Presbyters Uniwersytet Warszawski
ER 1947
Members of the Nicene congregation in Milan arrest the Arian presbyter Castulus, who is later released by the presbyters and deacons dispatched by Bishop Ambrose, AD 386. Ambrose of Milan, Letter 76 (Maur. 20), written in Milan, AD 386 to his sister Marcellina relating the conflict between himself and the imperial court concerning the hand-over of one of the Milanese basilicas for the Arian cult.
LXXVI (Maur. 20)
De traditione basilicae <sorori frater>
1.  Quoniam omnibus fere epistulis sollicite quaeris de ecclesia, accipe quid agatur. Postridie quam accepi litteras tuas, quibus significaveras quod exagitarent te somnia tua, moles inquietudinum gravium coepit moveri. Nec iam Portiana hoc est extramurana basilica petebatur sed basilica nova hoc est intramurana quae maior est. 2. Convenerunt me primo viri <illustres> comites consistoriani, ut et basilicam traderem et procurarem, ne quid populus turbarum moveret; respondi, quod erat ordinis, templum dei tradi a sacerdote non posse.
3. Acclamatum est sequenti die in ecclesia; etiam praefectus eo venit, coepit suadere vel ut Portiana basilica cederemus, populus reclamavit. Ita tunc discessum est ut intimaturum se imperatori diceret.
4. Sequenti die, erat autem dominica, post lectiones atque tractatum dimissis catechuminis symbolum aliquibus competentibus in baptisterii tradebam basilica. Illic nuntiatum est mihi, comperto quod ad Portianam basilicam de palatio decanos misissent et vela suspenderent, populi partem eo pergere; ego tamen mansi in munere, missam facere coepi. 5. Dum offero, raptum cognovi a populo Castulum quendam, quem presbyterum dicerent Arriani, hunc autem in platea offenderant transeuntes. Amarissime flere et orare in ipsa oblatione deum coepi ut subveniret, ne cuius sanguis in causa ecclesiae fieret, certe ut meus sanguis pro salute non solum populi sed etiam pro ipsis impiis effunderetur. Quid multa? Missis presbyteris et diaconibus eripui iniuriae virum.
6. Condemnationes ilico gravissimae decernuntur; primo in corpus omne mercatorum. Itaque sanctis diebus ebdomadis ultimae, quibus solebant debitorum laxari vincula, stridunt catenae, imponuntur collo innocentium, exiguntur ducenta pondo auri infra totum triduum. Respondent aliud se tantum aut duplum si peterentur daturos, dummodo servarent fidem. Erant pleni carceres negotiatoribus. [...]
(ed. Zelzer 1982: 108-111)
LXXVI (Maur. 20)
On the hand-over of the basilica <the brother [Ambrose] to his sister>
1. Since in almost all your letters you enquire anxiously about the state of the Church, listen to what is going on. The day after I received your letter in which you revealed that your dreams were disturbing you, a mass of grave anxieties was set in motion. The demand now was not just for the Portiana, that is a church outside the walls, but for the New Basilica, one which is within the walls, and larger. 2. The first thing was that some men of <illustrious rank>, counts of the imperial consistory, met me with the demand that I should both surrender the basilica, and see to it that the people did not cause any disturbance. I replied, correctly, that a temple belonging to God cannot be handed over by a bishop.
3. The following day there was an acclamation6 of support in the church. No less a man than the praetorian prefect arrived there. He started to urge us to withdraw at least from the Portian Basilica. The people protested. We parted, with the prefect saying that he would report to the emperor.
4. On the following day, which happened to be Sunday, after the lessons and the sermon, when I had sent away the catechumens, I was teaching the Creed to a number of candidates for baptism in the basilica of the baptistery. There I received the report that as soon as it became known that they had sent palace officials to the Basilica Portiana, and that they were putting up imperial hangings, a section of the people began to flock there. I stuck to my duty, however, and began to celebrate mass. 5. While I was making the offering, I learnt that the people had made a prisoner of some man called Castulus, whom the Arians call a presbyter. They happened to have come across him in the street on their way. Right in the middle of the offertory I started to weep bitter tears, and to beg God to come to our aid, and prevent anyone's blood being shed in an ecclesiastical dispute, or at least that it was my blood which would be shed, not only for the salvation of the people, but also on behalf of the Arians themselves. In short: I sent presbyters and deacons, and had the fellow snatched out of harm's way.
6. Thereupon very severe penalties were decreed, in the first place against the whole corporation of traders. And so during the holy days of the last week of Lent, a time when by custom debtors are freed from their shackles, there was a loud rattle of chains, chains being hung around the neck of people who have done nothing. Two hundred pounds by weight of gold was demanded, the entire sum to be paid within three days. Their response was that they would give as much again, or double if that were demanded, provided only they were allowed to keep their faith. The prisons were full of traders. [...]
(trans. Liebeschuetz 2010: 161-163, slightly adapted)


