The Basilica of St. Ambrose in Milan. This was originally built by St. Ambrose and when he died he was entombed here.
By the time he was 33 years old, Ambrose was a very successful man. He owned a large estate, was a successful lawyer, was Governor of Milan and was a good friend of the Roman Emperor. He was just a catechumen in the Catholic faith, but loved God and loved peace. He lived at a time and in an area where there was great division in the Church over the heresy of Arianism. In 374 the Bishop of Milan died and those who were for Arianism and those who saw Arianism as a heresy met in the Cathedral to try to determine who the next Bishop would be. There was so much unrest over this that a riot began to break out between both sides. Ambrose, as governor, stepped in to try to bring about peace by making a passionate speech, not favoring either side but seeking peace between the two sides. It was at this time that someone shouted out that Ambrose should be made the Bishop. The people all seemed to consent and Ambrose said that he couldn’t be, because he was just a catechumen and not even baptized. Truthfully, it appears that Ambrose was quite happy with his life and did not want to change it. Now the other Bishops of the Province saw this as a way to avoid making a difficult decision that would certainly upset a large number of people. They too wanted Ambrose and decided to make him Bishop. Ambrose quickly ran away trying to avoid this new vocation.
Ambrose ran to the Emperor trying to get the Emperor to vacate that decision. The Emperor refused to vacate the decision and told Ambrose that he would make a good Bishop. Ambrose then went for instructions in Scripture and the Church studying under Saint Simplician. Ambrose embraced the new vocation fully and was baptized and ordained as Bishop of Milan. He sold his estate and holdings and gave to the poor. Ambrose used his skills as a lawyer and orator to fight the Arians in church, court, senate, and even the Emperor’s own family. The same stubbornness that had made him refuse the position in the first place was now his weapon in fighting heresy and pursuing sanctity.
Besides fighting heresy, Ambrose had to go up against the Goths who were invading the weakened Roman Empire. The Goths often captured the Christians and offered them up for ransom. Ambrose said, “It is a better thing to save souls for the Lord than to save treasures. He who sent forth his apostles without gold had not need of gold to form his Church. The Church possesses gold, not to hoard, but to scatter abroad and come to the aid of the unfortunate. Would not the Lord say to us: ‘Why have you let so many needy perish of hunger? Since you had gold, you should provide for their needs’…Could we say: ‘I feared to leave the temple of God without ornament.’ But that which can’t be bought with gold does not take its value from gold. The best way to use the gold of the Redeemer is for the redemption of those in peril.”
Not only did Ambrose have to deal with the Goths, but when his friend the Emperor died, the new Emperor tried to take Ambrose’s Church away from him and hand it over to the Arians. Ambrose refused and was sentenced to death. Fortunately the people sided with Ambrose and filled his Church. Roman soldiers were surrounding the Church and the people inside stayed there for days singing songs (this is one of the first written accounts of songs being sung in Church). They were so loud and filled with faith that even the soldiers outside began singing the songs. The soldiers were called out for other duties in protecting the Empire. Ambrose kept control of his Church. It is interesting to note that later Ambrose helped out the Emperor who was against him. He showed true forgiveness.
Ambrose is also known for his work with another great Saint, Saint Augustine. It was Ambrose who helped Augustine convert to the faith. Augustine was one of the greatest Saints and impacted the Church tremendously. Saint Ambrose was certainly a great man who changed history and the Church for the better.
There are many quotes from St. Ambrose. I share a few of them here.
The fraternity of Christ, is closer than the fraternity of blood.
Prayer is the wing wherewith the soul flies to heaven, and meditation the eye wherewith we see God.
If it is “daily bread,” why do you take it once a year? . . . Take daily what is to profit you daily. Live in such a way that you may deserve to receive it daily. He who does not deserve to receive it daily, does not deserve to receive it once a year.
By Christ’s Passion our weakness was cured. By His Resurrection death was conquered. Still we have to be sorrowful for the world, as well as joyful in the Lord, sorrowful in penance, joyful in gratitude.
It is not the ambassador, it is not the messenger, but the Lord Himself that saves His people. The Lord remains alone, for no man can be partner with God in forgiving sins; this office belongs solely to Christ, who takes away the sins of the world.
True repentance is to cease from sin.
Our own evil inclinations are far more dangerous than any external enemies.
The rich man who gives to the poor does not bestow alms but pays a debt.
When we speak about wisdom, we are speaking of Christ. When we speak about virtue, we are speaking of Christ. When we speak about justice, we are speaking of Christ. When we speak about peace, we are speaking of Christ. When we speak about truth and life and redemption, we are speaking of Christ.
No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks.
The Devil tempts that he may ruin and destroy; God tests that He may crown.
He took what is mine in order that He might impart to me what is His. He took it not to overturn it but to fill it.
The Lord was Baptized, not to be cleansed Himself, but to cleanse the waters, so that those waters, cleansed by the flesh of Christ which knew no sin, might have the power of Baptism.
God by nature is uncompounded, joined to nothing, composed of nothing, to whom nothing happens by accident; but only possessing in His own nature that which is divine, enclosing all things, Himself closed out of nothing, penetrating all things, Himself never penetrable, everywhere complete, everywhere present at the same time, whether in heaven or on earth or in the depths of the sea, incapable of being seen or measured by our senses, to be followed only by faith and venerated in our religion.
The Church of the Lord is built upon the rock of the apostles among so many dangers in the world; it therefore remains unmoved. The Church’s foundation is unshakable and firm against assaults of the raging sea. Waves lash at the Church but do not shatter it. Although the elements of this world constantly beat upon the Church with crashing sounds, the Church possesses the safest harbor of salvation for all in distress. There is a stream which flows down on God’s saints like a torrent. There is also a rushing river giving joy to the heart that is at peace and makes for peace.