"The readers of this book will not be surprised by Marcia Colish. She has once again given us a succinct and crystal-clear condensation of a complex body of thought. But they will be surprised by Colish's Ambrose. This is not at all the world-denying romantic Platonist that many see him to have been. Colish's close attention to the Stoic groundwork of Ambrose's ethical thought, and to his careful modification of the views of his predecessors, recaptures him as the first Christian preacher prepared to present a coherent ethics for the average believer. Far from showing his preaching to have been a chapter in the rise of Christian ascetic extremism, Colish has shown us how to read Ambrose's sermons as a chapter in a more enduring (and, perhaps, more welcome) development—the 'Romanization' of Christian moral thought, with all the this-worldly solidity which the word 'Roman' still invokes." —Peter Brown, Princeton University
“This is a significant study, by a distinguished scholar, of works that are often overlooked but that, as Marcia Colish ably demonstrates, challenge some widely held interpretations of Ambrose as a theologian, ethicist, and philosopher. This book is both thought provoking and enlightening.” —Francine Cardman, Weston Jesuit School of Theology
In this welcome new book Marcia L. Colish offers the only monograph-length study of the patriarch treatises of Ambrose of Milan (c. 340–397), in which he develops, for the first time in the patristic period, an ethics for the laity. Ambrose the ethicist has been viewed primarily as the author of advice to those with special callings in the church, such as priests, widows, and consecrated virgins. His views have been characterized as advocating asceticism and promoting a Platonic view of human nature, in which the body is a moral problem. Ambrose’s patriarch treatises, argues Colish, are instead aimed at lay people who did not have special callings in the church, but who led active lives in the world as spouses, parents, heads of households, professionals, and citizens. These treatises reveal a different side of Ambrose and show that he developed an ethics of moderation based on an Aristotelian and Stoic anthropology, which he modified in the light of biblical ethics and St. Paul’s view of human nature.
Marcia L. Colish is Frederick B. Artz Professor of History, emerita, at Oberlin College and visiting fellow in history at Yale University.