Ambrose was the governor of northern Italy, when the Bishop of Milan died. Fearing that there would be rioting between the Arian and Catholic factions, he attended the meeting to help maintain calm between the warring factions. He appealed for order and good will on both sides, and someone cried out, “Ambrose, bishop.” He resisted this calling as he was not even baptised, though a catholic. When a letter appeared suggesting that Rome should appoint the bishop of Milan, he yielded and was baptised, confirmed, and ordained deacon, presbyter, and bishop on successive days.
Ambrose was often in dispute with the emperor and many of the imperial family, of whom many (and the majority of the soldiers as well) were Arians (Arians believe that Jesus was part of the creation, that he is superior to us, but not God., the Jehovah’s Witnesses are one Arian group today.) His political acumen lead to the Catholics triumph and to the deposition of Arian clergy. When soldiers were ordered to take a church in Milan, Ambrose filled it with Christians singing hymns. The soldiers, unwilling to attack a church filled with singing Christians backed down. Ambrose also led the Emperor to public penance after slaying a large group of people who resisted him. More important, a law was passed, allowing for a cooling off period of 40 days between such death penalty decisions and execution. At the same time he encouraged the emperor to forgive his enemies.
Ambrose, while composing many hymns, and translating others from Greek to Latin, is best known for the Ambrosian chant, which he probably did not write, but encouraged. It is said that he wrote the Te Deum, and some of his iambic pentameter hymns are with us today (tune to Praise God from whom all Blessings Flow).
Perhaps he is best known for helping to bring Augustine of Hippo to Christ and baptizing him. But he is also famous for promoting the cause of local liturgy (especially of interest to those of us in the Synod of St. Timothy.) His saying, “When I am in Rome, I fast on Saturday, when I am Milan, I do not…” became shortened in English to, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do,” a far cry from strict liturgical uniformity practiced by many of his time and later.
Ambrose was also well known of being a help to the poor. Of course, he was not perfect and to some extent represented the values of his day. He was hard on Jews and pagans in a way that we are not today, and promoted relics as well. It is also probable that he wrote the Athanasian Creed. In general, as well as defeating the Arians politically, his knowledge of Greek and Hebrew allowed him to defeat them theologically as well, and his death found the Catholics in a much better position in the western Empire. He healed the sick, raised the dead and proclaimed the kingdom. He died April 4, 397, and is entombed in Milan, where his body still may be seen.
Collect: El Shaddai, you raised up Ambrose to keep the peace, to teach the faith and to enrich our worship of you. Be for us Lord, medicine when we are sick, our strength when we need help, the way when we long for heaven, our light when all is dark, and our food when we need nourishment. Send your Ruach haKodesh upon us that we would serve you as Ambrose did. This we ask in the name of Yeshua haMoshiach, who lives and governs with you in Shekina glory everlasting. Amen. (white)