Saint Ambrose, Bishop, Doctor

Luke 5:17-26 

‘Your sins are forgiven you: get up and walk’

Jesus was teaching one day, and among the audience there were Pharisees and doctors of the Law who had come from every village in Galilee, from Judaea and from Jerusalem. And the Power of the Lord was behind his works of healing. Then some men appeared, carrying on a bed a paralysed man whom they were trying to bring in and lay down in front of him. But as the crowd made it impossible to find a way of getting him in, they went up on to the flat roof and lowered him and his stretcher down through the tiles into the middle of the gathering, in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith he said, ‘My friend, your sins are forgiven you.’ The scribes and the Pharisees began to think this over. ‘Who is this man talking blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ But Jesus, aware of their thoughts, made them this reply, ‘What are these thoughts you have in your hearts? Which of these is easier: to say, “Your sins are forgiven you” or to say, “Get up and walk”? But to prove to you that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,’ – he said to the paralysed man – ‘I order you: get up, and pick up your stretcher and go home.’ And immediately before their very eyes he got up, picked up what he had been lying on and went home praising God.

  They were all astounded and praised God, and were filled with awe, saying, ‘We have seen strange things today.’

Isaiah 35:1-10 

The return of the redeemed through the desert

Let the wilderness and the dry-lands exult,

let the wasteland rejoice and bloom,

let it bring forth flowers like the jonquil,

let it rejoice and sing for joy.

The glory of Lebanon is bestowed on it,

the splendour of Carmel and Sharon;

they shall see the glory of the Lord,

the splendour of our God.

Strengthen all weary hands,

steady all trembling knees

and say to all faint hearts,

‘Courage! Do not be afraid.

‘Look, your God is coming,

vengeance is coming,

the retribution of God;

he is coming to save you.’

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,

the ears of the deaf unsealed,

then the lame shall leap like a deer

and the tongues of the dumb sing for joy;

for water gushes in the desert,

streams in the wasteland,

the scorched earth becomes a lake,

the parched land springs of water.

The lairs where the jackals used to live

become thickets of reed and papyrus…

And through it will run a highway undefiled

which shall be called the Sacred Way;

the unclean may not travel by it,

nor fools stray along it.

No lion will be there

nor any fierce beast roam about it,

but the redeemed will walk there,

for those the Lord has ransomed shall return.

They will come to Zion shouting for joy,

everlasting joy on their faces;

joy and gladness will go with them

and sorrow and lament be ended.

Psalm 84(85):9-14(Advent) 

Look, our God is coming to save us.

I will hear what the Lord God has to say,

  a voice that speaks of peace,

  peace for his people.

His help is near for those who fear him

  and his glory will dwell in our land.

Look, our God is coming to save us.

Mercy and faithfulness have met;

  justice and peace have embraced.

Faithfulness shall spring from the earth

  and justice look down from heaven.

Look, our God is coming to save us.

The Lord will make us prosper

  and our earth shall yield its fruit.

Justice shall march before him

  and peace shall follow his steps.

Look, our God is coming to save us

Source: Jerusalem Bible

Catechism of the Catholic Church

The Sacraments of Christ

1114 “Adhering to the teaching of the Holy Scriptures, to the apostolic traditions, and to the consensus . . . of the Fathers,” we profess that “the sacraments of the new law were . . . all instituted by Jesus Christ our Lord.”

1115 Jesus’ words and actions during his hidden life and public ministry were already salvific, for they anticipated the power of his Paschal mystery. They announced and prepared what he was going to give the Church when all was accomplished. the mysteries of Christ’s life are the foundations of what he would henceforth dispense in the sacraments, through the ministers of his Church, for “what was visible in our Savior has passed over into his mysteries.”

1116 Sacraments are “powers that comes forth” from the Body of Christ, which is ever-living and life-giving. They are actions of the Holy Spirit at work in his Body, the Church. They are “the masterworks of God” in the new and everlasting covenant.

