St. Ambrose was a small man with pale
yellow hair like a nimbus. In the violence and confusion of
his time, he stood out courageously resisting evil,
strengthening the Church, and administering it with
extraordinary ability. His learning gained for him the title
of Doctor of the Church.
When Ambrose had governed at Milan for two years, the bishop
died, and the city was torn by strife over the election of a
successor. When he stood up to protest a voice suddenly
called out, "Ambrose, bishop! On December 7, 374, he was
consecrated. The new bishop now gave his possessions to the
poor and his lands to the Church, reserving only a small
income for the use of his sister Marcellina.
Conscious of his ignorance of theology, Ambrose began to
study the Scriptures and the works of religious writers,
particularly Origen and Basil.
When Augustine of Hippo came to live at Milan, he called on
the bishop, and in time the two became great friends.
Augustine went often to hear Ambrose preach, and was at last
baptized by him. One of Ambrose's topics was the blessing
and virtue of virginity, when chosen for God's sake. At the
request of Marcellina, he made a popular manual of his
sermons on this subject.
When Ambrose fell sick, he foretold his own death, saying he
would live only until Easter. He busied himself writing a
treatise called 'The Goodness of Death', and with an
interpretation of the Forty-third Psalm.
On Good Friday, 397, he partook of the Last Sacrament, and
died soon after. He was then about fifty-seven and had been
bishop for twenty-two years. His remains now rest under the
high altar of his basilica, where they were placed in 835.
Ambrose's varied writings influenced the development of the
Church. He was the first of the Fathers to use Latin
effectively, and as the Roman Empire declined in the West he
helped to keep this great language alive by starting it on
its new course in the service of Christianity. He enriched
Church music, and seven of the hymns he wrote are still a
part of the liturgy. His personality combined firmness where
God's law was concerned with warmth, moderation, and
generosity in all else. Trusted by sovereigns, loved by the
people, Ambrose was-to quote Augustine's words after their
first meeting—"a man affectionate and kind."