The Academy for the Study of Saint Ambrose of Milan
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Feast of St. Ambrose

The Apotheosis of Valentinian II: Ambrose of Milan’s Funeral Oration


When: Sunday, December 4, 2016, 4:00 p.m.

Where: Christ the King Chapel

Speaker: Sr. Maria Kiely, O.S.D.                                                                                                        


Sr. Maria M. Kiely, O.S.B. is a Benedictine, from the Congregation of Solesmes. She grew up in California and now lives in Washington DC, where she teaches Greek at the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception, Dominican House of Studies. She is also on the Editorial Committee for the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL). She has an MA from Stanford University in early music, specializing in Gregorian Chant; an MA from the L’Université de Laval in Aristotelian Philosophy, specializing in Logic; and a Ph.D. from the Catholic University of America in Greek and Latin. She has studied in depth the life and writings of St. Ambrose of Milan. Her dissertation is entitled Ambrose the Pastor and the Image of the ‘Bride’: Exegesis, Philosophy, and the Song of Songs.


Lecture Summary:

The funeral oration that Ambrose delivered for the young Christian emperor, Valentinian II, is a tour de force that reveals Ambrose’s remarkable finesse as a politician, rhetorician, and bishop. Valentinian had died at Vienne in 392, either murdered by Arbogast (who was in charge of military affairs) or having committed suicide. Ambrose, in his funeral oration, turns to the Aeneid and the Song of Songs. He likens Valentinian to Marcellus (heir to Caesar Augustus) and to the Christ.  Then, in a sudden shift, he addresses the soul of Valentinian directly.  Ambrose “accompanies” the soul of Valentinian into heaven—employing the symbols of the pyre, the eagle, the ascent, the heavenly bodies, and the reception of the deceased into Heaven.  These same symbols appear on a slightly later ivory diptych representing an “apotheosis” (the deceased being raised to god-like status), perhaps that of Ambrose’s pagan rival Symmachus, who died in 402.  Ambrose’s use of apotheosis symbols was a daring move. Through these allusions, Ambrose assigns the young emperor a place in Heaven.


Event is free and open to the public

snacks will be provided

Experience the time of Ambrose through interactive activities, coins, images, and more!


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Sponsored by the ASSAM