Ambrose (born Aurelius Ambrosius; c. 340 – 397), venerated as Saint Ambrose, was the Bishop of Milan, a theologian, and one of the most influential ecclesiastical figures of the 4th century.

Ambrose was serving as the Roman governor of Aemilia-Liguria in Milan when he was unexpectedly made Bishop of Milan in 374 by popular acclamation. As bishop, he took a firm position against Arianism and attempted to mediate the conflict between the emperor Theodosius I and the usurper Magnus Maximus. Tradition credits Ambrose with promoting “antiphonal chant”, a style of chanting in which one side of the choir responds alternately to the other, as well as with composing Veni redemptor gentium, an Advent hymn. He also had notable influence on Augustine of Hippo (354-430).

Western Christianity identified Ambrose as one of its four traditional Doctors of the Church. He is considered a saint by the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, Anglican Communion, and various Lutheran denominations, and venerated as the patron saint of Milan.

Life

Early life

Ambrose was born into a Roman Christian family about 340 and was raised in Gallia Belgica, the capital of which was Augusta Treverorum.[ His father is sometimes identified with Aurelius Ambrosius, a praetorian prefect of Gaul; but some scholars identify his father as an official named Uranius who received an imperial constitution dated 3 February 339 (addressed in a brief extract from one of the three emperors ruling in 339, Constantine II, Constantius II, or Constans, in the Codex Theodosianus, book XI.5).

His mother was a woman of intellect and piety and a member of the Roman family Aurelii Symmachi, and thus Ambrose was cousin of the orator Quintus Aurelius Symmachus. He was the youngest of three children, who included Marcellina and Satyrus (who is the subject of Ambrose’s De excessu fratris Satyri), also venerated as saints. There is a legend that as an infant, a swarm of bees settled on his face while he lay in his cradle, leaving behind a drop of honey. His father considered this a sign of his future eloquence and honeyed tongue. For this reason, bees and beehives often appear in the saint’s symbology.

About the year 354 Ambrosius, the father, died, whereupon the family moved to Rome. There he studied literature, law, and rhetoric. He then followed in his father’s footsteps and entered public service. Praetorian Prefect Sextus Claudius Petronius Probus first gave him a place in the council and then in about 372 made him governor of Liguria and Emilia, with headquarters at Milan. In 286 Diocletian had moved the capital of the Western Roman Empire from Rome to Mediolanum (Milan).

Ambrose was the Governor of Aemilia-Liguria in northern Italy until 374, when he became the Bishop of Milan. Ambrose was a very popular political figure, and since he had been the Governor in the effective capital in the Roman West, he was a recognizable figure in the court of Valentinian I.

Bishop of Milan

In the late 4th century there was a deep conflict in the diocese of Milan between the Nicene Church and Arians. In 374 the bishop of Milan, Auxentius, an Arian, died, and the Arians challenged the succession. Ambrose went to the church where the election was to take place, to prevent an uproar, which was probable in this crisis. His address was interrupted by a call, “Ambrose, bishop!”, which was taken up by the whole assembly.

Ambrose was known to be Nicene Christian in belief, but also acceptable to Arians due to the charity shown in theological matters in this regard. At first he energetically refused the office, for which he was in no way prepared: Ambrose was neither baptized nor formally trained in theology. Upon his appointment, Ambrose fled to a colleague’s home seeking to hide. Upon receiving a letter from the Emperor Gratian praising the appropriateness of Rome appointing individuals evidently worthy of holy positions, Ambrose’s host gave him up. Within a week, he was baptized, ordained and duly consecrated bishop of Milan.

As bishop, he immediately adopted an ascetic lifestyle, apportioned his money to the poor, donating all of his land, making only provision for his sister Marcellina (who had become a nun). This raised his popularity even further, giving him considerable political leverage over even the emperor. Upon the unexpected appointment of Ambrose to the episcopate, his brother Satyrus resigned a prefecture in order to move to Milan, where he took over managing the diocese’s temporal affairs.

In 383 Gratian was assassinated at Lyon, France, and Paulinus of Nola, who had served as governor of Campania, went to Milan to attend the school of Ambrose.

