Tomorrow, Wednesday 7th December, is the Memorial of St. Ambrose (339 – 397), an outstanding Bishop of Milan. I went to St. Ambrose College in Hale Barns, Cheshire, an excellent school, but unfortunately, I did not get to know much about our patron saint until I was in formation for the priesthood. I then learned what a truly great man he was. He was born in Trier c. 339, but his father died when he was young, and so he was sent back to Rome to be educated. There he became a lawyer renowned for his skills at oratory and he attracted the attention of the Emperor. In 369, he was commissioned as the governor of Liguria and Aemilia and was based at the capital of this province, Milan. He proved to be an industrious and popular ruler. In 374, the Bishop of Milan died and left the city in confusion as to who might be his successor. At a riotous assembly in the Cathedral, Ambrose stepped forward to pacify the people and a voice from the crowd, traditionally that of a child, cried out ‘Ambrose for Bishop! Ambrose for Bishop!’ The crowd unanimously took up the call. Although he protested vigorously, the people insisted and Ambrose was forced to capitulate, once the Emperor had confirmed his appointment. He was consecrated the following week and feeling strongly the lack of a formal theological education, he began an intensive program of study of the Bible and the ancient Christian writers. Ambrose lived simply. He gave away most of his possessions and quickly became known as a great preacher and defender of Orthodox Catholicism against Arianism, the doctrine which questioned the divinity of Christ. He also acted as a statesman, intervening to persuade the Emperor Maximus not to annex the Italian domain of the Emperor Valentinian II. He once said, ‘the Emperor is within the Church not above it.’ He successfully prevented a revival of pagan Roman worship. Ambrose came into conflict with the Emperor Theodosius on numerous occasions but both recognised the greatness of the other. Ambrose died in 397. He was 57 years old. After his death, he was popularly acclaimed a saint. He is frequently shown together with Gregory, Jerome and Augustine as the fourth Father of the Latin Church. It was thanks in part to him that Augustine was baptised in 387. His writings, hymns and homilies have become central precepts of the Western Church.
Today, please pray for all the bishops of the Church.