Ambrose, Saint

Ambrose, Saint ămˈbrōz [key], 340?–397, bishop of Milan, Doctor of the Church, b. Trier, of Christian parents. Educated at Rome, he became (c.372) governor of Liguria and Aemilia—with the capital at Milan. He was highly regarded as governor and popular pressure resulted in his appointment (374) as bishop, although he was reluctant and lacked religious training. After much study he became the chief Catholic opponent of Arianism in the West. He was adviser to Emperor Gratian, whom he persuaded to outlaw (379) all heresy in the West. He firmly refused the demands of Justina and the young Emperor Valentinian II to surrender a church of his diocese to the Arians. “The Emperor,” he preached, “is in the Church, not above it.” He excommunicated Theodosius I for the massacre at Salonica (390) and imposed a heavy public penance on him before reinstating him. Ambrose's eloquent preaching spurred the conversion of St. Augustine. His writings have come down to us largely from his hearers. They reveal wide classical learning, knowledge of patristic literature, and a Roman bent toward the ethical and practical. Of his formal works, On the Duties of the Clergy (De officiis ministrorum) shows the influence of Cicero; On the Christian Faith (De fide) was written at Gratian's request. Ambrose's method of biblical interpretation was allegorical, following Philo and Origen. About 386 he arranged hymns and psalms for the congregation to sing antiphonally. A plainsong called Ambrosian chant is attached to his name. His hymns, written in the iambic dimeter that became standard in Western hymnody, were widely imitated. Only a few are extant. The Ambrosian Rite used in Milan today is probably a development of a liturgy Ambrose introduced. Feast: Dec. 7.

See biography by A. Paredi (1964); C. Morino, Church and State in the Teaching of St. Ambrose (1969).

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