vendredi 7 décembre 2012

Saint AMBROISE de MILAN, évêque, confesseur et Docteur de l'Église

Saint Ambroise de Milan

Évêque, Docteur de l'Église

(333-398)

Saint Ambroise était fils d'un préfet des Gaules. Étant encore au berceau, il dormait, un jour, quand soudain des abeilles vinrent voltiger autour de lui et pénétrèrent dans sa bouche ouverte, puis s'élevèrent vers le ciel: c'était le présage de son éloquence et de sa grandeur future. Quelques années plus tard il prédit lui-même, sans peut-être le comprendre, son avenir; car, s'étant aperçu que sa mère et sa soeur baisaient la main de l'évêque, à l'église, il leur dit naïvement: "Baisez-moi aussi la main, je serai évêque un jour."

Ambroise était gouverneur de Milan, quand le peuple, réuni à l'église, semblait prêt à faire une sédition pour obtenir un évêque, dont il était privé depuis vingt ans par la faute des hérétiques. Le magistrat se rendit à l'église pour calmer la foule; mais voici qu'un enfant l'interrompit et cria: "Ambroise évêque!" C'était la voix du Ciel; celle du peuple y répondit, et le temple retentit de ce cri répété avec enthousiasme: "Ambroise évêque! Ambroise évêque!" Ambroise proteste; il objecte qu'il n'est que catéchumène, il se fraye un passage à travers la foule et s'esquive en son palais; mais la foule le suit, déjoue tous ses stratagèmes et répète cent fois le même cri. Il s'enfuit à cheval pendant la nuit, mais il perd son chemin, et à son grand étonnement se retrouve le matin à son point de départ.

On sait comment le nouvel évêque comprit la mission qu'il avait reçue d'une manière si providentielle. Ambroise fut le fléau des hérétiques et le vaillant défenseur de la vraie foi. Parmi toutes ses vertus, l'énergie, une fermeté tout apostolique, semble avoir été la principale. Un jour on vient lui apporter un ordre injuste signé par l'empereur Valentinien: "Allez dire à votre maître, répondit Ambroise, qu'un évêque ne livrera jamais le temple de Dieu." Bientôt il apprend que les hérétiques, soutenus par l'autorité, vont s'emparer de deux basiliques: "Allez, s'écria Ambroise du haut de la chaire sacrée, dire aux violateurs des temples saints que l'évêque de Milan excommunie tous ceux qui prendront part au sacrilège."

Le fait le plus célèbre, c'est le châtiment qu'il osa imposer à l'empereur Théodose. Ce prince, les mains encore souillées du sang versé au massacre de Thessalonique, se présente au seuil du temple. Ambroise est là: "Arrêtez, lui dit-il; imitateur de David dans son crime, imitez-le dans sa pénitence." Saint Ambroise fut un grand évêque, un savant docteur, un orateur éloquent, un homme de haute sainteté.

Abbé L. Jaud, Vie des Saints pour tous les jours de l'année, Tours, Mame, 1950



BENOÎT XVI



AUDIENCE GÉNÉRALE



Mercredi 24 octobre 2007



Saint Ambroise


Chers frères et sœurs,

Le saint Evêque Ambroise - dont je vous parlerai aujourd'hui - mourut à Milan dans la nuit du 3 au 4 avril 397. C'était l'aube du Samedi Saint. La veille, vers cinq heures de l'après-midi, il s'était mis à prier, étendu sur son lit, les bras ouverts en forme de croix. Il participait ainsi, au cours du solennel triduum pascal, à la mort et à la résurrection du Seigneur. "Nous voyions ses lèvres bouger", atteste Paulin, le diacre fidèle qui, à l'invitation d'Augustin, écrivit sa Vie, "mais nous n'entendions pas sa voix". Tout d'un coup, la situation parut précipiter. Honoré, Evêque de Verceil, qui assistait Ambroise et qui se trouvait à l'étage supérieur, fut réveillé par une voix qui lui disait: "Lève-toi, vite! Ambroise va mourir...". Honoré descendit en hâte - poursuit Paulin - "et présenta le Corps du Seigneur au saint. A peine l'eut-il pris et avalé, Ambroise rendit l'âme, emportant avec lui ce bon viatique. Ainsi, son âme, restaurée par la vertu de cette nourriture, jouit à présent de la compagnie des anges" (Vie 47). En ce Vendredi Saint de l'an 397, les bras ouverts d'Ambroise mourant exprimaient sa participation mystique à la mort et à la résurrection du Seigneur. C'était sa dernière catéchèse: dans le silence des mots, il parlait encore à travers le témoignage de sa vie.

Ambroise n'était pas vieux lorsqu'il mourut. Il n'avait même pas soixante ans, étant né vers 340 à Trèves, où son père était préfet des Gaules. Sa famille était chrétienne. A la mort de son père, sa mère le conduisit à Rome alors qu'il était encore jeune homme, et le prépara à la carrière civile, lui assurant une solide instruction rhétorique et juridique. Vers 370, il fut envoyé gouverner les provinces de l'Emilie et de la Ligurie, son siège étant à Milan. C'est précisément en ce lieu que faisait rage la lutte entre les orthodoxes et les ariens, en particulier après la mort de l'Evêque arien Auxence. Ambroise intervint pour pacifier les âmes des deux factions adverses, et son autorité fut telle que, bien que n'étant qu'un simple catéchumène, il fut acclamé Evêque de Milan par le peuple.

Jusqu'à ce moment, Ambroise était le plus haut magistrat de l'Empire dans l'Italie du Nord. Culturellement très préparé, mais tout aussi démuni en ce qui concerne l'approche des Ecritures, le nouvel Evêque se mit à étudier avec ferveur. Il apprit à connaître et à commenter la Bible à partir des œuvres d'Origène, le maître incontesté de l'"école alexandrine". De cette manière, Ambroise transféra dans le milieu latin la méditation des Ecritures commencée par Origène, en introduisant en Occident la pratique de la lectio divina. La méthode de la lectio finit par guider toute la prédication et les écrits d'Ambroise, qui naissent précisément de l'écoute orante de la Parole de Dieu. Un célèbre préambule d'une catéchèse ambrosienne montre de façon remarquable comment le saint Evêque appliquait l'Ancien Testament à la vie chrétienne: "Lorsque nous lisions les histoires des Patriarches et les maximes des Proverbes, nous parlions chaque jour de morale - dit l'Evêque de Milan à ses catéchumènes et à ses néophytes - afin que, formés et instruits par ceux-ci, vous vous habituiez à entrer dans la vie des Pères et à suivre le chemin de l'obéissance aux préceptes divins" (Les mystères, 1, 1). En d'autres termes, les néophytes et les catéchumènes, selon l'Evêque, après avoir appris l'art de bien vivre, pouvaient désormais se considérer préparés aux grands mystères du Christ. Ainsi, la prédication d'Ambroise - qui représente le noyau fondamental de son immense œuvre littéraire - part de la lecture des Livres saints ("les Patriarches", c'est-à-dire les Livres historiques, et "les Proverbes", c'est-à-dire les Livres sapientiels), pour vivre conformément à la Révélation divine.

Il est évident que le témoignage personnel du prédicateur et le niveau d'exemplarité de la communauté chrétienne conditionnent l'efficacité de la prédication. De ce point de vue, un passage des Confessions de saint Augustin est significatif. Il était venu à Milan comme professeur de rhétorique; il était sceptique, non chrétien. Il cherchait, mais il n'était pas en mesure de trouver réellement la vérité chrétienne. Ce qui transforma le cœur du jeune rhéteur africain, sceptique et désespéré, et le poussa définitivement à la conversion, ne furent pas en premier lieu les belles homélies (bien qu'il les appréciât) d'Ambroise. Ce fut plutôt le témoignage de l'Evêque et de son Eglise milanaise, qui priait et chantait, unie comme un seul corps. Une Eglise capable de résister aux violences de l'empereur et de sa mère, qui aux premiers jours de l'année 386, avaient recommencé à prétendre la réquisition d'un édifice de culte pour les cérémonies des ariens. Dans l'édifice qui devait être réquisitionné - raconte Augustin - "le peuple pieux priait, prêt à mourir avec son Evêque". Ce témoignage des Confessions est précieux, car il signale que quelque chose se transformait dans le cœur d'Augustin, qui poursuit: "Nous aussi, bien que spirituellement encore tièdes, nous participions à l'excitation du peuple tout entier" (Confessions 9, 7).

Augustin apprit à croire et à prêcher à partir de la vie et de l'exemple de l'Evêque Ambroise. Nous pouvons nous référer à un célèbre sermon de l'Africain, qui mérita d'être cité de nombreux siècles plus tard dans la Constitution conciliaire Dei Verbum: "C'est pourquoi - avertit en effet Dei Verbum au n. 25 - tous les clercs, en premier lieu les prêtres du Christ, et tous ceux qui vaquent normalement, comme diacres ou comme catéchistes, au ministère de la Parole, doivent, par une lecture spirituelle assidue et par une étude approfondie, s'attacher aux Ecritures, de peur que l'un d'eux ne devienne "un vain prédicateur de la Parole de Dieu au-dehors, lui qui ne l'écouterait pas au-dedans de lui"". Il avait appris précisément d'Ambroise cette "écoute au-dedans", cette assiduité dans la lecture des Saintes Ecritures, dans une attitude priante, de façon à accueillir réellement dans son cœur la Parole de Dieu et à l'assimiler.

Chers frères et sœurs, je voudrais vous proposer encore une sorte d'"icône patristique", qui, interprétée à la lumière de ce que nous avons dit, représente efficacement "le cœur" de la doctrine ambrosienne. Dans son sixième livre des Confessions, Augustin raconte sa rencontre avec Ambroise, une rencontre sans aucun doute d'une grande importance dans l'histoire de l'Eglise. Il écrit textuellement que, lorsqu'il se rendait chez l'Evêque de Milan, il le trouvait régulièrement occupé par des catervae de personnes chargées de problèmes, pour les nécessités desquelles il se prodiguait; il y avait toujours une longue file qui attendait de pouvoir parler avec Ambroise, pour chercher auprès de lui le réconfort et l'espérance. Lorsqu'Ambroise n'était pas avec eux, avec les personnes, (et cela ne se produisait que très rarement), il restaurait son corps avec la nourriture nécessaire, ou nourrissait son esprit avec des lectures. Ici, Augustin s'émerveille, car Ambroise lisait l'Ecriture en gardant la bouche close, uniquement avec les yeux (cf. Confess. 6, 3). De fait, au cours des premiers siècles chrétiens la lecture était strictement conçue dans le but de la proclamation, et lire à haute voix facilitait également la compréhension de celui qui lisait. Le fait qu'Ambroise puisse parcourir les pages uniquement avec les yeux, révèle à un Augustin admiratif une capacité singulière de lecture et de familiarité avec les Ecritures. Et bien, dans cette "lecture du bout des lèvres", où le cœur s'applique à parvenir à la compréhension de la Parole de Dieu - voici "l'icône" dont nous parlons -, on peut entrevoir la méthode de la catéchèse ambrosienne: c'est l'Ecriture elle-même, intimement assimilée, qui suggère les contenus à annoncer pour conduire à la conversion des cœurs.

Ainsi, selon le magistère d'Ambroise et d'Augustin, la catéchèse est inséparable du témoignage de la vie. Ce que j'ai écrit dans l'Introduction au christianisme, à propos du théologien, peut aussi servir pour le catéchiste. Celui qui éduque à la foi ne peut pas risquer d'apparaître comme une sorte de clown, qui récite un rôle "par profession". Il doit plutôt être - pour reprendre une image chère à Origène, écrivain particulièrement apprécié par Ambroise - comme le disciple bien-aimé, qui a posé sa tête sur le cœur du Maître, et qui a appris là la façon de penser, de parler, d'agir. Pour finir, le véritable disciple est celui qui annonce l'Evangile de la manière la plus crédible et efficace.

Comme l'Apôtre Jean, l'Evêque Ambroise - qui ne se lassait jamais de répéter: "Omnia Christus est nobis!; le Christ est tout pour nous!" - demeure un authentique témoin du Seigneur. Avec ses paroles, pleines d'amour pour Jésus, nous concluons ainsi notre catéchèse: "Omnia Christus est nobis! Si tu veux guérir une blessure, il est le médecin; si la fièvre te brûle, il est la source; si tu es opprimé par l'iniquité, il est la justice; si tu as besoin d'aide, il est la force; si tu crains la mort, il est la vie; si tu désires le ciel, il est le chemin; si tu es dans les ténèbres, il est la lumière... Goûtez et voyez comme le Seigneur est bon: bienheureux l'homme qui espère en lui!" (De virginitate, 16, 99). Plaçons nous aussi notre espérance dans le Christ. Nous serons ainsi bienheureux et nous vivrons en paix.

* * *

Je suis heureux de saluer les pèlerins de langue française, particulièrement les membres du Chapitre général de la Congrégation de Jésus-Marie. Que votre Chapitre soit pour toutes les religieuses de l’Institut l’occasion d’un renouveau en profondeur de leur vie consacrée apostolique, fondée sur une relation forte avec la personne de Jésus Christ ! J’adresse aussi un salut affectueux aux jeunes. À la suite de saint Ambroise, soyez tous d’authentiques témoins du Seigneur parmi vos frères ! Avec ma Bénédiction apostolique.

© Copyright 2007 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana


Saint Ambroise,

évêque et docteur de l'Église

Ambroise naquit (vers 340) à Trèves où son père était préfet du prétoire pour les Gaules. A la mort de son père, sa mère qui était une pieuse chrétienne, vint habiter Rome avec ses trois enfants1. Après des études classiques et juridiques, Ambroise parcourut rapidement une brillante carrière administrative. Ses plaidoiries ayant attiré sur lui l’attention, le préfet du prétoire de Valentinien I° le nomma gouverneur de l’Emilie et de Ligurie, en résidence à Milan, avec le titre consulaire (374).

L'évêque légitime de Milan, saint Denis, était mort en exil, et l'intrus arien Auxence, qui venait de mourir, avait, durant près de vingt ans, opprimé les catholiques. Survenant, comme un pacificateur, dans une élection épiscopale que des divergences tumultueuses rendaient difficile, Ambroise quoique simple catéchumène, sur le cri d’un enfant, fut acclamé évêque et malgré ses résistances, ne put se dérober à une charge aussi lourde qu’imprévue. Les évêques d’Italie et l’Empereur donnèrent leur approbation au choix du peuple de Milan. Ambroise fut baptisé et, huit jours plus tard, fut consacré évêque (7 décembre 374).

Devenu chrétien et évêque, Ambroise s’initia par une étude incessante et approfondie à la doctrine qu`il avait mission d’enseigner ; il se dépouilla au profit des pauvres de son riche patrimoine, il racheta les captifs en vendant les vases de son église, et se fit l'homme de tous. Son éloquence qui captivait la foule, attira Augustin et dissipa les derniers doutes du futur évêque d'Hippone : « Je considérais Ambroise lui-même comme un homme heureux, au regard du monde, d'être si fort honoré par les plus hauts personnages. Il n'y avait que son célibat qui me paraissait chose pénible. Quant aux espérances qu'il portait en lui, aux combats qu'il avait à soutenir contre les tentations inhérentes à sa grandeur même, aux consolations qu'il trouvait dans l'adversité, aux joies savoureuses qu'il goûtait à ruminer Votre Pain, avec cette bouche mystérieuse qui était dans son cœur ; de tout cela je n'avais nulle idée, nulle expérience. Et il ignorait pareillement ces agitations et l'abîme où je risquais de choir. Il m'était impossible de lui demander ce que je voulais, comme je le voulais ; une foule de gens affairés, qu'il aidait dans leur embarras, me dérobait cette audience et cet entretien. Quand il n'était pas occupé d'eux, il employait ces très courts instants à réconforter son corps par les aliments nécessaires, ou son esprit par la lecture. Lisait-il, ses yeux couraient sur les pages dont son esprit perçait le sens ; mais sa voix et sa langue se reposaient. Souvent quand je me trouvais là, - car sa porte n'était jamais défendue, on entrait sans être annoncé, - je le voyais lisant tout bas et jamais autrement. Je demeurais assis dans un long silence, - qui eût osé troubler une attention si profonde ? - puis je me retirais, présumant qu'il lui serait importun d'être interrompu dans ces rares moments dont il bénéficiait pour le délassement de son esprit, quand le tumulte des affaires d'autrui lui laissait quelque loisir. »

L'action d'Ambroise, évêque de la seconde ville d’Occident, s'exerçait bien au delà de son diocèse. Défenseur de la doctrine orthodoxe, il assista au concile d'Aquilée (38l) où furent déposés les évêques ariens Palladius et Secundianus, il présida, en 38l ou en 382, un concile des évêques du vicariat d'Italie qui condamna l'apollinarisme2 ; il se rencontra avec saint Epiphane de Salamine et Paulin d'Antioche au concile romain de 382, et dans les Actes, il est nommé le premier après le pape saint Damase. En 390, Ambroise tint à Milan, contre Jovinien, un concile où la sentence portée l'année précédente par les évêques des Gaules contre les ithaciens3 fut confirmée.

Ecouté de Valentinien I° (364-375)4, Ambroise le fut surtout de Gratien (375-383) qui le considérait comme son père, et ensuite de Valentinien II (3755-392). C’est peut être à l’instigation d’Ambroise que Gratien reprit la lutte contre le paganisme qui avait été suspendue sous Valentinien I° : outre qu’un édit supprima les revenus des collèges de prêtres et de vestales, Gratien leur enleva les allocation cultuelles et les biens-fonds ; enfin, il fit ôter l’autel et la statue de la Victoire sous laquelle les sénateurs se réunissaient depuis le règne d’Auguste. Ambroise eut beaucoup d’influence sur Valentinen II, successeur de Gratien.

La mère de Valentinien II, l'arienne Justine, rencontra dans l'évêque de Milan un adversaire inflexible ; Ambroise refusa à l'Impératrice la basilique Porcia et, à défaut de celle-ci, la basilique neuve qu'elle exigeait pour les ariens (385 et 386) ; il répondit aux envoyés de l’Empereur : « Si l’Empereur me demandait ce qui est à moi, mes terres, mon argent, je ne lui opposerais aucun refus, encore que tous mes biens soient aux pauvres. Mais les choses divines ne sont point sous la dépendance de l’Empereur. S’il vous faut mon patrimoine, prenez-le. S’il vous faut ma personne, la voici. Voulez-vous me jeter dans les fers, me conduire à la mort ? J’accepte tout avec joie... » Enfermé dans l’église, il exhorta le peuple à résister et, ayant mis les soldats de son côté, la cour dut se retirer. Ambroise s'opposa à la loi qui rendait la liberté aux adhérents du concile de Rimini, et interdisait, sous peine de mort, aux catholiques toute résistance. Ambroise bravait les menaces d'exil et récusait les juges qu'on voulait lui donner ; « L’Empereur est dans l’Eglise, il n’est pas au-dessus de l’Eglise. Un bon empereur recherche l’assistance de l’Eglise, il ne la refuse pas. Je le dis avec humilité mais je le publie aussi avec fermeté. » Ambroise subit enfin des tentatives d'assassinat.

Ambroise cependant était allé défendre à Trèves, auprès de l’usurpateur Maxime6, meurtrier de Gratien, les intérêts de Valentinien II (383) ; en 387, il tenta une seconde démarche, qui n’arrêta point Maxime sur le chemin de l'Italie : Rome tomba au pouvoir de l’usurpateur (janvier 388). Théodose7 battit Maxime en Pannonie et en Styrie ; quelques semaines plus tard, retranché à Aquilé, Maxime fut tué. Ambroise qui soutenait la politique de Théodose, se lia avec lui d’une grande amitié, sans pour autant craindre de le réprimander lorsque Théodose outrepassait les prérogatives impériales ou menaçait les intérêts de l’Eglise.

Après la mort de sa mère, Valentinien II, irrévocablement gagné à la cause de la vraie foi, suivit la direction d'Ambroise, notamment en s’opposant au rétablissement de la statue de la Victoire dans le Sénat que Gratien avait fait enlever et dont les sénateurs païens, conduits par Symmaque et le le préfet du prétoire d’Italie, demandaient le rétablissement.8

« Ils viennent se plaindre de leurs pertes, eux qui furent si peu économes de notre sang, et qui, de nos églises ont fait des ruines... Ils réclament de vous des privilèges, quand, hier encore, les lois de Julien9 nous refusaient le droit dévolu à tous de parler et d’enseigner... La présente cause est celle de la religion, j’interviens donc en tant qu’évêque... Si une décision contraire est prise, nous ne pourrons, nous évêques, nous en accommoder d’un cœur léger, ni dissimuler notre opinion. Il vous sera loisible de vous rendre à l’église, mais vous n’y trouverez point de prêtre ou il ne sera là que pour protester10. »

Ambroise fut l'ami de Théodose, mais un ami qui ne se tut et ne faillit jamais. En 388, il l'avait décidé à retirer un édit qui ordonnait aux chrétiens de Callinique11, en Mésopotamie, de rebâtir une synagogue.

Après le massacre de Thessalonique, décrété dans une heure de fièvre furieuse pour venger la mort de quelques fonctionnaires impériaux, Ambroise avait interdit l’entrée de son église à Théodose et lui avait imposé une pénitence publique. « L’Empereur, de retour à Milan, raconte Théodoret, voulut entrer comme de coutume dans l'église. Mais Ambroise marcha a sa rencontre en dehors du vestibule et lui interdit de mettre le pied sur le saint parvis. » Ambroise adresse ensuite un discours grandiloquent à Théodose, qui se retire avec des gémissements dans son palais. Huit mois plus tard, à l'approche de la fête de Noël, l'Empereur, accablé de tristesse, dépêche Rufin, maître des offices, vers Ambroise pour essayer de le fléchir, mais en vain. Théodose se décide alors à venir implorer lui-même son pardon. Ambroise lui impose l'obligation de promulguer une loi portant que toute sentence de confiscation ou de mort ne deviendra exécutoire qu’au bout de trente jours, après avoir été de nouveau examinée et confirmée. Théodose obéit et Ambroise lève l'excommunication prononcée contre lui. L’Empereur entre dans l’Eglise et il y donne le spectacle le plus touchant repentir. Il n'est pourtant pas encore arrivé au bout de ses humiliations : alors qu’il s’est avancé pour recevoir la communion, jusque dans l'enceinte la plus voisine de l'autel, Ambroise lui fit signifier par un diacre que ce lieu était réservé aux seuls prêtres, et qu'il eût a se retirer. Théodose obéit, en alléguant pour son excuse que les choses étaient différentes à Constantinople.

Quelques mois plus tard, au printemps de 391, Théodose partait pour Constantinople, laissant l'Occident aux mains de Valentinien II, qui avait alors dix-neuf ans. Depuis la mort de Justine, le caractère du jeune Valentinien s'était affirmé de la façon la plus favorable, et, mieux en état de se former des opinions personnelles, il rendait pleine justice à l'admirable loyauté de l'évêque autrefois persécuté en son nom. Aussi Ambroise donna-t-il les larmes les plus sincères à sa mémoire, quand le jeune prince eut été étouffé à l'instigation du Goth Arbogaste12 que Théodose trop confiant avait placé auprès de lui en qualité de magister militum. L’assassinat de Valentinien II laissa seul maître de l'empire Théodose, son puissant associé.

A l'égard d'Eugène, un ancien rhéteur à qui Arbogast venait de faire conférer la dignité impériale, Ambroise garda une attitude pleine de réserve, quoique très déférente en la forme. A peine devenu empereur, Eugène lui avait adressé deux lettres pour essayer de gagner sa sympathie, tant il sentait l'importance de l'appui que l’évêque pouvait lui apporter. Les procédés équivoques d'Eugène dans les questions d'ordre religieux, surtout la faveur de plus en plus manifeste qu'il marquait aux partisans du vieux culte romain, disposait mal Ambroise, qui évita soigneusement les occasions de se rencontrer avec Eugène. Bientôt l'usurpateur tombait sous les coups de Théodose, accouru de Constantinople13. Ambroise obtint que Théodose usât de la plus large indulgence à l'égard des partisans d'Eugène.

Théodose mourut le 17 janvier 395 ; Ambroise prononça son oraison funèbre, à Milan, en présence d'Honorius14 et de l'armée. Il célébra la transformation des princes, maîtres de l'univers romain, qui étaient devenus les prédicateurs de la foi, après en avoir été les persécuteurs et nul n'avait coopéré plus efficacement cette œuvre que Théodose. Sa politique religieuse s'était proposé un triple objet. D'abord, protéger l'Eglise contre toute violence ou toute indiscrétion de l'Etat : l'Empereur n'a le droit ni de mettre la main sur les édifices sacrés, ni de prononcer, au lieu et place des évêques, dans les choses de foi. Ensuite, obliger le pouvoir civil à respecter la loi morale, même dans des actes dépourvus de caractère spécifiquement religieux, et ce, sous peine des censures de l'Église (tel est le principe dont Ambroise s'inspira dans l'affaire de Thessalonique). Enfin sceller une étroite union entre l'Église et l'Etat, de telle sorte que, loin de mettre sur le même pied les différents cultes, l'État marque inlassablement, quoique sans violence ni effusion de sang, sa faveur spéciale et unique au culte catholique et décourage tous les autres. Cette image prestigieuse d'un empire chrétien qui hantait la pensée d’Ambroise, mit des siècles encore avant de se réaliser.

