Today we continue our regular series called “Learning from the Saints.” Our guide is expert Bert Ghezzi, a dear friend of mine and the author of numerous books including Voices of the Saints, Saints at Heart, and Discover Christ: Developing a Personal Relationship with Jesus.
Today, Bert profiles the magnanimous St. Ambrose, the fourth-century Doctor of the Church and patron saint of students.
“Ambrose for bishop!” someone shouted, and the whole assembly picked up the chant. St. Ambrose was flabbergasted. He was only a catechumen, thus not yet baptized, and had no desire to become bishop. As the governor, he had come to the church in order to pacify the Catholics and the Arian party as they chose a new bishop for Milan. Ambrose tried to evade the election, but the people prevailed. He was first baptized, then a week later was consecrated bishop on December 7, 374.
Ambrose’s first action as bishop was to divest himself of his wealth. He gave his money to the poor and his property to the church. He appointed St. Satyrus, his brother, to be his administrator, so that he could focus on the spiritual welfare of his people. Realizing that his Christian education was incomplete, he immersed himself in the study of Scripture and the church fathers.
As bishop, Ambrose modeled prayer, kindness, and holiness for his flock. His door was always open, and every day people lined up for his help and counsel. When St. Augustine visited Milan in 386, Ambrose was instrumental in his conversion, probably as much by his witness as his words.
In his extensive writings in defense of the faith, Ambrose successfully used his classical education to give rational explanations of Christian truths. But his teaching always had a practical side, as the following selection shows:
“Perhaps you wonder, ‘Why are the wicked joyous? Why do they live in luxury? Why don’t they have to strive like I do?’
“The reason is that they who have not signed up to strive for the crown are not required to undergo the labors of the contest. Those who haven’t gone down to the track don’t smear themselves with oil, nor get covered with dust.
Trouble comes only to those on their way to glory. The perfumed spectators prefer to watch, not to join in the struggle, nor to endure the sun, the heat, the dust, and the rain.
“So those who have devoted themselves to pleasures, luxury, robbery, gain, or honors are spectators rather than combatants. They have the profit of labor but the not the fruits of virtue. They love their ease. By cunning and wickedness they heap up riches. But they will pay the penalty of their iniquity, though it be late in coming.
Their rest will be in hell, yours in paradise. Thus, Job said beautifully that they watch in the tomb (see Job 21:32), for they cannot have the calm of quiet rest that he enjoys who shall rise again.”
St. Ambrose was embroiled in the high politics of the Roman Empire. He resisted the attempts of powerful Arians to get control of church buildings. And within a decade he had purged the Arian heresy from Milan.
In 383, the Empress Justina sent him on a diplomatic mission to prevent the usurper Maximus from attacking Rome. Ambrose successfully persuaded him to confine himself to Gaul, Spain, and Britain. When the Christian emperor Theodosius had 7,000 Thessalonians executed as a reprisal, Ambrose required him to do public penance. He once said, “The emperor is in the church, not over it,” and he stuck by it.
St. Ambrose died on Good Friday, 397.
O God, Creation’s secret Force,
Yourself unmov’d, all motion’s source,
Who from the morn till evening’s ray,
Through all its changes guid’st the day:
Grant us, when this short life is past,
The glorious evening that shall last:
That by a holy death attain’d
Eternal glory may be gain’d.
(Image Credit: Western Humanities)
Read more from Bert at his website www.BertGhezzi.com, or check out his many books on Amazon.