Arianism

Ambrose studied theology with Simplician, a presbyter of Rome.Using to his advantage his excellent knowledge of Greek, which was then rare in the West, he studied the Old Testament and Greek authors like Philo, Origen, Athanasius, and Basil of Caesarea, with whom he was also exchanging letters. He applied this knowledge as preacher, concentrating especially on exegesis of the Old Testament, and his rhetorical abilities impressed Augustine of Hippo, who hitherto had thought poorly of Christian preachers.

In the confrontation with Arians, Ambrose sought to theologically refute their propositions, which were contrary to the Nicene creed and thus to the officially defined orthodoxy. The Arians appealed to many high level leaders and clergy in both the Western and Eastern empires. Although the western Emperor Gratian supported orthodoxy, the younger Valentinian II, who became his colleague in the Empire, adhered to the Arian creed. Ambrose did not sway the young prince’s position. In the East, Emperor Theodosius I likewise professed the Nicene creed; but there were many adherents of Arianism throughout his dominions, especially among the higher clergy.

In this contested state of religious opinion, two leaders of the Arians, bishops Palladius of Ratiaria and Secundianus of Singidunum, confident of numbers, prevailed upon Gratian to call a general council from all parts of the empire. This request appeared so equitable that he complied without hesitation. However, Ambrose feared the consequences and prevailed upon the emperor to have the matter determined by a council of the Western bishops. Accordingly, a synod composed of thirty-two bishops was held at Aquileia in the year 381. Ambrose was elected president and Palladius, being called upon to defend his opinions, declined. A vote was then taken and Palladius and his associate Secundianus were deposed from their episcopal offices.

Nevertheless, the increasing strength of the Arians proved a formidable task for Ambrose. In 385 or 386 the emperor and his mother Justina, along with a considerable number of clergy and laity, especially military, professed Arianism. They demanded two churches in Milan, one in the city (the Basilica of the Apostles), the other in the suburbs (St Victor’s), be allocated to the Arians. Ambrose refused and was required to answer for his conduct before the council.He went, his eloquence in defense of the Church reportedly overawing the ministers of Valentinian, so he was permitted to retire without making the surrender of the churches. The day following, when he was performing divine service in the basilica, the prefect of the city came to persuade him to give up at least the Portian basilica in the suburbs. As he still refused, certain deans or officers of the court were sent to take possession of the Portian basilica, by hanging up in it imperial escutcheons to prepare for the arrival of the emperor and his mother at the ensuing festival of Easter.

In spite of Imperial opposition, Ambrose declared, “If you demand my person, I am ready to submit: carry me to prison or to death, I will not resist; but I will never betray the church of Christ. I will not call upon the people to succour me; I will die at the foot of the altar rather than desert it. The tumult of the people I will not encourage: but God alone can appease it.”

In 386 Justina and Valentinian received the Arian bishop Auxentius the younger, and Ambrose was again ordered to hand over a church in Milan for Arian usage. Ambrose and his congregation barricaded themselves inside the church, and the imperial order was rescinded.

Imperial relations

The imperial court was displeased with the religious principles of Ambrose, though his aid was soon solicited by the Emperor. When Magnus Maximus usurped the supreme power in Gaul, and was meditating a descent upon Italy, Valentinian sent Ambrose to dissuade him from the undertaking, and the embassy was successful.

A second later embassy was unsuccessful. The enemy entered Italy and Milan was taken. Justina and her son fled but Ambrose remained at his post and did good service to many of the sufferers by causing the plate of the church to be melted for their relief.

Theodosius I, the emperor of the East, espoused the cause of Justina, and regained the kingdom. Theodosius was excommunicated by Ambrose for the massacre of 7,000 people at Thessalonica in 390, after the murder of the Roman governor there by rioters. Ambrose told Theodosius to imitate David in his repentance as he had imitated him in guilt, and he readmitted the emperor to the Eucharist only after several months of penance. This shows the strong position of a bishop in the western part of the empire, even when facing a strong emperor. The controversy of John Chrysostom with a much weaker emperor a few years later in Constantinople led to a crushing defeat of the bishop.