Saint Ambroise tomba malade, un jour qu'il dictait à Paulin, son diacre, un commentaire sur le psaume LXIII ; un feu lui couvrit la tête en forme de petit bouclier, et de là entra dans sa bouche comme dans sa propre demeure. Alors son visage devint blanc comme la neige et demeura quelque temps dans cette beauté. Il ne put donc achever l'ouvrage qu'il dictait, et bientôt après il tomba malade. Le comte Stilicon qui était le plus puissant dans l'Empire, craignant que la mort d’Ambroise ne causât un notable préjudice à tout l'Occident, lui envoya plusieurs personnes d'honneur pour le porter à demander à Dieu la prolongation de sa vie ; mais il leur dit « Je n'ai pas vécu de telle sorte parmi vous, que j’aie honte de vivre davantage ; mais, d’ailleurs, je ne crains point de mourir, parce que nous avons affaire à un bon maître. » Quatre de ses diacres, s'entretenant dans un coin de sa chambre, pour savoir qui l'on pourrait élire évêque en sa place, vinrent à nommer saint Simplicien. Ils étaient si loin et ils parlaient si bas, qu’il ne pouvait pas les entendre ; cependant, Dieu lui révéla ce qu’ils disaient, et il s'écria : « Il est vieux, mais il est bon. » Simplicien était cet excellent prêtre qui avait été son conseil durant tout le temps de son épiscopat, et il fut effectivement mis en sa place après son décès. Saint Bastien, évêque de Todi, le visitait quelquefois dans sa maladie, et un jour qu'il priait auprès de lui, il vit Notre-Seigneur descendre du ciel, s'approcher de son lit et lui faire beaucoup de caresses. Ensuite, la nuit du samedi saint, comme il priait secrètement, les bras étendus en forme de croix, saint Honorat, évêque de Verceil, qui logeait dans une chambre au-dessus de la sienne, entendit par trois fois une voix qui lui disait : « Lève-toi en diligence, il passera bientôt. » Honorat se leva et lui apporta 1e corps adorable de Jésus-Christ, qu'il reçut avec une profonde révérence, et incontinent après, son âme, munie d'un si excellent viatique, se détacha de la prison de son corps pour aller jouir de l'éternité bienheureuse (4 avril 397).

Son corps fut inhumé dans sa cathédrale avec l'honneur dû à la grandeur de ses mérites. Plusieurs eurent des visions qui marquaient la gloire qu'il possédait déjà dans le ciel. Surtout il y en eut qui virent une étoile rayonnante élevée au-dessus de son cercueil. Les démons n’en osaient approcher mais les possédés que l’on y traînait par force, étaient aussitôt délivrés.

Saint Ambroise fut durant sa vie une grande autorité morale grâce à la noblesse de son caractère, à la sainteté de sa vie, à la fermeté et à la droiture de sa conduite, mais aussi à sa science des affaires et à son art de gouverner. Excellent magistrat devenu homme d’église, il ne perdit pas ses premières aptitudes, qu’il élargit encore. Esprit éminemment pratique, pondéré, puisant dans le droit le sens de la justice, mais tempérant par la charité ce que cette justice pouvait avoir de froid et de dur. Tous ceux qui l’approchèrent, subirent son influence ou même l’aimèrent passionnément.

Le menu peuple dont, tout le long du jour, il accordait les procès, il lui était dévoué jusqu’au sang. « Si Ambroise levait le doigt, disait un jour Valentinien à ses courtisans, vous-même me livreriez à lui pieds et poings liés. » Milan était après Rome la véritable capitale de l’empire d’Occident, puisque l’empereur y séjournait. Ambroise qui en était l’évêque, fut, par son prestige personnel, le plus en vue des prélats latins.

La tournure d’esprit de saint Ambroise est toute romaine, épanouie dans les questions morales et pratiques. S’il traite volontiers des questions dogmatiques, il ne s’élève pas aux spéculations ingénieuses, préférant développer l’argument scripturaire et traditionnel. « Saint Ambroise, dit Fénelon15, suit quelquefois la mode de son temps. Il donne à son discours les ornements qu'on estimait alors. Mais, après tout, ne voyons-nous pas saint Ambroise, nonobstant quelques jeux de mots, écrire à Théodose avec une force et une persuasion inimitables ? Quelle tendresse n'exprime-t-il pas quand il parle de son frère Satyre ! »

Saint Ambroise est, dans son exégèse, généralement allégoriste, c’est-à-dire que au lieu d’expliquer, comme saint Jean Chrysostome, le sens littéral du texte sacré, il y cherche plutôt les enseignements moraux et ascétiques cachés sous l’histoire et les faits, ou les mystères, les personnages chrétiens dont l’Ancien Testament nous présente la figure. Cette méthode exigeait de sa part moins d’études ; il en avait des modèles tout prêts : et d’autre part, elle lui paraissait plus propre à l’enseignement des fidèles. C’est une des raisons qui expliquent qu’il ait commenté plus volontiers l’Ancien Testament que le Nouveau, vis-à-vis duquel il était tenu à plus de réserve. Ses commentaires ne sont d’ailleurs, la plupart du temps, comme beaucoup de ses autres ouvrages, que des réunions d’homélies ou de discours prononcés sur les Livres saints. Notons, parmi les plus intéressants, les six livres sur l’Hexammeron c’est-à-dire sur l’œuvre des six jours, ouvrage imité de saint Basile, mais où il ne montre pas le même sens des beautés de la nature que l’auteur grec. Puis le plus long de ses traités, l’Exposé sur l’évangile de saint Luc en dix livres. Même si saint Augustin a formulé quelques réserves sur cet écrit, probablement en raison de l’idée qu’Ambroise s’y fait des peines de l’enfer, le Moyen-Age l’a cependant beaucoup lu et copié.

Saint Ambroise est plus un catéchiste qu’un théologien. Parmi ses œuvres se trouvent quelques écrits doctrinaux : par exemple, un traité De la foi, c’est-à-dire sur la Trinité, composé pour Gratien en 376 et 379 ; un traité du Saint Esprit, calqué sur celui de Didyme l’Aveugle et composé pour le même Gratien en 381 ; deux livres Sur la pénitence (vers 384), contre les novatiens ; mais surtout le traité Des mystères (De mysteriis) qui expose, sous forme de catéchèse, la doctrine sur le baptême, la confirmation et l’eucharistie. La doctrine de la transsubstantiation y est enseignée aussi clairement que dans les catéchèses de saint Cyrille de Jérusalem.

En 374, Valentinien I° est empereur d’Occident ; Valens, son frère, gagné à l’arianisme, est empereur d’Orient. Valentinien meut en 375, laissant deux enfants, l’un, Gratien, d’une première femme nommée Severa, l’autre, Valentinien II, d’une seconde femme, Justine, gagnée elle aussi à l’arianisme. La Cour réside à Milan, et le jeune Gratien, devenu empereur à seize ans, donne toute sa confiance à Ambroise, sans qui il ne fait rien d’important. En 378, Valens est battu par les Goths et tué à Andrinople. Pour lui succéder, Gratien choisit, en 379, Théodose. En 383, Maxime se révolte dans les Gaules, et Gratien est assassiné à Lyon. Son frère Valentinien II lui succède et, sur la demande de Justine, Ambroise va trouver l’usurpateur Maxime à Trèves, et l’empêche d’envahir l’Italie. Une seconde fois probablement en 384-385, il fait le même chemin, mais par la faute de la Cour,ne réussit pas dans son ambassade. Il faut que Théodose intervienne et batte en 388, l’armée de Maxime qui est tué. La paix ne dura que quatre ans. En 392, nouvelle révolte d’Arbogast dans les Gaules. Valentinien II qui s’y est rendu, et qui sent sa vie en danger, appelle Ambroise pour lui donner le baptême. Ambroise part une troisième fois ; mais, avant qu’il arrive, Valentinien est assassiné à Vienne le 15 mai 392. Arbogast fait proclamer empereur le rhéteur Eugène. De nouveau, Théodose intervient et les écrase tous deux à la bataille d’Aquilée en septembre 394. Le rôle diplomatique d’Ambroise est terminé. Mais, pendant ce temps, il a dû défendre le christianisme, l’orthodoxie et aussi la discipline ecclésiastique. En 381, il prend une part prépondérante au concile d’Aquilée ; de 383 à 387, il se trouve en relation avec Augustin et contribue à le convertir. A partir de 382, les sénateurs païens, sous la conduite de Symmaque, assiègent les différents empereurs pour obtenir le rétablissement dans la salle des séances de l’autel de la Victoire enlevé par l’ordre de Gratien. Par trois fois, Ambroise fait échouer leurs efforts. Puis il s’oppose aux tentatives de Justine et des Ariens pour se faire livrer l’une au moins des églises catholiques de Milan, la basilique Portia surtout, en 386, et institue, à cette occasion, le chant des psaumes et des hymnes à deux chœurs. Il proteste en 385, contre l’immixtion des évêques dans la condamnation à mort des priscillianistes, obtient de Théodose, en 388, que l’évêque de Callinicus ne soit pas obligé à rebâtir la synagogue juive détruite par les catholiques et - suprême triomphe - fait accepter à l’empereur de se soumettre à la pénitence publique pour le massacre de Tessalonique en 390. Sa mort se place le 4 avril 397. On célèbre sa fête le 7 décembre.
________________________________________

1 Deux garçons : Ambroise et Satyre ; une fille : Marceline.

2 L'apollina¬risme est une hérésie christologique professée par Apollinaire de Laodicée qui refusait au Christ un âme humaine, jugée incompatible avec sa divinité.

3 Les ithaciens, disciples de l’évêque Ithace d’Ossonoba (Espagne), fort liés à l’usurpateur Maxime, qui prétendent que le pouvoir séculier doit régler les causes ecclésiastiques.

4 Valentinien I° est empereur d’Occident ; Valens, son frère, gagné à l’arianisme, est empereur d’Orient. Valentinien meurt en 375, laissant deux enfants, l’un, Gratien, d’une première femme nommée Severa, l’autre, Valentinien II, d’une seconde femme, Justine, gagnée elle aussi à l’arianisme.

5 Fils et successeur de Valentinien I°, il succéda à son père à l’âge de quatre ans et partagea l’empire d’Occident avec son frère Gratien.

6 Maxime fut proclamé empereur par les légions de Bretagne (383) et s’établit à Trèves.

7 Théodose, nommé Auguste par Gratien, reçut le gouvernement de l’empire d’Orient (379).

8 Symmaque rédigea une pétition, écrite, pour mission défendre « les institutions des ancêtres, les droits et les destinées de la patrie. » La pétition fut remise à l’Empereur par une délégation sénatoriale. « Eh quoi ! s'écriait Symmaque, la religion romaine est-elle mise en dehors du droit romain ? Les affranchis touchent les legs qui leur sont faits ; on ne conteste plus aux esclaves les avantages légaux que les testaments leur concèdent : ct de nobles vierges, les ministres d'un culte sacré, seraient exclus des biens qui leur arrivent par succession ? Que leur sert-il de dévouer leur chasteté au salut public, de donner à l'éternité de l'Empire la protection d'en haut, d'attacher à vos armes, à vos aigles, des puissances amies, de faire pour tous des voeux efficaces, s'ils ne jouissent même pas du droit commun ? » Et, évoquant la grande image de Rome, il lui faisait prononcer des paroles empreintes d’une majestueuse tristesse pour déplorer les at¬ten¬tats dont des traditions si vénérables étaient victimes. Lu dans le conseil de l'Empereur, la pétition produisit grand effet : chrétiens et païens parurent un instant d'accord pour donner une réponse favorable.

9 Julien l’Apostat, neveu de Constantin, avait cinq ans (337) lors¬que le carnage dynastique qui suivit la mort de Constantin, le ren¬dit spectateur de l'assassinat de toute sa parenté mâle, à l'excep¬tion de son demi-frère Gallus. Très sensible et frustré d’af¬fec-tion, il fut élevé par l'évêque arien Eusèbe de Nicomédie et un eu¬nuque goth, Mardonius. Exilé avec Gallus dans la forteresse de Ma¬cellum (Cappadoce), il y fut dans la solitude et y perdit la foi chré¬tienne ; il s'enthousiasma pour la vieille religion païenne. Il com¬mença à lire les auteurs païens dont le philosophe néopla¬to¬ni¬cien Jamblique. En 351, libre de voyager, il gagna Constan¬ti¬no¬ple et séjourna à Nicomédie, où il rencontra des disciples de Jam¬bli¬que qui l'initièrent aux mystères néoplatoniciens et à la ma¬gie théurgique. En 354 Gallus fut exécuté et Julien fut emprisonné à Milan. Peu après, il obtint la permission de visiter les écoles phi¬lo¬sophiques à Athènes. Brusquement rappelé à Milan, il y reçut des missions militaires qu'il remplit avec succès. Vainqueur à Strasbourg (357), il rétablit l'administration romaine en Gaule et, à Lutèce, il fut proclamé empereur par l'armée (360). La guerre civile ne fut évitée que par la mort de Constance II (361). Unique empereur à la fin de 361, Julien se lança aussitôt dans l'appli¬ca¬tion de son programme de réforme. Son plan consistait à affaiblir l'Église de toutes manières et à organiser en contre-église le culte païen traditionnel. Pour faire pièce à l'universalité du christianisme, il favorisa les cultes des dieux locaux et nationaux ; il accorda aux Juifs une bienveillante indulgence, leur laissant espérer la reconstruction du Temple de Jérusalem. Il augmenta la confusion des chrétiens en rappelant sur leurs sièges les évêques ariens exilés, en privant l'Église de ses privilèges administratifs et financiers, en réservant les postes d'ensei¬gnement officiels aux professeurs païens. Il chercha à rétablir partout le culte païen traditionnel, ordonna la réouverture des temples et l'organisation du clergé en église hiérarchisée ; il favorisa l'élaboration d'une théologie philosophique. Cette politique violemment antichrétienne le rendit très impopulaire. L'incident de Daphné (violation par Julien du tombeau du saint martyr Babylas, riposte des chrétiens par l'incendie du temple d'Apollon) illustre les difficultés qu'il rencontra. Il mourut le 26 juin 363 en combattant contre les Perses.

10 Saint Ambroise : lettre XVII, § 4 & 13.

11 Callinicos fut fondée par Alexandre le Grand qui lui don¬na le nom de Nicéphorium. Séleucus Callinus, roi de Syrie (246-225), la restaura et l'appela Callinicos. Déjà fortifiée sous Julien l'Apostat, elle le fut encore davantage par Léon I° (457-474) ; c'est pourquoi des auteurs byzantins lui donnent aussi le nom de Léontopolis. Le site de la ville se trouve sur la rive gauche de l'Euphrate, à 15 km. à l'ouest du confluent du Bilichus (Bélik) avec le fleuve. La plaine voisine fut le théâtre de deux grandes batailles livrées aux Perses par Belisaire (531) et l'empereur Maurice (583). En 388, le comte d'Orient ayant accusé l'évêque de Callinicos d'avoir fait incendier la synagogue de la ville, l'em¬pereur Théodose condamna le prélat à la reconstruire à ses frais.

12 En 392, nouvelle révolte d’Arbogast dans les Gaules. Valentinien II qui s’y est rendu, et qui sent sa vie en danger, appelle Ambroise pour lui donner le baptême. Ambroise part une troisième fois ; mais, avant qu’il arrive, Valentinien est assassiné à Vienne le 15 mai 392.

13 Théodose écrase Arbogast et Eugène à la bataille d’Aquilée en septembre 394.

14 Fils de Théodose et Flacilla, Honorius, consul à deux ans, fut Auguste à neuf ans et, à onze ans, succéda à son père comme empereur d’Occident (395-423) tandis que son frère aîné, Arcadius devenait empereur d’Orient.

15 Fénelon : Troisième dialogue sur l'éloquence.


Appréciation générale

Aucun évêque peut-être dans l’église n’a joui durant sa vie d’une autorité pareille à celle de Saint Ambroise. Autorité morale et qui lui conciliaient la noblesse de son caractère, la sainteté de sa vie, la fermeté et la droiture de sa conduite , mais aussi sa science des affaires et son art de gouverner. Ambroise, avant d’être évêque, avait été excellent magistrat : devenu homme d’église, il ne perdit pas ses premières aptitudes, il les élargit encore et devint un véritable homme d’Etat. Esprit éminemment pratique, pondéré, ayant puisé dans le droit le sens de la justice, mais tempérant par la charité ce que cette justice pouvait avoir de froid et de dur. Tous ceux qui l’approchèrent, subirent son influence ou même l’aimèrent passionnément. Gratien et Valentinien II furent presque ses pupilles ; Théodose le respecta et lui obéit ; Maxime et Justine le redoutèrent ; Augustin n’en parle qu’avec enthousiasme. Quant au menu peuple, à cette foule anonyme dont, tout le long du jour , il accordait les procès, elle lui était dévouée jusqu’au sang. « Si Ambroise levait le doigt, disait un jour Valentinien à ses courtisans, vous-même me livreriez à lui pieds et poings liés ». Il disait assez vrai. Milan était après Rome la véritable capitale de l’empire d’Occident, puisque l’empereur y séjournait. Ambroise qui en était l’évêque, fut, par son prestige personnel, le plus en vue des prélats latins.

Exégèse

Saint Ambroise est, dans son exégèse, généralement allégoriste, c’est-à-dire que au lieu d’expliquer, comme saint Chrysostome, le sens littéral du texte sacré, il y cherche plutôt les enseignements moraux et ascétiques cachés sous l’histoire et les faits, ou les mystères, les personnages chrétiens dont l’Ancien Testament nous présente la figure. Cette méthode exigeait de sa part moins d’études ; il en avait des modèles toit prêts : et d’autre part, elle lui paraissait plus propre à l’enseignement des fidèles. C’est une des raisons qui expliquent qu’il ait commenté plus volontiers l’Ancien Testament que le Nouveau , vis-à-vis duquel il était tenu à plus de réserve. Philon et Origène sont ses maîtres, bien qu’il se défende de suivre leurs excès. Ses commentaires ne sont d’ailleurs, la plupart du temps, comme beaucoup de ses autres ouvrages, que des réunions d’homélies ou de discours prononcés sur les Livres saints . Notons, parmi les plus intéressants, les six livres sur l’Hexammeron c’est-à-dire sur l’œuvre des six jours, ouvrage imité de Saint Basile, mais où il ne montre pas le même sens des beautés de la nature que l’auteur grec. Puis le plus long de ses traités, l’Exposé sur l’évangile de saint Luc en dix livres. Saint Augustin a formulé quelques réserves sur cet écrit, en raison probablement de l’idée qu’Ambroise s’y fait des peines de l’enfer. L’antiquité et le Moyen-Age l’ont cependant beaucoup lu et copié.

Dogme

Ambroise n’était pas préparé, au point de vue dogmatique, pour être un artisan de progrès, et il n’avait d’ailleurs aucun goût pour les spéculations abstraites. Foncièrement latin et romain, il visait simplement à se faire et à donner aux autres des conceptions nettes de ce qu’il faut croire, et allait tout de suite aux conséquences pratiques qu’on dit en tirer. C’est un catéchiste plus qu’un théologien. Parmi ses œuvres se trouvent quelques écrits doctrinaux: par exemple, un traité de la foi , c’est-à-dire sur la trinité, composé pour Gratien en 376 et 379 ; un traité du Saint Esprit, calqué sur celui de Didyme l’Aveugle et composé pour le même Gratien en 381 ; deux livres Sur la pénitence (vers 384) , contre les novatiens; mais surtout le traité Des mystères (De mysteriis) qui expose, sous forme de catéchèse, la doctrine sur le baptême, la confirmation et l’eucharistie: petit livre d’une lecture extrêmement utile, et que l’on trouvera presque entièrement traduit dans l’ouvrage à citer de M. de Labriolle. La doctrine de la transsubstantiation s’y trouve enseignée au moins aussi clairement que dans les catéchèses de saint Cyrille de Jérusalem. Assez semblable, pour le fond, au traité des mystères est un traité Des sacrements (De sacramentis) que l’on a souvent attribué à Saint Ambroise, et qui est imprimé parmi ses œuvres. On est d’accord actuellement pour lui en refuser la paternité, mais il paraît bien certain que l’auteur, quel qu’il soit, de cet écrit, peut-être du IV° ou du V° siècle, a puisé largement dans le traité de saint Ambroise et en a reproduit les idées.


Du bien de la mort (XII 52-55)

Avançons hardiment vers notre Rédempteur Jésus, rejoignons hardiment l'assemblée des saints, le concile des justes. Car nous irons vers ceux qui sont nos frères, vers ceux qui nous ont instruits dans la foi. Ainsi, même si nos œuvres sont insuffisantes, que la foi vienne à notre secours et préserve notre héritage. Le Seigneur sera la lumière de tous, et cette vraie lumière qui éclaire tout homme brillera pour tous. Nous irons là où le Seigneur Jésus a préparé des demeures pour ses serviteurs, afin que là où il est, nous soyons nous aussi, car telle est sa volonté. Quelles sont ces demeures ? Écoutons-le en parler : Dans la maison de mon Père il y a beaucoup de demeures. Et il nous dit ce qu'il veut : Je reviendrai et je vous prendrai avec moi, afin que là où je suis, vous soyez vous aussi.

Mais, direz-vous, il ne parlait ainsi qu'à ses disciples, c'est à eux seuls qu'il promettait ces nombreuses demeures ; et où voyez-vous qu'on viendra de partout prendre part au banquet dans le royaume de Dieu ? Comment pouvez-vous mettre en doute l'efficacité de la parole divine ? Pour le Christ, vouloir, c'est réaliser. Enfin il a montré le lieu et le chemin, quand il a dit : Où je vais, vous le savez, et vous savez le chemin. Le lieu, c'est chez le Père ; le chemin, c'est le Christ, comme il l'a dit lui-même : Moi je suis le chemin, la vérité et la vie. Nul ne vient au Père que par moi.

Entrons dans ce chemin, attachons-nous à la vérité, suivons la vie. Le chemin est ce qui conduit, la vérité est ce qui affermit, la vie est ce qui se donne de soi-même. Et pour que nous comprenions bien ce qu'il veut, il ajoutera plus loin : Père, ceux que tu m'as donnés, je veux que là où je suis, eux aussi soient avec moi, pour qu'ils contemplent ma gloire. Il est beau de voir que ce qu'il avait promis auparavant, maintenant il le demande. En effet, parce qu'il avait promis d'abord et qu'il demande maintenant, et non pas le contraire, on voit qu'il a promis d'abord comme étant maître du don, conscient de sa puissance ; ensuite il a demandé au Père, comme étant l'interprète de la piété filiale. Il a promis d'abord, pour que vous reconnaissiez son pouvoir. Il a demandé ensuite, pour que vous compreniez sa piété envers le Père.

Nous vous suivons, Seigneur Jésus. Mais pour que nous vous suivions, appelez-nous, parce que, sans vous, nul ne montera vers vous. Car vous êtes le chemin, la vérité, la vie. Vous êtes aussi notre secours, notre foi, notre récompense. Ceux qui sont à vous, accueillez-les, vous qui êtes le chemin ; fortifiez-les, vous qui êtes la vérité ; vivifiez-les, vous qui êtes la vie.

Saint Ambroise


De officiis ministrorum (II, 28)

Le principal aiguillon de la piété, c'est la compassion que nous avons pour les malheurs d'autrui, et qui nous induit à les aider dans la mesure où nous le pouvons. Mieux vaut être miséricordieux et nous créer des ennuis ou même nous exposer à la jalousie, que de nous montrer inhumains. C'est ainsi que naguère nous avons été en butte aux traits de l'envie pour avoir brisé les vases sacrés et les avoir fait servir à la rançon des captifs ; - ce qui pouvait déplaire aux Ariens. Et encore n'était-ce pas tant le fait même qui les choquait ; mais ils étaient heureux de trouver en nous un point vulnérable...

Nous avions eu de bonnes raisons d'agir ainsi. Mais nous ne manquâmes pas de dire et de répéter au milieu du peuple que mieux valait conserver des âmes au Seigneur que de sauver des trésors. Celui qui envoya ses apôtres sans or n'a pas eu besoin d'or pour former son Eglise. L'Eglise a de l'or, non pour le garder mais pour le répandre et venir en aide aux malheureux. A quoi bon garder ce qui ne sert à rien ?.. Le Seigneur ne nous dirait-il pas : Pourquoi as-tu laissé mourir de faim tant de nécessiteux ? Puisque tu avais de l'or, tu devais pourvoir à leurs besoins. Pourquoi tant de captifs ont-ils été vendus à l'encan, ou mis à mort faute d'avoir été rachetés ? Mieux valait conserver ces vases vivants que des vases de métal. A cela il n'y aurait rien à répondre. Que dire, en effet ? Je craignais de laisser sans ornement le temple de Dieu ? - Mais les sacrements n'exigent pas de vases d'or ; ce n'est pas de l'or que tire son prix ce qui ne s'achète pas avec de l'or. L'ornement des cérémonies saintes, c'est le rachat des captifs. Voilà les vases vraiment précieux qui rachètent les âmes de la mort... Qu'il est beau, quand une foule de captifs sont rachetés par l'Eglise, de pouvoir dire : Ceux-là, c'est le Christ qui les a rachetés... Le meilleur emploi de l'or du Rédempteur, c'est d'en user pour la rédemption de ceux qui sont en péril.

