Ambrosius , St., bp. of Milan (A.D. 374â€“397). The chief materials for his life are his own works, which include an important collection of letters. Another source is a Life by Paulinus, his notarius or secretary, who had been with him at his death and wrote at the suggestion of St. Augustine. This Life is full of prodigies, and adds hardly anything to what we learn from the works. The letters have been reduced to a chronological order with great care by the Benedictine editors of St. Ambrose, who have also digested the various particulars into a useful biography.
Ambrose's father, who bore the same name, was a Roman of the highest rank, and at the time of St. Ambrose's birth was prefect of the Galliae, a province which included Britain and Spain, and constituted one of the four great praetorian prefectures of the empire. The only datum for determining the year of Ambrose's birth is a passage in one of his letters in which he happens to mention that he is fifty-three years old, and at the same time contrasts the quiet of Campania with the commotions by which he was himself surrounded (Ep. lix. 3). There are two periods to which this description would apply, A.D. 387 or 393. If we assume, as seems most probable, that Ambrose was fifty-three years old in 393, we shall place his birth in 340.
After receiving a liberal education at Rome, Ambrose devoted himself to the profession of the law, which was then the usual path to the highest civil offices (see Gibbon, c. xvii.). He practised at the court of the praetorian prefect of Italy, Probus, who appointed him "consular" magistrate of the provinces of Liguria and Aemilia. He made an admirable magistrate, and became known to the people of Milan, where he held his court, as a high-minded, conscientious, and religious man. Whilst he was discharging his office, Auxentius, whom the Arian party had foisted into the see of Milan, died. The Catholic party had now grown stronger, and a vehement strife arose as to the appointment of a successor to Auxentius. The consular came down to the church to keep the peace and was addressing the people in his character as a civil magistrate, when a cry (which tradition asserts to have been that of a child) was heard, "Ambrose for bishop!" In a moment it struck the whole multitude as a solution in which both parties might acquiesce without the sense of defeat, and a unanimous shout arose, "We will have Ambrose for bishop!" It was a singular choice, even for those rougher and more tumultuous times, for Ambrose was not yet so much as baptized. But he was an earnest Christian in his belief, and had only been kept from seeking baptism by a religious awe, of which there were then many examples. Such an one naturally shrank from being made bishop. With undoubted sincerity, he resisted this popular nomination. He was, he says, raptus a tribunalibus ad sacerdotium de Officiis, i. 4). He was baptized, passed summarily through the intermediate ecclesiastical stages, and on the eighth day was consecrated bp. of Milan. This was in the year 374 (a year after the death of Athanasius, and before the death of Valentinian I.), Ambrose being thirty-four years of age. The vox populi was never more thoroughly justified. The foundation of his excellence was laid in a singular and unsullied purity of character. In the see of Milan Ambrose had found precisely his place, and he laboured indefatigably as its bishop for twenty-three years till his death.
One of his first cares after his ordination was to divest himself of the charge of private property. As a member of a wealthy family he appears to have possessed both money and lands. What he did not give away to the poor or the church or reserve as an income for his sister, he placed entirely under the management of a dearly loved brother named Satyrus. He was thus free to devote his whole energies to the work of his calling. His writings enable us to follow him in both his ordinary and his extraordinary occupations. He was wont to "celebrate the sacrifice" every day (Ep. xx. 15). Every Lord's Day he preached in the Basilica. His extant works consist mainly of addresses and expositions which had been first spoken in the church and were afterwards revised for publication. They bear traces of this mode of composition in their simplicity and naturalness, and also in their popular character and undigested form. Ambrose had to begin, as he ingenuously declares, to learn and to teach at the same time ( de Officiis , lib. i. cap. i. 4.). In doctrine he followed reverently what was of best repute in the church in his time, carefully guarding his own and his people's orthodoxy from all heresy, and urging, but with wholesome, if not always consistent, qualifications, the ascetic religious perfection which the best Christians were then pursuing. The sacred books, for which he had a profound reverence, were to himâ€”what pastoral and didactic theology has always tended to make themâ€”verbal materials for edification, which was to be extracted from them by any and every kind of interpretation to which their letter could be subjected. His writings, therefore, or sermons, are chiefly of interest with reference to the history and character of their author; but they are lively and ingenuous, full of good practical advice, and interspersed with gnomic sentences of much felicity.
