Date of Award

Summer 2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Barnes, Michael R.

Second Advisor

Smity, Warren J.

Third Advisor

Mueller, Joseph G.


This dissertation analyzes Ambrose of Milan’s trinitarian theology and doctrine of human action and argues that a visual logic—that works disclose nature—animates both. Ambrose’s trinitarian theology, on the one hand, trades in scriptural proofs that emphasize the tangible works (opera) of the Son as relevatory of his divinity and indicative of his shared, invisible power with the Father. While Ambrose differs from his Latin and Greek predecessors, he takes up controverted texts in his Christological reflection, many of which are borrowed from anti-monarchian and anti-homoian debates in the several generations prior. To show Ambrose’s consonance with the pre- and pro- Nicenes, I first investigate the common exegetical strands that occupy four Latins: Tertullian, Novatian of Rome, Hilary of Poitiers, and Marius Victorinus. In his own Christology, Ambrose uses many of the same debated scriptural passages as they did to foreground the importance of the Son’s works for revealing his shared divine power with the Father. However, Ambrose builds upon these exegetical strands, adding unique and unprecedented reflection that colors his theological anthropology and subsequent moral counsel. In particular, Ambrose adapts the trope of God as Painter, supported by Isaiah 49:16, when considering the moral significance of the image of God. While such a move might appear miniscule, I argue to the contrary. If the God who is known by and operates under the auspices of a visual logic paints the human soul, then the correlative action of the individual will follow a similar script. This similar script is plain in Ambrose’s doctrine of human action. Ambrose’s consistent emphasis on public Christian virtue is adapted largely from Roman exhortations to public virtue and married neatly to Ambrose’s pro-Nicene Christology. While the distinct character of human action is public, the signal content of Christian virtue has to do with its simplicity. Simplicity in word and deed not only serves as moral ideal, but does the double service of dismissing Ambrose’s most proximate doctrinal opponents, the homoians. I conclude that by connecting orthodoxy and virtue, Ambrose affords us a noteworthy contribution to fourth-century Christian theology.