Saint Ambroise


Saint Ambroise vu par Saint Augustin

Je considérais Ambroise lui-même comme un homme heureux, au regard du monde, d'être si fort honoré par les plus hauts personnages. Il n'y avait que son célibat qui me paraissait chose pénible. Quant aux espérances qu'il portait en lui, aux combats qu'il avait à soutenir contre les tentations inhérentes à sa grandeur même, aux consolations qu'il trouvait dans l'adversité, aux joies savoureuses qu'il goûtait à ruminer Votre Pain, avec cette bouche mystérieuse qui était dans son cœur ; de tout cela je n'avais nulle idée, nulle expérience.

Et il ignorait pareillement ces agitations et l'abîme où je risquais de choir. Il m'était impossible de lui demander ce que je voulais, comme je le voulais ; une foule de gens affairés, qu'il aidait dans leur embarras, me dérobait cette audience et cet entretien. Quand il n'était pas occupé d'eux, il employait ces très courts instants à réconforter son corps par les aliments nécessaires, ou son esprit par la lecture.

Lisait-il, ses yeux couraient sur les pages dont son esprit perçait le sens ; mais sa voix et sa langue se reposaient. Souvent quand je me trouvais là, - car sa porte n'était jamais défendue, on entrait sans être annoncé, - je le voyais lisant tout bas et jamais autrement. Je demeurais assis dans un long silence, - qui eût osé troubler une attention si profonde ? - puis je me retirais, présumant qu'il lui serait importun d'être interrompu dans ces rares moments dont il bénéficiait pour le délassement de son esprit, quand le tumulte des affaires d'autrui lui laissait quelque loisir.



Les Pères de l’Église latine (I) : Ambroise de Milan (339-397)

• Ouvre tes fenêtres afin que la splendeur de la grande lumière pénètre en toi.

Comm. psaume 118

• Ceux qui boivent en vérité connaissent l’ivresse, la sainte ivresse qui répand en nous la joie sans porter atteinte au regret du péché, la sainte ivresse qui affermit les pensées de l’âme sobre, la sainte ivresse qui verse en nous le don de la vie éternelle. Bois le Christ, il est la Vigne.

Bois le Christ, il est la Source de vie, il est le fleuve qui réjouit la Cité de Dieu…

Bois le Christ en buvant le sang de ta rédemption.

Bois le Christ en buvant sa Parole.

Comm. psaume 1

• Que le Christ soit notre nourriture

Que la foi soit notre breuvage.

Joyeux, abreuvons-nous à la sobre ivresse de l’Esprit.

Hymne Splendor paternae gloria

I. Vie

Sources

Les œuvres de saint Ambroise, surtout la correspondance (91 lettres).

Une Vita écrite 25 ans après la mort d’Ambroise, rédigée à la demande de saint Augustin par le diacre Paulin, secrétaire d’Ambroise.

Les écrivains contemporains et surtout saint Augustin.

Les historiens du Ve siècle, par exemple Théodoret de Cyr.

- 1. La jeunesse

Ambroise de Milan

Milan, mosaïque de Ve siècle.

Ambroise naquit à Trèves vers 339, son père Ambroise de haute noblesse et de classe sénatoriale y avait été placé par l’empereur Constantin à la tête de la préfecture des Gaules (France, Espagne, Portugal, Bretagne). Ambroise était le plus jeune de ses trois enfants : l’aînée Marcelline recevra en 353 le voile des vierges consacrées des mains du pape Libère à Saint-Pierre de Rome, Uranius Satyrus fut l’alter ego d’Ambroise.

Le biographe Paulin rapporte la jolie légende de l’essaim d’abeilles : des abeilles entrèrent et sortirent de la bouche du bébé au berceau pour disparaître ensuite dans les cieux ! « Mon fils sera grand », s’exclama alors le père. Ce thème hérité de l’antiquité (cf. Démosthène) est récurrent, il veut prédire l’éloquence de celui qui « sera grand ».

Le père d’Ambroise mourut prématurément, la mère veuve regagna Rome afin d’assurer à ses enfants la meilleure instruction possible. Paulin nous rapporte de bien jolis détails : le petit Ambroise aimait jouer à l’évêque, il présentait donc sa main à baiser aux dames et la maman le grondait disant qu’il était un gosse ! Il se disputait avec la grande sœur Marcelline, Satyre, l’enfant édifiant jouait le rôle de pacificateur !

Ambroise reçut l’instruction d’un gentilhomme romain, il fut donc successivement sous un pédagogue, un grammairien et un rhéteur. Ses auteurs préférés furent Virgile, Cicéron, Salluste. L’instruction religieuse des enfants fut confiée à un membre du clergé, sans doute déjà le prêtre Simplicianus, futur successeur d’Ambroise à l’épiscopat, qu’Augustin dans ses Confessions appelle « le père dans la naissance à la grâce de l’évêque Ambroise » [1]

- 2. La carrière administrative

Satyre et Ambroise ayant terminé leurs études devinrent avocats de la cour du préfet Rufin à Sirmium et après sa mort, du préfet Probus, son richissime successeur.

Vers 370, Probus nomma Ambroise gouverneur de la province d’Emilie-Ligurie : « Va, lui dit-il, conduis-toi non pas en juge mais en évêque », il lui traçait ainsi un idéal de probité et de bonté. Ambroise résida dès lors à Milan, résidence impériale et deuxième ville de l’Italie, après Rome, au carrefour des routes vers la Gaule et Constantinople.

A Milan, l’évêque Auxence était arien [2]. En 374, il mourut. Le siège épiscopal serait-il une nouvelle fois aux mains d’un arien ? L’élection s’annonçait si tumultueuse qu’Ambroise en qualité de préfet de police voulut y assister :

• Il haranguait la foule quand une voix d’enfant s’éleva soudain : « Ambroise, évêque ! » Tout le peu le répéta ce cri et, du coup, le conflit entre ariens et catholiques fit place à une merveilleuse et incroyable unanimité.

PAULIN, Vita 6

L’appel de Dieu s’exprimait par la voix de l’Église Ambroise essaya mais en vain de se dérober. Il n’était pas encore baptisé ! Il reçut le baptême le 24 novembre et le 7 décembre de la même année 374, il fut consacré évêque.

- 3. L’épiscopat

• Le pasteur

Le nouvel évêque n’était pas un théologien, rien ne l’avait préparé à sa tâche de pasteur :

• Il me fallait enseigner avant d’avoir appris !

De officiis, 1, 1, 4

Aidé de Simplicien, il s’instruisit, lisant tous les auteurs chrétiens tant anciens que contemporains, s’assimilant d’une manière surprenante tous les écrivains grecs car il avait une connaissance rare de la langue grecque : il repensa surtout Origène, il se nourrit aussi de la pensée de Philon et de celle de Plotin.

Très tôt, il fut apte à commenter à son peuple la parole de Dieu puisée dans la Bible, Augustin s’émerveillera de son procédé d’interprétation allégorique emprunté aux alexandrins. Avec soin, il prépara les catéchumènes au baptême et les initia aux célébrations pascales et à la compréhension des rites. Il se montra d’une générosité sans limites, accueillant à tous, aidant les pauvres, compatissant aux pénitents. Toute l’œuvre écrite qui reproduit ses sermons témoigne du zèle pastoral de cet infatigable prédicateur.

• L’évêque face aux empereurs

Ambroise chercha à réaliser l’idéal d’un Empire chrétien. Ses fonctions administratives l’avaient préparé à jouer un rôle politique et de fait, il sut toujours agir avec diplomatie, mais il en imposa surtout par sa parfaite loyauté et par la conscience qu’il avait de son rôle d’évêque et de défenseur du christianisme. Aucun empereur n’osa lui tenir tête !

Milan était résidence impériale et Ambroise fut en contact avec tous les empereurs. Rien n’était moins stable que le pouvoir impérial à cette époque troublée où les Goths menaçaient l’Empire. Nous donnons donc ici la liste des empereurs qui régnèrent durant l’épiscopat d’Ambroise

• Valentinien I

Empereur de 364 à 375. Fort malade en 367, il décide de donner le rang d’Auguste au fils de sa femme Severa, le doux Gratien âgé alors de huit ans. En 368, il divorce et épouse Justine, une arienne.

• Gratien

fut empereur de 367 à 383. Il fut le fils spirituel d’Ambroise qu’il aimait tendrement. Il refusa par sentiment chrétien le titre de Pontifex maximus. En 375, à la mort de son père Valentinien I, son frère cadet, le fils de l’impératrice Justine, fut proclamé Auguste, Gratien s’en réjouit et on divisa l’Empire. Gratien se retira en Gaule, régnant aussi sur l’Espagne et la Bretagne. Valentinien II, qui avait en 375 quatre ans, régna sur l’Italie et l’Afrique. Gratien demeura quelque temps régent. En 383, il fut lâchement assassiné à Lyon, sur l’ordre de l’usurpateur Maxime. En mourant, il s’écria « Ambroise ! »

• Maxime, l’usurpateur

fut proclamé empereur en 381, il fut mis à mort en 388 pour avoir voulu arracher l’Italie à l’empereur légitime Valentinien II. Ambroise fut envoyé à Trèves auprès de lui afin de réclamer le corps de Gratien. Maxime chercha à l’humilier, exigeant que Valentinien vienne lui-même « comme un fils auprès de son père ! ». Ambroise répondit qu’un si jeune enfant ne pouvait faire en hiver un si long voyage et Maxime, impressionné par Ambroise, accepta de faire la paix.

• Valentinien II

né en 371, est le frère cadet de Gratien. Il fut empereur de 375 à 392, Gratien puis l’impératrice Justine assurant la régence quelque temps. Il céda devant Ambroise qui refusait de donner une église aux ariens. Il fut assassiné en 392 par ordre du rhéteur Arbogast, général gaulois. Se sentant menacé, il avait appelé Ambroise, demandant le baptême. Mais Ambroise ne put arriver à temps. Aussi nous avons dans la belle oraison funèbre qu’Ambroise prononça pour Valentinien un témoignage de la valeur du baptême de désir :

• J’entends que vous vous lamentez parce qu’il n’a pas reçu le sacrement du baptême… N’a-t-il donc pas la grâce, celui qui l’a désirée ? Ne l’a-t-il pas, celui qui l’a demandée ? Et parce qu’il l’a demandée, il l’a reçue !

Oraison funèbre de Valentinien II

• Justine impératrice,

épouse de Valentinien I et Mère de Valentinien II, était arienne. Elle parvint à faire nommer son chapelain évêque arien de Milan et celui-ci prit alors le nom d’Auxence, prédécesseur d’Ambroise. Elle chercha, mais bien en vain, de s’opposer à Ambroise. Elle mourut en 388.

• Théodose

fut empereur de 379 à 395, d’abord en Orient seulement. Gratien l’avait appelé lui-même au pouvoir, voulant ainsi réhabiliter la mémoire de son père tué sur l’ordre de Valens, oncle de Gratien, empereur arien en Orient. Théodose épousera la sœur de Gratien, Galla. Théodose, après le massacre de Thessalonique en 390, se soumit à la pénitence publique à la demande d’Ambroise

• Eugène, l’usurpateur,

empereur en 392, responsable du meurtre de Valentinien II, fut décapité en 394 sur l’ordre de Théodose.

• Honorius,

fils de Théodose, empereur d’Occident de 395 à 423.

On ne s’étonnera pas devant une telle liste d’entendre Ambroise parler de la misérable condition des rois, du manque de stabilité du pouvoir !

• Qu’y a-t-il de plus beau que de s’approcher de la source de la vie, le Bien souverain ? Quelle plus grande joie que de s’attacher à lui ? Quand on l’a vu, quand on a gratuitement bu à la source de vie, que peut-on souhaiter d’autre ? Quels royaumes ? Quel pouvoir ? Quelles richesses ? Si l’on prend garde combien est misérable ici-bas la condition des rois eux-mêmes, combien changeante la stabilité du pouvoir, combien court le temps de cette vie, quelles servitudes comporte l’empire même, quand il faut vivre au gré des autres, non à son gré !

Lettre 29 à Irénée, clerc de Milan

• Quatre incidents significatifs : le prestige d’Ambroise

• La statue de la Victoire lutte contre le paganisme

En 382, l’empereur Gratien fit enlever la statue de la Victoire de la salle du Sénat. Cet acte d’autorité révolta les païens. Lorsque en 383, Gratien fut assassiné à Lyon par ordre de l’usurpateur Maxime, le paganisme releva la tête. Le préfet de Rome, le sénateur païen Symmaque, apparenté à Ambroise, fut envoyé à l’empereur Valentinien II, au nom des sénateurs païens. Il prononça un discours où il demandait que la statue de la déesse soit replacée au Sénat et que la religion de ses pères soit tolérée : « Nous redemandons un culte qui a fait longtemps la fortune de Rome ». Unanime, le conseil impérial donnait son consentement. Le jeune Valentinien II - il avait alors quatorze ans -, hésitait. La question était d’ailleurs réellement complexe : était-il juste d’imposer à une majorité de sénateurs chrétiens d’assister à un culte païen ?

L’évêque intervint, il écrivit coup sur coup deux lettres à l’empereur : la lettre 17 et la lettre 18 qui est une réfutation du discours de Symmaque :

• Tous les hommes soumis à la domination romaine sont là pour obéir, à vous empereurs et princes de la terre ; mais vous-mêmes vous devez servir le Dieu tout-puissant et la sainte foi… La présente cause est celle de la religion, j’interviens en tant qu’évêque… Si une décision contraire est prise, nous ne pourrons, nous évêques, nous en accommoder d’un cœur léger ni dissimuler notre opinion. Il vous sera loisible de vous rendre à l’église, mais vous n’y trouverez point l’évêque ou il ne sera là que pour protester !

Lettre 17 à Valentinien, 1 et 13

L’empereur aussitôt céda : la statue de la Victoire ne fut pas replacée.

• Refus d’une église aux ariens

L’impératrice Justine était arienne. Elle n’avait pas hésité cependant à solliciter l’aide d’Ambroise : lors du meurtre de Gratien, Ambroise fut envoyé auprès de l’usurpateur Maxime pour négocier et redemander le corps de l’empereur. Reconnaissante, Justine lui avait confié son fils, le jeune empereur Valentinien II. D’autre part, l’impératrice usait de son influence auprès de son fils afin que le culte arien soit rétabli. L’impératrice exigea qu’une église soit donnée aux ariens. Justine et Valentinien, convoquant Ambroise, lui demandèrent de discuter de la chose avec l’évêque arien Auxence. Ambroise refusa tout net, il rédigea sa protestation : le sermo contra Auxentium.

• Si l’empereur me demandait ce qui est à moi, mes terres, mon argent, je ne lui opposerais aucun refus, encore que tous mes biens soient aux pauvres. Mais les choses divines ne sont point sous la dépendance de l’empereur !

Lettre 20, 8

Le jeune empereur, à l’instigation de sa mère, tint bon, bien plus, on avertit Ambroise que la basilique Porcienne serait enlevée par la force militaire, s’il le fallait. Ambroise résista encore, rien ne le ferait céder. Il fit connaître publiquement sa décision au peuple chrétien le dimanche des Rameaux : « L’empereur n’est pas au-dessus de l’Église il est dans l’Église ». Les événements se précipitèrent et Ambroise en raconta toutes les dramatiques péripéties dans une lettre à sa sœur Marcelline (la Lettre 20). Ambroise n’hésite pas à comparer l’impératrice à Jézabel ! La basilique fut encerclée en pleine semaine sainte tandis qu’Ambroise et le peuple chantaient des hymnes, celles que composait l’évêque. Les soldats envahissent l’église et ils supplient Ambroise de ne pas les excommunier : « Nous sommes venus pour prier et non pas pour combattre ! » Ambroise demeure inflexible : « Je ne puis pas donner une église aux hérétiques, je ne puis pas faire en sorte que l’épouse du Christ devienne adultère ! » Ces événements se situent en 385 et 386.

L’empereur et sa mère durent finalement céder. Ils en furent très mortifiés et quittant leur résidence impériale de Milan, ils se retirèrent quelque temps à Venise.

• La synagogue de Callinicum (388)

Sur les rives de l’Euphrate à Callinicum, des catholiques, un groupe de moines, semble-t-il, avaient incendié une synagogue, en 388.

L’empereur Théodose, profondément irrité, ordonna que la synagogue soit reconstruite aux frais des coupables et il notifia son ordre à l’évêque du lieu. Ambroise en fut averti. Il protesta : « Qu’est-ce qui doit l’emporter : une conception de l’ordre ou l’intérêt de la religion ? Quand la piété commande, le droit de punir doit céder » [3].

Théodose tint bon et on le comprend ! Mais l’évêque le prit à partie devant tous au cours de la célébration liturgique ! Théodose céda !

• Le massacre de Thessalonique (390)

À Thessalonique, la foule avait tué un général romain. Théodose furieux ordonna de terribles représailles. La foule fut odieusement trompée et attirée dans un guet-apens, on la réunit au cirque pour des jeux, on la massacra alors sans pitié : on compta plus de 700 cadavres. Théodose lui-même fut atterré, il était cependant pleinement responsable. L’évêque alors exigea la pénitence et la pénitence publique.

• Le péché ne peut nous être ôté que par les larmes et la pénitence.

Lettre 51

Ambroise agit avec autant de délicatesse que de fermeté. Il évita de rencontrer Théodose mais il lui écrivit avec une réelle bonté, sans atténuer en rien l’horreur du crime, il invita l’empereur à se soumettre à l’église et en public à la pénitence :

• Si vous avez confiance en moi, faites ce que je vous dis ; si vous avez confiance, reconnaissez la vérité de ce que je vous dis. Sinon, pardonnez-moi ma manière d’agir, mais je mets Dieu au-dessus de tout.

Lettre 1, 17

L’historien Théodoret nous a laissé un récit circonstancié de la pénitence publique de l’empereur. Il est rédigé vers 450 et on peut penser qu’il est quelque peu romancé ! Il est certain cependant que l’empereur Théodose se soumit avec sincérité en chrétien. Comment ne pas admirer l’humble assurance de l’évêque qui écrivait à cet empereur que chacun redoutait, comme à un fils très aimé : « Si vous avez confiance en moi ! » L’empereur avait confiance.

Théodose s’abstint pendant quelque temps de recevoir l’Eucharistie à cause du sang versé. En 394, il mourut en prononçant ces mots : « J’ai aimé ! »

L’Empire fut alors divisé entre ses deux fils, Arcadius et Honorius. Honorius devenait empereur d’Occident, la décadence de l’Empire livré aux barbares allait s’accélérer, en 410 Rome serait détruite par Alaric, roi des Wisigoths.

• La mort d’Ambroise

Lorsque Stilicon, un barbare cruel, général d’Honorius (empereur d’Occident de 395 à 423) apprit qu’Ambroise était gravement malade, il se lamenta : « La mort d’un si grand homme serait la ruine de l’Italie » dit-il, et il envoya une délégation auprès d’Ambroise afin de l’inviter à prier lui-même pour obtenir sa guérison. Ambroise répondit par ces paroles émouvantes

• Je n’ai pas vécu parmi vous de manière à être honteux de continuer de vivre, mais je n’ai pas peur de mourir car le Maître que je sers est bon !

PAULIN, Vita

Ambroise entend chuchoter à son chevet : Qui sera le futur évêque ? Simplicien ? Il intervient lui-même : « Il est âgé, dit-il, mais il est bon ». Ambroise entre en agonie un vendredi saint et, le 4 avril 397, le samedi saint, il meurt ; on porte le corps de l’évêque à la vigile pascale. Ambroise sera inhumé auprès des martyrs Gervais et Protais dont les corps avaient été découverts en 386.


II. Œuvres

La majeure partie des œuvres de saint Ambroise est constituée de Sermons qui furent publiés après une révision rapide. L’ensemble révèle, en premier lieu, le souci pastoral du saint évêque. Ceux qui étudient saint Ambroise se rencontrent tous pour dire que sa doctrine est en dépendance de celle des Pères grecs et que par conséquent Ambroise n’est pas un théologien original. C’est certainement exact.

Par contre, on relève des jugements contradictoires sur sa valeur en tant qu’écrivain. On dit souvent qu’il n’est pas un écrivain de premier ordre, on passe très rapidement aussi sur sa valeur en tant qu’auteur spirituel : dans une étude, très sympathisante cependant à saint Ambroise, on relève ces mots « Qu’ils traitent de pastorale, d’édification ou de dogme ses nombreux écrits ne sont ni très originaux, ni très spirituels » [4]. La lecture, difficile d’ailleurs, de saint Ambroise fait découvrir, pensons-nous, des trésors de spiritualité, elle met en contact avec l’âme fervente et très délicate du saint. On a nettement l’impression, en lisant bien des jugements sur l’œuvre du saint, qu’une découverte reste à faire. « Ses écrits sont une mine très riche qui nous réserve peut-être encore plus d’une surprise » [5], c’est à un tel jugement que nous souscrivons. Surprise certes de découvrir des emprunts non encore signalés parce que si parfaitement assimilés, mais surprise aussi de découvrir la profondeur et la beauté d’une pensée toujours nourrie de ferveur religieuse.

Le style de saint Ambroise est un style difficile, les traducteurs de son latin élégant, très dense et concis, pourraient en témoigner.

- 1. Œuvres exégétiques

On sait qu’Ambroise expliquait quotidiennement au peuple chrétien la parole de Dieu. Il semble bien qu’il ait voulu commenter par ordre la Bible, son exégèse est allégorique, en dépendance directe de l’école d’Alexandrie et en tout premier lieu d’Origène.

• L’Hexameron

en 6 livres, célèbre la beauté de la création, il est inspiré de l’ouvrage de saint Basile qui porte le même nom et dont l’exégèse est littérale ; on y trouve aussi l’influence des idées stoïciennes. Nous citons l’admirable finale, du moins en partie :

• Qu’ici s’achève notre discours car le sixième jour est accompli et la totalité de l’œuvre du monde a pris fin, je veux parler de l’homme dans sa perfection, en lui est le principe de tous les êtres animés et en quelque sorte la totalité de l’univers et toute la beauté de la créature de ce inonde. Certes faisons silence car Dieu s’est reposé de toutes les œuvres de ce monde.

Il s’est reposé dans la retraite du cœur de l’homme, il s’est reposé dans son esprit, dans sa pensée…

Je rends grâces au Seigneur notre Dieu dont l’œuvre fut telle qu’il s’y reposa ! il fit le ciel et je ne lis pas qu’il s’y reposa. Il fit le soleil et la lune et les étoiles et là non plus, je ne lis pas qu’il s’y reposa, mais voici que je lis qu’il fit l’homme et alors, oui, à se reposa parce qu’il avait quelqu’un à qui il pût pardonner !

Hexameron, 10, 75

• Traités divers

Sur le Paradis, Caïn et Abel, Noé, Abraham, Isaac et l’âme, Jacob et la vie bienheureuse, Joseph, les Patriarches, Elie et le jeûne, Naboth, Tobie, Interpellation de Job et de David, Apologie du prophète David, Discours sur 12 psaumes, la longue et très belle explication Sur le psaume 118…

• Le De Isaac et anima

est plus un commentaire du Cantique des cantiques que du livre de la Genèse - le Christ aime l’Église que préfigure Rebecca, Origène appelait le Christ « notre Isaac », le véritable Isaac.

• De même en effet que le cep enserre sa frondaison, de même le Seigneur Jésus, vigne éternelle, étreint son peuple dans les bras de son amour.

29

• Si une âme cherche le Christ avec grand soin, elle entend sa voix de loin, et bien qu’elle s’enquière auprès d’autres, bien plus que la voix de ceux à qui elle le demande, c’est sa, voix que de loin elle entend.

33

• Endormie mais le cœur en éveil, elle est appelée par lui. Dès qu’il frappe, elle entend sa voix, mais elle tarde quelque peu à se lever car elle ne peut rejoindre la rapidité du Verbe et lorsqu’elle ouvre la porte, le Verbe a passé ! Aussitôt elle sort à sa parole, elle le cherche, supportant les blessures, les blessures de l’amour, et à grand’peine elle arrive à le trouver, elle le tient alors de telle sorte qu’elle ne puisse jamais le perdre.

50

• Un jour de sabbat, il menait ses disciples parmi les récoltes. Moïse, lui, a conduit le peuple des Juifs à travers le désert ; le Christ mène parmi les semailles, il mène aussi parmi les lis, car sa Passion a fait fleurir le désert comme un lis. Suivons le Christ, afin qu’au jour du sabbat, du grand sabbat où a lieu le grand repos, nous puissions récolter les fruits.

