Sainted Ambrose, Bishop of Mediolanum (Milan),
Commemorated on December 7
Ambrose, Bishop of Mediolanum (Milan), was
born in the year 340 into the family of the Roman governor of Gaul (now
France). Even in the saint's childhood there appeared presentiments of
his great future. Thus, one time bees covered the face of the sleeping infant
and they flew away after leaving honey on his tongue.
After the death of the father of the family, Ambrose journeyed off to Rome, where the future saint and his brother Satyrus received a most excellent, for their time, law education. About the year 370, upon completion of his course of study, Ambrose was appointed to the official position of governor (consular prefect) of districts of Liguria and AEmilia, though he continued to live at Mediolanum (now Milan). In the year 374 the bishop of Mediolanum, Auxentius, died. This entailed complications between the Orthodox and the Arians, since each side wanted to have its own bishop. Ambrose, as the chief city official, set off to the church for presiding over the agenda. When he turned from speaking to the crowd, suddenly some child cried out: "Ambrose – bishop!" The people took up this chant. Ambrose, who at this time was still in the rank of the catechumens, considered himself unworthy, and began to refuse. He attempted falsely to disparage himself, and moreover tried to flee from Mediolanum. The matter went ultimately before the emperor Valentinian the Elder (364-375), whose orders Ambrose dared not disobey. He accepted holy Baptism from an Orthodox priest and, – having in a mere seven days passed through all the ranks of the Church clergy, on 7 December 374 he was ordained to the dignity of bishop of Mediolanum and at once he dispersed all his possessions, money and property for the embellishment of churches, the upkeep of orphans and the poor, and he turned himself towards a strict ascetic life.
Ambrose combined strict temperance, intense vigilance and work within the fulfilling of his duties as pastor. Saint Ambrose, defending the unity of the Church, energetically opposed the spread of heresy. Thus, in the year 379 he traveled off to set up an Orthodox bishop at Sirmium, and in 385-386 he refused to hand over the basilica of Mediolanum to the Arians.
The preaching of Saint Ambrose in defense of Orthodoxy was deeply influential. Another noted father of the Western Church, Blessed Augustine (Comm. 15 June), gave witness to this, having in the year 387 accepted holy Baptism by the grace of the preaching of the bishop of Mediolanum.
Saint Ambrose also actively participated in civil matters. Thus, the emperor Gracian (375-383), having received from him the "Exposition of the Orthodox Faith" (De Fide), removed – by decree of the saint – the altar of Victory from the halls of the Senate at Rome, on which oaths were wont to be taken. Displaying a pastoral boldness, Saint Ambrose placed a severe penance on the emperor Theodosius I (379-395) for a massacre of innocent inhabitants of the city of Soluneia (Thessalonika). For him there was no difference between emperor and common person: having then released Theodosius from the penance, the saint would not permit the emperor to commune at the altar, but compelled him to stand together with all the flock.
Fame about Bishop Ambrose and his actions attracted to him many followers from other lands. From faraway Persia came to him students of sagacity, wanting to discern the Truth. Fritigelda, queen of the military Germanic tribe of the Markomanni, which often had attacked Mediolanum, asked the saint to instruct her in the Christian faith. The saint in his letter to her persuasively stated the dogmas of the Church. And having become a believer, the queen converted her own husband to Christianity and persuaded him to seal a treaty of peace with the Roman empire.
The saint combined strictness with an uncommon kindliness. Granted a gift of wonderworking, he healed many from sickness. One time at Florence, staying at the house of Decentus, he resurrected a dead boy.
The repose of Saint Ambrose, who expired to God on the night of Holy Pascha, was accompanied by many miracles, – and he even appeared in a vision to the children being baptised this night. The saint was buried in the Ambrosian basilica in Mediolanum, beneathe the altar, between the Martyrs Protasius and Gervasius.
A zealous preacher and valiant defender of the Christian faith, Saint Ambrose received particular reknown as a Church writer. In dogmatic compositions he set forth the Orthodox teaching about the Holy Trinity, the Sacraments and Repentance: "Five Books about the Faith" ("De Fide"); "Explication of the Symbol of the Faith" ("Explanatio Symboli"); "About the Incarnation" ("De Incarnationis"); "Three Books about the Holy Spirit" ("De Spiritu Sancto"); "About the Sacraments" ("De Sacramento"); "Two Books about Repentance" ("De Paenitentia"). In writings about Christian morality, he explained the excellence of Christian moral teaching compared to pagan moral teaching. A well-known work of Saint Ambrose, "About the Duties of Clergy-Servers" ("De Officiis Ministrorum") evidences a deep awareness by him of pastoral duty; in it is contained not only the command for proper knowledge of Church-services, but the proper knowledge also of moral precepts, for those that serve in the Church. Saint Ambrose was also a reformer of Church-singing. He introduced into the western Church antiphonal singing (along the Eastern or Syrian form), which became known as "Ambrosian Chant"; and he composed 12 hymns, which were used during his lifetime. His solemn thanksgiving hymn, – "Thou, O God, we praise" (Te Deum), composed in the year 386, entered into the Divine-services of the Orthodox Church.
© 1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.