One of the secrets of Ambrose's influence over the people was his admission of them into all his interests and cares. He had nothing private from the congregation in the Basilica. The sister Marcellina and the brothers Satyrus and Ambrose (this was the order of their ages) were united together by a remarkable affection. The three loved one another too devotedly to think of marrying. Marcellina became early a consecrated virgin, but continued to feel the keenest and tenderest concern in her brothers' lives. When Ambrose became a bishop, Satyrus appears to have given up an important appointment in order to come and live with his brother and take every secular care off his hands. These domestic virtues of Marcellina and Satyrus we learn from sermons of Ambrose. His discourses on virginity became famous, and attracted virgins from distant parts to receive consecration at his hands. These discourses, in the third year after his ordination, he digested into three books, de Virginibus , which were addressed in their new form to his sister, and which contain, besides much praise of Marcellina, the address made to her at her consecration by the bp. of Rome. A year or two later occurred the death of Satyrus, in the flower of his age. In the depth of his grief Ambrose pronounced a funeral discourse upon his brother (de Excessu Satyri ), which was followed seven days after by a sermon upon the hope of a future life (de Fide Res. ).
The bp. of Milan, exercising the authority of a patriarchate, and presiding over a city which was frequently the residence of the emperor, was a great dignitary. But we cannot fail to recognize the high reputation which Ambrose had won for himself personally and in a surprisingly short period, when we observe the deference paid to him by the emperors of his time. He was certainly fortunate in the sovereigns with whom he had to do. The youths Gratian and Valentinian II., and the great Theodosius, were singularly virtuous and religious princes. Gratian was a boy of sixteen when the death of his father placed him on the throne, and in the year 377, the third of Ambrose's episcopate, he was two years older. In that year he was preparing to go to the assistance of his uncle Valens against the barbarian invaders by whom he was hard pressed; and desiring to be fortified against the arguments of the Arians whom Valens was favouring at Constantinople, he wrote to Ambrose, and asked him to furnish him with a controversial treatise in support of the orthodox faith. Ambrose complied with the pious youth's request by writing two books de Fide. In the following year Gratian wrote a letter, preserved with those of Ambrose, in which he requests another copy of that work, together with an additional argument upon the divinity of the Holy Spirit. In this letter he calls Ambrose parens. Ambrose amplified his former treatise by adding three books to the two he had already composed. This work de Fide was reckoned an important defence of the orthodox faith. The work de Spiritu Sancto , in three books, was written in the year 381.
The successes of the Goths which attended the defeat and death of Valens were the occasion of frightful calamities to the empire. From Illyricum and Thrace, especially, an immense number of captives were carried off by the barbarians, in ransoming whom the whole available resources of the church were exhausted by Ambrose; and when everything else had been taken, he did not scruple to break up and sell the sacramental vessels. He himself relates this fact with pride (de Off. lib. ii. 136, 138). We now see Ambrose zealous in the general affairs of the church, and the leading ecclesiastic of his time. Presiding in the council of Aquileia, 381, he questioned the two Arianizing prelates who were put on their trial before it. Several letters addressed to the emperor at this time in the name of the council of Aquileia or of the Italian episcopate on the general government of the church are preserved amongst Ambrose's letters ( Epp. ix.â€“xii.). When Acholius diedâ€”the bp. of Thessalonica by whom Theodosius had been baptizedâ€”his death was formally announced to Ambrose by the clergy and people of his diocese; and we have two letters in reply, one written to the church and the other to Anysius the new bishop. The next two letters of the collection (xvii., xviii.) are addressed to the emperor Valentinian, after the death of Gratian, to exhort him not to comply with a request of Symmachus, prefect of the city, that he would replace the altar of Victory in the Senate House, and restore the funds for certain heathen ceremonies. Ambrose, whose influence was invoked by the bp. of Rome, protested strongly against any such concessions to paganism; and Victory, as it was said, favoured in the result her enemy more than her champion.