56

L’Épouse (l’Église) est achevée et parfaite comme la justice, elle emprunte tout son éclat à la lumière du Verbe qu’elle regarde sans cesse.

57

• Le Commentaire sur l’Évangile de saint Luc

est le plus étendu de tous les écrits d’Ambroise. Une nouvelle fois, l’influence d’Origène est évidente, les deux premiers livres le copient de très près.

• Pierre souffrait et pleura son erreur. Je ne trouve pas dans les saintes Lettres qu’il ait parlé, j’y trouve qu’il a pleuré ; j’y lis ses larmes non son excuse. Il est possible de laver ce qu’il est impossible de défendre. Que donc les larmes lavent la faute que la bouche tremble de confesser. Les pleurs procurent le pardon tout en ménageant la honte de l’aveu. Les larmes crient la faute sans provoquer l’horreur, les larmes avouent le crime sans froisser la pudeur.

Elles n’implorent pas la rémission, elles la méritent. Je sais pourquoi Pierre s’est tu : il craignait de grandir son affront en demandant trop tôt son pardon. Pleurez d’abord, c’est ainsi qu’on supplie. Bonnes sont les larmes qui lavent la faute. Et ceux qui pleurent, ce sont ceux sur qui s’est posé le regard de Jésus. D’abord Pierre renia sans pleurer : le Seigneur ne l’avait pas regardé. Il renia derechef, sans pleurer davantage, car alors encore le Seigneur ne l’avait pas regardé. Il renia une troisième fois, Jésus le regarda et, lui, se mit à sangloter amèrement. O Seigneur Jésus ! Regardez-nous, pour que nous aussi nous sachions pleurer nos fautes [6].

10, 87-88

- 2. Œuvres ascétiques

Le célèbre traité Sur les devoirs des clercs, De Officiis ministrorum copie de près le De officiis de Cicéron, il en est la transposition chrétienne, il s’adresse aux clercs de l’Église de Milan.

Ambroise écrivit toute une série d’ouvrages sur la virginité : De virginibus, De virginitate, De institutione virginis, Exhortatio virginitatis. Il y ajouta un écrit pour les veuves, le De viduis. C’est dès le début de son épiscopat qu’Ambroise manifesta sa sollicitude toute particulière pour les « épouses du Christ » : le De virginibus date de janvier 376, le De virginitate de juin 377. Ces écrits révèlent la grande délicatesse d’âme et la sensibilité d’Ambroise. Voici le commentaire de l’apparition du Ressuscité à Marie de Magdala (Jean 20, 1-18) que saint Bernard amplifiera [7] :

• Femme, pourquoi pleures-tu ? Qui cherches-tu ? Oui, il y a lieu de pleurer pour toi, incrédule encore envers le Christ. Tu pleures ? Tu ne vois donc pas le Christ ? Crois et tu le verras. Le Christ est tout proche. Il est là près de toi. Jamais à ceux qui le cherchent il ne fait défaut.

Pourquoi pleures-tu ? Il n’est nulle raison de pleurer, si seulement ardente dans la foi, tu es faite digne de Dieu ! Ne pense plus aux choses mortelles et tu ne pleureras plus. Ne pense plus aux choses passées et nulle cause de larmes ne demeurera !

Pourquoi pleures-tu ? Vois, tu pleures, et c’est maintenant l’heure de la grande allégresse dont tant d’autres se réjouissent.

Qui cherches-tu ? Ne le vois-tu pas : le Christ est là ! Ne vois-tu pas le Christ, il est la force de Dieu, il est la sagesse de Dieu, le Christ est la sainteté, le Christ est la chasteté, le Christ est l’intégrité, il est né de la Vierge, le Christ provient du Père, il est auprès du Père et toujours dans le Père, né non créé, il n’est pas séparé du Père, mais toujours aimé, vrai Dieu de vrai Dieu.

« Ils ont enlevé mon Seigneur du sépulcre et je ne sais où ils l’ont mis. »

Ô femme, tu te trompes ! Tu penses que d’autres ont enlevé le Christ. Ne sais-tu pas qu’il est ressuscité de par sa propre puissance ? Personne ne peut enlever la force de Dieu, personne ne s’empare de la sagesse de Dieu et personne ne peut ravir la chasteté vénérable. On ne peut enlever le Christ du monument du juste ni du cœur aimant. Et si même d’aventure, il y en avait qui voulaient l’y dérober, jamais ils ne pourraient y réussir.

Aussi le Seigneur parle lui-même et il dit : « Marie, regarde-moi ! »

Alors que tu ne me regardais pas, je t’appelais « femme », car tu ne croyais pas alors, mais aussitôt que ton regard se tourne vers moi, je te nomme « Marie ». Tu reçois le nom de celle qui engendre le Christ, car spirituellement ton âme engendre le Christ.

Regarde-moi : celui qui regarde le Christ se corrige, il demeure dans l’erreur, celui qui ne voit pas le Christ.

De Virginitate IV, 16-20.

- 3. Œuvres dogmatiques

En 378, le jeune Gratien âgé de moins de vingt ans écrivit à son cher évêque Ambroise, lui demandant de l’éclairer sur la foi. Il craignait l’influence de son oncle Valens qui était arien et voulait être éclairé sur le dogme de la divinité du Verbe. Ambroise lui répond par un traité sur la foi, le De fide ad Gratianum :

• J’aimerais mieux exhorter à la foi que de discuter sur la foi ! Exhorter à la foi, c’est en faire profession, discuter relève plutôt d’une imprudente présomption !

De fide, Prologue

En 381, l’année même où se tenait en Orient le Concile de Constantinople, Ambroise dédie à Gratien encore son traité sur le Saint-Esprit. Dans ce De Spiritu Sancto, Ambroise s’inspire de la théologie grecque contemporaine, il affirme l’identité d’essence du Saint-Esprit avec le Père et le Fils.

Une troisième œuvre doctrinale importante parut en 381 encore : le De incarnationis dominicae sacramento, ce traité de l’Incarnation est dirigé contre l’arianisme.

- 4. Œuvres de liturgie pastorale

• Les traités De mysteriis et De sacramentis

traitent des sacrements de l’initiation chrétienne : baptême, confirmation, eucharistie. Ces sermons s’adressent aux nouveaux baptisés et développent toute une catéchèse pascale sur le symbolisme des rites et de l’Écriture. Ils témoignent du soin extrême que le pasteur prenait à commenter les célébrations baptismales :

• Quelle richesse d’images ! Et on peut ajouter : quelle richesse de doctrine ! Sans doute tout cela ne se laisse pas cataloguer. Ce n’est pas un inventaire qu’on dresse ; c’est un joyau dont on fait étinceler à loisir toutes les facettes.

Dom Bernard Botte [8].

• Le De paenitentia

s’insurge contre le rigorisme des novatiens. Il révèle le cœur d’Ambroise :

• Chaque fois que pour obtenir la pénitence quelqu’un venait lui confesser ses fautes, il pleurait au point d’arracher des larmes au pénitent lui aussi.

Vita, 30

• Je n’étais pas digne d’être évêque et je le savais… Celui donc, Seigneur, que vous avez appelé au sacerdoce tandis qu’il se perdait, maintenant qu’il est évêque, ne le laissez pas périr. Et avant tout, donnez-moi de savoir compatir affectueusement aux pécheurs. Chaque fois que le péché d’un coupable m’est révélé, que je sache prendre ma part de sa douleur. Au lieu de le reprendre avec hauteur, que je sache m’affliger et pleurer.

De paenitentia 11, 8, 73

• Les Hymnes

Ambroise composa des hymnes pour sa communauté aux jours de 386, lorsque l’église que convoitaient les ariens était assiégée, il cherchait ainsi à « charmer » la foule. Ambroise avait un devancier et un modèle en saint Hilaire de Poitiers, il le surpassa. « Pour se consoler et s’encourager, les frères avec enthousiasme chantaient ensemble dans l’union des voix et des cœurs » écrit saint Augustin qui se surprit au lendemain des obsèques de sa mère Monique à s’apaiser en se remémorant des vers d’Ambroise : « Qu’aux membres brisés, le repos donne au labeur force neuve, qu’il soulage l’âme épuisée, qu’il chasse l’angoisse du deuil [9] ».

Ambroise semble bien être l’auteur de l’Exultet pascal.

- 5. Discours et lettres

Ambroise composa deux oraisons funèbres Sur la mort de son frère Satyre : elles furent toutes deux prononcées et elles nous renseignent sur les cérémonies funéraires. La deuxième oraison funèbre traite de la résurrection future et on l’intitule souvent De fide resurrectionis.

Satyre, le frère très aimé d’Ambroise, avait abandonné le service de l’Etat pour se consacrer à la direction de la maison de son frère, mais tout au début de l’épiscopat, sans doute dès 375 [10], Satyre mourut. Il est assez intéressant de relater au point de vue sacramentel (baptême - eucharistie) l’incident du naufrage tel que le raconte Ambroise lui-même : Satyre devait se rendre en Afrique pour y réclamer une dette due à son frère Ambroise. En vue des côtes de Sardaigne, le navire fit naufrage et Satyre pria afin de ne pas périr avant d’avoir reçu le baptême. Il remarqua des chrétiens se communiant entre eux et il les pria de bien vouloir lui confier le pain consacré, il put gagner la Sardaigne à la nage et il se mît aussitôt en quête d’un évêque afin de recevoir le baptême, il lui demanda d’abord s’il était en accord avec l’Église de Rome. Satyre devait mourir peu après son retour à Milan. Il dit à son frère : « Lègue aux pauvres tout ce qui te semblera bon ».

• Ce qui me sembla bon, ce fut de leur léguer tout !… Ah mon frère, tandis que je recueillais ton dernier souffle sur ta bouche haletante, que n’ai-je pu faire passer dans mon âme la beauté de la tienne.

De excessi Satyris

Il faut citer aussi les oraisons funèbres prononcées aux funérailles des empereurs Valentinien II, assassiné en 392 et Théodose, mort en 395.

Il reste 91 Lettres d’Ambroise.

Conclusion

Ambroise, nous le savons par le témoignage de saint Augustin, fut l’accueil même, sa porte s’ouvrait à tous et ce silencieux était assailli par le tumulte des affaires d’autrui [11]. On l’aimait, on le craignait cependant. Ce doux évêque exerçait sur tous son étrange attirance, mais toujours il imposait le respect. Sa fermeté fut inébranlable : nul n’osa lui tenir tête ni même discuter ses ordres, ni les empereurs, ni cette impératrice Justine qu’il osa appeler Jézabel et Hérodiade, ni Augustin, ni Monique même [12] !

Aujourd’hui encore, les érudits sont unanimes à reconnaître la loyauté de celui dont ils ne peuvent certes approuver tous les gestes :

• Il donne l’impression d’une totale intégrité dans ce qu’il exige, et lors même qu’il est dur dans l’action, il ne s’y montre jamais intraitable, inhumain, sans scrupule. Il peut arriver qu’on déteste les objectifs qu’il poursuit et la façon dont il procède, l’homme lui-même commande le respect, comme déjà de son vivant ses ennemis ne pouvaient lui refuser estime et considération.

H. von Campenhausen [13].

Chacun donc salue Ambroise comme une personnalité de premier plan sur le terrain de la politique et souligne volontiers son tempérament romain, son goût de l’action qui le porte à mettre en relief dans ses œuvres pastorales l’aspect moral et pratique. Mais a-t-on dit assez la source de la morale d’Ambroise ? A-t-on assez remarqué dans ses écrits leur accent pénétrant ? A-t-on su découvrir la densité et la valeur exceptionnelle du sentiment religieux d’Ambroise, la ferveur de sa foi, la passion qui fait vibrer son amour du Christ et de l’Église dont il parle presque à chaque page, la contemplant dans la profondeur de sa réalité céleste ?

Ambroise est à juste titre aux côtés de saint Jérôme, de saint Augustin et de saint Grégoire le Grand un des quatre grands docteurs de l’Église latine à laquelle il légua l’héritage de la pensée grecque. Cet évêque fut un saint pasteur, Paulin nous dit que l’enseignement catéchétique auquel seul il se consacrait fut assuré après sa mort par cinq prêtres. Augustin encore a défini l’éloquence et le style d’Ambroise lorsqu’il nous dit tout à la fois que cette éloquence zélée le charmait, qu’il la sondait, y suspendant toute son attention, mais que ce langage cultivé était moins enjoué, moins séduisant que celui du manichéen Faustus. C’est bien cela : Ambroise se découvre à celui qui lui donne une ardente attention qu’il ne provoque pas toujours !

• Pendant que j’ouvrais mon cœur pour surprendre combien sa parole était éloquente, en même temps et comme par degrés pénétrait en moi combien sa parole était vraie.

Saint Augustin [14]

Il existe un portrait authentique de saint Ambroise : une mosaïque du début du Ve siècle, qui se trouve à Milan en la basilique ambrosienne. La silhouette est frêle et de petite taille, quant à l’expression du visage elle est saisissante :

• … Curieusement absente et presque attristée, confirmée par les yeux grands ouverts, on dirait qu’ils regardent avec intensité la communauté rassemblée, mais le regard profondément sérieux et silencieux semble la dépasser pour atteindre l’infini.

H. VON CAMPENHAUSEN [15].

Ambroise n’a cessé de poser son regard sur la « communauté rassemblée » en laquelle il voyait l’Église il a peiné pour pouvoir la présenter, pure dans sa foi et sans tache dans ses œuvres, à son Seigneur. Nous voudrions conclure par ces simples mots d’Augustin pour qui la rencontre de l’évêque de Milan fut décisive :

• Cet homme de Dieu m’accueillit paternellement… avec une charité bien digne d’un évêque. Je me pris à l’aimer !

SAINT AUGUSTIN, Confessions V, 13

Source :

SOEUR GABRIEL PETERS, Lire les Pères de l’Église. Cours de patrologie, DDB, 1981.

Avec l’aimable autorisation des Éditions Migne.

[1] Voir SAINT AUGUSTIN, Confessions, VIII, 3.

[2] Auxence était un Cappadocien. Il a certainement introduit dans la liturgie romaine des éléments orientaux qu’Ambroise gardera (rite ambrosien).

[3] Lettre 40.

[4] Voir H. VON AMPENHAUSEN, Les Pères latins, Paris 1967, « Livre de Vie » N° 96, p. 110.

[5] Voirt B. ALTANER, Précis de Patrologie, trad. H. Chirat, Paris 1961, p. 533.

[6] Voir l’hymne Aeterne rerum Conditor de saint Ambroise : « Jésus, regarde-nous, nous qui tombons, relève-nous par ton regard, si tu regardes, les fautes tombent et le péché est lavé par les larmes » : Si respicis lapsus cadunt, fletuque culpa solvitur.

[7] Voir SAINT BERNARD, Méditation sur la Passion et la Résurrection, 38.

[8] Dom Bernard Botte, dans l’introduction à AMBROISE DE MILAN, Des Sacrements, des Mystères, SC 25, Paris 1949, p. 33.

[9] Voir SAINT AUGUSTIN, Confessions IX, 6 et 12.

[10] Date discutée.

[11] Voir SAINT AUGUSTIN, Confessions, VI, 3.

[12] Id. VI, 2 : Saint Augustin remarque avec finesse que Monique obéissait à Ambroise bien plus facilement qu’elle n’eût obéi à un autre « qu’elle n’eût pas autant aimé » !

[13] Voir H. VON CAMPENHAUSEN, op. cit., p. 110.

[14] Voir SAINT AUGUSTIN, op. cit., V, 14.

[15] Voir H. VON CAMPENHAUSEN, op. cit., p. 154.


Saint Ambroise de Milan,

Docteur de l'Eglise (339-397)

Ambroise de Milan est une des plus grandes figures de l'Église ancienne et le meilleur représentant latin, avec Augustin, de la pensée mariale occidentale.

Ambroise naît entre 334 et 339 à Trèves, où son père est préfet. Il étudie et enseigne la rhétorique. Vers 370 il est nommé gouverneur de la Ligurie et de l'Emilie, en siégeant à Milan. Ambroise, homme intègre et consciencieux, après la mort de l'évêque aryen Assenze, et alors qu'il est encore catéchumène, est acclamé évêque par tout le peuple de Milan, aussi bien les orthodoxes que les aryens. Il est baptisé et, huit jours après, consacré évêque, le 7 décembre 374. Guidé par le prêtre savant Simplicianus, il se consacre infatigablement à l'étude des Livres saints, de la Tradition de l'Eglise, des Pères latins et surtout grecs. Prédicateur célèbre, il exerce une influence déterminante dans l'Eglise et dans la politique de son temps.

Ambroise, amoureux du Christ, le Verbe, brûle comme saint Paul d'une jalousie divine pour la virginité consacrée au Seigneur. Il fonde et dirige des monastères de vierges. Il écrit aux vierges quatre oeuvres célèbres dont « De la virginité » - entendue dans le sens le plus ample: de corps, de cœur et d'esprit - et il s'exprime avec une délicatesse exquise. [...]

Il nourrit et manifeste envers Marie une vénération profonde, qui ne naît pas d'un sentimentalisme piétiste, mais de la conscience précise de la place singulière de Marie dans le mystère du salut.

Il accepte, avec une claire formulation christologique, la maternité divine de Marie ; il reprend et développe l'ancienne antithèse Ève-Marie. [...]

Il propose comme modèle la Vierge Marie suivant son portrait le plus vrai et le plus évangélique, formé de pudeur virginale, d'écoute attentive de la Parole de Dieu, d'humilité de cœur, de labeur incessant, de prompte charité envers les pauvres, d'ascèse quotidienne, d'équilibre intérieur, de désir ardent de l'Époux continuellement recherché et fidèlement suivi.

Vatican II a repris un aspect important chez saint Ambroise : la typologie ecclésiale de Marie. En effet saint Ambroise fonde un parallélisme typologique entre Marie et l'Église, entre la maternité de Marie et les sacrements de l'Église, entre Marie et chaque fidèle dans l'Église : ce parallélisme concerne la virginité de la foi et à la fécondité dans l'Esprit.

L. GAMBERO, Testi mariani del primo millennio, vol 3, Padri e altri autori latini, Città Nuova Editrice, 1990, extraits des pages 160-163 par Françoise Breynaert.




A Milan, ordination de St Ambroise (374). Mort le Samedi Saint, 4 avril 397. Fête au XIIe siècle.

Le Martyrologe hiéronymien ne mentionne ni son natale le 4 avril, ni son ordination le 7 décembre, mais son baptême, le 30 novembre. A Milan, les trois dates sont l’objet d’une célébration. C’est surtout au XIe siècle qu’on assiste au développement de son culte. Bien que saint Ambroise soit d’une grande famille romaine, son culte n’est pas attesté à Rome avant le XIe siècle, en étant inscrit au calendrier au XIIe siècle.

Avant 1955, on célébrait aussi ce jour la Vigile de l’Immaculée Conception.



Leçons des Matines avant 1960

Quatrième leçon. Ambroise, Évêque de Milan, fils d’Ambroise citoyen romain, vint au monde tandis que son père était préfet des Gaules. On dit qu’en son enfance un essaim d’abeilles se posa sur ses lèvres : présage de la divine éloquence qu’il devait montrer un jour. On l’instruisit dans les arts libéraux, et bientôt le préfet Probus le préposa au gouvernement de la Ligurie et de l’Émilie. Il se rendit à Milan par l’ordre du même Probus, au moment où le peuple, après la mort de l’évêque arien Auxence, était en dissension touchant le choix de son successeur. Ambroise se rendit donc à l’église selon le devoir de sa charge, pour calmer la sédition. Quand il eut, à cette fin, parlé avec éloquence de la paix et de la tranquillité publique, un enfant s’écria tout à coup : « Ambroise Évêque ! » Tout le peuple répéta cette acclamation, demandant Ambroise pour son Évêque.

Cinquième leçon. Comme Ambroise refusait d’accepter et résistait aux prières de la multitude, le vœu ardent du peuple fut déféré à l’empereur Valentinien, auquel il fut très agréable de voir qu’on demandait pour le sacerdoce ceux qu’il avait choisis pour magistrats. Cette élection ne satisfit pas moins le préfet Probus qui, au départ d’Ambroise pour Milan, lui avait dit comme par inspiration divine : « Allez et agissez, non pas en juge mais en Évêque. » La volonté impériale s’accordant avec le désir du peuple, Ambroise fut baptisé (car il était encore catéchumène), initié aux mystères sacrés, et, ayant passé par tous les degrés des Ordres de l’Église, il reçut la charge épiscopale huit jours après son élection, le sept des ides de décembre. Devenu Évêque, il défendit résolument la foi catholique et la discipline ecclésiastique, convertit à la vraie foi beaucoup d’Ariens et d’autres hérétiques, et parmi ceux-ci il enfanta à Jésus-Christ saint Augustin, cette lumière éclatante de l’Église.

Sixième leçon. Quand l’empereur Gratien eut été tué, Ambroise se rendit deux fois en députation auprès de Maxime, son meurtrier ; mais celui-ci refusant de faire pénitence, il cessa toute relation avec lui. Il interdit à l’empereur Théodose l’entrée de l’église, à cause du massacre des Thessaloniciens ; comme le prince représentait que David, roi comme lui, avait été adultère et homicide : « Vous l’avez imité dans sa faute, répondit Ambroise, imitez-le dans sa pénitence. » C’est pourquoi Théodose accomplit humblement la pénitence publique que lui avait imposée Ambroise. Le saint Évêque s’étant donc acquitté de sa charge en multipliant pour l’Église de Dieu ses travaux et ses soins, et ayant écrit beaucoup de livres remarquables, prédit le jour de sa mort, avant de tomber malade. Honorat, Évêque de Verceil, trois fois averti par la voix de Dieu, accourut auprès de lui, et lui donna le corps sacré du Seigneur. Ambroise, l’ayant reçu, pria, les mains étendues en forme de croix, puis il rendit son âme à Dieu. C’était la veille des nones d’avril, l’an de Jésus-Christ trois cent quatre-vingt-dix-sept.


Dom Guéranger, l’Année Liturgique

Cet illustre Pontife figure dignement sur le Cycle catholique, à côté du grand Evêque de Myre. Celui-ci a confessé, à Nicée, la divinité du Rédempteur des hommes ; celui-là, dans Milan, a été en butte à toute la fureur des Ariens, et par son courage invincible, il a triomphé des ennemis du Christ. Qu’il unisse donc sa voix de Docteur à celle de saint Pierre Chrysologue, et qu’il nous annonce les grandeurs et les abaissements du Messie. Mais telle est en particulier la gloire d’Ambroise, comme Docteur, que si, entre les brillantes lumières de l’Église latine, quatre illustres Maîtres de la Doctrine marchent en tête du cortège des divins interprètes de la Foi, le glorieux Pontife de Milan complète, avec Grégoire, Augustin et Jérôme, ce nombre mystique.

Ambroise doit l’honneur d’occuper sur le Cycle une si noble place en ces jours, à l’antique coutume de l’Église qui, aux premiers siècles, excluait du Carême les fêtes des Saints. Le jour de sa sortie de ce monde et de son entrée au ciel fut le quatre Avril ; or, l’anniversaire de cet heureux trépas se rencontre, la plupart du temps, dans le cours de la sainte Quarantaine : on fut donc contraint de faire choix d’un autre jour dans l’année, et le sept Décembre, anniversaire de l’Ordination épiscopale d’Ambroise, se recommandait de lui-même pour recevoir la fête annuelle du saint Docteur.

Au reste, le souvenir d’Ambroise est un des plus doux parfums dont pût être embaumée la route qui conduit à Bethlehem. Quelle plus glorieuse, ci en même temps quelle plus charmante mémoire que celle de ce saint et aimable Évêque, en qui la force du lion s’unit à la douceur de la colombe ? En vain les siècles ont passé sur cette mémoire : ils n’ont fait que la rendre plus vive et plus chère. Comment pourrait-on oublier ce jeune gouverneur de la Ligurie et de l’Émilie, si sage, si lettré, qui fait son entrée à Milan, encore simple catéchumène, et se voit tout à coup élevé, aux acclamations du peuple fidèle, sur le trône épiscopal de celte grande ville ? Et ces beaux présages de son éloquence enchanteresse, dans l’essaim d’abeilles qui, lorsqu’il dormait un jour, encore enfant, sur les gazons du jardin paternel, l’entoura et pénétra jusque dans sa bouche, comme pour annoncer la douceur de sa parole ! et cette gravité prophétique avec laquelle l’aimable adolescent présentait sa main à baiser à sa mère et à sa sœur, parce que, disait-il, cette main serait un jour celle d’un Évêque !

Mais quels combats attendaient le néophyte de Milan, sitôt régénéré dans l’eau baptismale, sitôt consacré prêtre et pontife ! Il lui fallait se livrer sans retard à l’étude assidue des saintes lettres, pour accourir docteur à la défense de l’Église attaquée dans son dogme fondamental par la fausse science des Ariens ; et telle fut en peu de temps la plénitude et la sûreté de sa doctrine que, non seulement elle opposa un mur d’airain aux progrès de l’erreur contemporaine, mais encore que les livres écrits par Ambroise mériteront d’être signalés par l’Église, jusqu’à la fin des siècles, comme l’un des arsenaux de la vérité.