The conflict over basilicas in Milan between Bishop Ambrose and the imperial court of Valentinian II was initiated in the spring or summer of 385 by the emperor's request to Ambrose to hand over one of Milanese churches, the extramural Basilica Portiana, for a Homoian service. The bishop refused, and that supposedly launched hostile actions of the Homoian party against him - attempts to force Ambrose to leave, threats of kidnapping, accusations, and the troops around the church in which he celebrated services. On 23 January 386 the emperor issued the law allowing the Homoians to gather for worship and punishing those who would prevented them with death (see Codex Theodosianus 16.1.4). Subsequently, on Easter 386 followed a second demand to surrender basilica to the Homoians. It led to the events described by Ambrose in the present letter 76 addressed to his sister Marcellina. These should not be confused with the events described in Letter 75 (Maur. 21) and 75a. For detailed discussions and different reconstructions of the events see, among others, Palanque 1933: 139-164, Van Haerningen 1937, Lenox-Conyngham 1982, Nauroy 1988, McLynn 1994: 170-219, Williams 1995: 185-232, Barnes 2000, Colish 2002, Chin 2010, Liebeschuetz 2011: 124-136.

Place of event:

  • Italy north of Rome with Corsica and Sardinia
  • Milan

About the source:

Author: Ambrose of Milan
Title: Letters, Epistulae
Origin: Milan (Italy north of Rome with Corsica and Sardinia)
Denomination: Catholic/Nicene/Chalcedonian
Ambrose was a bishop of Milan from 374 until his death in 397. We have a collection of his letters organized in three parts. The first one consists of 77 letters organized in ten books most probably by Ambrose himself. He published his letters at some point after the death of Theodosius in 395. From this collection, Book 4 is missing as well as some letters of Book 2 and 4. The second part is the group of letters that survived outside the collection (extra collectionem), and the third is a group of letters concering the council of Aquileia in 381 (together with the acts of this council). For a detailed discussion on the letters and further reading see Liebeschuetz 2010: 27-48 and Nauroy 2016: 146-160.
M. Zelzer ed., Sancti Ambrosi opera pars decima epistularum liber decimus. Epistulae extra collectionem. Gesta concili Aquileiensis, Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Lationorum 82/3, Wien 1982
Ambrose of Milan, Political Letters and Speeches, trans. J.H.W.G. Liebeschuetz, Translated Texts for Historians 43, Liverpool 2010
T.D. Barnes, "Ambrose and the Basilicas of Milan in 385 and 386: The Primary Documents and their Implications”, Zeitschrift für Antikes Christentum / Journal of Ancient Christianity 4 (2000), 282–299.
C.M. Chin, "The Bishops’s „Two Bodies”: Ambrose and the Basilicas of Milan”, Church History 79 (2010), 531–555.
M.L. Colish, "Why the Portiana?: Reflections on the Milanese Basilica Crisis of 386”, Journal of Early Christian Studies 10 (2002), 361–372.
A. Lenox-Conyngham, "The Topography of the Basilica Conflict of A.D. 385/6 in Milan”, Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte 31 (1982), 353–363.
J.H.W.G. Liebeschuetz, Ambrose of Milan: political letters and speeches, Liverpool 2010.
J.-P. Mazières, "Les lettres d’Ambroise de Milan à Irenaeus.”, Pallas. Revue d’études antiques 26 (1979), 103–114.
N. McLynn, Ambrose of Milan: Church and Court in a Christian Capital, Berkeley 1994.
G. Nauroy, "The Letter Collection of Ambrose of Milan", [in:] Late Antique Letter Collections: A Critical Introduction and Reference Guide, ed. C. Sogno, B.K. Storin, E.J. Watts, Oakland, CA 2016, 146–160.
G. Nauroy, "Le fouet et le miel. Le combat d’Ambroise en 386 contre l’arianisme milanais”, Recherches Augustiniennes et Patristiques 23 (1988), 3–86.
G. Nauroy, "Édition et organisation du recueil des lettres d’Ambroise de Milan: une architecture cachée ou altérée?", in: La correspondance d'Ambroise de Milan, textes réunis et préparés par A. Canellis, Saint-Étienne 2012, 19-61.
J.-R. Palanque, Saint Ambroise et l’Empire romain. Contribution à l’histoire des rapports de l’Église et de l’État à la fin du quatrième siècle, Paris 1933.
A. Paredi, S. Ambrogio e la sua età, Milano 1960.
J.H. Van Haeringen, "De Valentiniano II et Ambrosio. Illustrantur et digeruntur res anno 386 gestae. I. Valentinianus II basilicam adoritur (de Ambrosii epistula XX)”, Mnemosyne 5 (1937), 152–158.
D.H. Williams, Ambrose of Milan and the End of the Arian-Nicene Conflicts, Oxford 1995.


Religious grouping (other than Catholic/Nicene/Chalcedonian) - Arian
Functions within the Church - Urban presbyter
Described by a title - Presbyter/πρεσβύτερος
Relation with - Another presbyter
Relation with - Bishop/Monastic superior
    Relation with - Deacon
    Relation with - Townsman
    Relation with - Heretic/Schismatic
    Conflict - Violence
    Administration of justice - Imprisonment
    Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL: M. Szada, Presbyters in the Late Antique West, ER1947,