Ambrose was a saint and considered to be one of the four doctors of the Western Church. He was born in Trier in 339 and died 4 April 397 in Milan. His father a Praetorian Prefect of Gaul. Ambrose studied in Rome and became Consul of Liguria and Aemilia, then Bishop of Milan in 373 or 374. He was not yet a Christian when he became a bishop but he was elected by popular acclaim of the people of Milan.
Ambrose was an outstanding preacher, and an opponent of Arianism. He wrote On the Faith, On the Holy Spirit, De Sacramentis, and De officiis Ministorium – a study of ethics for clergy. A set of commentaries on Paul’s letters attributed to him was actually written by a contemporary, called Ambrosius by Erasmus. These commentaries were influential in advancing the understanding that Romans 5:12 means that Adam’s sin applies to the whole human race.
Known as the founder of Latin hymnody, he wrote the hymn Aeterna Christi Munera, and his name has been given to a set of chants and a liturgy.
Ambrose was influential with the Roman emperors who lived in Milan, but was not afraid to stand against them when necessary. Valentinian II tried to force him to hand over the church to Arian adherents, and Ambrose’s life was threatened, but support from the citizens of Milan helped him to successfully resist the move. His argument was that “a temple of God could not be surrendered by a bishop”. When Theodosius I committed a masacre at Thessonalica, Ambrose excommunicated him until he had done public penance. Such courageous actions were somewhat tainted when Theodosius wanted to rebuid a synagogue destroyed by the Bishop of Callinicum, Ambrose forbade it.
Ambrose did not produce much original theology, but he hinted at the doctrine of original sin, and was first to suggested that the elements of the eucharist underwent a change in nature when the priest repeated the words Jesus spoke at the Last Supper. He also pioneered allegorical exegesis, Christian Neoplatonism and ascetic theology.
Some other Ambroses:
- Ambrose of Cahors – died c.770. French saint and Bishop.
- Ambrose of Massa – Italian Franciscan priest, born in Tuscanny, died Orvieto 17 April 1240. Companion of St. Francis.
- Ambrose of Optina – Russian Orthodox saint. Born Tamboc province 23 November 1812, died Optina 10 October 1891. Revered by Dostoevsky and Tolstoy.
- Ambrose Traversari – Italian Camaldolese Cenobitic monk and early Christian Humanist. Born Portico 16 September 1386, died Fontenbuono 17 November 1439. Translated John Chrysostom, Basil and Athanasius. Appointed general of his order by Eugene IV in 1431.