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Enchantment and Creed in the Hymns of Ambrose of Milan

by Brian P. Dunkle, SJ

This book offers the first critical overview of the hymns of Ambrose of Milan in the context of fourth-century Christian song and Ambrose’s own catechetical preaching. These settings must inform the interpretation of Ambrose’s hymnodic project. The hymns employ sophisticated poetic techniques to foster a pro-Nicene sensitivity in the bishop’s embattled congregation. After a summary presentation of early Christian hymnody, the book describes the mystagogical function of the songs. It then examines Ambrose’s sermons, especially his catechetical works, for preached parallels to this hymnodic effort. Close reading of Ambrose’s hymnodic corpus constitutes the bulk of the study. The treatment of early Ambrosian imitations, especially the poetry of Prudentius, corroborates the thesis. These early emulators amplify the hymnodic features that are identified as “enchanting,” that is, enlightening the “eyes of faith.” Engaging the mass of literature on Ambrose, early Christian hymns and poetry, and doctrinal dispute in the fourth century, the volume makes several contributions to the scholarship. First, particular and original readings of words, phrases, and hymns aid the ongoing project of deciphering Ambrose’s meaning and establishing Ambrosian authorship. Second, the early reception of Ambrose’s hymns illuminates both Ambrose’s methods and the expansion of popular hymns and learned Christian poetry in the early Latin church. Third, the study engages the theology of the corpus of Ambrose’s hymns, a feature often ignored by scholars who adopt a philological approach; Ambrose’s distinctive Nicene Christology informs and motivates the careful poetics of the hymns.

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Brian P. Dunkle, SJ
Assistant Professor of Historical Theology

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