Saint of the Day – 7 December – St Ambrose (c 340-397) – Father and Doctor of the Church

Saint of the Day – 7 December – St Ambrose (c 340-397) – Father and Doctor of the Church

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the memory of St Ambrose, the brilliant Bishop of Milan who influenced St Augustine’s conversion and was named a Doctor of the Church.

Like Augustine himself, the older Ambrose (born around 340) was a highly educated man who sought to harmonise Greek and Roman intellectual culture with the Catholic faith. Trained as a lawyer, he eventually became the governor of Milan.  He manifested his intellectual gifts in defence of Christian doctrine even before his ambrose

While Ambrose was serving as the governor of Milan, a bishop named Auxentius was leading the diocese.   Although he was an excellent public speaker with a forceful personality, Auxentius also followed the heresy of Arius, which denied the divinity of Christ.   Although the Council of Nicaea had reasserted the traditional teaching on Jesus’ deity, many educated members of the Church – including, at one time, a majority of the world’s bishops – looked to Arianism as a more sophisticated and cosmopolitan version of Christianity.   Bishop Auxentius became notorious for forcing clergy throughout the region to accept Arian creeds.

At the time of Auxentius’ death, Ambrose had not yet even been baptised.   But his deep understanding and love of the traditional faith were already clear to the faithful of Milan.   They considered him the most logical choice to succeed Auxentius, even though he was still just a catechumen.   With the help of Emperor Valentinan, who ruled the Western Roman Empire at the time, a mob of Milanese Catholics virtually forced Ambrose to become their bishop against his own will.   Eight days after his baptism, Ambrose received episcopal consecration on 7 December 374.   The date would eventually become his liturgical feast.

St. Ambrose ordained as Bishop. Painting by Juan de Valdés.
St Ambrose consecrated as Bishop

Bishop Ambrose did not disappoint those who had clamoured for his appointment and consecration.   He began his ministry by giving everything he owned to the poor and to the Church.   He looked to the writings of Greek theologians like St Basil for help in explaining the Church’s traditional teachings to the people during times of doctrinal confusion.

Like the fathers of the Eastern Church, Ambrose drew from the intellectual reserves of pre-Christian philosophy and literature to make the faith more comprehensible to his hearers.   This harmony of faith with other sources of knowledge served to attract, among others, the young professor Aurelius Augustinus – a man Ambrose taught and baptised, whom history knows as St Augustine of Hippo.

St Augustine and St Ambrose

Ambrose himself lived simply, wrote prolifically and celebrated Mass each day.   He found time to counsel an amazing range of public officials, pagan inquirers, confused Catholics and penitent sinners.   The people of Milan never regretted their insistence that the reluctant civil servant should lead the local church.   His popularity, in fact, served to keep at bay those who would have preferred to force him from the diocese, including the Western Empress Justina and a group of her advisers, who sought to rid the West of adherence to the Nicene Creed.   Ambrose heroically refused her attempts to impose heretical bishops in Italy, along with her efforts to seize churches in the name of ambrose 1435

Ambrose also displayed remarkable courage when he publicly denied communion to the Emperor Theodosius, who had ordered the massacre of 7,000 citizens in Thessalonica. The chastened emperor took Ambrose’s rebuke to heart, publicly repenting of the massacre and doing penance for the murders.

“Nor was there afterwards a day on which he did not grieve for his mistake,” Ambrose himself noted when he spoke at the emperor’s funeral.   The rebuke spurred a profound change in Emperor Theodosius.   He reconciled himself with the Church and the bishop, who attended to the emperor on his deathbed.

St. Ambrose died in 397.   His 23 years of diligent service had turned a deeply troubled diocese into an exemplary outpost for the faith.   His writings remained an important point of reference for the Church, well into the medieval era and ambrose

At the Catholic Church’s Fifth Ecumenical Council – which took place at Constantinople in 553, and remains a source of authoritative teaching for both Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians – the assembled bishops named Ambrose, along with this protege St Augustine, as being among the foremost “holy fathers” of the Church, whose teaching all bishops should “in every way follow.4 original latin fathes - jerome, gregory, ambrose, augustine - 3 sept 2018



More on today’s Saint – 7 December – St Ambrose (c340-397) Confessor, Bishop, Father and Doctor of the Church

More on today’s Saint – St Ambrose (c 340-397)Confessor, Bishop, Father and Doctor of the Church –  Theologian, Apostle of Charity, Writer, Musician, Preacher, Reformer and protector – all-in-all a brilliant, charismatic, vibrant man.  Patronages – • bee keepers• bees• Bishops• candle makers• chandlers• domestic animals• French Commissariat• geese• honey cake bakers• learning• livestock• police officers • students, school-children• security personnel• starlings• wax melters• wax refiners• Archdiocese of Milan, Italy• 8 Cities.

Traditionally, Ambrose is credited with promoting “antiphonal chant”, a style of chanting in which one side of the choir responds alternately to the other, as well as with composing Veni redemptor gentium, an Advent hymn.   Ambrose is one of the four original Doctors of the Church and is the Patron saint of Milan.   He is notable for his influence on St Augustine, whom he Baptised.

