Death of Population:
Thessalonica is a large and very
populous city, belonging to Macedonia, but the capital of Thessaly
and Achaia, as well as of many other provinces which are governed by
the prefect of Illyricum. Here arose a great sedition, and several
of the magistrates were stoned and violently treated.
The emperor was fired with anger
when he heard the news, and unable to endure the rush of his
passion, did not even check its onset by the curb of reason, but
allowed his rage to be the minister of his vengeance. When the
imperial passion had received its authority, as though itself an
independent prince, it broke the bonds and yoke of reason unsheathed
swords of injustice right and left without distinction, and slew
innocent and guilty together. No trial preceded the sentence. No
condemnation was passed on the perpetrators of the crimes.
Multitudes were mowed down like ears of corn in harvest-tide. It is
said that seven thousand perished.
News of this lamentable calamity
reached Ambrosius. The emperor on his arrival at Milan wished
according to custom to enter the church. Ambrosius met him outside
the outer porch and forbade him to step over the sacred threshold.
"You seem, sir, not to know," said he, "the magnitude of the bloody
deed that has been done. Your rage has subsided, but your reason has
not yet recognised the character of the deed. Peradventure your
Imperial power prevents your recognising the sin, and power stands
in the light of reason. We must however know how our nature passes
away and is subject to death; we must know the ancestral dust from
which we sprang, and to which we are swiftly returning. We must not
because we are dazzled by the sheen of the purple fail to see the
weakness of the body that it robes. You are a sovereign, Sir, of men
of like nature with your own, and who are in truth your fellow
slaves; for there is one Lord and Sovereign of mankind, Creator of
the Universe. With what eyes then will you look on the temple of our
common Lord-with what feet will you tread that holy threshold, how
will you stretch forth your hands still dripping with the blood of
unjust slaughter? How in such hands will you receive the all holy
Body of the Lord? How will you who in your rage unrighteously poured
forth so much blood lift to your lips the precious Blood? Begone.
Attempt not to add another crime to that which you have committed.
Submit to the restriction to which the God the Lord of all agrees
that you be sentenced. He will be your physician, He will give you
Educated as he had been in the
sacred oracles, Theodosius knew clearly what belonged to priests and
what to emperors. He therefore bowed to the rebuke of Ambrose, and
retired sighing and weeping to the palace. After a considerable
time, when eight months had passed away, the festival of our
Saviour's birth came round and the emperor sat in his palace
shedding a storm of tears.
Now Rufinus, at that time
controller of the household, and, from his familiarity with his
imperial master, able to use great freedom of speech, approached and
asked him why he wept. With a bitter groan and yet more abundant
weeping "You are trifling, Rufinus," said the emperor, "because you
do not feel my troubles. I am groaning and lamenting at the thought
of my own calamity; for menials and for beggars the way into the
church lies open; they can go in without fear, and put up their
petitions to their own Lord. I dare not set my foot there, and
besides this for me the door of heaven is shut, for I remember the
voice of the Lord which
plainly says, `Whatsoever ye bind on earth
shall have been bound in heaven.
Rufinus replied, "With your
permission I will hasten to the bishop, and by my entreaties induce
him to remit your penalty." "He will not yield, said the emperor.
"I know the justice of the sentence passed by Ambrose, nor will he
ever be moved by respect for my imperial power to transgress the law
Rufinus urged his suit again and
again, promising to win over Ambrosius; and at last the emperor
commanded him to go with all dispatch. Then, the victim of false
hopes, Theodosius, in reliance on the promises of Rufinus, followed
in person, himself. No sooner did the divine Ambrose perceive
Rufinus than he exclaimed, "Rufinus, your impudence matches a dog's,
for you were the adviser of this terrible slaughter; you have wiped
shame from your brow, and guilty as you are of this mad outrage on
the image of God you stand here fearless, without a blush." Then
Rufinus began to beg and pray, and announced the speedy approach of
the emperor. Fired with divine zeal the holy Ambrosius exclaimed
"Rufinus, I tell you beforehand; I shall prevent him from crossing
the sacred threshold. If he is for changing his sovereign power into
that of a tyrant I too will gladly submit to a violent death." On
this Rufinus sent a messenger to inform the emperor in what mind the
archbishop was, and exhorted him to remain within the palace.
Theodosius had already reached the middle of the forum when he
received the message. "I will go," said he, "and accept the disgrace
I deserve." He advanced to the sacred precincts but did not enter
the holy building. The archbishop was seated in the house of
salutation and there the emperor approached him and besought that
his bonds might be loosed.