The struggle between Ambrose and Justina, the mother of Valentinian II., which afterwards reached such a height at Milan, had been begun with a preliminary trial of strength about the appointment of a bishop at Sirmium. But when the usurpation of Maximus occurred (A.D. 383), and had been stained by the violent death of Gratian, Justina in her alarm had recourse to the great Catholic bishop, and persuaded him to go on an embassy to Maximus, to beg him to leave Italy untouched. Maximus had Theodosius to deal with behind the boy-emperor and his mother; and his first act, when Gaul had fallen into his hands, was to send to Theodosius and propose to him, instead of war, the partition of the empire. Theodosius was constrained by motives of policy to assent to the proposal; and Ambrose had the comfort of returning to Milan with the announcement that the new emperor would refrain from passing the boundary of the Alps. Allusions are made to this embassy in a letter of Ambrose (Ep. xxiv. 7) in which he reports the less successful issue of a later appeal to Maximus.
One of the chief glories of Ambrose is that St. Augustine ascribed to him his conversion, and sought Christian baptism at his hands. The circumstances of his intercourse with St. Ambrose (A.D. 383â€“387) are related by St. Augustine in his Confessions . He tells us of the singularly eminent position of St. Ambrose (vi. 3), of his reputation for eloquence (vi. 13), of the difficulty of getting an opportunity of conversing with him on account of his many engagements, and his habit of reading to himself when company was present (v. 3), and of his method of expounding the Old Testament by finding under the letter a spiritual or mystical sense (vi. 4).
It was during this period, in the years 385â€“6, that Ambrose defended the churches of Milan so stoutly against the intrusion of Arian worship. Justina, who patronized the languishing Arian party, was bent on obtaining one of the churches at Milan for the use of her friends. Ambrose was not likely to make the concession. How in this matter he resisted the violent efforts of Justina, and the authority of her son (at this time fifteen years of age), is described at length by Ambrose himself in letters to his sister Marcellina and to Valentinian, and in a sermon preached at the crisis of the struggle (Epp. xx. xxi., and the Sermo de Basilicis Tradendis which follows them). There appear to have been two churches at Milan, the one without, the other within, the walls. The former, as of less importance, was first asked for. This being refused, some persons of the court came to Ambrose, and begged him to concedeâ€”probably for partial use onlyâ€”the newer and larger basilica, and to exert his influence to prevent any popular disturbance. For it is important to observe that throughout the struggle the people were on the Catholic side. Ambrose replied loftily that the temple of God could not be surrendered by His priest. The next day, which was Sunday, as Ambrose was officiating in the principal basilica, news came that police-agents had been sent from the palace, who were hanging on the Portian basilica the curtains which marked a building as claimed for the imperial treasury. A part of the multitude hastened thither; Ambrose remained to perform Mass. Then he heard that the people had seized on a certain Arian presbyter, whom they met on the way. Ambrose began to pray with bitter tears that the cause of the church might not be stained with blood; and sent presbyters and deacons, who succeeded in rescuing the prisoner unhurt. Justina, in her irritation, treated the rich men of the city as responsible for a tumult, and threw many of them into prison. The imperial authority was being dangerously strained. Politic officials came to Ambrose and entreated him to give way to the sovereign rights of the emperor; Ambrose replied that the emperor had no rights over what belonged to God. A body of troops was sent to take possession of the basilica, and there was great fear of blood being shed; but after mutual appeals between their officers and Ambrose, the soldiers withdrew, and Ambrose remained all day in the church. At night he went home, and on coming out the next morning he found that the church (the Portian) was surrounded by soldiers. But the soldiers were in awe of Ambrose, and, learning that he had threatened them with excommunication, they began to crowd in, protesting that they came to pray and not to fight. Ambrose took the lesson for the day as the subject of a sermon, and whilst he was preaching he was told that the imperial curtains were taken down. The emperor was worsted by the bishop, and was naturally angry. He sent a secretary to reproach Ambrose, and ask if he meant to make himself a tyrant. Soldiers continued to surround the church, and Ambrose remained there singing psalms with the faithful. The next day the soldiers were withdrawn, and the merchants who had been imprisoned were released. The struggle was over; but Ambrose heard that the emperor had said bitterly to the soldiers, "If Ambrose orders you, you will give me up in chains." He records another saying, which drew from him a retort of characteristic felicity. The court chamberlain sent him a message: "Whilst I am alive, shall you despise Valentinian? I will take off your head." Ambrose answered: "May God grant you to fulfil what you threaten; for then my fate will be that of a bishop, your act will be that of a eunuch."
