Tag Archives: St Ambrose

St Ambrose

st-ambroseWe come today to the feast of the greatest Archbishop of Milan, Saint Ambrose. He served at a time when Milan was the center of the Empire. We know historically that Ambrose was elected bishop when he was still a catechumen (not yet baptized). The faithful had a suspicion that the excellent civil servant would prove to be most competent churchman: in theology and sacred Liturgy, in administration, and a holy and sincere Christian. Saint Benedict recommends his hymns in the Rule and traditionally think that the “Te Deum” hymn is ascribed to him.

Born of a noble Roman family in Gaul around the year 340, Ambrose studied in Rome and served the imperial government at Sirmium. In 374, elected bishop of Milan, and ordained on this date. Saint Ambrose died April 4, 397. The Pope proclaimed Saint Ambrose a Doctor of the Church in 1298; he is honored as the patron saint of beekeepers and candle makers, because of the honeyed words of his preaching.

The image here of the saint hangs at Newark Abbey (Newark, NJ).

Ambrose’s civil experience as governor allowed him the skill of knowing how “to talk to power.” When the Emperor Theodosius had 7,000 Thessalonians slaughtered over the assassination of their governor, he excommunicated him for his horrendous crime – and made it stick, bringing Theodosius to repentance.

As a theologian, Bishop Ambrose wrote about the incarnation of the Son of God:

“And the Word was with God . This that he said is to be understood thus: The Word was just as was the Father; since He was together with the Father, He was also in the Father, and He was always with the Father. […] It is of the Word to be with the Father; it is of the Father to be with the Word, for we read that the Word was with God. So if, according to your opinion, there was a time when He was not, then, according to your opinion, He too was not in the beginning with whom was the Word. For through the Word I hear, through the Word I understand that God was. For, if I shall believe that the Word was eternal, which I do believe, I cannot doubt about the eternity of the Father, whose Son is eternal.” (The Sacrament of the Incarnation of our Lord (III, 15-18, from the Vatican web site)

Choice: vanity of owning and being in eternity?

On the 18th Sunday Through the Church year we have been given this gospel: Luke 12:13-21. In part we come to the part of the passage where parable Jesus tells he mentions the demand for the inheritance. As a friend said in his homily, “It is interesting to observe how many times I find myself “give orders” to Jesus! Should it not be the opposite? But even for Jesus, rather than giving an order or even that of judgments or condemnation, He invites me to reflect….”

St. Ambrose offers us this reflection:

“He uselessly accumulates wealth when he does not know how he will use it. He is like him who, when his full barns were bursting from the new harvest, built storehouses for his abundant crops, not knowing for whom he gathered them. The things that are of the world remain in the world, and whatever riches we gather are left to our heirs. The things that we cannot take with us aren’t ours either. Only virtue is the companion of the dead. Compassion alone follows us.”

Saint Ambrose

Anthonisvan DyckToday, the Church celebrates the feast Saint Ambrose of Milan, who offers us a model of public Christian witness, and he is one of the Church’s great doctors. You know most of the salient points of the person of Ambrose: In A.D. 374 Ambrose became archbishop of Milan, a city taken over by the Arian heresy. Milan was also the residence of one of the Roman co-emperors; this new vocation was forced upon him. The saint quickly embraced an ascetical life, was charitable toward the poor, and reformed the Liturgy of his mammoth diocese; endured hardships, including an assassination attempt ordered by the Western empress herself. Ambrose’s mission was to convert the heretics of his diocese back to belief in the divinity of Christ. What got him elected as the bishop was his fine reputation as an eloquent speaker; later he revealed the talent of being author on Christian doctrine and composer. Many will always credit him for his role in the conversion of Saint Augustine, whom Ambrose baptized in A.D. 387.

One of the things that sticks out about Saint Ambrose today is his insistence on being a good churchman, one who doesn’t coddle the people. This quote gives you a sense of what I mean:

For there is this difference between good and bad rulers, that the good love freedom, the bad slavery.  And there is nothing in a Bishop so offensive in God’s sight, or so base before men, as not freely to declare his opinions… I prefer then, to have fellowship with your Majesty in good rather than in evil; and therefore the silence of a Bishop ought to be displeasing to your Clemency, and his freedom pleasing.  For you will be implicated in the danger of my silence, you will share in the benefits of my outspokenness. I am not then an officious meddler in matters beyond my province, an intruder in the concerns of others, but I comply with my duty, I obey the commandment of our God. This I do chiefly from love and regard to you, and from a wish to preserve your well-being.  But if I am not believed, or am forbidden to act on this motive, then in truth I speak from fear of offending God. (Ambrose, Epist. XL.2-3, trans. H. Walford, 1881)

Today, I am praying through the intercession of the holy bishop and doctor of the Church Ambrose for all my friends of Milan.

Saint Ambrose

Ambrose GiuLungaraSaint Ambrose is venerated in the Churches of the East and the West. He is a pivotal figure in Church history of sincerity but also because of his clear defense and teaching of the faith, his good administration of the Church and his witness so that others could become saints.

What comes to mind is my own desire to pray for the great Church in Milan, and this feast helps me to remember the missionary work of so many from Milan to other parts of the world. All us are on mission.

One of Ambrose’s gifts was “repacking” church teaching into verse, giving it a melody, and encouraging the people to sing their faith. Singing reinforces what you read and learn. A good example follows (though without music):

Redeemer of the nations, come;
reveal yourself in virgin birth,
the birth which ages all adore,
a wondrous birth, befitting God.

From human will you do not spring,
but from the Spirit of our God;
O Word of God, come; take our flesh
and grow as child in Mary’s womb.

You came forth from the eternal God,
and you returned to that same source.
You suffered death and harrowed hell,
and reigned once more from God’s high throne.

With God the Father you are one,
and one with us in human flesh.
Oh, fill our weak and dying frame
with godly strength which never fails.

You cradle shines with glory’s light;
its splendor pierces all our gloom.
Our faith reflects those radiant beams;
no night shall overcome it now.

All praise, O unbegotten God,
all praise to you, eternal Word,
all praise life-giving Spirit, praise,
all glory to our God Triune.

Mary, the Mother of God is united with the Church, St Ambrose teaches


By reason of the gift and role of divine maternity, by which she is united with her Son, the Redeemer, and with His singular graces and functions, the Blessed Virgin is also intimately united with the Church. As St. Ambrose taught, the Mother of God is a type of the Church in the order of faith, charity and perfect union with Christ.  For in the mystery of the Church, which is itself rightly called mother and virgin, the Blessed Virgin stands out in eminent and singular fashion as exemplar both of virgin and mother.  By her belief and obedience, not knowing man but overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, as the new Eve she brought forth on earth the very Son of the Father, showing an undefiled faith, not in the word of the ancient serpent, but in that of God’s messenger. The Son whom she brought forth is He whom God placed as the first-born among many brethren, namely the faithful, in whose birth and education she cooperates with a maternal love.

Second Vatican Council 

Lumen gentium

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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