This paper demonstrates how Ambrose of Milan begins to develop pagan natural philosophy into a Christian theology of creation that will be refined by Thomas Aquinas.
There persists an intransigent ambiguity concerning the role of the human person within the rest of creation. Are we part of a determined order or do we exercise free will? Has nature any value beyond its usefulness? This ambiguity is overcome by re-examining Ambrose’s judicious use of the natural law of neo-Platonism, Aristotelianism, and especially Stoicism.
Ambrose was convinced that human reason and divine revelation cannot contradict one another. Indeed, after his swift transition from non-baptized consularis of Liguria/Emilia to consecrated bishop of Milan, he infused natural philosophy with Christian faith.
The resulting nascent natural theology countered pagan tradition’s rejection of a transcendent creator and subtly corrected any tendency toward ethical determinism. Further, he responded elegantly to the suspicious anti-intellectualism enshrined in Tertullian’s infamous snub: “what has Jerusalem to do with Athens.” Ambrose offers us a sublimely ordered world which, by virtue of its very creation by God, is intrinsically good, beautiful, and perfect. He supplements the canonical ‘cardinal’ virtues with Paul’s theological virtues. He sets the stage for the more careful and systematic natural theology of Aquinas.