- La mistagogia del commento al Salmo 118 di Sant’Ambrogio by David Vopřada
Studia Ephemeridis Augustinianum 146
Rome: Istituto Patristico Augustinianum, 2016
Pp. 564. €39,00.
This insightful book on the commentary of Ambrose of Milan on Psalm 118 presents Ambrose as a pastor whose theology and practice were developed in consistent and original ways. There is much to learn from this book—an updated version of a doctoral dissertation presented in 2012 at the Augustinian Patristic Institute in Rome. An overview of its contents will be followed by an evaluation of its contribution to existing research. In his forward, Cesare Pasini suggests that a careful reading of the introductions and conclusions to each chapter and of the book will give the reader a clear sense of its value and show what matters most in Ambrose’s theological commentary on Psalm 118 (13).
This study of Ambrose’s commentary on Psalm 118 is more than an example of how Ambrose explained the rites of baptism to the newly baptized. It shows that Ambrose was addressing the whole church of Milan by using a mystagogical methodology that was intended both to address the cultural dissonances of his time and to move his people to appreciate and enter into the mystery of Christ (25). Unlike other implementations of the mystagogical methodology, Ambrose’s vision and practice were distinctive, both in terms of those to whom he was speaking and in terms of the focus of his attention on much more than an explanation of ritual moments.
In order to appreciate the originality of Ambrose in this regard, the author dedicates the initial pages to the cultural context of Ambrose’s life and work in the Milanese community at the end of the fourth century. He also sets this work against the background of previous experiences of mystagogical writings (50–72). In fact, the process of setting this work within the events and tensions of the church of Milan at that time helps to show why the mystagogical method was important, namely, to move people to look beyond the obvious and to see the work and presence of Christ in the events of that time (72–106). More than a vision about the celebration of the liturgy, this commentary is about an ongoing pedagogy of the mystery of God for the baptized members of Milan.
Mystagogy has several characteristics (91–107), one of which is the value of recognizing the depth of the experience that is given to the faithful and which needs to be guarded carefully—a practice that came to be called the disciplina arcani (107–41). Little attention has been given to that experience in recent years (107n329), but it may be the most significant dimension of mystagogy—at least insofar as Ambrose’s sense of the secret (arcanum) is not about hiding information but being trustworthy in the way that one lives and talks about the intimate relationship with God (Chapter One).
The detailed study of how those ideas find expression in Ambrose’s commentary on Psalm 118 in the focus of Chapter Two—a chapter that is at the heart of what this book is trying to accomplish. How, it is asked, is anyone to know that this commentary is mystagogy? That leads to the discussion of each of the [End Page 676] several characteristics of mystagogy as they are found in this catechesis of the baptized. In this way the book is shown to be about the path of the faithful who desire to be better to the only true teacher, Jesus Christ. The fact that Ambrose has employed each of the five characteristics of mystagogy in a consistent and unified way is what makes this work unique. This is a commentary that shows that Ambrose’s preaching sought to enmesh the listener in Christ—Word of God and Spouse of the church (145).
Chapter Three delves into the many aspects of the mystery of Christ that Ambrose develops in this commentary, unveiling that mystery in sacramental celebrations and in daily living, whether it was in...