Mais l’arène de la controverse n’était pas la seule où dût descendre le nouveau docteur ; sa vie devait être menacée plus d’une fois par les sectateurs de l’hérésie qu’il avait confondue. Quel sublime spectacle que celui de cet Évêque bloqua dans son église par les troupes de l’impératrice Justine, et gardé au dedans, nuit et jour, par son peuple ! Quel pasteur ! Quel troupeau ! Une vie dépensée tout entière pour la cité et la province avait valu à Ambroise cette fidélité et cette confiance de la part de son peuple. Par son zèle, son dévouement, son constant oubli de lui-même, il était l’image du Christ qu’il annonçait.

Au milieu des périls qui l’environnent, sa grande âme demeure calme et tranquille. C’est ce moment même qu’il choisit pour instituer, dans l’Église de Milan, le chant alternatif des Psaumes. Jusqu’alors la voix seule du lecteur faisait entendre du haut d’un ambon le divin Cantique ; il n’a fallu qu’un moment pour organiser en deux chœurs l’assistance, ravie de pouvoir désormais prêter sa voix aux chants inspirés du royal Prophète. Née ainsi au fort de la tempête, au milieu d’un siège héroïque, la psalmodie alternative est désormais acquise aux peuples fidèles de l’Occident. Rome adoptera l’institution d’Ambroise, et cette institution accompagnera l’Église jusqu’à la fin des siècles. Durant ces heures de lutte, le grand Évêque a encore un don à faire à ces fidèles catholiques qui lui ont fait un rempart de leurs corps. Il est poète, et souvent il a chanté dans des vers pleins de douceur et de majesté les grandeurs du Dieu des chrétiens et les mystères du salut de l’homme. Il livre à son peuple dévoué ces nobles hymnes qui n’étaient pas destinées à un usage public, et bientôt les basiliques de Milan retentissent de leur mélodie. Elles s’étendront plus tard à l’Église latine tout entière ; à l’honneur du saint Évêque qui ouvrit ainsi une des plus riches sources de la sainte Liturgie, on appellera longtemps un Ambrosien ce que, dans la suite, on a désigné sous le nom d’Hymne, et l’Église romaine acceptera dans ses Offices ce nouveau mode de varier la louange divine, et de fournir à l’Épouse du Christ un moyen de plus d’épancher les sentiments qui l’animent.

Ainsi donc, notre chant alternatif des Psaumes, nos Hymnes elles-mêmes sont autant de trophées de la victoire d’Ambroise. Il avait été suscité de Dieu, non seulement pour son temps, mais pour les âges futurs. C’est ainsi que l’Esprit-Saint lui donna le sentiment du droit chrétien avec la mission de le soutenir, dès cette époque où le paganisme abattu respirait encore, où le césarisme en décadence conservait encore trop d’instincts de son passé. Ambroise veillait appuyé sur l’Évangile. Il n’entendait pas que l’autorité impériale pût à volonté livrer aux Ariens, pour le bien de la paix, une basilique où s’étaient réunis les catholiques. Pour défendre l’héritage de l’Église, il était prêt à verser son sang. Des courtisans osèrent l’accuser de tyrannie auprès du prince. Il répondit : « Non ; les évêques ne sont pas des tyrans, mais c’est de la part des tyrans qu’ils ont eu souvent à souffrir. » L’eunuque Calligone, chambellan de Valentinien II, osa dire à Ambroise : « Comment, moi vivant, tu oses mépriser Valentinien ! Je te trancherai la tête. » — « Que Dieu te le permette ! répondit Ambroise : je souffrirai alors ce que souffrent les évêques ; et toi tu auras a fait ce que savent faire les eunuques. »

Cette noble constance dans la défense des droits de l’Église avait paru avec plus d’éclat encore, lorsque le Sénat romain, ou plutôt la minorité du Sénat restée païenne, tenta, à l’instigation du Préfet de Rome Symmaque, d’obtenir le rétablissement de l’autel de la Victoire au Capitole, sous le vain prétexte d’opposer un remède aux désastres de l’empire. Ambroise qui disait : « Je déteste la religion des Nérons », s’opposa comme un lion à cette prétention du polythéisme aux abois. Dans d’éloquents mémoires à Valentinien, il protesta contre une tentative qui avait pour but d’amener un prince chrétien à reconnaître des droits à l’erreur, et de faire reculer les conquêtes du Christ, seul maître des peuples. Valentinien se rendit aux vigoureuses remontrances de l’Évêque qui lui avait appris « qu’un empereur chrétien ne devait savoir respecter que l’autel du Christ », et ce prince répondit aux sénateurs païens qu’il aimait Rome comme sa mère, mais qu’il devait obéir à Dieu comme à l’auteur de son salut.

On peut croire que si les décrets divins n’eussent irrévocablement condamné l’empire à périr, des influences comme celles d’Ambroise, exercées sur des princes d’un cœur droit, l’auraient préservé de la ruine. Sa maxime était ferme ; mais elle ne devait être appliquée que dans les sociétés nouvelles qui surgirent après la chute de l’empire, et que le Christianisme constitua à son gré. Il disait donc : « Il n’est pas de titre plus honorable pour un Empereur que celui de Fils de l’Église. L’Empereur est dans l’Église ; il n’est pas au-dessus d’elle. »

Quoi de plus touchant que le patronage exercé avec tant de sollicitude par Ambroise sur le jeune Empereur Gratien, dont le trépas lui fit répandre tant de larmes ! Et Théodose, cette sublime ébauche du prince chrétien, Théodose, en faveur duquel Dieu retarda la chute de l’Empire, accordant constamment la victoire à ses armes, avec quelle tendresse ne fut-il pas aimé de l’évêque de Milan ? Un jour, il est vrai, le César païen sembla reparaître dans ce fils de l’Église ; mais Ambroise, par une sévérité aussi inflexible qu’était profond son attachement pour le coupable, rendit son Théodose à lui-même et à Dieu. « Oui, dit le saint Évêque, dans l’éloge funèbre d’un si grand prince, j’ai aimé cet homme qui préféra à ses flatteurs celui qui le réprimandait. Il jeta à terre tous les insignes de la dignité impériale, il pleura publiquement dans l’Église le péché dans lequel on l’avait perfidement entraîné, il en implora le pardon avec larmes et gémissements. De simples particuliers se laissent détourner par la honte, et un Empereur n’a pas rougi d’accomplir la pénitence publique ; et désormais, pas un seul jour ne s’écoula pour lui sans qu’il eût déploré sa faute. » Qu’ils sont beaux dans le même amour de la justice, ce César et cet Évêque ! le César soutient l’Empire prêt à crouler, et l’Évêque soutient le César.

Mais que l’on ne croie pas qu’Ambroise n’aspire qu’aux choses élevées et retentissantes. Il sait être le pasteur attentif aux moindres besoins des brebis de son troupeau. Nous avons sa vie intime écrite par son diacre Paulin. Ce témoin nous révèle qu’Ambroise, lorsqu’il recevait la confession des pécheurs, versait tant de larmes qu’il entraînait à pleurer avec lui celui qui était venu découvrir sa faute. « Il semblait, dit le biographe, qu’il fût tombé lui-même avec celui qui avait failli. » On sait avec quel touchant et paternel intérêt il accueillit Augustin captif encore dans les liens de l’erreur et des passions ; et qui voudra connaître Ambroise, peut lire dans les Confessions de l’évêque d’Hippone les épanchements de son admiration et de sa reconnaissance. Déjà Ambroise avait accueilli Monique, la mère affligée d’Augustin ; il l’avait consolée et fortifiée par l’espérance du retour de son fils. Le jour si ardemment désiré arriva ; et ce fut la main d’Ambroise qui plongea dans les eaux purifiantes du baptême celui qui devait être le prince des Docteurs.

Un cœur aussi fidèle à ses affections ne pouvait manquer de se répandre sur ceux que les liens du sang lui avaient attachés. On sait l’amitié qui unit Ambroise à son frère Satyre, dont il a raconté les vertus avec l’accent d’une si émouvante tendresse dans le double éloge funèbre qu’il lui consacra. Marcelline sa sœur ne fut pas moins chère à Ambroise. Dès sa première jeunesse, la noble patricienne avait dédaigné le monde et ses pompes. Sous le voile de la virginité qu’elle avait reçu da mains du pape Libère, elle habitait Rome au sein de la famille. Mais l’affection d’Ambroise ne connaissait pas de distances ; ses lettres allaient chercher la servante de Dieu dans son mystérieux asile. Il n’ignorait pas quel zèle elle nourrissait pour l’Église, avec quelle ardeur elle s’associait à toute les œuvres de son frère, et plusieurs des lettre qu’il lui adressait nous ont été conservées. On est ému en lisant seulement la suscription de ces épîtres : « Le frère à la sœur », ou encore : « A Marcelline ma sœur, plus chère à moi que mes yeux et ma vie. » Le texte de la lettre vient ensuite, rapide, animé, comme les luttes qu’il retrace. Il en est une qui fut écrite dans les heures même où grondait l’orage, pendant que le courageux pontife était assiégé dans sa basilique par les troupes de Justine. Ses discours au peuple de Milan, ses succès comme ses épreuves, les sentiments héroïques de son âme épiscopale, tout se peint dans ces fraternelles dépêches, tout y révèle la force et la sainteté du lien qui unit Ambroise et Marcelline. La basilique Ambrosienne garde encore le tombeau du frère et celui de la sœur ; sur l’un et l’autre chaque jour le divin Sacrifice est offert.

Tel fut Ambroise, dont Théodose disait un jour : « Il n’y a qu’un évêque au monde ». Glorifions l’Esprit-Saint qui a daigné produire un type aussi sublime dans l’Église, et demandons au saint Pontife qu’il daigne nous obtenir une part à cette foi vive, à cet amour si ardent qu’il témoigne dans ses suaves et éloquents écrits envers le mystère de la divine Incarnation. En ces jours qui doivent aboutir à celui où le Verbe fait chair va paraître, Ambroise est l’un de nos plus puissants intercesseurs.

Sa piété envers Marie nous apprend aussi quelle admiration et quel amour nous devons avoir pour la Vierge bénie. Avec saint Éphrem, l’évêque de Milan est celui des Pères du IVe siècle qui a le plus vivement exprimé les grandeurs du ministère et de la personne de Marie. Il a tout connu, tout ressenti, tout témoigné. Marie exempte par grâce de toute tache de péché, Marie au pied de la Croix s’unissant à son fils pour le salut du genre humain, Jésus ressuscité apparaissant d’abord à sa mère, et tant d’autres points sur lesquels Ambroise est l’écho de la croyance antérieure, lui donnent un des premiers rangs parmi les témoins de la tradition sur les mystères de la Mère de Dieu.

Cette tendre prédilection pour Marie explique l’enthousiasme dont Ambroise est rempli pour la virginité chrétienne, dont il mérite d’être considéré comme le Docteur spécial. Aucun des Pères ne l’a égalé dans le charme et l’éloquence avec lesquels il a proclamé la dignité et la félicité des vierges. Quatre de ses écrits sont consacres à glorifier cet état sublime, dont le paganisme expirant essayait encore une dernière contrefaçon dans ses vestales, recrutées au nombre de sept, comblées d’honneurs et de richesses, et déclarées libres après un temps. Ambroise leur oppose l’innombrable essaim des vierges chrétiennes, remplissant le monde entier du parfum de leur humilité, de leur constance et de leur désintéressement. Mais sur un tel sujet sa parole était plus attrayante encore que sa plume, et l’on sait, par les récits contemporains, que, dans les villes qu’il visitait et où sa voix devait se faire entendre, les mères retenaient leurs filles à la maison, dans la crainte que les discours d’un si saint et si irrésistible séducteur ne leur eussent persuadé de n’aspirer plus qu’aux noces éternelles.

Saluons un si grand Docteur, en répétant ces paroles de la sainte Église, dans l’Office des Vêpres : « O Docteur excellent ! Lumière de la sainte Église, bienheureux Ambroise, amateur de la loi divine, priez pour nous le Fils de Dieu. »

Nous vous louerons aussi, tout indignes que nous en sommes, immortel Ambroise ! Nous exalterons les dons magnifiques que le Seigneur a placés en vous. Vous êtes la Lumière de l’Église, le Sel de la terre, par votre doctrine céleste ; vous êtes le Pasteur vigilant, le Père tendre, le Pontife invincible : mais combien votre cœur aima le Seigneur Jésus que nous attendons ! Avec quel indomptable courage vous sûtes, au péril de vos jours, vous opposer à ceux qui blasphémaient ce Verbe divin ! Par là, vous avez mérité d’être choisi pour initier, chaque année, le peuple fidèle à la connaissance de Celui qui est son Sauveur et son Chef. Faites donc pénétrer jusqu’à notre œil le rayon de la vérité qui vous éclairait ici-bas ; faites goûter à notre bouche la saveur emmiellée de votre parole ; touchez notre cœur d’un véritable amour pour Jésus qui s’approche d’heure en heure. Obtenez qu’à votre exemple, nous prenions avec force sa cause en main, contre les ennemis de la foi, contre les esprits de ténèbres, contre nous-mêmes. Que tout cède, que tout s’anéantisse, que tout genou ploie, que tout cœur s’avoue vaincu, en présence de Jésus-Christ, Verbe éternel du Père, Fils de Dieu et fils de Marie, notre Rédempteur, notre Juge, notre souverain bien.

Glorieux Ambroise, abaissez-nous comme vous avez abaissé Théodose ; relevez-nous contrits et changés, comme vous le relevâtes dans votre pastorale charité. Priez aussi pour le Sacerdoce catholique, dont vous serez à jamais l’une des plus nobles gloires. Demandez à Dieu, pour les Prêtres et les Pontifes de l’Église, cette humble et inflexible vigueur avec laquelle ils doivent résister aux Puissances du siècle, quand elles abusent de l’autorité que Dieu a déposée entre leurs mains. Que leur front, suivant la parole du Seigneur, soit dur comme le diamant ; qu’ils sachent s’opposer comme un mur pour la maison d’Israël ; qu’ils estiment comme un souverain honneur, comme le plus heureux sort, de pouvoir exposer leurs biens, leur repos, leur vie, pour la liberté de l’Épouse du Christ.

Vaillant champion de la vérité, armez-vous de ce fouet vengeur que l’Église vous a donné pour attribut ; et chassez loin du troupeau de Jésus-Christ ces restes impurs de l’Arianisme qui, sous divers noms, se montrent encore jusqu’en nos temps. Que nos oreilles ne soient plus attristées par les blasphèmes de ces hommes vains qui osent mesurer à leur taille, juger, absoudre et condamner comme leur semblable le Dieu redoutable qui les a créés, et qui, par un pur motif de dévouement à sa créature, a daigné descendre et se rapprocher de l’homme, au risque d’en être méconnu.

Bannissez de nos esprits, ô Ambroise, ces timides et imprudentes théories qui font oublier à des chrétiens que Jésus est le Roi de ce monde, et les entraînent à penser qu’une loi humaine qui reconnaît des droits égaux à l’erreur et à la vérité, pourrait bien être le plus haut perfectionnement des sociétés. Obtenez qu’ils comprennent, à votre exemple, que si les droits du Fils de Dieu et de son Église peuvent être foulés aux pieds, ils n’en existent pas moins ; que la promiscuité de toutes les religions sous une protection égale est le plus sanglant outrage envers Celui « à qui toute puissance a été donnée au ciel et sur la terre » ; que les désastres périodiques de la société sont la réponse qu’il fait du haut du ciel aux contempteurs du Droit chrétien, de ce Droit qu’il a acquis en mourant sur la Croix pour les hommes ; qu’enfin, s’il ne dépend pas de nous de relever ce Droit sacré chez les nations qui ont eu le malheur de l’abjurer, notre devoir est de le confesser courageusement, sous peine d’être complices de ceux qui n’ont plus voulu que Jésus régnât sur eux.

Enfin, au milieu de ces ombres qui s’appesantissent sur le monde, consolez, ô Ambroise, la sainte Église qui n’est plus qu’une étrangère, une pèlerine à travers les nations dont elle fut la mère et qui l’ont reniée ; qu’elle cueille encore sur sa route, parmi ses fidèles, les fleurs de la virginité ; qu’elle soit l’aimant des âmes élevées qui comprennent la dignité d’Épouse du Christ. S’il en fut ainsi aux glorieux temps des persécutions qui signalèrent le commencement de son ministère, à notre époque d’humiliations et de défections, qu’il lui soit donné encore de consacrer à son Époux une élite nombreuse de cœurs purs et généreux, afin que sa fécondité la venge de ceux qui l’ont repoussée comme une mère stérile, et qui sentiront un jour cruellement son absence.


Antoine van Dyck (1599–1641), Saint Ambroise interdisant l’entrée 
de l'empereur Théodose dans la cathédrale de Milan,
1619-1620, 147 X 114

Bhx Cardinal Schuster, Liber Sacramentorum

Saint Ambroise Uranius Aurelius, né sans doute à Trêves d’une ancienne et illustre famille romaine qui avait déjà donné à l’Église la martyre Sotère et qui, outre le saint Docteur que nous fêtons aujourd’hui, devait enrichir le martyrologe de deux autres noms, ceux de Satyre et de Marcelline, son frère et sa sœur, mourut à Milan en la vigile de Pâques, le 4 avril 397, Comme ce jour tombe toujours pendant le Carême ou durant la semaine pascale, c’est-à-dire à une époque où, selon l’antique liturgie, toute fête en l’honneur des saints était exclue, sa mémoire se célèbre aujourd’hui, anniversaire de son ordination épiscopale. Cette substitution, à Rome, date au moins du XIe siècle et elle est basée sur le très ancien usage liturgique de célébrer solennellement le natale ordinationis des évêques et des prêtres.

Le Sacramentaire Gélasien indique en ce jour l’Octave de saint André ; mais cette fête, probablement propre à la basilique vaticane, est depuis longtemps tombée en désuétude.

La messe de ce jour emprunte presque toutes les parties qui la composent au Commun des saints évêques et des docteurs ; toutefois la deuxième et la troisième collectes sont spéciales à saint Ambroise.

Le verset pour l’introït est celui de la Messe des saints docteurs ; nous l’avons déjà vu pour la fête de saint Pierre Chrysologue

La première collecte est presque identique à celle du saint évêque de Ravenne. On demande au Seigneur qu’après avoir accordé à l’Église le bienheureux Ambroise comme ministre de l’éternel salut, il nous donne aussi la docilité nécessaire pour recevoir son céleste enseignement, afin que nous méritions de l’avoir pour notre intercesseur en paradis. Voilà donc la condition générale pour obtenir les effets des prières des saints : une âme disposée à imiter leurs exemples.

La première lecture et le répons-graduel sont identiques à ceux de la fête de saint Pierre Chrysologue que nous avons déjà rapportés le 4 décembre.

Le verset alléluiatique est tiré du psaume 109 : « Le Seigneur a juré sans aucun regret : Tu seras prêtre pour toujours, selon le type de Melchisédech. ». Comme les prêtres de la nouvelle Loi participent au sacerdoce du Christ, de même ils doivent entrer dans ses dispositions d’éminente sainteté, de détachement du monde, de zèle pour la gloire de Dieu et de compassion pour les âmes.

La lecture évangélique est la même que pour la fête de saint Pierre Chrysologue.

Le verset pour l’offertoire est semblable à celui qui a déjà été rapporté pour la fête de saint Nicolas.

La secrète a un caractère général. En voici le texte : « O Dieu tout-puissant et éternel, par l’intercession du bienheureux Ambroise votre confesseur et Pontife, faites que l’oblation offerte à votre majesté soit pour nous un gage de salut éternel. »

Le verset pour la Communion est identique à celui d’hier.

Dans la collecte d’action de grâces, nous demandons aujourd’hui à Dieu que l’intercession du saint Pontife — si rempli de zèle pour le salut des âmes que, lorsqu’il gouvernait l’Église de Milan, il semblait que sa maison n’eût pas de porte, tant chacun était libre d’approcher de lui à son gré [5] — nous assiste dans toutes les circonstances de la vie ; afin que notre infidélité à la grâce ne rende jamais stérile l’ineffable sacrement d’éternel salut auquel nous venons de participer.

La sainteté d’Ambroise et l’insigne dignité dont le revêtit le Seigneur, ont réalisé au sens le plus large la vue prophétique d’Ambroise enfant relativement à sa grandeur future. On raconte en effet que, quand le Pape se rendait dans la demeure de sa mère, celle-ci, en compagnie de ses trois enfants, se prosternait immédiatement pour lui baiser la main. Quand le Pontife était sorti de la maison, Ambroise présentait à son tour sa petite main d’enfant à Marcelline pour qu’elle la baisât.

Deux antiques églises maintinrent vive et populaire à Rome la mémoire d’Ambroise. L’une n’existe plus ; elle s’élevait près de la basilique vaticane, autour de laquelle, au moyen âge, avaient été érigés divers oratoires et hospices nationaux pour, les pèlerins qui y affluaient de toutes les parties du monde. L’autre est toujours debout, sous le titre de Saint-Ambroise della Massima, parce qu’elle s’élevait près du porticus maxima, qui, partant du temple d’Hercule, contournait le Champ de Mars. Son ancien nom, selon le Liber Pontificalis dans la biographie de Léon III, est celui de monastère de Sainte-Marie quod appellatur Ambrosii et qui était aussi dédié à saint Etienne. L’identification de cet Ambroise avec le Docteur de Milan qui eut certainement à Rome sa domus de famille — très illustre et universellement connue, puisque les papes eux-mêmes avaient coutume de s’y rendre — est probable mais ne peut être affirmée avec une sûreté absolue.

[5] Non enim vetabatur quisquam ingredi, aut ei venientem nuntiari mos erat (Augustin., Confess., VI, 3).



Dom Pius Parsch, le Guide dans l’année liturgique

Ce jour présente un double objet à nos méditations : la vigile de la grande fête de l’Immaculée-Conception, et la fête de Saint Ambroise. Bien que le degré de cette dernière fête soit plus élevé, l’Église préfère célébrer à la messe la vigile. Une autre raison de son importance, c’est que la fête de l’Immaculée a de nombreux rapports avec l’Avent. Mais la prière des Heures est consacrée à saint Ambroise.

Jour de mort : 4 avril 397 (aujourd’hui est le jour de son ordination). Tombeau : église Saint-Ambroise à Milan. Image : On le représente en évêque avec un livre et une ruche d’abeilles. Sa vie : Saint Ambroise n’était encore que catéchumène quand il fut élu évêque de Milan. Il fut un prédicateur célèbre. Il convertit par ses sermons saint Augustin et le baptisa. Il se distingua aussi par son courage devant les princes. Après le meurtre de l’empereur Gratien, Ambroise fut envoyé en ambassade auprès de son meurtrier Maxime. Comme celui ci refusait de faire pénitence, il l’excommunia. Il refusa à l’empereur Théodose, à cause des massacres de Thessalonique, l’entrée de l’Église. Comme l’empereur alléguait l’exemple de David adultère et meurtrier, Ambroise lui répondit : « Puisque tu l’as imité dans son péché, imite-le dans sa pénitence. » Théodose accepta avec humilité la pénitence qui lui était imposée. Nous rencontrons souvent ce saint, dans le bréviaire : il nous instruit par ses homélies et il a composé des hymnes d’une belle inspiration. Ses écrits respirent l’esprit liturgique du christianisme antique : il vit vraiment le mystère. On ne saurait trop recommander la lecture de ses écrits, même aux laïcs. Saint Ambroise compte parmi les quatre grands docteurs de l’Église latine.

Pratique : Le saint docteur est, tout particulièrement pour nous, un maître de la liturgie. Puisse-t-il nous donner le sens liturgique si nécessaire en notre temps, comme il le créa et le propagea jadis, même dans le peuple. Dans la liturgie, nous trouvons la source première et indispensable de la vie chrétienne.

SOURCE : http://www.introibo.fr/07-12-St-Ambroise-eveque



SAINT AMBROISE *

Ambroise vient de ambre, qui est une substance odoriférante et précieuse. Or, saint Ambroise fut précieux à l’Eglise et il répandit une bonne odeur par ses paroles et ses actions. Ou bien Ambroise vient de ambre et de sios, qui veut dire Dieu, comme l’ambre de Dieu; car Dieu par Ambroise répand partout une odeur semblable à celle de l’ambre. Il fut et il est la bonne odeur de J.-C. en tout lieu. Ambroise peut venir encore de ambor, qui signifie père des lumières et de sior, qui veut dire petit; parce qu'il fut le père de beaucoup de fils par la génération spirituelle, parce, qu'il fut lumineux dans l’exposition de la sainte Ecriture, et parce qu'il fut petit dans ses, habitudes humbles. Le glossaire dit : ambrosius signifie odeur ou saveur de J.-C. ; ambroisie céleste, nourriture des anges; ambroise, rayon céleste de miel. Car saint Ambroise fut une odeur céleste par une réputation odoriférante; une saveur, par la contemplation intérieure; il fut un rayon céleste de miel par son agréable interprétation des Ecritures; et une nourriture angélique, parce qu'il mérita de jouir de la gloire. Sa vie fut écrite à saint Augustin par saint Paulin, évêque de Nole.