In the course of the following year the attempts of the Arian party, and of the emperor as at this time governed by that party, were renewed. Ambrose was asked to hold a discussion with Auxentius, an Arian bishop, before chosen judges in the presence of the court, or else to withdraw from Milan. He consulted such bishops and presbyters as were within reach, and in their name wrote a letter to the emperor (Ep. xxi.), declining the discussion. An alarm was spread amongst the people that he was going to be taken away from Milan, and for some days, by night and by day, he was surrounded and watched by an immense concourse of his friends. He preached them a sermon ( de Basilicis Tradendis ), assuring them of his steadfastness, and encouraging them to confidence, and at the same time gave them hymns composed by himself to singâ€”hymns in honour of the Trinityâ€”by which their fervour was greatly stimulated. Again the court party found themselves worsted, and gave way.
The singing of hymns, by which this remarkable occupation of the basilica was characterized, is described by St. Augustine as extremely moving (Conf. vi. 7), and is said by him to have been an imitation of Eastern customs, and to have been followed generally throughout the church. Paulinus also observes that at this time "antiphons, hymns, and vigils began to be performed in the church of Milan, and had spread thence amongst all the churches of the West" ( Vita , 13). The reputation of St. Ambrose as a composer of hymns was such that many certainly not his have been attributed to him, and amongst them the Te Deum. The Benedictine edition gives twelve hymns, which there is some good authority for ascribing to Ambrose, the best known of which are those beginning Aeterne rerum conditor, Deus creator omnium, Veni redemptor gentium, and O lux beata Trinitas. They have a brightness and felicity which have reasonably made them favourites in the church to the present day.
We must take into account the state of mind brought about in the bishop and his flock by that protracted vigil in the basilica, when we read of the miracles into which their triumph over heresy blazed forth. We have a narrative from St. Ambrose's own pen, in a letter to Marcellina (Ep. xxii.), of the wonderful discovery of the remains of two martyrs, and of the cures wrought by them. A basilica was to be dedicated, and Ambrose was longing to find some relics of martyrs. A presage suddenly struck him. (This "presagium" is called a vision by St. Augustine, Conf. lx. 7, de Civ. Dei, xxii. 8.) He caused the ground to be opened in the church that was consecrated by the remains of St. Felix and St. Nabor. Two bodies were found, of wonderful size ( ut prisca aetas ferebat ), the heads severed from the shoulders, the tomb stained with blood. This discovery, so precious to a church "barren of martyrs," was welcomed with the wildest enthusiasm. Old men began to remember that they had heard formerly the names of these martyrsâ€”Gervasius and Protasiusâ€”and had read the title on their grave. Miracles crowded thick upon one another. They were mostly cures of demoniacs, and of sickly persons; but one blind man received his sight. Ambrose himself, for once, eagerly and positively affirms the reality of the cure; and Augustine, who generally held that the age of miracles was past, also bears witness to the common acceptance of the fact at Milan. Gibbon has some excuse for his note, "I should recommend this miracle to our divines, if it did not prove the worship of relics, as well as the Nicene Creed." The Arians, as we learn from Ambrose and Paulinus, made light of the healing of demoniacs, and were sceptical about the blind man's history. The martyrs' bones were carried into the "Ambrosian" Basilica (now the church of St. Ambrogio), and deposited beneath the altar in a place which Ambrose had designed for his own remains.
The memory of this conflict did not restrain Justina and her son from asking help shortly after of Ambrose. It was evident that Maximus was preparing to invade Italy; and as Ambrose had apparently been successful in his former embassy, he was charged with another conciliatory appeal to the same ruler. The magnanimous bishop consented to go, but he was unfavourably received, and having given great offence by abstaining from communion with the bishops who were about Maximus, he was summarily ordered to return home. He reports the failure of his mission in a letter to Valentinian (Ep. xxiv.). It is worthy of remark that the punishment of heresy by death was so hateful to Ambrose that he declined communion with bishops who had been accomplices in it ("qui aliquos, devios licet a fide, ad necem petebant," ib. 12). These bishops had prevailed on Maximus to put to death Priscillianâ€”the first time that heresy was so punished. [See Priscillianus.]
