Friday, 17 May 2019
Brian Dunkle, SJ: "Sin, Misericordia, and Ambrose’s Apology for David"
Ambrose of Milan’s Apologia Dauid Prophetae ad Theodosium Augustum includes an extended commentary on Ps 50(51), understood to be King David’s prayer and plea for mercy after his adultery with Bathsheba and the death of Uriah. As scholars, especially Pierre Hadot, have demonstrated, Ambrose borrows extensively from Origen and Didymus for his exegesis. Yet Ambrose shapes his sources with a concern for the king’s humility, most likely to frame the public penance of the emperor Theodosius, the Apology’s addressee, according to David’s model.I will argue that Ambrose departs from his sources most to emphasize the vicarious nature both of David’s sin and his reception of divine misericordia. While many scholars note that Ambrose sees David’s sin as a consequence and an image of his fallen humanity, fewer recognize that the king’s experience of God’s mercy can be equally shared by his subjects and, by extension, the human race. By presenting David as a vicarious recipient of mercy, Ambrose provides a model for Theodosius: through his public penance the emperor receives not only private mercy but also forgiveness for the Roman people. Hence, Ambrose’s reading of Psalm 51 informs not only his views on individual sin and forgiveness, but also his account of the emperor’s role as a mediator of misericordia for the Roman people.