† Saint of the Day †
✠ St. Ambrose ✠
Archbishop of Milan and Doctor of the Church:
Born: 337-340 AD
Augusta Treverorum, Gallia Belgica, Roman Empire (Modern Trier, Germany)
Died: April 4, 397 (Aged 56 or 57)
Mediolanum, Roman Italy, Roman Empire (Modern Milan, Italy)
Eastern Orthodox Church
Shrines: Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio
Feast: December 7
Beekeepers; Bees; Bishops; Candlemakers; Domestic Animals; French Commissariat; Geese; Learning; Livestock; Milan; Police Officers; Students; Wax refiners
Saint Aurelius Ambrosius, better known in English as Ambrose was a bishop of Milan who became one of the most influential ecclesiastical figures of the 4th century. He was the Roman governor of Liguria and Emilia, headquartered in Milan, before being made bishop of Milan by popular acclamation in 374. Ambrose was a staunch opponent of Arianism.
Ambrose was one of the four original Doctors of the Church and is the patron saint of Milan. He is notable for his influence on Augustine of Hippo.
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 was born into a Roman Christian family about 340 and was raised in Gallia Belgica, the capital of which was Augusta Treverorum. His father is sometimes identified with Aurelius Ambrosius, a praetorian prefect of Gaul; but some scholars identify his father as an official named Uranius who received an imperial constitution dated 3 February 339.
His mother was a woman of intellect and piety and a member of the Roman family, Aurelii Symmachi and thus Ambrose was a cousin of the orator Q. Aurelius Symmachus. He was the youngest of three children, who included Marcellina and Satyrus (who is the subject of Ambrose’s De excessu fratris Satyri), also venerated as saints. There is a legend that as an infant, a swarm of bees settled on his face while he lay in his cradle, leaving behind a drop of honey. His father considered this a sign of his future eloquence and honeyed tongue. For this reason, bees and beehives often appear in the saint’s symbology.
After the early death of his father, Ambrose went to Rome, where he studied literature, law, and rhetoric. He then followed in his father’s footsteps and entered public service. Praetorian Prefect Sextus Claudius Petronius Probus first gave him a place in the council and then in about 372 made him governor of Liguria and Emilia, with headquarters at Milan. In 286 Diocletian had moved the capital of the Western Roman Empire from Rome to Mediolanum (Milan).
Ambrose was the Governor of Aemilia-Liguria in northern Italy until 374 when he became the Bishop of Milan. He was a very popular political figure, and since he was the Governor in the effective capital in the Roman West, he was a recognizable figure in the court of Valentinian I.
Bishop of Milan:
In the late 4th century there was a deep conflict in the diocese of Milan between the Nicene Church and Arians. In 374 the bishop of Milan, Auxentius, an Arian, died, and the Arians challenged the succession. Ambrose went to the church where the election was to take place, to prevent an uproar, which was probable in this crisis. His address was interrupted by a call, “Ambrose, bishop!”, which was taken up by the whole assembly.
St. Ambrose left us with two great examples from his life.
The first was what he did with St. Augustine.
St. Ambrose was a man of enormous talent, one of the Doctors of the Church, famous for his works and actions throughout both Christendom and the Roman Empire of his time. In his memoirs, St. Augustine wrote that he converted because of St. Ambrose. He described the true fascination he had for the great saint. Once in a while, St. Augustine used to visit the episcopal house of St. Ambrose in Milan. He would sit in the same room with St. Ambrose just to watch him write and work. Many times, Ambrose did not have time to give to St. Augustine. But Augustine remained simply because he wanted to be in St. Ambrose’s presence, taking advantage of the atmosphere created by him. It was mainly because of that atmosphere and some few conversations they had that St. Augustine converted.
One of the most important things St. Ambrose did was the conversion of St. Augustine, who, in turn, was one of the foremost lights of the Catholic Church. God asked St. Ambrose to write in defence of the Church, which did not permit him much time to dedicate to St. Augustine. Notwithstanding, in the silence and atmosphere of graces created by St. Ambrose, God converted Augustine, without interrupting the work of Ambrose. Here you have proof of the importance of the apostolate of presence.
Many people think that what counts the most is to work, talk and act. Of course, these things matter, but there is an apostolate of presence that can be more important. The silent apostolate that St. Ambrose made with St. Augustine is an eloquent proof of this.
According to the modern revolutionary mentality, St. Ambrose should have stopped his work and dedicated his time to Augustine. But this was not what he did. He trusted Divine Providence. It was the will of God for him to write, and so he wrote. He trusted that God would provide for the good of that soul – Augustine – who was seeking orientation. And God provided it.
The second example was what he did in face of the Emperor Theodosius in 390.
The episode of St. Ambrose standing in the way of Theodosius on the porch of the Cathedral of Milan is one of the most glorious symbolic acts in the History of the Church.
Theodosius was the most powerful man of his time. St. Ambrose took issue with him because the Emperor had ordered an indiscriminate massacre of Thessalonian men, women and children after promising to show clemency. The Emperor tried to enter the Milan Cathedral but was confronted at the door by St. Ambrose, solemnly dressed in his episcopal vestments and followed by his clergy. St. Ambrose refused to permit the Emperor to enter until he repented and made public penance. Theodosius humiliated himself and asked forgiveness. Only then did Ambrose permit him to enter the Cathedral.
This example of the spiritual power in face of the temporal power recalls a principle we should admire very much. That is, that human grandeur, even the highest, the noblest and the most glorified, should submit to the spiritual power. If a ruler does something wrong, he should be confronted by the spiritual power and made to submit because the highest human is nothing before God. In face of eternity, human grandeur fades away and becomes nothing. The only thing with permanence on this earth is the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church.
Bossuet said that the mission of the Church is to hold in check the earthly powers. The clergy and the Hierarchy should be able to humble the political and economic powers when they do not obey the decrees of God. The nobles, aristocrats, and plutocrats should be humiliated when they do not follow the laws of God.
How far we are from this ideal today! We witness the opposite: the spiritual power standing silent and humble before all kinds of politicians and businessmen, or even worse, trying to adapt the Church to the world.
Let us pray to St. Ambrose to give us the conviction he had of the supremacy of the spiritual power over the temporal so that we might become the builders of the new Christendom, the Reign of Mary that will be installed on earth.