Maximus was not diverted from his project. He crossed the Alps, and Justina, with her son, fled to Theodosius. It was not long before the vigour and ability of Theodosius triumphed over Maximus, who perished in the conflict he had provoked. Ambrose, who withdrew from Milan when Maximus came to occupy it, appears to have been near Theodosius in the hour of victory, and used his influence with him in favour of moderation and clemency, which the emperor, according to his usual habit, displayed in an eminent degree (Ep. xl. 32).But Ambrose unhappily prevailed upon Theodosius to abandon a course which his stricter sense of his duty as a ruler had prompted him to take. In some obscure place in the East the Christians had been guilty of outrages, from which it had often been their lot to suffer. With the support of their bishop, they had demolished a Jewish synagogue and a meeting-house of certain Gnostic heretics. Theodosius, hearing of this violence, had ordered that the bishop should rebuild the synagogue at his own expense, and that the rioters, who were chiefly monks, should be punished at the discretion of the local governor. This order naturally affronted the party spirit of the Christians. Ambrose could not bear that his fellow-believers should be thus humiliated. He wrote a letter to the emperor (who was at Milan, Ambrose being for the moment at Aquileia), entreating him most earnestly to revoke the order. With much that Ambrose says we can sympathize; but he lays down a principle fruitful in disastrous issues: Cedat oportet censura (the functions of the civil ruler) devotioni ( Ep. xl. 11). Shortly after, he had the opportunity of preaching before the emperor at Milan. In a letter to his sister he gives the sermon at length, with its conclusion, addressed directly to the emperor, and begging of him the pardon of those who had been caught in a sin. When he came down from the pulpit, Theodosius said to him, De nobis proposuisti. "Only with a view to your advantage," replied Ambrose. "In truth," continued the emperor, "the order that the bishop should rebuild the synagogue was too hard. But that is amended. The monks commit many crimes." Then he remained silent for a while. At last Ambrose said, "Enable me to offer the sacrifice for thee with a clear conscience." The emperor sat down and nodded, but Ambrose would not be satisfied without extracting a solemn engagement that no further proceedings should be taken in the matter. After this he went up to the altar; "but I should not have gone," adds Ambrose, "unless he had given me his full promise" ( Ep. xli. 28).
About two years later (A.D. 390) the lamentable massacre at Thessalonica gave occasion for a very grand act of spiritual discipline. The commander of the garrison at Thessalonica and several of his officers had been brutally murdered by a mob in that city. The indignation of the emperor was extreme; and after appearing to yield to gentler counsels, he sent orders, which were executed by an indiscriminate slaughter of at least 7,000 persons in Thessalonica. Ambrose protested against this in the name of God and of the church. He had always acted on the principle that "nothing was more dangerous before God or base amongst men than for a priest not to speak out his convictions freely," and his lofty disinterestedness (non pro meis commodis faciebam, Ep 57:4) gave him great power over a religious and magnanimous mind like that of Theodosius. Ambrose now wrote him a letter (Ep 51 ), which Gibbon most unjustly calls "a miserable rhapsody on a noble subject," but which most readers will feel to be worthy of its high purpose. With many protestations of respect and sympathy Ambrose urges his Emperor to a genuine repentance for the dreadful deed to which in an access of passion he had given his sanction. He intimates that he could not celebrate the Eucharist in the presence of one so stained with blood. Gibbon represents the behaviour of Ambrose as marked by a prelatical pomposity, of which there is no trace whatever in the only documents on which we can rely. In his own letter the bishop is most considerate and tender, though evidently resolute. He and Paulinus record simply that the emperor performed public penance, stripping himself of his royal insignia, and praying for pardon with groans and tears; and that he never passed a day afterwards without grieving for his error (Paulinus, 24; Amb. de Ob. Theod. 34.).
