Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Hail, St. Ambrose, Bishop and Doctor

      Body of St. Ambrose (white vestments)

Today the Church celebrates the feast of St. Ambrose of Milan ( 340 AD - 397 AD).  St. Ambrose was born in Trier, the son of a high Roman official, and was educated at Rome for a career in the service of the empire.   While governor of Liguria, in Northern Italy, Ambrose intervened in a dispute between Catholics and Arians regarding who should fill the vacant archbishopric of Milan.  As Ambrose was in the midst of his address to the disputing parties, both sides spontaneously sought to acclaim Ambrose himself bishop.   Ambrose declined forcefully, feeling himself unprepared for such an office, because, although a Christian, he had neither been baptized nor ordained.  However, Emperor Gratian supported the idea, and Ambrose soon relented.  Within seven days, Ambrose was baptized, ordained and installed as bishop of Milan.   Ambrose gave his property to the poor, and his land to the Church.   As bishop, Ambrose was not only an excellent administrator, but also a pre-eminent expositor of the Faith.  "He was one of those", said St. Augustine, "who speak the truth, and speak it well, judiciously, pointedly, and with beauty and power of expression."  Ambrose's manner of life was notable for its simplicity.  His door was open to all, and any time not taken up with ecclesiastical business was generally devoted to reading or prayer.  Of St. Ambrose's writings, it has been noted that

"[Ambrose] is a genuine Roman in whom the ethico-practical note is always dominant. He had neither time nor liking for philosophico-dogmatic speculations. In all his writings he follows some practical purpose."
Ambrosian Chant, a method of chanting in which one side of the choir responds alternately to the other side,  is named in honor of St. Ambrose, although he was not the originator of this method of chant.  However, St. Ambrose did compose several hymns; you may listen to Michael Praetorius's version of Ambrose's Advent hymn, "Come, Thou Redeemer of the Earth" by clicking below:

St. Ambrose was also instrumental in the conversion of St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the greatest of all saints.  Augustine heard Ambrose preach and, impressed by Ambrose's great learning and intelligence, (the first Christian ever to so impress Augustine) resolved to meet him.  St. Ambrose proved to be as kind as he was intelligent, and Ambrose's friendship and saintly example were powerful inducements toward Augustine's eventual baptism.

St. Ambrose's remains may be viewed at the Cathedral in Milan.  It is one of the oldest extant bodies of an historical personage known.

St. Ambrose, pray for us.


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