Ambroise était fils d'Ambroise, préfet de Rome. Il avait été mis en son berceau dans la salle du prétoire; il y dormait, quand un essaim d'abeilles survint tout a coup et couvrit de telle sorte sa figure et sa bouche qu'il semblait entrer dans sa ruche et en sortir. Les abeilles prirent ensuite leur vol et s'élevèrent en l’air à une telle hauteur que oeil humain n'était capable de les distinguer. Son père fut frappé de ce fait et dit : «Si ce petit enfant vit, ce sera quelque chose de grand. n Parvenu à l’adolescence, en voyant sa mère, et sa sueur, qui avait consacré à Dieu sa virginité, embrasser la main des prêtres, il offrit en se jouant sa droite à sa soeur en l’assurant qu'elle devait en faire autant. Mais elle le lui refusa comme à un enfant et à quelqu'un qui ne sait ce qu'il dit. Après avoir appris les belles lettres à Rome, il plaida avec éclat des causes devant le tribunal, et fut envoyé par l’empereur Valentinien pour prendre le gouvernement des provinces de la Ligurie et de l’Emilie. Il vint à Milan alors que le siège épiscopal était vacant ; le peuple s'assembla pour choisir un évêque : mais une grande sédition s'éleva entre les ariens et les catholiques sur le choix du candidat ; Ambroise y vint pour apaiser la sédition, quand tout à coup se fit entendre la voix d'un enfant qui s'écria : « Ambroise évêque. » Alors à l’unanimité; tous s'accordèrent à acclamer Ambroise évêque. Quand il eut vu cela, afin de détourner l’assemblée de ce choix qu'elle avait fait de lui, il sortit de l’église, monta sur son tribunal et, contre sa coutume, il condamna à des tourments ceux qui étaient accusés. En le voyant agir ainsi, le peuple criait néanmoins : « Que ton péché retombe sur nous. » Alors il fut bouleversé et rentra chez lui. Il voulut faire profession de philosophe : mais afin qu'il ne réussît pas on le fit révoquer. Il fit entrer chez lui publiquement des femmes de mauvaise vie, afin qu'en les voyant le peuple revînt sur son élection; mais considérant qu'il ne venait pas à ses fins, et que le peuple criait toujours : « Que ton péché retombe sur nous, » il conçut la pensée de prendre la fuite au milieu de la nuit. Et au moment où il se croyait sur le bord du Tésin, il se trouva, le matin, à une porte de Milan, appelée la porte de Rome. Quand on l’eut rencontré, il fut gardé à vue par le peuple. On adressa un rapport au très clément empereur Valentimen, qui apprit avec la plus grande joie qu'on choisissait pour remplir les fonctions du sacerdoce ceux qu'il avait envoyés pour être juges. Le préfet Probus était dans l’allégresse de voir accomplir en saint Ambroise là parole qu'il lui avait dite alors qu'il lui donnait ses pouvoirs lors de son départ : « Allez, agissez comme un évêque plutôt que comme un juge. » Le rapport était encore chez l’empereur, quand Ambroise se cacha de rechef, mais on le trouva. Comme il n'était que catéchumène, il fut baptisé et huit jours après il fut installé sur la chaire épiscopale. Quatre ans après, il alla à Rome, et comme sa sueur, qui était religieuse, lui baisait la main, il lui dit en souriant : « Voilà ce que je te disais ; tu baises la main du prêtre. »

Etant allé dans une ville pour ordonner un évêque, à l’élection duquel l’impératrice Justine et d'autres hérétiques s'opposaient, en voulant que quelqu'un de leur secte fût promu, une vierge du parti des Ariens, plus insolente que les autres, monta au tribunal et saisit saint Ambroise par son vêtement, dans l’intention de l’entraîner du côté où étaient les femmes, afin que, saisi par elles, il fût chassé de l’église honteusement. Ambroise lui dit: «Encore que je, sois indigne d'être revêtu de la dignité sacerdotale, il ne vous appartient cependant point de porter les mains sur tel prêtre que ce soit. Et, vous devez craindre le jugement de Dieu de peur : qu'il né vous en arrive malheur. » Ce mot se trouva vérifié, car, le jour suivant, cette fille mourut. Saint Ambroise accompagna son corps jusqu'au lieu de la sépulture, rendant ainsi un bienfait pour un affront. Cet événement jeta l’épouvante partout. Après cela, il revint à Milan oit l’impératrice Justine lui tendit une foule d'embûches, en excitant le peuple contre le saint par ses largesses et par les honneurs qu'elle accordait. On cherchait tous les moyens de l’envoyer en exil, au point qu'un homme plus malheureux que les autres s'était laissé emporter à un degré de fureur telle qu'il avait loué une maison auprès de l’église et y tenait un char tout prêt pour, sur l’ordre de Justine, le traîner plus rapidement en exil. Mais, par un jugement de Dieu, le jour même qu'il pensait se saisir de lui, il fut emmené de la même maison lui-même en exil avec le même char. Ce qui n'empêcha pas saint Ambroise de lui fournir tout ce qui était nécessaire à sa subsistance, rendant ainsi le bien pour le mal. Il composa le chant et' l’office de l’église de Milan. En ce temps-là il y avait à Milan un grand nombre de personnes obsédées par le démon, criant à haute voix qu'elles, étaient tourmentées par saint Ambroise. Justine et bon nombre d'Ariens qui vivaient ensemble disaient qu'Ambroise se procurait des hommes à prix d'argent pour dire faussement qu'ils étaient maltraités par des esprits immondes, et qu'ils étaient tourmentés par Ambroise. Alors tout à coup, un arien qui se trouvait là fut saisi par le démon et se jeta au milieu de l’assemblée en criant: « Puissent-ils être tourmentés comme je le suis, ceux qui ne croient pas à Ambroise. » Mais les ariens confus tuèrent cet homme en le noyant dans une piscine. Un hérétique, homme très subtil dans la dispute, dur, et qu'on ne pouvait convertir à la foi, entendant prêcher saint Ambroise, vit un ange qui disait à l’oreille du saint les paroles qu'il adressait au peuple. A cette vue, il se mit à défendre la foi qu'il persécutait. Un aruspice conjurait les démons et les envoyait pour nuire à saint Ambroise; mais les démons revenaient en disant qu'ils ne pouvaient approcher de sa personne, ni même avancer auprès des portes de sa maison, parce qu'un feu infranchissable entourait l’édifice entier en sorte qu'ils étaient brûlés quoiqu'ils se plaçassent au loin. Il arriva que ce même devin étant condamné aux tourments par le juge pour divers maléfices, criait qu'il était tourmenté davantage encore par Ambroise. Le démon sortit d'un démoniaque qui entrait dans Milan, mais il rentra en lui quand il quitta la ville. On en demanda la cause au démon: il répondit qu'il craignait Ambroise. Un autre, entra une nuit dans la chambre du saint pour le tuer avec une épée : c'était Justine qui l’y avait poussé par ses prières et par son argent ; mais au moment qu'il levait l’épée pour le frapper, sa main se sécha. Les habitants de Thessalonique avaient insulté l’empereur Théodose, celui-ci leur pardonna à la prière de saint Ambroise; mais la malignité des courtisans s'emparant de l’affaire, beaucoup de personnes furent tuées par l’ordre du (440) prince, à l’insu du saint. Aussitôt qu'Ambroise en eut eu connaissance, il refusa à Théodose l’entrée de l’église. Comme celui-ci lui disait que David avait commis un adultère et un homicide, le saint répondit : « Vous l’avez imité dans ses. fautes, imitez-le dans son repentir. » Ces paroles furent reçues de si bonne grâce par le très clément empereur qu'il ne refusa pas de se soumettre à une sincère pénitence. Un démoniaque se mit à crier qu'il était tourmenté par Ambroise. Le saint lui dit: «Tais-toi, diable, car ce n'est pas Ambroise qui te tourmente, c'est ton envie, tu vois des hommes monter d'où tu as été précipité honteusement mais Ambroise ne sait point prendre d'orgueil. » Et le possédé se tut à l’instant.

Une fois que saint Ambroise allait par la ville, quelqu'un tomba et resta étendu par terre ; un homme qui le vit se mit à rire. Ambroise lui dit: « Vous qui êtes debout, prenez garde' de tomber aussi. » A ces mets cet homme fit une chute et regretta bien de s'être moqué de l’autre. Une fois, saint Ambroise vint intercéder en faveur de quelqu'un, Macédonius, maître dis offices; mais ayant trouvé fermées les portes de son palais et ne pouvant entrer, il dit: « Tu viendras à ton tour à l’église et tu ne pourras y entrer, quoique les portes n'en soient pas fermées, et qu'elles soient toutes grandes ouvertes. » Après un certain laps de temps, Macédonius, par crainte de ses ennemis, s'enfuit à l’église, mais il ne put en trouver l’entrée, quoique les portes fussent ouvertes. L'abstinence du saint évêque était si rigoureuse qu'il jeûnait tous les jours, excepté le samedi, le dimanche et les principales fêtes. Il faisait de si abondantes largesses qu'il donnait tout ce qu'il pouvait avoir aux églises et aux pauvres, et ne gardait rien pour lui. Il était rempli d'une telle compassion que si quelqu'un venait lui confesser ses péchés, il pleurait avec une amertume telle, que le pécheur était forcé lui-même de pleurer. Son humilité et son amour du travail allaient au point de lui faire écrire lui-même de sa propre main les livres qu'il composait, à moins qu'il n'eût été malade gravement. Sa piété et sa douceur étaient si grandes que quand on lui annonçait la mort d'un saint prêtre ou d'un évêque, il versait des larmes tellement amères qu'il était presque inconsolable. Or, comme on lui demandait pourquoi il pleurait ainsi les saints personnages qui allaient au ciel, il disait: «Ne croyez pas que je pleure de les voir partir, mais de les voir me prévenir: en outre, il est difficile de trouver quelqu'un digne de remplir de pareilles fonctions. » Sa constance et sa force d'âme étaient telles qu'il ne flattait ni l’empereur, ni les princes, dans leurs désordres, mais qu'il les reprenait hautement et sans relâche. Un homme avait commis un crime énorme et avait, été amené à saint Ambroise qui dit: « Il faut le livrer à Satan pour mortifier sa chair, de peur qu'il n'ait l’audace de, commettre encore de pareils crimes. » Au même moment, comme il avait encore ces mots à la bouche l’esprit immonde le déchira. On rapporte qu'une fois saint Ambroise allant à Rome reçut l’hospitalité dans une maison de campagne en Toscane, chez un homme excessivement riche, auprès duquel il s'informa avec intérêt de sa position. « Ma position, lui répondit cet homme, a toujours été accompagnée de bonheur et de gloire. Voyez en effet, je regorge de richesses, j'ai des esclaves et des domestiques en grand nombre, je possède une nombreuse famille de fils et de neveux, tout m’a toujours réussi à souhait; jamais d'adversité, jamais de tristesse. » En entendant cela Ambroise fut saisi de stupeur et dit à ceux qui l’accompagnaient: «Levons-nous, fuyons d'ici au plus vite; car e Seigneur n'est pas dans cette maison. Hâtez-vous, mes . enfants, hâtez-vous; n'apportez aucun retard dans votre fuite; de crainte que la vengeance divine ne nous saisisse ici et qu'elle ne nous enveloppe tous dans leurs péchés. » Ils sortirent et ils n'étaient pas encore éloignés que la terre s'entr'ouvrit subitement, et engloutit cet homme avec tout ce qui lui appartenait, jusqu'à n'en laisser autan vestige. A cette vue saint Ambroise dit: « Voyez, mes frères, comme Dieu traite avec miséricorde quand il donne ici-bas des adversités, et comme il est sévère et menaçant quand il accorde une suite ininterrompue de prospérités. » On raconte qu'en ce même lieu, il reste une fosse très profonde existant encore aujourd'hui comme témoignage de ce fait.

Saint Ambroise voyant l’avarice, qui est la racine de tous les maux, s'accroître de plus en plus dans les hommes et surtout dans ceux qui étaient constitués en dignité, chez lesquels tout était vénal, comme aussi dans ceux qui exerçaient les fonctions du saint ministère, il pleura beaucoup et pria avec les plus grandes instances d'être délivré des embarras du siècle:. Dans la joie,qu'il ressentit d'avoir obtenu ce qu'il demandait, il révéla à ses frères qu'il serait avec eux jusqu'au dimanche de la Résurrection. Peu de jours avant d'être forcé à garder le lit, comme il dictait à son secrétaire l’explication du Psaume XLIIIe, tout à coup à la vue de ce secrétaire, une manière de feu léger couvrit sa tête et peu à peu entra dans sa bouche comme un propriétaire entre dans sa maison. Alors sa figure devint blanche comme la neige ; mais bientôt après elle reprit son teint accoutumé. Ce jour-là même il cessa d'écrire et de dicter, en sorte qu'il ne put terminer le Psaume. Or, peu de jours après, sa faiblesse augmenta ; alors le comte d'Italie, qui se trouvait à Milan, convoqua tous les nobles en disant qu'après la mort d'un si grand homme, il y avait lieu de craindre que l’Italie ne vînt à déchoir, et il pria l’assemblée de se transporter auprès du saint pour le conjurer d'obtenir du Seigneur de vivre encore l’espace d'une année. Quand saint Ambroise les eut entendus, il leur répondit : « Je n'ai point vécu parmi vous de telle sorte que j'aie honte de vivre, ni ne crains point de mourir, car nous avons un bon maître. » Dans le même temps quatre de ses diacres, qui s'étaient réunis ensemble, se demandaient l’un à l’autre quel serait celui qui mériterait d'être évêque après sa mort: ils se trouvaient assez loin du lit ou le saint était couché, et ils avaient prononcé tout bas le nom de Simplicien; c'était à peine s'ils pouvaient s'entendre eux-mêmes. Ambroise tout éloigné qu'il fût cria par trois fois : « Il est vieux, mais il est bon. » En entendant cela les diacres effrayés prirent la fuite, et après la mort d'Ambroise ils n'en choisirent pas d'autre que Simplicien. Il vit, auprès du lieu où il était couché, J.-C. venir à lui et lui sourire d'un regard agréable. Honoré, évêque de Verceil, qui s'attendait à la mort de saint Ambroise, entendit, pendant son sommeil, une voix lui criant par trois fois : « Lève-toi, car il va trépasser. » Il se leva aussitôt, vint à Milan et administra à saint Ambroise le sacrement du corps de Notre-Seigneur; un instant après, le saint étendit, les bras en formé de croix et rendit lc dernier soupir: il proférait encore une prière. Il mourut l’an du Seigneur 399. Ce fut dans la nuit de Pâques que son corps fut porté à l’église et beaucoup d'enfants qui venaient d'être baptisés le virent les uns dans la chaire, les autres le montraient du doigt à leurs parents, montant dans la chaire; quelques autres enfin racontaient qu'ils voyaient une étoile sur son corps. Un prêtre, qui assistait à un repas avec beaucoup de convives, se mit à parler mal de saint Ambroise ; il fut à l’instant frappé d'une maladie mortelle, et il passa de la table à son lit pour y mourir bientôt après. En la ville de Carthage, trois évêques étaient à tablé et l’un d'eux ayant dit du mal de saint Ambroise, on lui rapporta ce qui était arrivé au prêtre qui l’avait calomnié ; cet évêque se moqua de cela; mais aussitôt il fut frappé à mort et expira à l’instant.

Saint Ambroise fut recommandable en bien des points. 1° Dans sa libéralité, car tout ce qu'il avait appartenait aux pauvres; aussi rapporte-t-il en parlant de soi-même que l’empereur lui demandant une basilique il lui répondit ainsi (et cette réponse se trouve dans le Décret Convenior, XXIII question 8) : «S'il me demandait quelque chose qui fût à moi, comme mes biens-fonds, mon argent, et choses semblables qui sont ma propriété, je ne ferais pas de résistance, quoique tout ce qui est à. moi appartienne aux pauvres. » 2° Dans la pureté et l’innocence de sa vie, car il fut vierge. Et saint Jérôme rapporté qu'il disait : « Non seulement nous louons la virginité, mais aussi nous la conservons. » 3° Dans la fermeté de sa foi, qui lui titi dire, alors que l’empereur lui demandait une basilique (ces mots se trouvent au chapitre cité plus haut) : « Il m’arrachera plutôt l’âme que la foi. » 4° Par son désir du martyre. On lit à ce propos, dans sa lettre, De basilica non tradenda, que le ministre de l’empereur Valentinien lui fit dire : « Tu méprises Valentinien, je te coupe la tête. » Ambroise lui répondit : « Que Dieu vous laisse faire ce dont vous me menacez, et plaise encore à Dieu qu'il daigne détourner les fléaux dont l’Eglise est menacée afin que ses ennemis tournent tous leurs traits contre moi et qu'ils étanchent leur soif dans mon sang. » 5° Par ses prières assidues. On lit sur ce point au XIe livre de l’Histoire ecclésiastique : Ambroise, dans ses démêlés avec une reine furieuse, ne se défendait ni avec la main; ni avec des armes, mais avec des jeûnes, des, veilles continuelles, à l’abri sous l’autel, par ses obsécrations, il se donnait Dieu pour défenseur de sa cause à lui et de son Eglise. 6° Par ses larmes abondantes : il en eut pour trois causes. a) Il eut des larmes de compassion pour les fautes des autres, et saint Pantin rapporte de lui, dans sa légende, que quand quelqu'un venait lui confesser sa faute, il pleurait si amèrement qu'il faisait pleurer son pénitent ; b) il eut des larmes de dévotion dans la vue. des biens éternels. On a vu plus haut qu'il dit à saint Paulin quand celui-ci lui demandait pourquoi il pleurait de la sorte la mort des saints : « Je ne pleure pas, répondit-il, parce qu'ils sont décédés; mais parce qu'ils m’ont précédé à la gloire. » c) Il eut des larmes de compassion pour les injures qu'il recevait d'autrui. Voici comme il s'ex prime en parlant de lui-même, et ces paroles sont encore rapportées dans le décret mentionné plus haut « Mes armes contre les soldats goths, ce sont mes larmes. C'est le seul rempart derrière lequel peuvent s'abriter des prêtres, je ne puis ni ne dois résister autrement.

7° Il fut recommandable pour sa constance à toute épreuve. Cette vertu brille eu lui : 1° Dans la défense de la vérité catholique. On lit à ce sujet, dans le Livre XIe de l’Histoire ecclésiastique que Justine, mère de l’empereur Valentinien, disciple des Ariens, entreprit de jeter le trouble dans l’Église, menaçant les prêtres de les chasser en exil, s'ils ne voulaient consentir à révoquer les décrets du concile de Rimini ; par ce moyen elle se débarrassait d'Ambroise qui était le mur, et la tour de l’Église. Voici les paroles que l’on chante dans la Préface de la messe de ce saint: « Vous avez (le Seigneur) affermi Ambroise dans une si grande vertu, vous l’avez orné du haut du ciel d'une si admirable constance, que par lui les démons étaient tourmentés et chassés, que l’impiété arienne était confondue, et que la tête des princes séculiers s'abaissait humblement pour porter votre joug. » 2° Dans la défense de la liberté de l’Église. L'empereur voulant s'emparer d'une basilique, Ambroise résista à l’empereur, ainsi qu'il l’atteste lui-même, et ses paroles sont rapportées dans le Décret XXIII, quest. 6 : « Je suis, dit-il, circonvenu parles comtes, afin de faire un abandon libre de la basilique; ils me disaient que c'était l’ordre de l’empereur, et que je devais la livrer, car il v avait droit. J'ai répondu : Si c'est mon patrimoine qu'il demande, emparez-vous-en; si c'est mon corps, j'irai le lui offrir. Me voulez-vous dans les chaînes? Qu'on m’y mette. Voulez-vous ma mort? Je le veux encore. Je ne me ferai pas un rempart de la multitude, je n'irai pas me réfugier à l’autel, ni le tenir de mes mains pour demander la vie, mais je me laisserai immoler de bon coeur pour les autels. On m’envoie l’ordre de livrer la basilique. D'un côté, ce sont des ordres royaux qui nous pressent, mais d'un autre côté, nous avons pour défense les paroles de l’Écriture qui nous disent : Vous avez parlé comme une insensée. Empereur, ne vous avantagez pas d'avoir, ainsi que vous le pensez, aucun droit sur les choses divines; à l’empereur les palais, aux prêtres les églises. Saint Naboth défendit sa vigne de son sang ; et s'il ne céda pas sa vigne, comment nous, céderons-nous l’église de J.-C. ? Le tribut appartient à César: qu'on ne le lui refuse pas; l’église appartient à Dieu, par la même raison qu'elle ne soit pas livrée à César. Si on me forçait; si on me demandait, soit terres, soit maison, soit or, ou argent, enfin quelque chose qui m’appartînt, volontiers je l’offrirais, je ne puis rien détacher, rien ôter du temple de Dieu; puisque je l’ai reçu pour le conserver, et non pour le dilapider. » 3° Il fit preuve de constance en reprenant le vice et toute espèce d'iniquité. En effet on lit cette chronique dans l’Histoire tripartite (Liv. IX, ch. XXX) : Une sédition s'étant élevée à Thessalonique, quelques-uns des juges avaient été lapidés par le peuple. L'empereur Théodose indigné fit tuer tout le monde, sans distinguer les coupables des innocents. Le nombre des victimes s'éleva à cinq mille. Or, l’empereur vint à Milan et voulut entrer dans l’église, mais Ambroise alla à sa rencontre jusqu'à la porte, et lui en refusa l’entrée en disant : « Pourquoi, empereur, après un pareil acte de fureur, ne pas comprendre l’énormité de votre présomption ? Peut-être que la puissance impériale vous empêche de reconnaître vos fautes. Il est de votre dignité due la raison l’emporte sur la puissance. Vous êtes prince, ô empereur, mais vous commandez à des hommes comme vous. De quel oeil donc regarderez-vous le temple de notre commun maître? Avec quels pieds foulerez-vous son sanctuaire? Comment laverez-vous des mains teintes encore d'un sang injustement répandu? Oseriez-vous recevoir son sang adorable en cette bouche qui, dans l’excès de votre colère, a commandé tant de meurtres? Relevez-vous donc, retirez-vous, et n'ajoutez pas un nouveau crime à celui que vous avez déjà commis. Recevez le joug que le Seigneur vous impose aujourd'hui est la guérison assurée et le salut pour vous. » L'empereur obit et retourna à son palais en gémissant et en pleurant. Or, après avoir longtemps versé des larmes, Rufin, l’un de ses généraux, lui demanda le motif d'une si profonde tristesse. L'empereur lui dit : « Pour toi, tu ne sens pas mon mal; aux esclaves et aux mendiants les temples sont ouverts mais à moi l’entrée en est interdite. » En parlant ainsi chacun de ses mots était entrecoupé par des sanglots. « Je cours, lui dit Rufin, si vous le voulez, auprès d'Ambroise, afin qu'il vous délie des liens dans lesquels il vous a enlacé. » « Tu ne pourras persuader Ambroise, repartit Théodose, car la puissance impériale ne saurait l’effrayer au point de lui faire violer la loi divine. » Mais Rufin lui promettant de fléchir l’évêque, l’empereur lui donna l’ordre d'aller le trouver. et quelques instants après il le suivit. Ambroise n'eut pas plutôt aperçu Rufin, qu'il lui dit : « Tu imites les chiens dans leur impudence, Rufin, toi, l’exécuteur d'un pareil carnage; il ne te reste donc aucune honte, et tu ne rougis pas d'aboyer contre la majesté divine. » Comme Rufin suppliait, pour l’empereur et disait que celui-ci allait venir lui-même, Ambroise enflammé d'un zèle surhumain : « Je te déclare, lui dit-il, que je l’empêcherai d'entrer dans les saints parvis; s'il vent employer la force et agir en tyran, je suis prêt à souffrir la mort. » Rufin ayant rapporté ces paroles à l’empereur : « J'irai, lui dit celui-ci, j'irai le trouver, pour recevoir moi-même les reproches que je mérite. » Arrivé près d'Ambroise, Théodose lui demanda d'être délié de son interdit, alors Ambroise alla à sa rencontre, et lui refusa l’entrée de l’église en disant : « Quelle pénitence avez-vous faite après avoir commis de si grandes iniquités ? » Il répondit : « C'est à vous à me l’imposer et à moi à me soumettre. » Alors comme l’empereur alléguait que David aussi avait commis un adultère et un homicide, Ambroise lui dit : « Vous l’avez imité dans sa faute, imitez-le dans son repentir. » L'empereur reçut ces avis avec une telle gratitude qu'il ne se refusa pas à faire une pénitence publique. Quand il fut réconcilié, il vint à l’église et resta debout au chancel; Ambroise lui demanda ce qu'il attendait là : l’empereur lui ayant répondu qu'il attendait pour participer aux, saints mystères, Ambroise lui dit : « Empereur, l’intérieur de l’église est réservé aux prêtres seulement; sortez donc, et attendez les mystères avec les autres; la pourpre vous fait empereur et non pas prêtre. » A l’instant Théodose lui obéit. Revenu à Constantinople, il se tenait hors du chancel, l’évêque alors lui commanda d'entrer, et Théodose répondit : «J'ai été longtemps à savoir la différence qu'il y a entre un empereur et un évêque; c'est à peine si j'ai trouvé un maître qui m’ait enseigné la vérité, je ne connais au monde de véritable évêque qu'Ambroise. »

Il fut recommandable, 8° par sa saille doctrine qui atteint à une grande profondeur. Saint Jérôme dans son livre sur les Douze Docteurs dit: « Ambroise plane au-dessus des profondeurs comme un oiseau qui s élance dans les airs; c'est dans le ciel qu'il cueille ses fruits. » En parlant de sa fermeté: il ajouta : «Toutes ses sentences sont des colonnes sur lesquelles s'appuient la foi, l’Eglise et toutes les vertus. » Saint Augustin dit en parlant de la beauté de son style, en son livre des Noces et des Contrats : « L'hérésiarque Pélage donne ces éloges à saint Ambroise : Le saint évêque Ambroise, dont les livres contiennent la doctrine romaine, brilla comme une fleur au milieu des écrivains latins. » Saint Augustin ajoute : « Sa foi et ses explications très exactes de l’Ecriture n'ont même pas été attaquées par un seul ennemi. » Sa doctrine jouit d'une grande autorité, puisque les écrivains anciens, comme saint Augustin, tenaient grand cas de ses paroles.

