Saint Ambrose, Doctor of the Church

December 7

c. 340-97

Born in Trier, Germany, son of Ambrose, the praetorian prefect of Gaul, he was taken back to Rome when a child on the death of his father, he became a lawyer there noted for his oratory and learning. His success led Ancius Probus, praetorian prefect of Italy, to name him his assessor, and Emperor Valentinian appointed him governor of Liguria and Aemilia with his capital at Milan about 372, a position he filled with great ability and justice. In 374 the death of Auxentius, bishop of Milan and an Arian, threw the city into turmoil as Arians and Catholics fought to have their candidate made bishop. When Ambrose, nominally a Christian but not yet Baptized, went to the cathedral to attempt to quiet the seething passions, he was unanimously elected bishop by all parties. Despite his refusal to accept the office, he was forced to do so when the Emperor confirmed the election. He was Baptized and on December 7, 374, was consecrated bishop. He gave away all his possessions, began a study of theology, the Bible, and the great Christian writers under his former tutor, Simplician, and began to live a life of great austerity. He soon became the most eloquent preacher of his day and the most formidable Catholic opponent of Arianism in the West and became an adviser to Emperor Gratian. In 379 Ambrose persuaded him to outlaw Arianism in the West. In 383, when Emperor Gratian was killed in battle by Maximus, Ambrose persuaded Maximus not to attempt to extend his domain into Italy against the new young Emperor Valentinian II. Ambrose was successful in defeating an attempt by Quintus Aurelius Symmachus to restore the cult of the goddess of victory in Rome, and in 385 successfully resisted Valentinian's order to turn over several churches in Milan to a group headed by Valentinian's mother, Empress Justina, a secret Arian. In 386, Ambrose flatly refused to obey an imperial edict that practically proscribed Catholic gatherings and forbade any opposition to turning churches over to Arians. When the conflict between Catholics and Arians deepened, Maximus invaded Italy despite Ambrose's pleas. Valentinian and Justina fled and sought the aid of Eastern Emperor Theodosius I, who defeated Maximus and had him executed in Pannonia and restored Valentinian to the throne; Theodosius now controlled both Eastern and Western empires. At Milan, Theodosius convinced Valentinian to denounce Arianism and recognize Ambrose, but himself soon came into conflict with Ambrose when Ambrose denounced his order to the bishop of Kallinikum, Mesopotamia, to rebuild a Jewish synagogue destroyed by the Christians there, an order he rescinded. In 390, the two clashed again when Theodosius' troops massacred some seven thousand people in Thessalonica in reprisal for the murder of the governor, Butheric, and several of his officers. Ambrose denounced the Emperor for his action and refused him the Sacraments until he performed a severe public penance-----which Theodosius did. In 393, Valentinian II was murdered in Gaul by Arbogastes, whose envoy, Eugenius, had attempted to restore paganism. Ambrose denounced the murder, and the defeat and execution of Arbogastes at Aquileia by Theodosius finally ended paganism in the Empire. When Theodosius died a few months after his victory, it was in the arms of Ambrose, who preached his funeral oration. Ambrose died two years later, in Milan, on April 4. Ambrose was one of the great figures of early Christianity, and more than any other man he was responsible for the rise of Christianity in the West as the Roman Empire was dying. A fierce defender of the independence of the Church against the secular authority, he wrote profusely on the Bible, theology, asceticism, mainly based on his sermons, and numerous homilies, psalms, and hymns written in iambic dimeter that became the standard for Western hymnody. He brought St. Augustine, who revered him, back to his Catholic faith, Baptizing him in 387, and was considered by his contemporaries as the exemplar par excellence of what a bishop should be-----holy, learned, courageous, patient, and immovable when necessary for the faith-----a worthy Doctor of the Church. His best-known works are De officiis ministrorum, a treatise on Christian ethics especially directed to the clergy, De virginibus, written for his sister St. Marcellina, and De fide, written against the Arians for Gratian.




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