Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo
Image of St. Ambrose

Facts

Death: 397


At 33 Ambrose had it all - a successful career as a lawyer, an important position as governor of Milan, the approval and friendship of the emperor, and a large estate.

Then the bishop of Milan died. At this time, about 374, heresies threatened to destroy the Church. The bishop had supported the Arian heresy that argued against the divinity of Christ. Who would take his place - an Arian or a Catholic? Both sides met in the cathedral and a riot broke out.

Public order was Ambrose's responsibility as governor so he hurried to the church and made a passionate speech not in favor of either side, but in favor of peace. He begged the people to make their choice without fighting, using restraint and moderation.

Suddenly, while he was speaking, a voice called out, "Ambrose for bishop!" Soon everyone was shouting, "Ambrose for bishop!"

The other bishops of the province were only too glad to have this controversial decision taken out of their hands. But Ambrose was not about to give up a successful career for the dangerous position of bishop - a life- threatening occupation in these heretical times. So Ambrose ran away. When he appealed to the emperor to overturn the decision on the basis that he hadn't even been baptized yet, the emperor answered that he was happy that he chose governors fit for the episcopal office. Ambrose hid in a senator's house but the senator surrendered Ambrose when he heard about the emperor's decision.

With nowhere else to run, Ambrose gave in. Since he'd been forced to take the position, no one would have been surprised if he'd decided to keep on living the way that he had before ordination. Instead, Ambrose immediately gave his property to the poor and put himself under the instruction of Saint Simplician to learn Scripture and theology.

The Arians thought Ambrose would be "their" bishop because Ambrose had been a member of court and many in government were Arians. But Ambrose used his skills as a lawyer and orator to fight the Arians in church, court, senate, and even the emperor's own family. The same stubbornness that had made him refuse the position in the first place was now his weapon in fighting heresy and pursuing sanctity.

Ambrose's Treasure

When the Goths invaded the empire and took captives, Ambrose paid out all the money he had in ransom. He said the best and most effective charity was ransoming captives and hostages. He even took all gold vessels belonging to the Church and had them melted down. He said, "It is a better thing to save souls for the Lord than to save treasures. He who sent forth his apostles without gold had not need of gold to form his Church. The Church possesses gold, not to hoard, but to scatter abroad and come to the aid of the unfortunate.

"Would not the Lord say to us: 'Why have you let so many needy perish of hunger? Since you had gold, you should provide for their needs'...Could we say: 'I feared to leave the temple of God without ornament.' But that which can't be bought with gold does not take its value from gold. The best way to use the gold of the Redeemer is for the redemption of those in peril."

Ambrose always was more concerned for the poor than for power. He often reproached the wealthy for ignoring the poor: "God created the universe in such a manner that all in common might derive their food from it, and that the earth should also be a property common to all. Why do you reject one who has the same rights over nature as you? It is not from your own goods that you give to the beggar; it is a portion of his own that you are restoring to him. The earth belongs to all. So you are paying back a debt and think you are making a gift to which you are not bound."

Sentenced to Death

When the emperor died, the Empress Justina, an Arian, became regent for her four year old son. Maximus, a former Roman soldier, realized the emperor's death might weaken the empire enough for his army to conquer it. Justina begged Ambrose to negotiate with him. In spite of the fact that she was his enemy, Ambrose went on a diplomatic mission that convinced Maximus not to invade.

Justina's idea of showing gratitude to Ambrose was to demand that Ambrose's basilica be handed over to the Arians. Ambrose answered that he would never give up the temple of God.

The people were on Ambrose's side. It is possible he could have even started a coup to overthrow Justina. But Ambrose was careful never to say or do anything to start violence. When Catholics seized an Arian priest and were going to put him to death, Ambrose intervened in the name of peace and prayed God suffer no blood to be shed. He sent out priests and deacons to rescue his Arian enemy.

Ambrose said, "When I was told the church was surrounded with soldiers I said I cannot give it up but I must not fight." The soldiers came in to the basilica - but they came in to pray.

Justina then persuaded her son to make a law legalizing Arians and forbidding Catholics to oppose Arians under pain of death. No one could even present a petition against a church being yielded up.

On Palm Sunday, Ambrose preached a sermon about not giving up churches. The congregation, afraid for their lives, barricaded themselves in the basilica with their pastor Ambrose. The imperial troops surrounded the basilica in an attempt to starve them out, but on Easter Sunday all the people were still inside.

In the face of arms and soldiers, Ambrose said, "My only arms are my tears. I will never depart willingly but I won't resist by force."

In order to calm the frightened people Ambrose taught them to sing hymns he had composed. He split the congregation in two in order to alternate verses of the hymns. This is our first record of communal singing in church.

The music of praise and prayer seeped out through the walls of the basilica and into the hearts of the soldiers. Soon the soldiers outside joined in the singing. The siege ended.

