Sunday, 1 February 2009

Saint Ambrose

NAME Ambrose (Aurelius Ambrose)

WHAT FAMOUS FOR Early Church Father

BIRTH b340 Trier, South Gaul, now Germany.

FAMILY BACKGROUND Ambrose came from a noble Roman family. His father was a Roman prefect in Gaul and his mother was (so we're told) a woman of intellect and piety.

CHILDHOOD Like all infants, little Ambrose made a loud noise at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other.
There is a legend that when he was a baby, a swarm of bees settled on little Ambrose's face while he lay in his cradle, leaving behind a drop of honey. His father considered this a sign of his future honeyed-tongued eloquence.

EDUCATION Ambrose was early destined to follow his father's career, and accordingly had a classical education in Rome, where he studied law.
On being appointed Bishop of Milan in 374, Ambrose he put himself under the instruction of Saint Simplician to lean Scripture and Theology.

CAREER RECORD Here's a brief CV of Ambrose.
370 Appointed a Consular Magistrate in Upper Italy with his headquarters at Milan. In this office Ambrose's kindness and wisdom won the esteem and love of the people.
374 Appointed Bishop of Milan. Ambrose became the most distinguished Ecclesiastic in Italy despite having no priesthood experience. Why he was appointed, you'll just have to be patient- all will be revealed before the end of this trivial biography.

CHARACTER Ambrose was elegant, civilised, kind, wise, an efficient administrator.

SENSE OF HUMOUR Saint Ambrose gave St Augustine the following advice "When in Rome, live as the Romans do, when elsewhere live as they do elsewhere." Not the funniest quip you've ever heard, but 1,500 years down the line it remains a well known saying.

RELATIONSHIPS Ambrose was a good friend of Monica, St Augustine's mother. He was instrumental in Augustine's conversion.
Ambrose, it appears, remained celibate all his life. He viewed virginity as superior to marriage and is alleged to have founded an institution for virgins in Rome. However, Augustine reports in his Confessions that celibacy was not easy. He wrote: "Ambrose himself I esteemed a happy man, as the world counted happiness, because great personages held him in honor. Only his celibacy appeared to me a painful burden."

MONEY On being appointed bishop, Ambrose immediately gave his property to the poor and having swet the example, from then on he often reproached the wealthy for ignoring the poor. When the Goths invaded the Empire and took captives and hostages, Ambrose took all the gold vessels belonging to the church and melted them down in order to raise the ransom money to buy back the captives. He argued that the church possessed gold not to hoard but to use to help the unfortunate.

MUSIC AND ARTS Ambrose was musical and composed several hymns, which each had eight four-line stanzas. The best known is the hymn "Te Deum," which is based on the text "Te Deum Laudamus", ("We praise thee O God"). It is claimed it originated when Ambrose was baptising St Augustine. He improvised the hymn starting with the words "Te Deum Laudamus."
Troubled that in the Mass one individual sang all the Psalms and hymns whilst the congregation merely listened. Ambrose introduced to the western church congregational singing, antiphonal singing which allowed congregation to sing alternating parts of the music.
The story goes that the first recorded instance of communal singing in church was during a sit in of the Milan Basilica when the congregation had locked themselves inside. They had been forced into this action as the Empress, Justina, was demanding that Ambrose’s basilica be handed over for Arian worship, sending imperial troops to fulfil this by starving the distressed congregation out. On Palm Sunday, Ambrose preached a sermon about not giving up churches. In order to calm the people, the musical bishop taught them to sing the hymns he had composed and he split the congregation in two in order to alternate verses of the hymns. Hearing this the hearts of the soldiers softened, they joined in the singing and ended the siege. Surprisingly this story has yet to be made into a musical.
Such was Ambrose's speaking and preaching ability that the title "Honey Tongued Doctor" was bestowed upon him. However it is denied by musical historians that it was Ambrose who composed "The Bee Song."

