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  • Writer's picturePeter Kennedy

Saint Ambrose of Milan, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

saint ambrose

St. Ambrose of Milan, Bishop and Doctor of the Church: I first became aware of St. Ambrose, as many students do, as I studied the life of St. Augustine. St. Ambrose of Milan is perhaps best known as an intellectual and rhetorician but a bit of further examination shows his greatest legacy was his ability to bring others to Jesus. It is said of him that this was not only from his ability to argue the truths of the faith but rather more so from his great kindness. In fact, much of what we know of St. Ambrose aside from his own extensive writings against the Arians and various pagans of his time, is from his most famous spiritual child, St. Augustine. Of St. Ambrose, Augustine tells us "That man of God received me as a father would, and welcomed my coming as a good bishop should." Keep in mind that at the time, Augustine was not a Christian but rather a Manichean, and living a sinful life with a concubine. This did not seem to deter Ambrose who would eventually baptize both St. Augustine and his son, Adeodatus.

It is believed Ambrose was born in what is now northwest Germany. His father was likely a Roman governor of some parts of Gaul covering France, Spain, and perhaps Britain. He and his brother were likely raised to follow in their father’s footsteps. His mother heralded from a family of scholars and likely made certain her children were well educated. Ambrose is known to have come from a pius Christian family, and both of his siblings are known to be saints as well (Sts. Satyrus and Marcellina). Ambrose first steps onto the public scene of history as the governor of Milan.

Though he was not yet baptized, he was known to be a follower of the teachings of the Council of Nicaea, that Jesus was fully God and fully human. He was also known for his kindness to the poor and shrewd dealings with various affairs of state. In particular, he was known to deal fairly with every man regardless of their religious beliefs. Later when the former Arian bishop of Milan died, he went to the the Church in his role as governor to make certain a riot did not break out as they elected a replacement. As the election played out, and no suitable candidate could be agreed upon, the people began to clamor for Ambrose to be made bishop. Though he initially refused, even the Arians began to press him to become bishop and he eventually relented. So, in an odd turn of events, he was baptized and confirmed on one day, ordained a deacon the next, and a bishop on the third. As bishop, his first act was to give his family fortune to the poor, solidifying his love among the people.

His abilities as a governor were greatly beneficial in a time when both the government of Rome and the Church herself were in turmoil. His works helped to solidify both the autonomy of bishops against the state, and the authentic teaching of the Church against various heresies. But his relationships with individuals were known to lead many to come to the fullness of Christian faith. For this, he is known along with numerous of his contemporaries as a saint, and among the saints as a Doctor of the Church. His teachings influenced many of the greatest teachers of the Church, from St. Augustine, to St. Leo the Great, to St. Thomas Aquinas to name but a few. It should suffice to say that his influence will continue to be felt in Church teaching until the end of time.

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