In the course of the following year (391), Theodosius having returned to the East, the weak authority of Valentinian II. was overthrown by Arbogastes and his puppet Eugenius, and the unfortunate youth perished by the same fate as his brother. He was in Gaul at the time of his death, and Ambrose was at that moment crossing the Alps to visit him there, partly by the desire of the Italian magistrates, who wished Valentinian to return to Italy, and partly at the request of the emperor himself, who was anxious to be baptized by him. In the next year (392) a funeral oration was delivered at Milan by Ambrose (de Obitu Valentiniani ), in which he praises the piety as well as the many virtues of the departed. It appears that under the influence of Theodosius, Valentinian had learnt to regard Ambrose with the same reverence as his brother had done before him (Letter to Theodosius, Ep. liii. 2). He had died unbaptized; but Ambrose assures his sorrowing sisters that his desire was equivalent to the act of baptism, and that he had been washed in his piety as the martyrs in their blood ( de Ob. Val. 51â€“53).
Eugenius held the sovereign power in the West for two or three years, and made friendly overtures to the great Italian prelate. But Ambrose for a time returned no answer; and when Eugenius came to Milan, he retired from that city. Shortly after this withdrawal, he wrote a respectful letter to Eugenius, explaining that the reason why he had refused to hold intercourse with him was that he had given permission, though himself a Christian, that the altar of Victory should be restoredâ€”the boon which Symmachus had begged for in vain being yielded to the power of Arbogastes.
When the military genius and vigour of Theodosius had gained one more brilliant triumph by the rapid overthrow of Arbogastes and Eugenius, Ambrose, who had returned to Milan (Aug. A.D. 394), received there a letter from Theodosius requesting him to offer a public thanksgiving for his victory. Ambrose replies (Ep. lxi.) with enthusiastic congratulations. But the happiness thus secured did not last long. In the following year the great Theodosius died at Milan (Jan. 395), asking for Ambrose with his last breath ( de Obitu Theod. 35). The bishop had the satisfaction of paying a cordial tribute to his memory in the funeral oration he delivered over his remains.
Ambrose himself had only two more years to live. The time was filled with busy labours of exposition, correspondence, and episcopal government; and, according to Paulinus, with various prodigies. Unhappily this biographer spoils with his childish miracles what is still a touching account of the good bishop's death. It became known that his strength was failing, and the count Stilicho, saying that the death of such a man threatened death to Italy itself, induced a number of the chief men of the city to go to him, and entreat him to pray to God that his life might be spared. Ambrose replied, "I have not so lived amongst you, that I should be ashamed to live; and I do not fear to die, because we have a good Lord." For some hours before his death he lay with his hands crossed, praying; as Paulinus could see by the movement of his lips, though he heard no voice. When the last moment was at hand, Honoratus, the bp. of Vercellae, who was lying down in another room, thought he heard himself thrice called, and came to Ambrose, and offered him the Body of the Lord; immediately after receiving which he breathed his last breathâ€”a man, Paulinus says well, who for the fear of God had never feared to speak the truth to kings or any powers. He died on Good Friday night, 397, and was buried in the Ambrosian Basilica, in the presence of a multitude of every rank and age, including even Jews and pagans.
