A Garner of Saints – Saint Ambrose

detail of a painting of Saint Ambrose of Milan; date and artist unknown; Vatican Museum, Vatican City, Rome, Italy; swiped with permission from the flickr account of Father Lawrence Lew, OPArticle

(Italian: Ambrogio) Born about 340, son of the prefect of the praetorium of Gaul. It is related that while still a child he was sleeping with his mouth open, when a swarm of bees settled on his head and flew in and out of his mouth. He first studied at Rome, whither his mother had repaired at his father’s death, and as a lawyer won golden opinions by the force of his eloquence. His reputation speedily procured him the post of governor of Liguria and AEmilia. Proceeding to Milan where discords had broken out on the death of the last bishop, an Arian, he exhorted the people to choose a successor wisely, and during the discourse a boy proclaimed Ambrose as bishop. The cry was immediately taken up universally, but Ambrose used all manner of stratagenis to avoid the honour and succeeded in getting away from the city, but he lost his way and was found at the gates. A further attempt proving futile, he was consecrated on 7th December 374. In the exercise of the duties of his office, he endured much opposition from the Empress Justina, who was an Arian. However, he persisted undaunted, and was most successful in all his efforts. One day an unbeliever hearing him preach saw an angel speaking in the bishop’s ear and was immediately converted. A man who wished to kill him at night had his arm withered as he was raising his sword. It happened that the Emperor Theodosius ordered the Thessalonians to be exterminated because in a riot they had stoned his judges. When he came to Milan after this event Ambrose forbade him to enter the church. Threats proved unavailing, the emperor and all his train were obliged to retire, and they remained under an interdict for eight months. At length the emperor submitted and did public penance. After this he wished to enter the chancel on Easter day to take the communion, but was repelled by the bishop, who said that it was reserved for the clerks and that the purple made emperors but not priests. Ambrose foresaw his own death, and announced it to his friends. One night Honorius, Bishop of Vercelli, who was expecting his death, heard a voice which called three times, “Arise, for the time of departure is at hand.” Accordingly he arose and arrived in time to administer the last sacrament to Ambrose, expanding his arms in the shape of the cross. His death occurred in 497 at the age of 56. He was a fierce and unrelenting opponent of the Arians, and hence the symbol of the triple scourge. Among the stories related of him are the following: Once while celebrating mass he fell into a trance and saw the obsequies of Saint Martin of Tours, and was roused by the sacristan. He went to the prefect Macedonius to entreat mercy for a persecuted wretch, but found the doors were shut against him and cried out against the prefect, “Thou also shalt fly to the church for refuge and shalt not enter.” This actually happened some time after, for the prefect being driven to fly for sanctuary could not find the way into the church, although the doors were open, so that he fell into the hands of his pursuers and perished miserably. Among several miracles recorded of Ambrose is one in which he cast a devil .out of a widow’s son; shortly after the boy suddenly died, and on the mother sending for Ambrose, he restored the child to life. He it was who discovered the relics of Saints Gervase and Prothase. 7th December.

Attributes

  • Archbishop’s habit, and carries a triple scourge emblematic of his severities against the Arians, while a beehive is frequently placed beside him.

MLA Citation

  • Allen Banks Hinds, M.A. “Saint Ambrose”. A Garner of Saints, 1900. CatholicSaints.Info. 15 April 2017. Web. 21 October 2017. <>