Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Saint Ambrose, Bishop, Doctor
Ambrose was born in Gaul, into a Roman Catholic family around 337–340 and was raised in Trier, which is modern day Germany. Ambrose's siblings, Satyrus (who is the subject of Ambrose's De excessu fratris Satyri) and Marcellina, are also venerated as saints. As an infant, his parents witnessed a great sign. While Ambrose was asleep in his crib, a swarm of bees flew into the nursery and harmlessly settled on his face, thus depositing their honey on his tongue. They then flew away, so high into the air that they could no longer be seen — almost as if they were returning to heaven. His father considered this a sign of his future eloquence and honeyed tongue preaching. For this reason, bees and beehives often appear in the saint's symbology.
How he turned Bishop:
After his father's death Ambrose went to Rome to study literature, law, and rhetoric. In 372 he was appointed consular prefect or "Governor" of Liguria and Emilia with residence at Milan. He held the position until 374 when he became the Bishop of Milan.
In the late 4th century there was a deep conflict in the diocese of Milan between the Catholics 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. Although only a catechumen at the time, his address was interrupted by a call "Ambrose, bishop!" which was taken up by the whole assembly. At first he refused the office, because he found himself unworthy for the task. He was neither baptized nor formally trained in theology. Upon his appointment, St. Ambrose fled to a colleague's home seeking to hide. After receiving a letter from the Emperor Gratian praising the appropriateness of Rome appointing individuals evidently worthy of holy positions, St. Ambrose's host gave Ambrose up.
Within a week, on Dec. 7, the day before the anniversary of the Blessed Mother’s conception (he was a firm believer and devotee to Our Blessed Mother) Ambrose was baptized, ordained and duly consecrated bishop of Milan. He immediately adopted an ascetic lifestyle, apportioned his money to the poor, donating all of his land, making only provision for his sister Marcellina (who later became a nun), and committed the care of his family to his brother.
The Divine Office:
Ambrose studied the Hebrew Bible and Greek authors like Philo, Origen, Athanasius, and Basil of Caesarea, with whom he was also exchanged letters. He was a gifted orator and writer. He wrote a treatise by the name of "The Goodness of Death." He applied his knowledge as preacher, and his rhetorical abilities impressed Augustine of Hippo, the celebrated convert who was baptized by the Saint. The hymn Te Deum is said to have been composed at the baptism of St. Augustine by Ambrose. The Divine Office has fourteen of the hymns attributed to him. His writings are vibrant with ancient Christian liturgical spirit, for his life was wholly rooted in mystery and sacrament.
His encounter with emperors:
Ambrose was fearless; he actively spoke out against corruption and heresy in civil matters as well. On one occasion he confronted Maximus, the murderer of the Emperor Gratian. When Maximus refused to do penance, Ambrose excommunicated him. Later he denied Emperor Theodosius entrance into church for his massacre of the inhabitants of Thessalonica. It was on this occasion that allusion was made to [King] David as a murderer and adulterer, and Ambrose retorted: "You have followed him in sin, now follow him in repentance." Humbly, Theodosius accepted the penance imposed.
Saint Ambrose attracted many followers to Christ — some traveling great distances. He was visited frequently be scholars from Persia and the East. The Queen of the Germanic tribes (who ironically had attacked the city on more than one occasion) requested that Ambrose instruct her in the ways of Christianity. Following his correspondence, she converted and negotiated peace with the Roman Empire.
Saint Ambrose died peacefully on the night of the Easter Vigil, April 4, 397, surrounded by miracles and apparitions to those being baptized. Ambrose's body may still be viewed in the church of S. Ambrogio in Milan, where it has been continuously venerated.
In the Vatican Basilica, the Bernini statue which holds the relic of St. Peter’s chair depicts St. Ambrose as one of the four saints who hold the throne aloft. Ambrose is one of the four great Latin Doctors of the Church, ranked with Augustine, Jerome, and Gregory the Great.
Feast day: December 7
Venerated in: Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Churches, Oriental Orthodoxy, Anglican Communion, Lutheran Church
Title as Saint: Confessor and Doctor of the Church
Attributes: Beehive, a child, whip, bones
Patronage: bee keepers; bees; candle makers; domestic animals; French Commissariat; learning; Milan; students; wax refiners
Shrines: Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio