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Ambrose of Milan's On the Holy Spirit


Rhetoric, Theology, and Sources


Despite being the first extended defense of the divinity of the Holy Spirit written in Latin and influencing the Trinitarian theology of Augustine of Hippo, Ambrose of Milan’s On the Holy Spirit (De Spiritu Sancto) has received little scholarly attention. This book seeks to change this perspective by claiming that Ambrose defines the Holy Spirit in a way consistent with pro-Nicene theology using classical Ciceronian rhetoric to interpret Scripture in a quasi-judicial situation.
Publisher: Gorgias Press LLC
SKU (ISBN): 978-1-4632-4074-5
  • *
Publication Status: Forthcoming

Publication Date: Nov 1,2019
Interior Color: Black
Trim Size: 6 x 9
Language: English
ISBN: 978-1-4632-4074-5
$194.00
$116.40

Despite being the first pro-Nicene defense of the divinity of the Holy Spirit written in Latin and influencing the Trinitarian theology of Augustine of Hippo, Ambrose of Milan’s On the Holy Spirit has received little scholarly attention. Jerome maligned the book as badly written and even plagiarized. Modern scholars have followed in that judgement. This study contradicts this perspective, claiming that Ambrosedefines the Holy Spirit in a way consistent with pro-Nicene theology using classical Ciceronian rhetoric to interpret Scripture in a quasi-judicial situation: Emperor Gratian played the role of judge, Ambrose’s theological opponents served as the prosecution, and Ambrose was the defendant. Instead of merely viewing Ambrose’s On the Holy Spirit through the lens of source-criticism, this study utilizes classical rhetorical theory, especially stasis theory, as a methodology that gives due weight both to the conflict in which Ambrose was embroiled and the bishop’s pro-Nicene theological reasoning. Stasis theory helped the rhetorically educated to generate the relevant arguments for the case before them. After documenting the ecclesiastical-political conflict that occasioned On the Holy Spirit’s composition, this study provides the first comprehensive account of the pneumatology of Ambrose’s opponents, the Latin Homoians. Ambrose’s own intellectual formation is then investigated, revealing his intimate knowledge of rhetoric and his acquaintance with some philosophical doctrines, both of which factored into the genesis of On the Holy Spirit. Rhetorical analysis of the text uncovers Ambrose’s attention to the concerns—theological and political—of his primary audience, the Emperor Gratian. Ambrose used Greek sources, but selected ideas which helped him craft his case. Finally, it is demonstrated that Ambrose used the “definition issue” in stasis theory to understand the Holy Spirit’s identity, interpreting Holy Scripture to discover his differentiaefrom creatures but also his shared propriawith the Father and the Son. A lengthy appendix helps advance our understanding of the extent and character of Ambrose’s borrowing from Greek sources.

Not only does this study provide the first full study of Ambrose’s On the Holy Spirit, but it also suggests that rhetorical theory significantly influenced argumentation in fourth-century Trinitarian controversies, though this has been overlooked in modern scholarship. 

Despite being the first pro-Nicene defense of the divinity of the Holy Spirit written in Latin and influencing the Trinitarian theology of Augustine of Hippo, Ambrose of Milan’s On the Holy Spirit has received little scholarly attention. Jerome maligned the book as badly written and even plagiarized. Modern scholars have followed in that judgement. This study contradicts this perspective, claiming that Ambrosedefines the Holy Spirit in a way consistent with pro-Nicene theology using classical Ciceronian rhetoric to interpret Scripture in a quasi-judicial situation: Emperor Gratian played the role of judge, Ambrose’s theological opponents served as the prosecution, and Ambrose was the defendant. Instead of merely viewing Ambrose’s On the Holy Spirit through the lens of source-criticism, this study utilizes classical rhetorical theory, especially stasis theory, as a methodology that gives due weight both to the conflict in which Ambrose was embroiled and the bishop’s pro-Nicene theological reasoning. Stasis theory helped the rhetorically educated to generate the relevant arguments for the case before them. After documenting the ecclesiastical-political conflict that occasioned On the Holy Spirit’s composition, this study provides the first comprehensive account of the pneumatology of Ambrose’s opponents, the Latin Homoians. Ambrose’s own intellectual formation is then investigated, revealing his intimate knowledge of rhetoric and his acquaintance with some philosophical doctrines, both of which factored into the genesis of On the Holy Spirit. Rhetorical analysis of the text uncovers Ambrose’s attention to the concerns—theological and political—of his primary audience, the Emperor Gratian. Ambrose used Greek sources, but selected ideas which helped him craft his case. Finally, it is demonstrated that Ambrose used the “definition issue” in stasis theory to understand the Holy Spirit’s identity, interpreting Holy Scripture to discover his differentiaefrom creatures but also his shared propriawith the Father and the Son. A lengthy appendix helps advance our understanding of the extent and character of Ambrose’s borrowing from Greek sources.

Not only does this study provide the first full study of Ambrose’s On the Holy Spirit, but it also suggests that rhetorical theory significantly influenced argumentation in fourth-century Trinitarian controversies, though this has been overlooked in modern scholarship. 

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Contributor Biography

Andrew Selby

Andrew M. Selby is Dean of Classical Instruction and teaches humanities and Latin at Trinity Classical Academy in Valencia, CA a school participating in the classical Christian education revival movement. He holds a Ph.D. in Religion from Baylor University. 

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