St. Ambrose of Milan
December 7 is the feast day of St. Ambrose of Milan c. 338-397, who was one of the most prominent bishops in the fourth century.
Pope Benedict XVI aptly summarized the life of St. Ambrose.
On that Good Friday of 397, the open arms of the dying Ambrose expressed his mystical participation in the death and resurrection of Our Lord. This was his last catechesis: Without speaking a word, he spoke with the testimony of life.
Ambrose was not old when he died. He was not even 60, for he was born around 340 in Trier, where his father was prefect of the Gauls. The family was Christian. When his father died, and he was still a boy, his mother brought him to Rome to prepare him for a civil career, giving him a solid rhetorical and juridical education. Around 370, he was sent to govern the provinces of Emilia and Liguria, with headquarters in Milan. It was precisely there where the struggle between orthodox Christians and Arians was seething, especially after the death of Auxentius, the Arian bishop. Ambrose intervened to pacify those of both factions, and his authority was such that, despite the fact that he was nothing more than a simple catechumen, he was acclaimed by the people as bishop of Milan.
St. Ambrose had a rare combination of talents. He was a man of deep holiness, a very competent administrator, a diplomat and politician of great skill, a great theologian, and an extraordinary preacher. While his preaching garnered the the respect of his most famous convert when St. Augustine was still a pagan, it was his life that spoke most eloquently.
St. Ambrose used his many talents to combat Arianism, a heresy which taught that Christ was not eternal – that there was a time “when He was not“. It may sound like a minor point but Arianism undermined the core doctrine of Holy Trinity and converted the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit into a loose triad. Arianism not only struck at the core of the Nicene Creed, but it was widely supported by the higher clergy and the ruling class of the Empire.
St. Ambrose played a great role in the development of the Christianity we profess today. He also set a very high standard of personal and professional integrity for bishops and all Christians. His selected writings can be found online at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.