"Your coming" said Ambrose "is
the coming of a tyrant. You are raging against God; you are
trampling on his laws." "No," said Theodosius, "I do not attack laws
laid down, I do not seek wrongfully to cross the sacred threshold;
but I ask you to loose my bond, to take into account the mercy of
our common Lord, and not to shut against me a door which our master
has opened for all them that repent." The archbishop replied, "What
repentance have you shown since your tremendous crime? You have
inflicted wounds right hard to heal; what salve have you applied?"
"Yours" said the emperor "is the duty alike of pointing out and of
mixing the salve. It is for me to receive what is given me." Then
said the divine Ambrosius "You let your passion minister justice,
your passion not your reason gives judgment. Put forth therefore an
edict which shall make the sentence of your passion null and void;
let the sentences which have been published inflicting death or
confiscation be suspended for thirty days awaiting the judgment of
reason. When the days shall have elapsed let them that wrote the
sentences exhibit their orders, and then, and not till then, when
passion has calmed down, reason acting as sole judge shall examine
the sentences and will see whether they be right or wrong. If it
find them wrong it will cancel the deeds; if they be righteous it
will confirm them, and the interval of time will inflict no wrong on
them that have been rightly condemned."
This suggestion the emperor
accepted and thought it admirable. He ordered the edict to be put
out forthwith and gave it the authority of his sign manual. On this
the divine Ambrosius loosed the bond.
Now the very faithful emperor
came boldly within the holy temple but did not pray to his Lord
standing, or even on his knees, but lying prone upon the ground he
tittered David's cry "My soul cleaveth unto the dust, quicken thou
me according to thy word."
He plucked out his hair; he smote
his head; he besprinkled the ground with drops of tears and prayed
for pardon. When the time came for him to bring his oblations to the
holy table, weeping all the while he stood up and approached the
After making his offering, as he
was wont, he remained within at the rail, but once more the great
Ambrosius kept not silence and taught him the distinction of places.
First he asked him if he wanted anything; and when the emperor said
that he was waiting for participation in the divine mysteries,
Ambrose sent word to him by the chief deacon and said, "The inner
place, sir, is open only to priests; to all the rest it is
inaccessible; go out and stand where others stand; purple can make
emperors, but not priests."
This instruction too the faithful
emperor most gladly received, and intimated in reply that it was not
from any audacity that he had remained within the rails, but because
he had understood that this was the custom at Constantinople. "I owe
thanks," he added, "for being cured too of this error."
So both the archbishop and the
emperor showed a mighty shining light of virtue. Both to me are
admirable; the former for his brave words, the latter for his
docility; the archbishop for the warmth of his zeal, and the prince
for the purity of his faith.
On his return to Constantinople
Theodosius kept within the bounds of piety which he had learnt from
the great archbishop. For when the occasion of a feast brought him
once again into the divine temple, after bringing his gifts to the
holy table he straightway went out. The bishop at that time was
Nectarius, and on his asking the emperor what could possibly be the
reason of his not remaining within, Theodosius answered with a sigh
"I have learnt after great difficulty the differences between an
emperor and a priest. It is not easy to find a man capable of
teaching me the truth. Ambrosius alone deserves the title of
So great is the gain of
conviction when brought home by a man of bright and shining
XLVIII. -Of the Empress Placilla.
Yet other opportunities of
improvement lay within the emperor's reach, for his wife used
constantly to put him in mind of the divine laws in which she had
first carefully educated herself. In no way exalted by her imperial
rank she was rather fired by it with greater longing for divine
things. The greatness of the good gift given her made her love for
Him who gave it all the greater, so she bestowed every kind of
attention on the maimed and the mutilated, declining all aid from
her household and her guards, herself visiting the houses where the
sufferers lodged, and providing every one with what he required. She
also went about the guest chambers of the churches and ministered to
the wants of the sick, herself handling pots and pans, and tasting
broth, now bringing in a dish and breaking bread and offering
morsels, and washing out a cup and going through all the other
duties which are supposed to be proper to servants and maids. To
them who strove to restrain her from doing these things with her own
hands she would say, "It befits a sovereign to distribute gold; I,
for the sovereign power that has been given me, am giving my own
service to the Giver."
To her husband, too, she was ever
wont to say, "Husband, you ought always to bethink you what you were
once and what you have become now; by keeping this constantly in
mind you will never grow ungrateful to your benefactor, but will
guide in accordance with law the empire bestowed upon you, and thus
you will worship Him who gave it." By ever using language of this
kind, she with fair and wholesome care, as it were, watered the
seeds of virtue planted in her husband's heart.
She died before her husband, and not long after the time of her
death events occurred which showed how well her husband loved her.