Saint Of Learning
The Reluctant Bishop
- St. Ambrose was the Bishop of Milan, Biblical
critic and developer of many of the medieval conceptions
of church-state relations. His hymns and writings are
considered to be some of the most beautiful and eloquent
of the fourth century.
- Born the second son of the imperial viceroy of
Gaul in 339, he was raised by his mother and sister in
Rome following the death of his father. In 370, he was
promoted to the governorship of Aemilia-Liguria and lived
in Milan. When the Bishop of Milan, a supporter of the
Arian heresy which questioned the divinity of Christ,
died in 374, the questions arose about whether the new
Bishop would be Catholic or Arian. When the two sides met
at the cathedral to decide, a riot ensued.
- Ambrose, as a duty of the governor, rushed to the
church and, speaking in favor of neither side, asked the
people to choose without fighting. During his speech,
however, a voice from the crowd called for Ambrose to
- Rather than give up a secure and successful
career as an attorney for the dangerous role of Bishop in
this time of heresy and upheaval, Ambrose ran to the
emperor requesting the people's decision be overturned.
When the emperor refused, Ambrose hid in a senator's
home. The senator, hearing of the emperor's decision,
soon threw Ambrose out.
- With nowhere to go, Ambrose finally accepted the
decision. In doing so, Ambrose had gone from layman to
Bishop in eight days. Because of the rush, many expected
Ambrose to maintain his style of living. Instead, he gave
his property to the poor and began studying the Scripture
under St. Simplician.
- During these turbulent times, Ambrose faced many
instances when he protected not only Catholics, but also
the Arian heretics. When the emperor died, Empress
Justina, an Arian, was left in a greatly weakened Rome.
She begged Ambrose to negotiate with Maximus, who felt
that his army could invade and conquer Rome. In spite of
the Empress' Arian stance, Ambrose persuaded Maximus not
- Later, when Justina demanded that Ambrose
surrender his basilica to the Arians, Ambrose refused.
The outraged people of Milan captured and were ready to
execute an Arian priest. Rather than allow the priest to
die, Ambrose sent a group of priests and deacons to save
the captive. In response, soldiers who had surrounded
Ambrose's basilica entered and began to pray.
- In 385, Justina had her son issue an edict
legalizing Arians and forbidding Catholic opposition to
Arians. On Palm Sunday, Ambrose preached against this
law. Fearing for their lives, the Catholics barricaded
themselves in the church. Soldiers sent by Justina
surrounded the basilica in an attempt to starve the
congregation. To calm the Catholics, Ambrose asked them
to sing hymns he had composed. When the army heard the
song, they began to sing along and the siege was ended.
- When he saw that the Roman army was busy
attacking Catholics, Maximus saw his opportunity. Justina
again begged Ambrose to talk with Maximus, which he did.
When Maximus refused Ambrose, Ambrose hurried back to
warn Justina, who fled to Greece. Theodosius, the Emperor
of the Eastern Empire, came to the rescue of Rome.
- In spite of the friendship that Theodosius and
Ambrose had, Ambrose maintained and held his friend to
the Scriptures and theology of the Catholic Church. In
388, he rebuked Theodosius for punishing a Bishop who had
burned a Jewish synagogue and in 390 imposed public
penance on Theodosius for massacring the citizens of
Thessalonica following a riot. These acts, along with his
diplomacy and resourcefulness for Rome's sake, created a
model for medieval relationships between church and
- St. Ambrose passed away in 397 at the age of 57.
December 7th is his day of feast, celebrating the day he
- De obitu Valentiniani consolatio
(funeral oration for Valentinian II, 392)
- De obitu Theodosii (funeral
oration for Theodosius, 395)
- Hexàèmeron ("The Six
Days of Creation")
- De Isaac et anima ("On
Isaac and the Soul")
- De bono mortis ("On
the Goodness of Death")
- De officiis ministrorum (on
the moral obligations of the clergy, 386)
Parts of this site are Copywritten by St. Ambrose Parish.