This politician-turned churchman was profoundly aware of his lack of preparation for this great responsibility as Bishop and so set himself immediately to prayer and the study of Scripture.    His deep spirituality and love of God’s Word married together with the oratorical skill acquired in law and politics made St Ambrose one of the greatest preachers of the early church.

His feast day in the Roman calendar is 7 December, the day he was Ordained Bishop. From the Roman liturgy for the Feast of St. Ambrose:   “Lord, you made Saint Ambrose an outstanding teacher of the Catholic faith and gave him the courage of an apostle.   Raise up in your Church more leaders after your own heart, to guide us with courage and wisdom.   We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.”  

Here is Jimmy Akin’s article “St Ambrose: Strangest Life Story Ever?”
1) Who was St Ambrose?

St Ambrose of Milan was born around A.D. 338 and died in 397.
He was the bishop of Milan, Italy.

2) What makes is his life story so strange?

Originally, he was a government official, he became bishop in a most extraordinary way.
After the death of the local bishop, the Catholics and Arians got into a vehement conflict about who should be the new bishop.
Ambrose was trying to keep the peace and settle the two groups down when someone—allegedly a small boy—began chanting “Ambrose, bishop!”
Soon the two groups began chanting together that Ambrose should be the new bishop.
(The Arians, apparently, felt that although Ambrose was Catholic in belief he would be a kinder bishop than they otherwise would likely get.)
This set of circumstances is extraordinary enough, but what’s even more extraordinary is that Ambrose wasn’t even a Christian yet. He was an unbaptised catechumen!

3) Can it get any stranger?

Ambrose did not want to be bishop and so he went into hiding.
The Emperor Valentinian then got word of all this and declared severe penalties on anyone who would give Ambrose shelter.
He was thus forced to come out of hiding and accept his ordination as bishop.
They quickly ran him through the preliminary grades of orders and he was consecrated a bishop about a week later.

4) How did he do as bishop?

He was great!   That’s part of why he ended up as a doctor of the Church.
He left many wonderful writings.   He helped convert St Augustine.   And he combated heresy.
He also introduced a practice into the West that has remained with us to this day.

5) What practice was that?

Lectio Divina. Pope Benedict XVI explained:
Culturally well-educated but at the same time ignorant of the Scriptures, the new Bishop briskly began to study them.
From the works of Origen, the indisputable master of the “Alexandrian School”, he learned to know and to comment on the Bible.
Thus, Ambrose transferred to the Latin environment the meditation on the Scriptures which Origen had begun, introducing in the West the practice of lectio divina.
The method of lectio served to guide all of Ambrose’s preaching and writings, which stemmed precisely from prayerful listening to the Word of God.

6) How did Ambrose help with Augustine’s conversion?

That also involved a rather dramatic story, in which Ambrose stood up to the emperor at the risk of his own life.
Pope Benedict explained:
A passage from St Augustine’s Confessions is relevant.
He had come to Milan as a teacher of rhetoric;   he was a sceptic and not Christian.  He was seeking the Christian truth but was not capable of truly finding it.
What moved the heart of the young African rhetorician, sceptic and downhearted and what impelled him to definitive conversion was not above all Ambrose’s splendid homilies (although he deeply appreciated them).
It was rather the testimony of the Bishop and his Milanese Church that prayed and sang as one intact body.
It was a Church that could resist the tyrannical ploys of the Emperor and his mother, who in early 386 again demanded a church building for the Arians’ celebrations.
In the building that was to be requisitioned, Augustine relates, “the devout people watched, ready to die with their Bishop”.
This testimony of the Confessions is precious because it points out that something was moving in Augustine, who continues: “We too, although spiritually tepid, shared in the excitement of the whole people” (Confessions 9, 7).

7) Was Ambrose remarkable in other ways?

He was remarkable in many ways, one of them we today would find quite surprising.
Pope Benedict explained:
[Augustine] writes in his text that whenever he went to see the Bishop of Milan, he would regularly find him taken up with catervae [Latin, “crowd”]of people full of problems for whose needs he did his utmost.
There was always a long queue waiting to talk to Ambrose, seeking in him consolation and hope.
When Ambrose was not with them, with the people (and this happened for the space of the briefest of moments), he was either restoring his body with the necessary food or nourishing his spirit with reading.
Here Augustine marvels because Ambrose read the Scriptures with his mouth shut, only with his eyes (cf. Confessions, 6, 3).
Indeed, in the early Christian centuries reading was conceived of strictly for proclamation and reading aloud also facilitated the reader’s understanding.
That Ambrose could scan the pages with his eyes alone suggested to the admiring Augustine a rare ability for reading and familiarity with the Scriptures.

Got that?

Ambrose was known for the ability to read with his mouth shut, not using his voice or moving his lips.
We’re all taught to do this today, but it was rare in the ancient world! Back then, if you even could read, you usually had to at least move your lips.
Ambrose also passed on to Augustine a very famous piece of advice, that many people quote today without even knowing where it comes from.

8) What advice was that?

Augustine noted that the liturgical customs in Rome were different than those used in other places and Ambrose told him something we still quote today.

We paraphrase it in English, but it’s the same thought: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”Some-Advice-On-Prayer-2-saint-ambrose-of-milan-1St_AmbroseSome-Advice-On-Prayer-2-St.-Ambrose-Stained-Glass