to be the case, the bishop went to the circus, and entering with the persons who took charge of the animals, he made his way up to the emperor, and would not leave him till he had obtained a pardon for the man who had been condemned to death. Ambrose was very diligent in the observance of the canons of the church, and in maintaining discipline among his clergy. I have selected the above two incidents from among the record of his numerous magnanimous deeds, in order to show with what intrepidity he addressed those in power when the service of God was in question.








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