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Chapter XIII.—Of Justina, the wife of Valentinianus, and of her plot against Ambrosius.

At this time Justina,864864    Justina, left widow by Magnentius in 353, was married to Valentinian I. (we may dismiss the story of Socrates (iv. 31) that he legalized bigamy in order to marry her in the lifetime of Severa) probably in 368. Her first conflict with Ambrose was probably in 380 at Sirmium. On the murder of Gratian in 383 Maximus for four years left the young Valentinian in possession of Italy, in deference to the pleading of Ambrose. It was during this period, at Easter, 385, that Justina ungratefully attacked the bishop and demanded a church for Arian worship. wife of Valentinianus the great, and mother of the young prince, made known to her son the seeds of the Arian teaching which she had long ago received. Well knowing the warmth of her consort’s faith she had endeavoured to conceal her sentiments during the whole of his life, but perceiving that her son’s character was gentle and docile, she took courage to bring her deceitful doctrine forward. The lad supposed his mother’s counsels to be wise and beneficial, for nature so disposed the bait that he could not see the deadly hook below. He first communicated on the subject with Ambrosius, under the impression that, if he could persuade the bishop, he would be able without difficulty to prevail over the rest. Ambrosius, however, strove to remind him of his father’s piety, and exhorted him to keep inviolate the heritage which he had received. He explained to him also how one doctrine differed from the other, how the one is in agreement with the teaching of the Lord and with the teaching of his apostles, while the other is totally opposed to it and at war with the code of the laws of the spirit.

The young man, as young men will, spurred on moreover by a mother herself the victim of deceit, not only did not assent to the arguments adduced, but lost his temper, and, in a passion, was for surrounding the approaches to the church with companies of legionaries and targeteers. When, however, he learnt that this illustrious champion was not in the least alarmed at his proceedings, for Ambrosius treated them all like the ghosts and hobgoblins with which some men try to frighten babies, he was exceedingly angry and publicly ordered him to depart from the church. “I shall not,” said Ambrosius, “do so willingly. I will not yield the sheepfold to the wolves nor betray God’s temple to blasphemers. If you wish to slay me drive your sword or your spear into me here within. I shall welcome such a death.”865865    This contest is described by Ambrose himself in letters to Valentinian and to his sister Marcellina, Epp. xx. xxi, and in the “Sermo de basilicis tradendis.” On the apparent error of Gibbon in confusing the “vela” which were hung outside a building to mark it as claimed for the imperial property, with the state hangings of the emperor’s seat inside, vide Dict. Christ. Biog. i. 95.


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