LITERATURE Clever clogs Ambrose was also a poet and a writer of a number of exegetical treatises plus a manual of Christian morality.
Ambrose was one of the first people to practise silent reading. Most of his contemporaries, including Augustine, thought it was impossible to read without translating the words into sound and mouthing them. Augustine was clearly impressed that Ambrose had this skill. He wrote in Confessions: "When [Ambrose] read, his eyes scanned the page and his heart sought out the meaning, but his voice was silent and his tongue was still. Anyone could approach him freely and guests were not commonly announced, so that often, when we came to visit him, we found him reading like this in silence, for he never read aloud."

NATURE Saint Ambrose is recognised by the Catholic church as the patron saint of bee keepers, bees and domestic animals. Ambrose's association with bees was due to his title "Honey Tongued Doctor."

PHILOSOPHY & THEOLOGY I promised to tell you the story of how Ambrose came to be appointed the Bishop of Milan, so are you sitting comfortably? 374AD was a difficult year in the diocese of Milan. Heresies were threatening to divide the church and the two sides, the Arians and the Catholics couldn't agree on fundamental theological issues. When Auxentius, the Bishop of Milan died, everything came to a head. Should an Arian or Catholic bishop be elected? Ambrose, who was at the time, the Roman governor for the area, fearing an uproar, went to the basilica where the election was due to take place and made a speech urging the people to make their choice peacefully. The governor was completely thrown when a crowd started shouting “Ambrose for Bishop!” He run away, appealing to the Emperor that as he hadn't any theological training or even been baptized he was surely not the right man for the job. However because Ambrose was acceptable to both parties, the emperor believed him to be the right man. The theologically neutral governor hid in a senator’s house before reluctantly accepting the decision. Ambrose was baptized, ordained and consecrated within a week before proceeding, as an example to his flock, to give away his property to the poor.
The honey-tongued Ambrose's preaching helped convert Saint Augustine of Hippo, whom Ambrose baptized and brought into the Church. A man of strong principals, he bravely denied admission to the church to the Eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius for eight months after he had ordered a massacre of rebels in Thessalonica, who had burned down a synagogue. The emperor later recanted. The former lawyer student remained as the Bishop of Milan until his death of natural causes in 397, having . successfully used his legal and oratory skills to combat the Arian heresy.

MILITARY RECORD When the Emperor Valentinian I, who was a man of peace, died, the Arian Empress Justina became a regent for her 4 year old son imaginativly named Valentinian II. Maximum, a Roman soldier, threatened to stage a coup but Ambrose told him to buzz off and persuaded him not to invade. In 385 Justina showed her appreciation for Ambrose's diplomatic efforts by demanding Ambrose's basilica be handed over to Arian worship sending soldiers to help persuade the bishop. Ambrose refused to give up the temple of God and and said that God sent soldiers not to fight but to pray. On Palm Sunday, Ambrose preached a sermon about not giving up churches. The honey-tongued bishop and the fearful congregation barracaded themselves in the basilica and the imperial troops surrounded it attempting to starve the people out. Ambrose got the scared congregation to sing outside, the hearts of the soldiers outside softened, they joined in the prayers and ended the siege.

DEATH Ambrose died of natural causes on April 4th 397 at about the age of 57. It is not clear what year he was born, if you come across his birth certificate, could you let me know?

ACHIEVEMENTS Quite a few achievements to list, so lets get started...
1. Ambrose established the regular use of hymns and Psalms in Western Christian liturgy by opening up singing to the church congregation. He devised the Ambrosian chant which is still used in Milan and originated Te Deum which is still used in Roman Catholic liturgy.
2. The fluent and powerful orator was influential in Saint Augustine's conversion.
3. Saint Ambrose is the Patron Saint of Milan and his Feast Day December 7th, was the date of his ordination.
4. The Ambrosian library in Milan, which was founded in 1609 and contains priceless manuscripts, is named after him.
5. Ambrose is recognised as one of the original four Doctors of the Church, along with Augustine, Jerome and Pope Gregory II.
6. Having originally ran away from God's call, when Ambrose accepted it he dedicated himself completely to it.
7. Ambrose helped establish the medieval concept of a Christian Emperor serving under orders from Christ and so subject to advice of his Bishop.
8. And did I mention that he was honey tongued...?

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