Ambrose

During the 4th Century

St. Ambrose with Book and Whip, Oil on canvas, Church of San Giuseppe alla Lungara, Rome, Italy.
St. Ambrose with Book and Whip, Oil on canvas, Church of San Giuseppe alla Lungara, Rome, Italy.

Born to a Roman administrator in Gaul, St. Ambrose grew up in Rome. In 370, he was appointed to serve as the governorship of Aemelia-Liguria, making his residence at Milan. Four years later, Ambrose, who held no ordained position in the church, was elected to serve as the Bishop of Milan. His service in this post, which he held for the remainder of his life, is characterized by two key attributes.

Perhaps as a result of his government background, Ambrose scarcely hesitated to use the power of his office in unprecedented and bold ways, some of which seem intolerant to modern sensibilities. An appeal for tolerance from pagan members of the Roman Senate was scuttled in 384 due to Ambrose's interventions. He rebuked the emperor Theodosius for his punishment of a bishop who had ordered the razing of a synagogue and imposed a public penance on the emperor in 390 after Theodosius used excessive force to quell an uprising in Thessalonica. Ambrose was able to exercise these powers and establish the authority of the church because of his loyalty and his acumen as a diplomat.

The other side of St. Ambrose's career is found in his writing. He was acclaimed as a master of Latin eloquotion by such contemporaries as Augustine, whom he baptized in 387, and Pelagius. Perhaps better than anyone before him, Ambrose brought the best of classical learning into the best of Christian theology, drawing on the philosophy of such thinkers as Plotinus and Philo and on the rhetoric of Cicero and Aristotle. This synthesis of thought and form is evidenced in his treatises On the Six Days of Creation, Concerning Virgins, to Marcellina, His Sister; Concerning Widows, on the patriarchs, On the Duties of the Clergy, and in his many sermons and letters.

Text © 1997, Mark Browning. Used with permission.
From the Christian Classics Ethereal Library

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