Ambrose the Pastor and the Image of the 'Bride': Exegesis, Philosophy, and the Song of Songs
Ambrose the Pastor and the Image of the `Bride':Exegesis, Philosophy, and the Song of SongsMaria MacLean Kiely, Ph.D.Director: Dr. Philip Rousseau,Andrew W. Mellon Distinguished Professor of Early Christian StudiesAmbrose of Milan remains a dilemma. He was an eminent ecclesiastical leader, who knew how to promote the independence of the Church in an imperial city. In his sometimes stormy encounters with three emperors and two usurpers, he invariably maintained his position and power. Yet, he was considered one of the great theologians of the early Church and a source for Christian mysticism based on the Song of Songs. A nuanced appraisal of these two sides of Ambrose is complicated by the fact that he was thrust unprepared into the ecclesiastical duties of teaching and preaching. To redeem his deficit, he borrowed from his Greek and Latin predecessors; his homilies and treatises are studded with their exegetical and philosophical ideas. Who is the man behind the political adroitness, the mystical bent, and the erudite borrowings? What is the interior genius of Ambrose? Historians need to reassess him in order to grasp the full import of his episcopacy and his influence. Ambrose has provided a key to this process of reappraisal in his use of the Song of Songs. Analysis of this, his favorite, Scripture in diverse treatises has enabled me to probe his thought and his understanding of his role as bishop. I have investigated three major treatises: the De Isaac, the De Bono Mortis, and the Expositio Psalmi 118. Each is directed to Ambrose's congregation at large, and indirectly to the wider community of interested outsiders. I have discovered an Ambrose deeply engaged in a dialogue with the philosophical tradition of Platonism. Scholars who consider him opposed to philosophy mistake anti-pagan rhetoric for personal conviction. The Church as bride represents the interior capacity for God in the soul of each baptized Christian. This represents a transformation of Origen's ideas and methods into a simple, effective tool for late fourth-century catechesis and Scriptural exegesis. On the deepest level, Ambrose thinks in terms of poetic image; metaphor is his native environment. This innate poetic sense allows him to see both the layers of allegory in the Song of Songs and the richness of human love as the foundation for interpretation.
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