Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Warren Smith: Narrating Magnanimity: Ambrose on Joseph, Justice, and Mercy

Wayne Meeks in The Moral World of the First Christians argues that, given early Christian formation in and reliance upon the nomenclature of ancient virtue theory, there is little if anything distinctive about early Christian moral discourse. Yet many early Christian moralists saw themselves as having a higher moral standard than that of the pagan schools upon which they relied. Drawing on Arthur Urbano's account in The Philosophical Life of biographical narrative as a form of moral discourse, I will focus on how Ambrose's deployment of the language of magnanimity (magnanimatas) within his re-narration of the lives of the patriarchs, especially Joseph, both preserves elements of the classical ideal of the Great-souled person and yet reshapes the ideal in ways that are, from Ambrose's perspective, distinctive of the perfect duties (officia perfecta) of a Christian. To illustrate how Ambrose rhetorically crafts his ideal Christian magnanimity, I will compare his narrative interpretations in the catechetical homilies De Ioseph and De Officiis with the narration of magnanimity in Plutarch's Lives, specifically that of Phocion.

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