Wisdom and the Moral Life: The Teachings of Ambrose of Milan

Mohrmann, Margaret Elizabeth , Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Childress, James, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Wilken, Robert, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia

Ambrose, the fourth-century Bishop of Milan, has generally been viewed from the standpoint of his effect on church-state relations in the Middle Ages and on the conversion of Augustine, rather than from the perspective of his own theological and moral teachings. Studies of Ambrose's writings have shown both the pervasive influence of recognizably philosophical ideas and a consistent rejection of philosophy, a conjunction considered paradoxical and problematic by his critics.

This dissertation, by means of a thorough analysis of Ambrose's sermons and essays, displays his understanding of the proper work of reason, the error of philosophy, the nature of Christian wisdom, and the central importance of biblical exempla for both philosophy and Christian thought. The analysis shows that Ambrose's acceptance of philosophical formulas and ways of reasoning in the face of his adamant opposition to philosophy as a way of life in competition with the way of Christian wisdom is not paradoxical, but is rather a clear expression of his conviction that philosophy's truths are originally derived from the Hebrew bible and may, therefore, be reclaimed by Christianity as the rightful possessor and interpreter.

For Ambrose, the way of Christian wisdom -- the true philosophy, in contrast to various aberrant ways of life centered upon merely human wisdom -- is entered upon and sustained by faith. It entails cosmological and moral knowledge that is available only by reason's discerning reflection on the paradigmatic and revelatory stories of scripture. The biblical narratives of creation and redemption and of the lives of the exempla reveal the truths from which the earliest philosophers constructed their systems of thought. For the faithful, those stories, and reason's interpretation of them, are illuminated by the indwelling presence of Christ, who is himself the way and the Wisdom of God. Such knowledge is not now accessible by philosophy, which has lost its ability to attain true wisdom because it has severed its roots in divine truth and is, therefore, lost in fruitless dialectical debates.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Ambrose Bishop of Milan , fourth century philosophical reasoning , Christian wisdom and faith
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