Saint of the Month

Saint of the Month – Ambrose (feast day 7th December)

God works in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform……..”

Ambrose was the son of the Praetorian Prefect of Gaul so, ‘upper class’.  As a young man he studied Greek, rhetoric and poetry and became a successful lawyer.  He rose through the ranks to attain the governorship of Aemilia and Ligura in 370.

Shortly after his appointment, a bitter row broke out within the Christian community which, upon the death of the Bishop of Milan, fell out over the new appointment.  Ambrose went down to sort them out and promote an orderly election.  As he was speaking someone (it is said, a child) cried out, “Ambrose for bishop!”  To his astonishment both parties took up the shout.  In vain he pleaded his unsuitability.  Although he was known as an upright and respected man as a political leader, he wasn’t even a baptised Christian.  They would not be gainsaid and so, within a week he was baptised, took holy orders and was made Bishop.

Ambrose proved an exemplary bishop.  Not only as an administrator, more importantly as a teacher, teaching daily in his cathedral.  The Church at this time was riven through the fashionable heresy of Arianism.  Ambrose held firm to Catholic faith and guided and rebuked even popes and emperors.  (His rebuke of the Emperor Theodicius led to Theodicius doing public penance).  He reminded the Emperor Valentinian that he was in the Church, not above it.

Two things, however, come down to us in particular.  He was a composer of hymns, and taught his congregation to sing.  We still have four hymns attributed to him in the New English Hymnal, including much loved O strength and stay.

But it was his teaching which has affected the Church, most obviously through one of his pupils.  Brought to study with St Ambrose by his worried mother, a particularly worldly young man was so impressed he agreed at last to his mother’s wish and was baptised.  Augustine, for such it was, went on to become one of the great “Doctors of the Church” and an influence on Catholic thought to this day.



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