St Ambrose of Milan, Doctor of the Church (339-397)

St Ambrose of Milan, Doctor of the Church (339-397)

Ambrose was a man who found his whole life going in a new direction, something he had not planned for and was totally unexpected. But he was admirably fitted for the job and carved a niche for himself in the history of the Western Church. His family belonged to the old Roman aristocracy, and at the time of Ambrose's birth, his father was praetorian prefect of the Gauls, one of the chief civil offices of the Roman empire.

 

St Ambrose received an excellent education in the classics and in law, with a thorough training in Greek. In 365, he entered public life as an advocate and served also as a provincial governor, with his residence at Milan. His reputation as a talented leader made him popular in Milan, and when the Arian bishop of the city died, he was unanimously chosen bishop by the clergy and people of the city. This was a time when a bishop was a civic as well as a religious figure.

 

Since he was only a catechumen, he was first baptized, ordained, and then consecrated bishop. Taking his new office with deep seriousness, he gave his wealth to the poor, began to live a life of strict asceticism, and organized his episcopal household after a monastery. During his first years in office, Ambrose began a study of the Scriptures and the Greek Fathers and began also to share the results of his studies with the people of his diocese. He gave homilies rich in spiritual teaching, and his cathedral became a mecca for those wishing to deepen their knowledge of the Christian faith.

 

He opposed the old pagan aristocracy and strongly influenced the Western emperors in making Christianity the official religion of civic and public life. When the Arian empress Justina demanded that a basilica in Milan be turned over to the Arians, Ambrose refused and occupied his cathedral, contesting the imperial order. When he was threatened with arrest, he carried on a perpetual vigil of prayer and sacred song, his cathedral filled with members of his congregation.

 

He was a promoter of the monastic life and of consecrated virginity, instructed and baptized St Augustine, and worked for the establishment of a truly Christian society. He died in Milan in 397 and is one of the four Latin Fathers of the Church.

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From Rev. Clifford STEVENS, The One Year Book of Saints, p. 368, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., 1989.