The Other Cheek

With the military concentrated on fighting Catholics, Maximus decided Rome was ready for an invasion. Justina and her son were panic-stricken. What could they do?

They turned to one person they knew could handle the mission - the person they had just attacked and threatened. They asked Ambrose to go to Maximus again and stop his invasion.

Who would have blamed Ambrose for refusing?

In a miraculous act of forgiveness, Ambrose went on this mission for his enemies. When Maximus refused to compromise, Ambrose hurried home to warn them. Justina and her son fled to Greece, while Ambrose stayed behind. Fortunately, the eastern Emperor Theodosius intervened and defeated Maximus. However, Theodosius then took over control of the whole empire. Theodosius was Catholic and became a lifelong friend of Ambrose.

Ambrose died in 397, at about the age of 57. His memorial is celebrated on December 7, the date of his ordination.


More about St. Ambrose from Wikipedia

St. Ambrose Video from YouTube

St. Ambrose Comments




More Saints





Browse Saints by Category


Popular Saints

Rank

Saint

74.

Image of St. Mark

St. Mark

The second Gospel was written by St. Mark, who, in the New Testament, is sometimes called John Mark. Both he and his mother, Mary, were highly esteemed in the early Church, and his mother's ... continue reading

75.

Image of St. Helena

St. Helena

Empress mother of Constantine the Great. She was a native of Bithynia, who married the then Roman general Constantius I Chlorus about 270. Constantine was born soon after, and in 293, ... continue reading

76.

Image of St. Gertrude the Great

St. Gertrude the Great

St. Gertrude the Great is invoked for souls in purgatory and for living sinners. Our Lord told St. Gertrude that the following prayer would release 1000 souls from purgatory each time it is ... continue reading

All Popular Saints

Saint of the Day

Image of St. Matthew

St. Matthew

St. Matthew, one of the twelve Apostles, is the author of the first Gospel. This has been the constant tradition of the Church and is confirmed by the Gospel itself. He was the son of Alpheus and was ... continue reading

More Saint of the Day
September 2014
S M T W T F S
123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
282930

Saint of the Day by E-Mail

Saint of the Day newsletter icon

Learn about the lives of the saints and other saint resources, including a calendar, over 5,000 saint biographies, our most popular saints, and a list of patron saints. 7 days / week. See Sample


Required


Female Saints

Image of St. Agatha

St. Agatha

Although we have evidence that Agatha was venerated at least as far back as the sixth century, the only facts we have about her are that she was born in Sicily and died there a martyr. In the legend of her life, we are told that she belonged to a rich, important ... continue reading

More Female Saints



Saint Calendar
Saint Feast Days
Saint Fun Facts

Angels

Image of St. Michael the Archangel

St. Michael the Archangel

St. Michael the Archangel - Feast day - September 29th The name Michael signifies "Who is like to God?" and was the warcry of the good angels in the battle fought in heaven against satan and his followers. Holy Scripture describes St. Michael as "one of the chief ... continue reading


Image of St. Gabriel, the Archangel

St. Gabriel, the Archangel

The name Gabriel means "man of God," or "God has shown himself mighty." It appears first in the prophesies of Daniel in the Old Testament. The angel announced to Daniel the prophecy of the seventy weeks. His name also occurs in the apocryphal book of Henoch. He was the ... continue reading



Saints Fun Facts

Saints Fun Facts for St. Felix of Nola

St. Felix of Nola

Felix was the son of Hermias, a Syrian who had been a Roman soldier. He was born on his father's estate at Nola near Naples, Italy. On the death of his father, Felix distributed his inheritance to ... continue reading

Saints Fun Facts for St. Andre Bessette

St. Andre Bessette

When Alfred Bessette came to the Holy Cross Brothers in 1870, he carried with him a note from his pastor saying, "I am sending you a saint." The Brothers found that difficult to believe. Chronic ... continue reading



Christian Saints & Heroes

Image of The blessed Cyprian suffered martyrdom on 14 September, under the emperors Valerian and Gallienus, but in the reign of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom is honor and glory for ever. Amen.

Pope Cornelius and Bishop Cyprian are Examples for this Age of Martyrs

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

God and his angels look down upon us; Christ, who looks on as we do battle in the contest of faith. What great dignity and glory are ours, what happiness to struggle in the presence of God and to be crowned by Christ our judge. Let us be armed with a great ... continue reading

More Christian Saints & Heroes


Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Isaiah 55:6-9
6 Seek out Yahweh while he is still to be found, call ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18
2 Day after day I shall bless you, I shall praise ... Read More

Gospel, Matthew 20:1-16
1 'Now the kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner ... Read More

Reading 2, Philippians 1:20-24, 27
20 all in accordance with my most confident hope and ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for September 21st, 2014 Image

St. Matthew
September 21: St. Matthew, one of the twelve Apostles, is the author of the ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter