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Spring 2012 Colloquium

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“Cultural Tradition and Religious Innovation in Saint Ambrose of Milan”

In April 2012, the Academy for the Study of Saint Ambrose of Milan presented a remarkable experience in the Liberal Arts and Catholic Intellectual Tradition. The focus of the colloquium was the quite contemporary question of religious freedom vs. the role of the state in social affairs.

The colloquium examined Cultural Traditions and Religious Innovation in Saint Ambrose. Saint Ambrose of Milan received a traditional, elite Roman education and pursued a traditional Roman career. His career as bishop of Milan, however, ensured that Ambrose would be an integral player in reshaping traditional culture as Christian. In both his public and personal personae, Ambrose often reflected traditional Roman practices and ideas through a Christian lens. Such an image showed not only Ambrose's own, unique view but also brought into focus one of the fundamental challenges for Milanese elites and for late antique citizens in general. How could one be true to ancestral past and Christian future?

Two undergraduate scholars presented their research interests concerning Saint Ambrose of Milan. They were joined by a colloquium panel of four professors from the fields of art history, history, and theology who presented discipline-specific perspectives related to the works of Saint Ambrose and his beliefs.

Dr. Cristiana Sogno of Fordham University highlighted the discussion with the colloquium's keynote address on the Altar of Victory controversy. Dr. Sogno, author of Quintus Aurelius Symmachus: A Political Biography (Ann Arbor, 2006), came to campus from her research sabbatical in Denmark. Her stimulating address delved into the conflict between Saint Ambrose of Milan and the pagan Senator Symmachus, and whether or not the pagan altar of Victory should be restored to the Roman Senate (where it had been ensconced since the Battle of Actium).  The Emperor, 13-year-old Valentinian II, was addressed by both Ambrose and Symmachus in an exquisite exchange of written persuasive rhetoric.

The colloquium was co-sponsored by SGA (Student Government Association), the Baecke Foundation, and the academic departments of Political Science, History, and Theology.