St Ambrose

imageA duty is to be chosen from what is virtuous, and from what is useful, and also from the comparison of the two, one with the other; but nothing is recognized by Christians as virtuous or useful which is not helpful to the future life.” St Ambrose

St Ambrose came from a wealthy family in Milan and by his early 30’s he was a lawyer and had a position in the government. At this young age he was a friend of the emperor and, as we might say, “living large.” In 374, however, the bishop of Milan, a supporter of the Arian heresy, died. At this time Arian heresy was in full swing and tensions were high between Arians and non-Arians. Both camps gathered in the cathedral when the selection process began, each hoping to have a say as to who the new bishop would be. Tensions were high, and violence seemed the only recourse to a solution. Since Ambrose was governor of the region, it was his job to ensure the peace so he went to the Cathedral to beg the people not to start fighting. He asked them to make the choice of a new bishop peacefully. People were yelling and it seemed there was no way to come to a resolution when a voice called out, “Let Ambrose be bishop.” The selection was unanimous.

Needless to say, becoming a bishop wasn’t part of Ambrose’s career plan, it was a dangerous and often thankless occupation, and besides, he hadn’t even been baptized; he appealed to the emperor, on these grounds, to overturn the selection. The emperor, in his turn, replied that it pleased him that he had chosen governors so well qualified that they could serve as bishops. It was a done deal. When he heard of the emperor’s decision, he briefly hid in the house of a senator who, on learning for himself what the emperor had said, surrendered Ambrose to the Church.

Once installed, Ambrose sold all he had and gave his money to the poor and learned scripture and theology from St Simplician. When the Goths invaded and took Christians hostage, he even melted down the gold items in the Church to pay ransom. During his term as bishop he was a ferocious opponent of the Arians, although never resorting to the use of force to eliminate the heresy. He is mentioned in St Augustine’s Confessions as having a strong influence in Augustine’s conversion and died in 397 AD, always, I think, looking to the future life.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s