Friday, 1 May 2015

Andrew Harmon: Aspects of Moral Perfection in Ambrose's De Officiis

This paper analyzes the ways in which Ambrose describes moral perfection as a cure for what ails humanity's condition this side of heaven. This sort of perfection is relative, a therapy for passion held distinct from "full perfection (plena perfectio)" (Ambrose, De officiis 1.238). My concern here is to examine different aspects of this therapy to show the importance Ambrose places on practicing the virtues and attending to errant desires. By so doing, Ambrose insists that individuals sharpen their reflections as images of justice, of wisdom, and ultimately, of God. I argue that this description of moral perfection is in response to Cicero's explicit admission that our lives are spent with those who embody "some shade of virtue (simulacra virtutis)" (Cicero, De officiis 1.46). To show Ambrose's consonance with and emendation of Cicero, I contend that his distinction between full and moral perfection is drawn from Stoic traditions and deepened by debts to Alexandrian exegesis of Genesis 1:26–28 and Psalm 38.

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