In 392, after the death of Valentinian II and the fall of Eugenius, Ambrose supplicated the emperor for the pardon of those who had supported Eugenius after Theodosius was eventually victorious.

Attitude towards Jews

In his treatise on Abraham, Ambrose warns against intermarriage with pagans, Jews, or heretics. In 388, Emperor Theodosius the Great was informed that a crowd of Christians, led by their bishop, had destroyed the synagogue at Callinicum on the Euphrates. He ordered the synagogue rebuilt at the expense of the bishop, but Ambrose persuaded Theodosius to retreat from this position. He wrote to the Emperor, pointing out that he was thereby “exposing the bishop to the danger of either acting against the truth or of death”; in the letter “the reasons given for the imperial rescript are met, especially by the plea that the Jews had burnt many churches”. Ambrose, referring to a prior incident where Magnus Maximus issued an edict censuring Christians in Rome for burning down a Jewish synagogue, warned Theodosius that the people in turn exclaimed “the emperor has become a Jew”, implying that if Theodosius attempted to apply the law to protect his Jewish subjects he’d be viewed similarly. In the course of the letter Ambrose speaks of the clemency that the emperor had shown with regard to the many houses of wealthy people and churches that had been destroyed by unruly mobs, with many then still not restored and then adds: “There is, then, no adequate cause for such a commotion, that the people should be so severely punished for the burning of a building, and much less since it is the burning of a synagogue, a home of unbelief, a house of impiety, a receptacle of folly, which God Himself has condemned. For thus we read, where the Lord our God speaks by the mouth of the prophet Jeremiah: ‘And I will do to this house, which is called by My Name, wherein ye trust, and to the place which I gave to you and to your fathers, as I have done to Shiloh, and I will cast you forth from My sight, as I cast forth your brethren, the whole seed of Ephraim. And do not thou pray for that people, and do not thou ask mercy for them, and do not come near Me on their behalf, for I will not hear thee. Or seest thou not what they do in the cities of Judah?'[Jeremiah 7:14] God forbids intercession to be made for those.” Yet, Ambrose did not oppose punishing those who were directly responsible for destroying the synagogue.

In his exposition of Psalm 1, Ambrose says: “Virtues without faith are leaves, flourishing in appearance, but unproductive. How many pagans have mercy and sobriety but no fruit, because they do not attain their purpose! The leaves speedily fall at the wind’s breath. Some Jews exhibit purity of life and much diligence and love of study, but bear no fruit and live like leaves.”

Attitude towards pagans

Under his influence, emperors Gratian, Valentinian II and Theodosius I carried on a persecution of paganism; Theodosius issued the 391 “Theodosian decrees,” which with increasing intensity outlawed pagan practices.The Altar of Victory was removed by Gratian. Ambrose prevailed upon Gratian, Valentinian and Theodosius to reject requests to restore the altar.

Later years and death

In April 393 Arbogast, magister militum of the West and his puppet Emperor Eugenius, marched into Italy to consolidate their position in regard to Theodosius I and his son, Honorius, whom Theodosius had appointed Augustus to govern the western portion of the empire. Arbogast and Eugenius courted Ambrose’s support by very obliging letters; but before they arrived at Milan, he had retired to Bologna, where he assisted at the translation of the relics of Saints Vitalis and Agricola. From there he went to Florence, where he remained until Eugenius withdrew from Milan to meet Theodosius in the Battle of the Frigidus in early September 394.

Soon after acquiring the undisputed possession of the Roman Empire, Theodosius died at Milan in 395, and two years later (4 April 397) Ambrose also died. He was succeeded as bishop of Milan by Simplician. Ambrose’s body may still be viewed in the church of Saint Ambrogio in Milan, where it has been continuously venerated – along with the bodies identified in his time as being those of Saints Gervase and Protase.

Source: Wikipedia