By the weight of his character St. Ambrose gave a powerful support to the tendencies which he favoured. He held without misgivings that the church was the organ of God in the world, and that secular government had the choice of being either hostile or subservient to the Divine authority ruling in the church. To passages already quoted which express this conviction may be added a remark let fall by Ambrose at the council of Aquileia, "Sacerdotes de laicis judicare debent, non laici de sacerdotibus" (Gesta Conc. Aqu. 51). He was of strict Athanasian orthodoxy as against heresy of every colour. His views of the work of Christ in the Incarnation, the Passion, and the Resurrection, have in a marked degree the broad and universal character which belongs to the higher patristic theology on this subject. (For example, speaking of the resurrection of Christ, he says, "Resurrexit in eo mundus, resurrexit in eo coelum, resurrexit in eo terra," de Fide Res. 102.) With regard to religion and religious practices, he is emphatic in insisting that the worship of the heart is all-important ("Deo enim velle pro facto est," de Fide Res. 115; "Deus non sanguine sed pietate placatur," ib. 98; "Non pecuniam Deus sed fidem quaerit," de Poen. ii. ix.); but at the same time his language concerning the two Sacraments is often undeniably that of materializing theology. Attempts have been made, chiefly on this account, to call in question the Ambrosian authorship of the treatises de Mysteriis and de Sacramentis; but their expressions are supported by others to be found in undoubted works of Ambrose. He praises his brother Satyrus for having tied a portion of the consecrated elements in a napkin round his neck when he was shipwrecked, and adds, that having found the benefit of "the heavenly mystery" in this form, he was eager to receive it into his mouthâ€”"quam majus putabat fusum in viscera, quod tantum sibi tectum orario profuisset!" (de Exc. Sat. 43, 46). He argues for the daily reception of the Eucharist from the prayer, Give us this day our daily bread ( de Sacr. v. 25). His frequent strong recommendations of virginity are based, not on a theory of self-denial, but rather on one of detachment from the cares of the world and the troubles inseparable from matrimony and parentage. According to him, marriage is the more painful state, as well as the less favourable to spiritual devotion. Nevertheless, he did not expect or desire a large number to embrace the life which he so highly eulogized. "Dicet aliquis: Ergo dissuades nuptias? ego vero suadeo, et eos damno qui dissuadere consuerunt . . . . Paucarum quippe hoc munus [virginity] est, illud omnium" ( de Virginibus , I. vii.). He and his sister used to press Satyrus to marry, but Satyrus put it off through family affectionâ€”"ne a fratribus divelleretur" (de Exc. Sat. Â§Â§ 53, 59). Fasting is commended, not as self-torture pleasing to God, but as the means of making the body more wholesome and stronger. A keen sense of the restraints and temptations and annoyances which reside in the flesh is expressed in Ambrose's remarkable language concerning death. It is a great point with him that death is altogether to be desired. He argues this point very fully in the address de Fide Resurrectionis and in the essay de Bono Mortis . There are three kinds of death, he says the death of sin, death to sin, and the death of the body ( de B. M. Â§ 3). This last is the emancipation of the soul from the body. He appeals to the arguments of philosophers and to the analogies of nature, as well as to Scripture, to shew not only that such a deliverance may be hoped for, but that it must be a thing to be desired by all. The terrors of the future state almost entirely disappear. He admits now and then that punishment must be looked for by the wicked; but he affirms that even to the wicked death is a gain ( de B. M. Â§ 28). There are two reasons why the foolish fear death: one because they regard it as destruction; "altera, quod poenas reformident, poetarum scilicet fabulis territi, latratus Cerberi, et Cocyti fluminis tristem voraginem, etc., etc. Haec plena sunt fabularum, nec tamen negaverim poenas esse post mortem" ( ib. 33). "Qui infideles sunt, descendunt in infernum viventes; etsi nobiscum videntur vivere sed in inferno sunt" ( ib. 56).
The see of Milan was in no way dependent upon that of Rome; but Ambrose always delighted to pay respect to the bp. of Rome, as representing more than any other the unity of the church. His feeling towards Rome is expressed in the apology with which he defends the custom of washing the feet in baptismâ€”a custom which prevailed at Milan but not at Rome. "In omnibus cupio sequi Ecclesiam Romanam; sed tamen et nos homines sensum habemus; ideo quod alibi rectius servatur, et nos rectius custodimus. Ipsum sequimur apostolum Petrum, . . . qui sacredos fuit Ecclesiae Romanae" (de Sacramentis , III. Â§Â§ 5, 6).
As a writer, St. Ambrose left a multitude of works behind him, which show competent learning, a familiar acquaintance with Plato, Cicero, Vergil, and other classics, and much intellectual liveliness and industry. Their want of originality did not hinder them from obtaining for their author, through their popular and practical qualities, a distinguished reputation as a sound and edifying teacher. He is often mentioned with respect by his contemporaries, St. Jerome and St. Augustine (see especially the latter, de Doctrina ChristianÃ¢ , iv. 46, 48, 50). He came to be joined with them and Gregory the Great as one of the four Latin doctors of the church. His writings may be classified under three heads, as (1) Expository, (2) Doctrinal or Didactic, and (3) Occasional.
