Who was St Ambrose?
It is written that St Ambrose was a small man with pale blond hair. In the Church,
he is known as the honey-tongued doctor because of the poetic style of his preaching.
Ambrose was born about 340 in Trier, a city on the Moselle River in Germany. His family was of Roman nobility and his father had been posted to Germany as Governor. After the death of his father, his mother returned with her children to Rome, where Ambrose received a good education.
In 372, when Ambrose was only 32, the Emperor chose him to be the Governor of the region around Milan. After he had governed there for two years, the bishop of Milan died. As the responsible official, Ambrose went to the church where the voting was taking place and urged the people to carefully choose their next bishop. A young child’s voice called out of the crowd, ‘Ambrose, Bishop!’ The whole crowd took up the cry and, there and then, Ambrose was proclaimed Bishop of Milan. He was utterly astounded as he hadn’t even been baptized let alone have any understanding of priestly matters!
Ambrose was baptised and, a week later, consecrated a bishop. The date of his consecration was 7 December 374 – the date on which we celebrate his feast day.
Very conscious of his ignorance of theology, Ambrose began to study the Scriptures and the works of religious writers. From the beginning he was at the service of the people, giving them regular and careful instruction. (It was Ambrose’s sermons which helped convert St Augustine.) He led a life of extreme simplicity. He gave all his wealth to the Church and to the poor. He stood firm against the pagans and the Arians.
Ambrose died on Holy Saturday, 4 April 397. Many of his sermons and prayers have survived to inspire people through the centuries. Here is one of his prayers:
Lord, teach me to seek you, and reveal yourself to me when I seek you.
For I cannot seek you unless you first teach me,
nor find you unless you first reveal yourself to me.
Let me seek you in longing and long for you in seeking.
Let me find you in love, and love you in finding.