The Life of St. Ambrose

Pillar of the Church - Patron of the Parish

No history of the fourth century, ecclesiastical or secular, can ignore the truly monumental name of Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, and one of the most illustrious Fathers and Doctors of the Church.

He was born about 340, and was descended from an ancient Roman family which, at an early period had embraced Christianity. At the time of his birth, his father was Prefect of Gallia, and as such ruled the present territories of France, Britain, and Spain, together with Tingitana in Africa. Trier, Arles, and Lyons, the three principal cities of the province, contend for the honor of having been the birthplace of the Saint.

When Ambrose was about 14 years of age, his father died, whereupon the family moved to Rome. Ambrose received a thorough liberal education befitting the stature and prominence of his family, and then devoted his attention to the study and practice of law. He was so successful in this endeavor that the Emperor Valentinian soon appointed him to the office of consular governor of Liguria and Aemilia, with residence in Milan.

Soon after he began his administration, in the year 374, Auxentius, then Bishop of Milan, died, and Ambrose was elected to fill the vacant episcopacy by the eager acclamation of both the clergy and laity. Dismayed at first by the thought of his unworthiness and lack of training for such high office, Ambrose finally consented, and on December 7th, 374, the day on which East and West annually honor his memory, he was consecrated bishop.

He was now 35 years old and was destined to edify the Church for the comparatively long space of twenty-three active years. Rarely, if ever, has a Christian bishop been so accessible to his people, so universally popular, in the best sense of that much abused term. Through the door of his chamber, wide open the livelong day, and crossed unannounced by all, of whatever estate, who had any sort of business with him, we catch a clear glimpse of his daily life. He ate but sparingly, dining only on Saturdays and Sundays, and festivals of the more celebrated martyrs. His long nocturnal vigils were spent in prayer, in attending to his vast correspondence, and in penning down the thoughts that occurred to him during the day. His indefatigable industry and methodical habits explain how so busy a man found time to compose so many valuable books.

It was also during these years that he waged his long, perilous and successful fight against the inroads of Arianism, the subtle and widespread heresy which denied the divinity of Christ and which so plagued the early centuries of the Church. He was absolutely fearless in routing the enthroned iniquity of the heretical Empress Justina and her barbarian advisers.

Throughout the long struggle Ambrose displayed in an eminent degree all the qualities of a great leader. His intrepidity in the moments of personal danger was equaled only by his admirable moderation; or at certain critical stages of the drama one word from him would have hurled the Empress and her son from the throne. That word was never spoken.

In the end, those who hated and persecuted him the most were forced to call upon him to save the imperiled throne, both from the intrigue and decadence within, and the barbarians from the North who constantly threatened its existence. This he did by completely converting Theodosius and Valentinian II, the former living to achieve a high degree of sanctity after performing public penance for his crimes. In fact, when Theodosius defeated the usurper Eugenius in 394, it may be truthfully said that Roman heathenism perished, and the victory was largely Ambrose’s.

It is almost unbelievable that so busy an administrator could have found time for so many writings, sermons, and hymns. Yet so powerful and far-reaching were his writings that he was given the title of Doctor of the Church. His sermons were eloquent and instructive, made without notes from the fullness of his heart, and perhaps one of the greatest tributes to their power is the fact that they were largely responsible for the conversion of St. Augustine.

If St. Ambrose ever complained about anything, it was that the suddenness of his transfer from the tribunal to the pulpit compelled him to learn, teach and administrate simultaneously. Yet he did all three with such zeal, patience, prudence, fearlessness, and practically that his endeavors have reflected everlastingly to the greater strength, beauty and dignity of the Faith to which he gave his all.

He died on April 4, 397, and was interred as he had desired, in his beloved basilica, by the side of the holy martyrs, Gervasius and Protasius, the discovery of whose relics, during his great struggle with Justina, had so consoled him and his faithful adherents.

It is fitting to note here that our own parish joyfully possesses a first-class relic of St. Ambrose. For this we will be forever indebted to Senator Alessandro Mariotti of Rome, brother of one of our own parishioners, Mr. Carlo Mariotti.

O Glorious Patron, St. Ambrose, shield us graciously with they protection, and obtain for us the final grace to share with thee the Kingdom of Heaven, to sing forever the mercies of God. Amen.

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