A ce propos saint Augustin rapporte à Janvier que sa mère s'étonnait de ce qu'on ne jeunât pas le samedi à Milan, saint Augustin en demanda la raison à saint Ambroise qui lui répondit : « Quand je vais à Rome, je jeûne le samedi. Eh bien! quand vous vous trouvez dans une église, suivez ses pratiques, si vous ne voulez scandaliser, ni être scandalisé. » Saint Augustin dit à ce propos : « Plus je réfléchis sur cet avis, plus je trouve que c'est pour moi comme un oracle du ciel. »

* Tiré de la vie du saint, par Paulin, son secrétaire.

La Légende dorée de Jacques de Voragine nouvellement traduite en français avec introduction, notices, notes et recherches sur les sources par l'abbé J.-B. M. Roze, chanoine honoraire de la Cathédrale d'Amiens, Édouard Rouveyre, éditeur, 76, rue de Seine, 76, Paris mdccccii

SOURCE : http://www.abbaye-saint-benoit.ch/voragine/tome01/059.htm

Saint Ambroise lors de l’invention des reliques de saint Gervais et saint Protais


BENEDICT XVI

GENERAL AUDIENCE

Saint Peter's Square

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Saint Ambrose of Milan


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Holy Bishop Ambrose - about whom I shall speak to you today - died in Milan in the night between 3 and 4 April 397. It was dawn on Holy Saturday. The day before, at about five o'clock in the afternoon, he had settled down to pray, lying on his bed with his arms wide open in the form of a cross. Thus, he took part in the solemn Easter Triduum, in the death and Resurrection of the Lord. "We saw his lips moving", said Paulinus, the faithful deacon who wrote his Life at St Augustine's suggestion, "but we could not hear his voice". The situation suddenly became dramatic. Honoratus, Bishop of Vercelli, who was assisting Ambrose and was sleeping on the upper floor, was awoken by a voice saying again and again, "Get up quickly! Ambrose is dying...". "Honoratus hurried downstairs", Paulinus continues, "and offered the Saint the Body of the Lord. As soon as he had received and swallowed it, Ambrose gave up his spirit, taking the good Viaticum with him. His soul, thus refreshed by the virtue of that food, now enjoys the company of Angels" (Life, 47). On that Holy Friday 397, the wide open arms of the dying Ambrose expressed his mystical participation in the death and Resurrection of the Lord. This was his last catechesis: in the silence of the words, he continued to speak with the witness of his life.


Ambrose was not old when he died. He had not even reached the age of 60, since he was born in about 340 A.D. in Treves, where his father was Prefect of the Gauls. His family was Christian. 


Upon his father's death while he was still a boy, his mother took him to Rome and educated him for a civil career, assuring him a sound instruction in rhetoric and jurisprudence. In about 370 he was sent to govern the Provinces of Emilia and Liguria, with headquarters in Milan. It was precisely there that the struggle between orthodox and Arians was raging and became particularly heated after the death of the Arian Bishop Auxentius. Ambrose intervened to pacify the members of the two opposing factions; his authority was such that although he was merely a catechumen, the people acclaimed him Bishop of Milan.



Until that moment, Ambrose had been the most senior magistrate of the Empire in northern Italy. Culturally well-educated but at the same time ignorant of the Scriptures, the new Bishop briskly began to study them. From the works of Origen, the indisputable master of the "Alexandrian School", he learned to know and to comment on the Bible. Thus, Ambrose transferred to the Latin environment the meditation on the Scriptures which Origen had begun, introducing in the West the practice of lectio divina. The method of lectio served to guide all of Ambrose's preaching and writings, which stemmed precisely from prayerful listening to the Word of God. The famous introduction of an Ambrosian catechesis shows clearly how the holy Bishop applied the Old Testament to Christian life: "Every day, when we were reading about the lives of the Patriarchs and the maxims of the Proverbs, we addressed morality", the Bishop of Milan said to his catechumens and neophytes, "so that formed and instructed by them you may become accustomed to taking the path of the Fathers and to following the route of obedience to the divine precepts" (On the Mysteries 1, 1). In other words, the neophytes and catechumens, in accordance with the Bishop's decision, after having learned the art of a well-ordered life, could henceforth consider themselves prepared for Christ's great mysteries. Thus, Ambrose's preaching - which constitutes the structural nucleus of his immense literary opus - starts with the reading of the Sacred Books ("the Patriarchs" or the historical Books and "Proverbs", or in other words, the Wisdom Books) in order to live in conformity with divine Revelation.


It is obvious that the preacher's personal testimony and the level of exemplarity of the Christian community condition the effectiveness of the preaching. In this perspective, a passage from St Augustine's Confessions is relevant. He had come to Milan as a teacher of rhetoric; he was a sceptic and not Christian. He was seeking the Christian truth but was not capable of truly finding it. 


What moved the heart of the young African rhetorician, sceptic and downhearted, and what impelled him to definitive conversion was not above all Ambrose's splendid homilies (although he deeply appreciated them). It was rather the testimony of the Bishop and his Milanese Church that prayed and sang as one intact body. It was a Church that could resist the tyrannical ploys of the Emperor and his mother, who in early 386 again demanded a church building for the Arians' celebrations. In the building that was to be requisitioned, Augustine relates, "the devout people watched, ready to die with their Bishop". This testimony of the Confessions is precious because it points out that something was moving in Augustine, who continues: "We too, although spiritually tepid, shared in the excitement of the whole people" (Confessions 9, 7).



Augustine learned from the life and example of Bishop Ambrose to believe and to preach. We can refer to a famous sermon of the African, which centuries later merited citation in the conciliar Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum: "Therefore, all clerics, particularly priests of Christ and others who, as deacons or catechists, are officially engaged in the ministry of the Word", Dei Verbum recommends, "should immerse themselves in the Scriptures by constant sacred reading and diligent study. For it must not happen that anyone becomes" - and this is Augustine's citation - ""an empty preacher of the Word of God to others, not being a hearer of the Word in his own heart'" (n. 25). Augustine had learned precisely from Ambrose how to "hear in his own heart" this perseverance in reading Sacred Scripture with a prayerful approach, so as truly to absorb and assimilate the Word of God in one's heart.

Dear brothers and sisters, I would like further to propose to you a sort of "patristic icon", which, interpreted in the light of what we have said, effectively represents "the heart" of Ambrosian doctrine. In the sixth book of the Confessions, Augustine tells of his meeting with Ambrose, an encounter that was indisputably of great importance in the history of the Church. He writes in his text that whenever he went to see the Bishop of Milan, he would regularly find him taken up with catervae of people full of problems for whose needs he did his utmost. There was always a long queue waiting to talk to Ambrose, seeking in him consolation and hope. When Ambrose was not with them, with the people (and this happened for the space of the briefest of moments), he was either restoring his body with the necessary food or nourishing his spirit with reading. Here Augustine marvels because Ambrose read the Scriptures with his mouth shut, only with his eyes (cf. Confessions, 6, 3). Indeed, in the early Christian centuries reading was conceived of strictly for proclamation, and reading aloud also facilitated the reader's understanding. That Ambrose could scan the pages with his eyes alone suggested to the admiring Augustine a rare ability for reading and familiarity with the Scriptures. Well, in that "reading under one's breath", where the heart is committed to achieving knowledge of the Word of God - this is the "icon" to which we are referring -, one can glimpse the method of Ambrosian catechesis; it is Scripture itself, intimately assimilated, which suggests the content to proclaim that will lead to the conversion of hearts.

Thus, with regard to the magisterium of Ambrose and of Augustine, catechesis is inseparable from witness of life. What I wrote on the theologian in the Introduction to Christianity might also be useful to the catechist. An educator in the faith cannot risk appearing like a sort of clown who recites a part "by profession". Rather - to use an image dear to Origen, a writer who was particularly appreciated by Ambrose -, he must be like the beloved disciple who rested his head against his Master's heart and there learned the way to think, speak and act. The true disciple is ultimately the one whose proclamation of the Gospel is the most credible and effective.

Like the Apostle John, Bishop Ambrose - who never tired of saying: "Omnia Christus est nobis! To us Christ is all!" - continues to be a genuine witness of the Lord. Let us thus conclude our Catechesis with his same words, full of love for Jesus: "Omnia Christus est nobis! If you have a wound to heal, he is the doctor; if you are parched by fever, he is the spring; if you are oppressed by injustice, he is justice; if you are in need of help, he is strength; if you fear death, he is life; if you desire Heaven, he is the way; if you are in the darkness, he is light.... Taste and see how good is the Lord:  blessed is the man who hopes in him!" (De Virginitate, 16, 99). Let us also hope in Christ. We shall thus be blessed and shall live in peace.


To special groups

I am happy to greet the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother who are gathered in Rome for their 20th General Chapter. I also cordially welcome an ecumenical pilgrimage of Catholics and Evangelical Lutherans from the United States of America. Upon all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims I invoke God's abundant Blessings of peace and joy.

Lastly, I address the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. Today, the liturgy recalls for us the Bishop, St Anthony Mary Claret, who worked with constant generosity for the salvation of souls. May his glorious Gospel witness sustain you, dear young people, in seeking every day to be faithful to Christ; may it encourage you, dear sick people, to follow the Lord with trust in times of suffering; may it help you, dear newly-weds, to make your family a place of growing love for God and for the brethren.

© Copyright 2007 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana


SOURCE : http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2007/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20071024_en.html
St. Ambrose


One of Ambrose’s biographers observed that at the Last Judgment people would still be divided between those who admired Ambrose and those who heartily disliked him. He emerges as the man of action who cut a furrow through the lives of his contemporaries. Even royal personages were numbered among those who were to suffer crushing divine punishments for standing in Ambrose’s way.
There is a legend that as an infant, a swarm of bees settled on his face while he lay in his cradle, leaving behind a drop of honey. His father considered this a sign of his future eloquence and honeyed tongue. For this reason, bees and beehives often appear in the saint’s symbology.
When the Empress Justina attempted to wrest two basilicas from Ambrose’s Catholics and give them to the Arians, he dared the eunuchs of the court to execute him. His own people rallied behind him in the face of imperial troops. In the midst of riots, he both spurred and calmed his people with bewitching new hymns set to exciting Eastern melodies.
In his disputes with the Emperor Auxentius, he coined the principle: “The emperor is in the Church, not above the Church.” He publicly admonished Emperor Theodosius for the massacre of 7,000 innocent people. The emperor did public penance for his crime. This was Ambrose, the fighter, sent to Milan as Roman governor and chosen while yet a catechumen to be the people’s bishop.
There is yet another side of Ambrose—one which influenced Augustine, whom Ambrose converted. Ambrose was a passionate little man with a high forehead, a long melancholy face and great eyes. We can picture him as a frail figure clasping the codex of sacred Scripture. This was the Ambrose of aristocratic heritage and learning.
Augustine found the oratory of Ambrose less soothing and entertaining but far more learned than that of other contemporaries. Ambrose’s sermons were often modeled on Cicero and his ideas betrayed the influence of contemporary thinkers and philosophers. He had no scruples in borrowing at length from pagan authors. He gloried in the pulpit in his ability to parade his spoils—“gold of the Egyptians”—taken over from the pagan philosophers.
His sermons, his writings and his personal life reveal him as an otherworldly man involved in the great issues of his day. Humanity, for Ambrose, was, above all, spirit. In order to think rightly of God and the human soul, the closest thing to God, no material reality at all was to be dwelt upon. He was an enthusiastic champion of consecrated virginity.
The influence of Ambrose on Augustine will always be open for discussion. The Confessions reveal some manly, brusque encounters between Ambrose and Augustine, but there can be no doubt of Augustine’s profound esteem for the learned bishop.
Neither is there any doubt that Monica loved Ambrose as an angel of God who uprooted her son from his former ways and led him to his convictions about Christ. It was Ambrose, after all, who placed his hands on the shoulders of the naked Augustine as he descended into the baptismal fountain to put on Christ.

SOURCE : http://www.ucatholic.com/saints/saint-ambrose/


Michael Pacher (1430–1498). Saint Ambroise de Milan, 1475, 216 X 91, 


St. Ambrose

Bishop of Milan from 374 to 397; born probably 340, at Trier, Arles, or Lyons; died 4 April, 397. He was one of the most illustrious Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and fitly chosen, together with St. Augustine, St. John Chrysostom, and St. Athanasius, to uphold the venerable Chair of the Prince of the Apostles in the tribune of St. Peter's at Rome.


The materials for a biography of the Saint are chiefly to be found scattered through his writings, since the "Life" written after his death by his secretary, Paulinus, at the suggestion of St. Augustine, is extremely disappointing. Ambrose was descended from an ancient Roman family, which, at an early period had embraced Christianity, and numbered among its scions both Christian martyrs and high officials of State. At the time of his birth his father, likewise named Ambrosius, was Prefect of Gallia, and as such ruled the present territories of France, Britain, andSpain, together with Tingitana in Africa. It was one of the four great prefectures of the Empire, and the highest office that could be held by a subject. Trier, Arles, and Lyons, the three principal cities of the province, contend for the honour of having given birth to the Saint. He was the youngest of three children, being preceded by a sister, Marcellina, who become a nun, and a brother Satyrus, who, upon the unexpected appointment of Ambrose to the episcopate, resigned a prefecture in order to live with him and relieve him from temporal cares. About the year 354 Ambrosius, the father, died, whereupon the family removed to Rome. The saintly and accomplishedwidow was greatly assisted in the religious training of her two sons by the example and admonitions of her daughter, Marcellina, who was about ten years older than Ambrose. Marcellina had already received the virginalveil from the hands of Liberius, the Roman Pontiff, and with another consecrated virgin lived in her mother's house. From her the Saint imbibed that enthusiastic love of virginity which became his distinguishing trait. His progress in secular knowledge kept equal pace with his growth in piety. It was of extreme advantage to himself and to the Church that he acquired a thorough mastery of the Greek language and literature, the lack of which is so painfully apparent in the intellectual equipment of St. Augustine and, in the succeeding age, of the great St. Leo. In all probability the Greek Schism would not have taken place had East and West continued to converse as intimately as did St. Ambrose and St. Basil. Upon the completion of his liberal education, the Saint devoted his attention to the study and practice of the law, and soon so distinguished himself by the eloquence and ability of his pleadings at the court of the praetorian prefect, Anicius Probus, that the latter took his into his council, and later obtained for him from the Emperor Valentinian the office of consular governor of Liguria and Æmilia, with residence in Milan. "Go", said the prefect, with unconscious prophecy, "conduct thyself not as a judge, but asbishop". We have no means of ascertaining how long he retained the civic government of his province; we knowonly that his upright and gently administration gained for him the universal love and esteem of his subjects, paving the way for that sudden revolution in his life which was soon to take place. This was the more remarkable, because the province, and especially the city of Milan, was in a state of religious chaos, owing to the persistent machinations of the Arian faction.

Bishop of Milan

Ever since the heroic Bishop Dionysius, in the year 355, had been dragged in chains to his place of exile in the distant East, the ancient chair of St. Barnabas had been occupied by the intruded Cappadocian, Auxentius, anArian filled with bitter hatred of the Catholic Faith, ignorant of the Latin language, a wily and violent persecutor of his orthodox subjects. To the great relief of the Catholics, the death of the petty tyrant in 374 ended a bondagewhich had lasted nearly twenty years. The bishops of the province, dreading the inevitable tumults of a popularelection, begged the Emperor Valentinian to appoint a successor by imperial edict; he, however, decided that theelection must take place in the usual way. It devolved upon Ambrose, therefore, to maintain order in the city at this perilous juncture. Proceeding to the basilica in which the disunited clergy and people were assembled, he began a conciliatory discourse in the interest of peace and moderation, but was interrupted by a voice (according to Paulinus, the voice of an infant) crying, "Ambrose, Bishop". The cry was instantly repeated by the entire assembly, and Ambrose, to his surprise and dismay, was unanimously pronounced elected. Quite apart from anysupernatural intervention, he was the only logical candidate, known to the Catholics as a firm believer in theNicene Creed, unobnoxious to the Arians, as one who had kept aloof from all theological controversies. The only difficulty was that of forcing the bewildered consular to accept an office for which his previous training nowise fitted him. Strange to say, like so many other believers of that age, from a misguided reverence for the sanctityof baptism, he was still only a catechumen, and by a wise provision of the canons ineligible to the episcopate. That he was sincere in his repugnance to accepting the responsibilities of the sacred office, those only havedoubted who have judged a great man by the standard of their own pettiness. Were Ambrose the worldly-minded, ambitious, and scheming individual they choose to paint him, he would have surely sought advancement in the career that lay wide open before him as a man of acknowledged ability and noble blood. It is difficult tobelieve that he resorted to the questionable expedients mentioned by his biographer as practised by him with a view to undermining his reputation with the populace. At any rate his efforts were unsuccessful. Valentinian, who was proud that his favourable opinion of Ambrose had been so fully ratified by the voice of clergy and people,confirmed the election and pronounced severe penalties against all who should abet him in his attempt to conceal himself. The Saint finally acquiesced, received baptism at the hands of a Catholic bishop, and eight day later, 7 December 374, the day on which East and West annually honour his memory, after the necessary preliminary degrees was consecrated bishop.

He was now in his thirty-fifth year, and was destined to edify the Church for the comparatively long space of twenty-three active years. From the very beginning he proved himself to be that which he has ever since remained in the estimation of the Christian world, the perfect model of a Christian bishop. There is some truthunderlying the exaggerated eulogy of the chastened Theodosius, as reported by Theodoret (v, 18), "I know nobishop worthy of the name, except Ambrose". In him the magnanimity of the Roman patrician was tempered by the meekness and charity of the Christian saint. His first act in the episcopate, imitated by many a saintlysuccessor, was to divest himself of his worldly goods. His personal property he gave to the poor; he made over his landed possessions to the Church, making provision for the support of his beloved sister. The self-devotion of his brother, Satyrus, relieved him from the care of the temporalities, and enabled him to attend exclusively to hisspiritual duties. In order to supply the lack of an early theological training, he devoted himself assiduously to the study of Scripture and the Fathers, with a marked preference for Origen and St. Basil, traces of whose influence are repeatedly met with in his works. With a genius truly Roman, he, like Cicero, Virgil, and other classical authors, contented himself with thoroughly digesting and casting into a Latin mould the best fruits of Greekthought. His studies were of an eminently practical nature; he learned that he might teach. In the exordium of his treatise, "De Officiis", he complains that, owing to the suddenness of his transfer from the tribunal to thepulpit, he was compelled to learn and teach simultaneously. His piety, sound judgment, and genuine Catholicinstinct preserved him from error, and his fame as an eloquent expounder of Catholic doctrine soon reached the ends of the earth. His power as an orator is attested not only by the repeated eulogies, but yet more by theconversion of the skilled rhetorician Augustine. His style is that of a man who is concerned with thoughts rather than words. We cannot imagine him wasting time in turning an elegant phrase. "He was one of those", says St. Augustine, "who speak the truth, and speak it well, judiciously, pointedly, and with beauty and power of expression" (Christian Doctrine IV.21).

His daily life

Through the door of his chamber, wide open the livelong day, and crossed unannounced by all, of whatever estate, who had any sort of business with him, we catch a clear glimpse of his daily life. In the promiscuous throng of his visitors, the high official who seeks his advice upon some weighty affair of state is elbowed by some anxious questioner who wishes to have his doubts removed, or some repentant sinner who comes to make a secret confession of his offenses, certain that the Saint "would reveal his sins to none but God alone" (Paulinus, Vita, xxxix). He ate but sparingly, dining only on Saturdays and Sundays and festivals of the more celebratedmartyrs. His long nocturnal vigils were spent in prayer, in attending to his vast correspondence, and in penningdown the thoughts that had occurred to him during the day in his oft-interrupted readings. His indefatigable industry and methodical habits explain how so busy a man found time to compose so many valuable books. Every day, he tells us, he offered up the Holy Sacrifice for his people (pro quibus ego quotidie instauro sacrificium). Every Sunday his eloquent discourses drew immense crowds to the Basilica. One favorite topic of his was the excellence of virginity, and so successful was he in persuading maidens to adopt the religious professionthat many a mother refused to permit her daughters to listen to his words. The saint was forced to refute the charge that he was depopulating the empire, by quaintly appealing to the young men as to whether any of them experienced any difficulty in finding wives. He contends, and the experience of ages sustains his contention (De Virg., vii) that the population increases in direct proportion to the esteem in which virginity is held. His sermons, as was to be expected, were intensely practical, replete with pithy rules of conduct which have remained as household words among Christians. In his method of biblical interpretation all the personages of Holy Writ, fromAdam down, stand out before the people as living beings, bearing each his distinct message from God for the instruction of the present generation. He did not write his sermons, but spoke them from the abundance of his heart; and from notes taken during their delivery he compiled almost all the treatises of his that are extant.

Ambrose and the Arians

It was but natural that a prelate so high-minded, so affable, so kind to the poor, so completely devoting his greatgifts to the service of Christ and of humanity, should soon win the enthusiastic love of his people. Rarely, if ever, has a Christian bishop been so universally popular, in the best sense of that much abused term, as Ambrose of Milan. This popularity, conjoined with his intrepidity, was the secret of his success in routing enthroned iniquity. The heretical Empress Justina and her barbarian advisers would many a time fain have silenced him by exile orassassination, but, like Herod in the case of the Baptist, they "feared the multitude". His heroic struggles against the aggressions of the secular power have immortalized him as the model and forerunner of future Hildebrands,Beckets, and other champions of religious liberty. The elder Valentinian died suddenly in 375, the year following the consecration of Ambrose, leaving his Arian brother Valens to scourge the East, and his oldest son, Gratian, to rule the provinces formerly presided over by Ambrosius, with no provision for the government of Italy. The army seized the reins and proclaimed emperor the son of Valentinian by his second wife, Justina, a boy four years old.Gratian good-naturally acquiesced, and assigned to his half-brother the sovereignty of Italy, Illyricum, and Africa. Justina had prudently concealed her Arian view during the lifetime of her orthodox husband, but now, abetted by a powerful and mainly Gothic faction at court, proclaimed her determination to rear her child in that heresy, and once more attempt to Arianize the West. This of necessity brought her into direct collision with the Bishop ofMilan, who had quenched the last embers of Arianism in his diocese. That heresy had never been popular among the common people; it owed its artificial vitality to the intrigues of courtiers and sovereigns. As a preliminary to the impending contest, Ambrose, at the request of Gratian, who was about to lead an army to the relief ofValens, and wished to have at hand an antidote against Oriental sophistry, wrote his noble work, "De Fide ad Gratianum Augustum", afterwards expanded, and extant in five books. The first passage at arms between Ambrose and the Empress was on the occasion of an episcopal election at Sirmium, the capital of Illyricum, and at the time the residence of Justina. Notwithstanding her efforts, Ambrose was successful in securing the electionof a Catholic bishop. He followed up this victory by procuring, at the Council of Aquileia, (381), over which he presided, the deposition of the only remaining Arianizing prelates of the West, Palladius and Secundianus, bothIllyrians. The battle royal between Ambrose and the Empress, in the years 385,386, has been graphically described by Cardinal Newman in his "Historical Sketches". The question at issue was the surrender of one of thebasilicas to the Arians for public worship. Throughout the long struggle Ambrose displayed in an eminent degree all the qualities of a great leader. His intrepidity in the moments of personal danger was equalled only by his admirable moderation; for, at certain critical stages of the drama one word from him would have hurled the Empress and her son from their throne. That word was never spoken. An enduring result of this great struggle with despotism was the rapid development during its course of the ecclesiastical chant, of which Ambrose laid the foundation. Unable to overcome the fortitude of the Bishop and the spirit of the people, the court finally desisted from its efforts. Ere long it was forced to call upon Ambrose to exert himself to save the imperilled throne.