(1) The first class contains a long list of expositions, delivered first as sermons, of many books of Scripture. They begin with the Hexaemeron, or commentary on the Creation. Of this work St. Jerome says, "Nuper S. Ambrosius sic Hexaemeron illius [See Origenus] compilavit, ut magis Hippolyti sententias Basiliique sequeretur" ( Ep. 41). It is in a great part a literal translation from St. Basil. St. Augustine was interested by the method of interpretation in which Ambrose followed Basil, Origen, and Philo Judaeus, finding a spiritual or mystical meaning latent under the natural or historical. The Hexaemeron (6 books) is followed by de Paradiso, de Cain et Abel (2), de Noe et ArcÃ¢, de Abraham (2), de Isaac et AnimÃ¢, de Bono Mortis, de FugÃ¢ Saeculi, de Jacob et BeatÃ¢ VitÃ¢ (2), de Joseph PatriarchÃ¢, de Benedictionibus Patriarcharum, de EliÃ¢ et Jejunio, de Nabuthe JezraelitÃ¢, de TobiÃ¢, de Interpellatione Job et David (4), Apologia Prophetae David, Apol. altera ib., Enarrationes in Psalmos (12), Expositio in Psalms 118 , Expositio Evang. secundum Lucam (10).
(2) The second class contains de Officiis Ministrorum (3 books), de Virginibus (3), de Viduis, de Virginitate, Exhortatio Virginitatis, de Lapsu Virginis Consecratae, de Mysteriis, de Sacramentis (6), de PoenitentiÃ¢ (2), de Fide (5), de Spiritu Sancto (3), de Incarnationis Dominicae Sacramento. Of these the books de Officiis , addressed to the clergy (imitated from Cicero), and those de Fide, mentioned above, are the most important.
(3) The occasional writings, which are biographically the most valuable, are the discourses de Excessu Fratris sui Satyri (2), de Obitu Valentiniani Consolatio, de Obitu Theodosii Oratio , and the Epistles, ninety-one in number, with the Gesta Concilii Aquileiensis inserted amongst them.
Various ecclesiastical writings have been attributed to Ambrose, which critical examination has determined to be spurious. [See Ambrosiaster.] Most of these are given in the Benedictine edition; in that of Migne there is an additional appendix, containing some other compositions which have borne Ambrose's name, but are either manifestly spurious or have no sufficient title to be considered genuine. Some of his genuine works appear to have been lost, especially one, mentioned with high praise by St. Augustine (Ep. xxxi. 8), against those who alleged that our Lord had learnt from Plato.
Of the connexion of St. Ambrose with the liturgical arrangement which bears his name, we know nothing more than what has been quoted above from Paulinus. [See D. C. A. , arts. Liturgies; Ambrosian Music.]
There are three principal editions of Ambrose's worksâ€”that of Erasmus, the Roman, and the Benedictine. Erasmus's ed. was pub. at Basle, by Froben, in 1527. He divided the works into four tomes, with the titles, (1) Ethica, (2) Polemica, (3) Orationes, Epistolae, et Conciones, (4) Explanationes Vet. et Novi Testamenti. The great Roman edition was the work of many years' labour, undertaken by the desire of popes Pius IV. and Pius V., and begun by a monk who afterwards became pope with the name of Sixtus V. It was pub. in 5 vols. at Rome, in the years 1580â€“1â€“2â€“5. This edition superseded all others, until the publication of the excellent work of the Benedictines (du Frische and Le Nourry) at Paris, A.D. 1686 and 1690. A small revised ed. of the de Officiis and the Hexaemeron has been printed in the Bibliotheca Pat. Eccl. Latin. Selecta (Tauchnitz, Leipz.). Some of his works are reprinted in the Vienna Corpus Ser. Eccl. Lat.; and in the 10th vol. of the Nic. and Post-Nic. Fathers are English trans. of select works. An elaborate Life of St. Ambrose by Baronius, extracted from his Annales, is prefixed to the Roman edition; but improved upon by the more critical investigations of the Benedictine editors, who have laid the basis for all subsequent Lives. (Cf. Th. Forshaw, Ambrose, Bp. of Milan, 1884; a Life by the duc de Broglie in Les Saints, 1899 (Paris). A cheap popular Life by R. Thornton is pub. by S.P.C.K. in their Fathers for Eng. Readers. )