Already he had been sent on an embassy to the court of the usurper, Maximus, who in the year 383 had defeated and slain Gratian, and now ruled in his place. Largely through his efforts an understanding had been reached between Maximus and Theodosius, whom Gratian had appointed to rule the East. It provided that Maximusshould content himself with his present possessions and respect the territory of Valentinian II. Three years laterMaximus determined to cross the Alps. The tyrant received Ambrose unfavourably and, on the plea, veryhonourable to the Saint, that he refused to hold communion with the bishops who had compassed the death ofPriscillian (the first instance of capital punishment inflicted for heresy by a Christian prince) dismissed him summarily from his court. Shortly after, Maximus invaded Italy. Valentinian and his mother fled to Theodosius, who took up their cause, defeated the usurper, and put him to death. At this time Justina died, and Valentinian, by the advice of Theodosius, abjured Arianism and placed himself under the guidance of Ambrose, to whom he became sincerely attached. It was during the prolonged stay of Theodosius in the West that one of most remarkable episodes in the history of the Church took place; the public penance inflicted by the Bishop and submitted to by the Emperor. The long-received story, set afoot by the distant Theodoret, which extols theSaint's firmness at the expense of his equally pronounced virtues of prudence and meekness - that Ambrose stopped the Emperor at the porch of the church and publicly upbraided and humiliated him - is shown by moderncriticism to have been greatly exaggerated. The emergency called into action every episcopal virtue. When the news reached Milan that the seditious Thessalonians had killed the Emperor's officials, Ambrose and the councilof bishops, over which he happened to be presiding at the time, made an apparently successful appeal to the clemency of Theodosius. Great was their horror, when, shortly after Theodosius, yielding to the suggestions of Rufinose and other courtiers, ordered an indiscriminate massacre of the citizens, in which seven thousand perished. In order to avoid meeting the blood-stained monarch or offering up the Holy Sacrifice in his presence, and, moreover, to give him time to ponder the enormity of a deed so foreign to his character, the Saint, pleading ill-health, and sensible that he exposed himself to the charge of cowardice, retired to the country, whence he sent a noble letter "written with my own hand, that thou alone mayst read it", exhorting the Emperor to repair his crime by an exemplary penance. With "religious humility", says St. Augustine (City of God V.26), Theodosiussubmitted; "and, being laid hold of by the discipline of the Church, did penance in such a way that the sight of his imperial loftiness prostrated made the people who were interceding for him weep more than the consciousness ofoffence had made them fear it when enraged". "Stripping himself of every emblem of royalty", says Ambrose in his funeral oration (c. 34), "he publicly in church bewailed his sin. That public penance, which private individualsshrink from, an Emperor was not ashamed to perform; nor was there afterwards a day on which he did not grieve for his mistake." This plain narrative, without theatrical setting, is much more honourable both to theBishop and his sovereign.

Last days of Ambrose

The murder of his youthful ward, Valentinian II, which happened in Gaul, May, 393, just as Ambrose was crossing the Alps to baptize him plunged the Saint into deep affliction. His eulogy delivered at Milan is singularly tender; he courageously described him as a martyr baptized in his own blood. The usurper Eugenius was, in fact, a heathen at heart, and openly proclaimed his resolution to restore paganism. He reopened the heathen temples, and ordered the famous altar of Victory, concerning which Ambrose and the prefect Symmachus had maintained a long and determined literary contest, to be again set up in the Roman senate chamber. This triumph ofpaganism was of short duration. Theodosius in the spring of 391 again lead his legions into the West, and in abrief campaign defeated and slew the tyrant. Roman heathenism perished with him. The Emperor recognized themerits of the great Bishop of Milan by announcing his victory on the evening of the battle and asking him to celebrate a solemn sacrifice of thanksgiving. Theodosius did not long survive his triumph; he died at Milan a few months later (January 395) with Ambrose at his bedside and the name of Ambrose on his lips. "Even while death was dissolving his body", says the Saint, "he was more concerned about the welfare of the churches than about his personal danger". "I loved him, and am confident that the Lord will hearken to the prayer I send up for hispious soul" (In obitu Theodosii, c. 35). Only two years elapsed before a kindly death reunited these two magnanimous souls. No human frame could long endure the incessant activity of an Ambrose. One instance, recorded by his secretary, of his extraordinary capacity for work is significant. He died on Good Friday. The following day five bishops found difficulty in baptizing the crowd to which he had been accustomed to administer the sacrament unaided. When the news spread that he was seriously ill, Count Stilicho, "fearing that his death would involve the destruction of Italy", despatched an embassy, composed of the chief citizens, to implore him topray God to prolong his days. The response of the Saint made a deep impression on St. Augustine: "I have not so lived amongst you, that I need be ashamed to live; nor do I fear to die, for we have a good Lord". For several hours before his death he lay with extended arms in imitation of his expiring Master, who also appeared to him in person. The Body of Christ was given him by the Bishop of Vercelli, and, "after swallowing It, he peacefully breathed his last". It was the fourth of April, 397. He was interred as he had desired, in his beloved basilica, by the side of the holy martyrs, Gervasius and Protasius, the discovery of whose relics, during his great struggle with Justina, had so consoled him and his faithful adherents. In the year 835 one of his successors, Angilbert II, placed the relics of the three saints in as porphyry sarcophagus under the altar, where they were found in 1864. The works of St. Ambrose were issued first from the press of Froben at Basle, 1527, under the supervision ofErasmus. A more elaborate edition was printed in Rome in the year 1580 and following. Cardinal Montalto was the chief editor until elevation to the papacy as Sixtus V. It is in five volumes and still retains a value owing to the prefixed "Life" of the Saint, composed by Baronius. Then came the excellent Maurist edition published in two volumes at Paris, in 1686 and 1690; reprinted by Migne in four volumes. The career of St. Ambrose occupies a prominent place in all histories, ecclesiastical and secular, of the fourth century. Tillemont's narrative, in the tenth volume of his "Memoirs", is particularly valuable. The question of the genuineness of the so-called eighteenAmbrosian Hymns is of secondary importance. The great merit of the Saint in the field of hymnology is that of laying the foundations and showing posterity what ample scope there existed for future development.

Writings of St. Ambrose

The special character and value of the writings of St. Ambrose are at once tangible in the title of Doctor of the Church, which from time immemorial he has shared in the West with St. Jerome, St. Augustine, and St. Gregory. He is an official witness to the teaching of the Catholic Church in his own time and in the preceding centuries. As such his writings have been constantly invoked by popes, councils and theologians; even in his own day it was felt that few could voice so clearly the true sense of the Scriptures and the teaching of the Church (St. Augustine, De doctrinâ christ., IV,46,48,50). Ambrose is pre-eminently the ecclesiastical teacher, setting forth in a sound and edifying way, and with conscientious regularity, the deposit of faith as made known to him. He is not thephilosophic scholar meditating in silence and retirement on the truths of the Christian Faith, but the strenuousadministrator, bishop, and statesman, whose writings are only the mature expression of his official life and labours. Most of his writings are really homilies, spoken commentaries on the Old and New Testaments, taken down by his hearers, and afterwards reduced to their present form, though very few of these discourses have reached us exactly as they fell from the lips of the great bishop. In Ambrose the native Roman genius shines out with surpassing distinctness; he is clear, sober, practical, and aims always at persuading his hearers to act at once on the principles and arguments he has laid down, which affect nearly every phase of their religious ormoral life. "He is a genuine Roman in whom the ethico-practical note is always dominant. He had neither timenor liking for philosophico-dogmatic speculations. In all his writings he follows some practical purpose. Hence he is often content to reproduce what has been already treated, to turn over for another harvest a field already worked. He often draws abundantly from the ideas of some earlier writer, Christian or pagan, but adapts these thoughts with tact and intelligence to the larger public of his time and his people. In formal perfection his writings leave something to be desired; a fact that need not surprise us when we recall the demands on the time of such a busy man. His diction abounds in unconscious reminiscences of classical writers, Greek and Roman. He is especially conversant with the writings of Virgil. His style is in every way peculiar and personal. It is never wanting in a certain dignified reserve; when it appears more carefully studied than is usual with him, its characteristics are energetic brevity and bold originality. Those of his writings that are homiletic in origin andform betray naturally the great oratorical gifts of Ambrose; in them he rises occasionally to a noble height of poetical inspiration. His hymns are a sufficient evidence of the sure mastery that he possessed over the Latinlanguage." (Bardenhewer, Les pères de l'église, Paris, 1898, 736 -737; cf. Pruner, Die Theologie des heil. Ambrosius, Eichstadt, 1864.) For convenience sake his extant writings may be divided into four classes:exegetical, dogmatic, ascetico-moral, and occasional. The exegetical writings, or scripture-commentaries deal with the story of Creation, the Old Testament figures of Cain and Abel, Noah, Abraham and the patriarchs, Elias,Tobias, David and the Psalms, and other subjects. Of his discourses on the New Testament only the lengthycommentary on St. Luke has reached us (Expositio in Lucam). He is not the author of the admirable commentaryon the thirteen Epistles of St. Paul known as "Ambrosiaster". Altogether these Scripture commentaries make up more than one half of the writings of Ambrose. He delights in the allegorico-mystical interpretation of Scripture, i.e. while admitting the natural or literal sense he seeks everywhere a deeper mystic meaning that he convertsinto practical instruction for Christian life. In this, says St. Jerome (Ep.xli) "he was disciple of Origen, but after the modifications in that master's manner due to St. Hippolytus of Rome and St. Basil the Great". He was also influenced in this direction by the Jewish writer Philo to such an extent that the much corrupted text of the latter can often be successfully corrected from the echoes and reminiscences met with in the works of Ambrose. It is to be noted, however, that in his use of non-Christian writers the great Doctor never abandons a strictly Christianattitude (cf. Kellner, Der heilige Ambrosius als Erklärer das Alten Testamentes, Ratisbon, 1893).

The most influential of his ascetico-moral writings is the work on the duties of Christian ecclesiastics (De officiis ministrorum). It is a manual of Christian morality, and in its order and disposition follows closely the homonymous work of Cicero. "Nevertheless", says Dr. Bardenhewer, "the antitheses between the philosophicalmorality of the pagan and the morality of the Christian ecclesiastic is acute and striking. In his exhortations, particularly, Ambrose betrays an irresistible spiritual power" (cf. R. Thamin, Saint Ambroise et la morale chrétienne at quatrième siècle, Paris, 1895). He wrote several works on virginity, or rather published a number of his discourses on that virtue, the most important of which is the treatise "On Virgins" addressed to his sisterMarcellina, herself a virgin consecrated to the divine service. St. Jerome says (Ep. xxii) that he was the most eloquent and exhaustive of all the exponents of virginity, and his judgment expresses yet the opinion of thechurch. The genuineness of the touching little work "On the Fall of a Consecrated Virgin" (De lapsu virginis consecratæ) has been called in question, but without sufficient reason. Dom Germain Morin maintains that it is a real homily of Ambrose, but like so many more of his so-called "books", owes its actual form to some one of hisauditors. His dogmatic writings deal mostly with the divinity of Jesus Christ and of the Holy Ghost, also with theChristian sacraments. At the request of the young Emperor Gratian (375-383) he composed a defence of the truedivinity of Jesus Christ against the Arians, and another on the true divinity of the Holy Ghost against theMacedonians; also a work on the Incarnation of Our Lord. His work "On Penance" was written in refutation of the rigoristic tenets of the Novatians and abounds in useful evidences of the power of the Church to forgive sins, thenecessity of confession and the meritorious character of good works. A special work on Baptism (De sacramento regenerationis), often quoted by St. Augustine, has perished. We possess yet, however, his excellent treatise (DeMysteriis) on Baptism, Confirmation, and the Blessed Eucharist (P.L. XVI, 417-462), addressed to the newlybaptized. Its genuineness has been called in doubt by opponents of Catholic teaching concerning the Eucharist, but without any good reason. It is highly probable that the work on the sacraments (De Sacramentis, ibid.) is identical with the preceding work; only, says Bardenhewer, "indiscreetly published by some hearer of Ambrose". Its evidences to the sacrificial character of the Mass, and to the antiquity of the Roman Canon of the Mass are too well known to need more than a mention; some of them may easily be seen in any edition of the Roman Breviary (cf. Probst, Die Liturgie des vierten Jahrhunderts und deren Reform, Münster, 1893, 232-239). The correspondence of Ambrose includes but a few confidential or personal letters; most of his letters are official notes, memorials on public affairs, reports of councils held, and the like. Their historical value is, however, of the first order, and they exhibit him as a Roman administrator and statesman second to none in Church or State. If his personal letters are unimportant, his remaining discourses are of a very high order. His work on the death (378) of his brother Satyrus (De excessu fratris sui Satyri) contains his funeral sermon on his brother, one of the earliest of Christian panegyrics and a model of the consolatory discourses that were henceforth to take the place of the cold and inept declamations of the Stoics. His funeral discourses on Valentinian II (392), and Theodosius the Great (395) are considered models of rhetorical composition; (cf. Villemain, De l'éloquence chrétienne, Paris, ed. 1891); they are also historical documents of much importance. Such, also, are his discourse against the Arianintruder, Auxentius (Contra Auxentium de basilicis tradendis) and his two discourses on the finding of the bodies of the Milanese martyrs Gervasius and Protasius.

Not a few works have been falsely attributed to St. Ambrose; most of them are found in the Benedictine Edition of his writings (reprinted in Migne) and are discussed in the manuals of patrology(e.g. Bardenhewer). Some of his genuine works appear to have been lost, e.g. the already mentioned work on baptism. St. Augustine (Ep. 31, 8) is loud in his praise of a (now lost) work of Ambrose written against those who asserted an intellectualdependency of Jesus Christ on Plato. It is not improbable that he is really the author of the Latin translation and paraphrase of Josephus (De Bell. Judaico), known in the Middle Ages as Hegesippus or Egesippus, a distortion of the Greek name of the original author (Iosepos). Mommsen denies (1890) his authorship of the famous Roman law text known as the "Lex Dei, sive Mosaicarum et Romanarum Legum Collatio", an attempt to exhibit the law of Moses as the historical source whence Roman criminal jurisprudence drew its principal dispositions.

Editions of his Writings

The literary history of the editions of his writings is a long one and may be seen in the best lives of Ambrose.Erasmus edited them in four tomes at Basle (1527). A valuable Roman edition was brought out in 1580, in five volumes, the result of many years' labour; it was begun be Sixtus V, while yet the monk Felice Peretti. Prefixedto it is the life of St. Ambrose composed by Baronius for his Ecclesiastical Annals. The excellent Benedictineedition appeared at Paris (1686-90) in two folio volumes; it was twice reprinted at Venice (1748-51, and 1781-82). The latest edition of the writings of St. Ambrose is that of P.A. Ballerini (Milan, 1878) in six folio volumes; it has not rendered superfluous the Benedictine edition of du Frische and Le Nourry. Some writings of Ambrose have appeared in the Vienna series known as the "Corpus Scriptorum Classicorum Latinorum" (Vienna, 1897-1907). There is an English version of selected works of St. Ambrose by H. de Romestin in the tenth volume of the second series of the "Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers" (New York, 1896). A German version of selected writings in two volumes, executed by Fr. X. Schulte, is found in the "Bibliothek der Kirchenväter" (Kempten, 1871-77).

Sources

For exhaustive bibliographies see Chevalier, Répertoire, etc., Bio-Bibliographie (2d ed., Paris, 1905), 186-89; Bardenhewer, Patrologie (2d ed. Freiburg, 1901), 387-89. Da Broglie, Les Saints, St. Ambroise (Paris, 1899); Davies in Dict. of Christ. Biogr., s.v., I, 91-99; BUTLER, Lives of the Saints, 7 Dec.; Förster, Ambrosius, Bischof von Mailand (Halle, 1884); Imm, Studia Ambrosiana (Leipzig, 1890); FERRARI, Introduction to Ambrosiana, a collection of learned studies published I (Milan 1899) on accasion of the fifteenth centenary of his death. The introduction mentioned is by CARDINAL FERRARI, Archbishop of Milan.

Loughlin, James. "St. Ambrose." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 7 Dec. 2015 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01383c.htm>.

SOURCE : http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01383c.htm



SAINT AMBROSE—BISHOP, CONFESSOR, DOCTOR OF THE CHURCH ( 397 AD)

Feast: December 7


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. He was born into the Roman governing class, his father being prefect of southern Gaul, the vast territory which included Britain, the Mediterranean islands, and the lands stretching from the Alps to Spain and Portugal.

His birthplace was the palace at Treves,[1] and the date was about the year 340. After the death of his father, his mother, a woman of piety and intellect, returned with her children to Rome, where she gave careful thought to their rearing. A daughter, Marcellina, became a consecrated virgin. Young Ambrose studied Greek, and showed promise as an orator and poet. He went on to a mastery of law, and as a young pleader attracted the notice of Anicius Probus, prefect of Italy, and of the pagan Symmachus, prefect of Rome Probus appointed him assessor, an office he filled with dignity. Then in 372, when Ambrose was barely thirty, the Western Emperor, Valentinian I, chose him as consular prefect of Liguria and Aemilia. The office gave him full consular rank, with his residence at Milan.[2] When he left Rome for his new post, Probus dismissed him with these prophetic words, "Go and govern more like a bishop than a judge."

When Ambrose had governed at Milan for two years, the bishop, an Arian, died, and the city was torn by strife over the election of a successor, some demanding an Arian, others a Catholic. Ambrose, as the responsible civil official, went to the church where the voting was to take place, and urged the people to make their choice like good Christians, without disorder. A voice suddenly called out, "Ambrose, bishop! " The whole gathering took up the cry, and both Catholics and Arians then and there proclaimed him bishop of Milan. The outburst astounded Ambrose, for though he was a professing Christian, he was still unbaptized and therefore not eligible for the office.

In view of the popular vote, the other bishops of the province agreed to ratify the election, at which Ambrose sadly remarked, "Emotion has now overruled canon law." The bishop-elect tried unsuccessfully to escape from the city.

A report went to Valentinian, whose consent was necessary if an imperial officer was to be made a bishop. Ambrose also wrote, asking to be excused, but Valentinian replied that it gave him the greatest pleasure to have chosen a prefect fit for the episcopal office, and sent orders to the vicar of the province to hold a formal election. Meanwhile, Ambrose was hiding in the house of a senator, who, on hearing the imperial decision, gave Ambrose up. He was baptized, and a week later, on December 7, 374, 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. All care of temporal matters was delegated to a brother, and he began to serve his diocese with energy and devotion. In a letter to the emperor he complained of the behavior of certain imperial magistrates, to which Valentinian in all humility replied: "I have long been acquainted with your freedom of speech, which did not hinder me from consenting to your election. Continue to apply to our sins the remedies prescribed by divine law."

Very conscious of his ignorance of theology, Ambrose began to study the Scriptures and the works of religious writers, particularly Origen and Basil,[3] putting himself under the tutelage of Simplician, a learned priest. The great issue of the day was the Arian heresy, and Ambrose labored to rid his diocese of it. From the beginning he was at the service of the people, giving them regular and careful instruction. He led a life of extreme simplicity, entertaining little, and excusing himself from banquets. Every day he offered the Eucharist. Certain things he rigorously avoided: he would persuade no one to be a soldier, he would take no hand in match-making, and would recommend no one to a place at court.

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. Mothers are said to have tried to keep their daughters from hearing him, and some accused him of trying to depopulate the empire! Ambrose would retort, "What man ever wanted to marry and could not find a wife?" He declared that the population was greatest where maidenhood was most esteemed. It was his contention that wars, and not virgins, were responsible for the destruction of the race.

Valentinian I died in 375, leaving two heirs, Gratian, a boy of sixteen, by his first wife, and a four-year-old, known as Valentinian II, by Justina, his second wife. Gratian took as his share the provinces beyond the Alps, turning over to his brother, or, rather, to Justina, as regent, Illyricum, North Africa, and Italy. In the East, where his uncle Valens was emperor, there was now an invasion of Goths, and Gratian determined to go to his uncle's aid. But in order to guard against contamination by Arians, of whom Valens was an active protector, he asked Ambrose to instruct him concerning the heresy.

Ambrose accordingly wrote for him in 377 the treatise entitled, <To Gratian, on the Faith>. The following year Valens was defeated and killed in the battle of Adrianople and an orthodox Spanish general, Theodosius, vanquished the Goths. In 379 Gratian recognized him as Emperor of the East. Mean while other Goths had advanced westward to Illyricum and had taken thousands of captives. To ransom them, Ambrose first laid out all the money he could raise and then melted down gold vessels belonging to the Church.[4] When the Arians attacked him for what they called his sacrilege, he answered, "If the Church has gold, it is in order to use it to save men's souls, not to hoard it."

After the murder of Gratian, in 383, the Empress Justina begged Ambrose to go and negotiate with the brutal usurper Maximus and prevail on him not to attack Italy or to jeopardize her young son Valentinian's rights. Ambrose went up to Treves and induced Maximus to confine his conquests to Gaul, Spain, and Britain. Historians have called it the first occasion on which a Christian minister was asked to intervene in a matter of high politics; in this case, to vindicate right and order against armed aggression.

Ambrose now gained a victory in another affair. A group of pagan senators at Rome, headed by Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, son and successor of the city prefect who had been Ambrose's patron, petitioned Valentinian to restore the altar of the Goddess of Victory, removed by Gratian, to its old place in the senate-house, claiming that Rome had fallen on evil days since the ancient cult had been abandoned. Symmachus, in his discourse, attributed Rome's former triumphs and grandeur to the power of the goddess, and ended with the persuasive appeal, which is still heard today, "What does it matter how one seeks for the truth? There must be more than one road to the great mystery." Ambrose replied eloquently; he ridiculed the notion that what the Roman soldiers had achieved in the past by valor had been dependent on the reports of the augurs as to the state of the entrails of sacrificed animals. Rising to great heights of rhetoric, he spoke as by the mouth of Rome herself, bewailing past errors, but not ashamed to change with a changing world. Symmachus and his friends should learn the mysteries of nature from the God who created it. Instead of imploring their emperors to give their gods peace, they should ask God to give the emperors peace.

When both addresses, that of Symmachus and that of Ambrose, were read before Valentinian, he said simply: "My father did not take away the altar, nor was he asked to put it back. I therefore follow him in changing nothing that was done before my time."

At a council in Aquileia, in 382, Ambrose had effected the deposition of two Arian bishops, in spite of Justina's opposition. Justina, not easily vanquished, persuaded Valentinian, who was now fourteen years old, to demand the Portian basilica, situated just outside the city, for the use of the Arians, who had chosen Auxentius as their bishop. Ambrose replied that he would not surrender a temple of God to heretics. Now Valentinian demanded the larger new basilica of the Apostles, in the city. Still Ambrose would not yield. Although he had most of the citizenry and soldiers on his side, he was careful not to precipitate violence, and would not officiate in either of the churches. He was preaching in a small chapel of the larger basilica, when a party of soldiers, ordered to seize it, entered. But instead of carrying out their orders, they laid down their arms and prayed with the Catholics. The people then surged into the adjoining basilica and tore down decorations that had been put up for the emperor's visit. Ambrose refused anything resembling a triumph, and did not himself enter the church until Easter Day, when all were united in joy and thanksgiving.

But Justina did not give up. In January of the following year she had her son issue an edict making religious assemblies of Catholics practically impossible. Ambrose calmly disregarded the edict, yet no official ventured to touch him. "I have said what a bishop ought to say; let the emperor do what an emperor ought to do." On Palm Sunday he preached openly against any surrender of the churches. There were fears for his life, and his people barricaded themselves in the basilica with him. Imperial troops surrounded the church, but those inside did not surrender. On Easter Sunday they were still there. To occupy their time, Ambrose taught them hymns composed by himself, which they sang under his direction, divided into choirs singing alternate stanzas. A tribune now came to Ambrose from the emperor, with an order that he choose laymen to act as judges of his case in a trial court, as Auxentius had already done for his side, so that together they might decide between the two bishops. Ambrose replied that it was his duty to stay with his people, and that laymen could not judge bishops or make laws for the Church. He then ascended the pulpit to tell the people all that had passed between the rulers and himself during the year. In one memorable sentence he defined the principle at stake: "The emperor is in the Church, not over it."

In the meantime, news came that Maximus was on the verge of invading Italy.

Valentinian and Justina abjectly begged Ambrose to undertake a second journey to try to stop the aggressor. Ambrose went up to Trier on this embassy, but failed to sway Maximus from his purpose. Justina and her son fled to Thessalonica to throw themselves on the mercy of the Eastern emperor, Theodosius. He received them, declared war on Maximus, defeated and executed him. Valentinian was restored to his own lands as well as to those of his deceased brother Gratian, but Theodosius was now the real ruler of the whole empire. He came to Milan and stayed for a time to prevail on Valentinian to renounce Arianism and accept Ambrose as the true Catholic bishop.

Conflicts between Ambrose and Theodosius were soon to arise. In the first of these the right does not seem to have been wholly on the bishop's side. At Kallinicum, in Mesopotamia, some Christians had pulled down the Jewish synagogue. Theodosius had ordered the local bishop, who was said to be implicated, to rebuild the synagogue.

The bishop appealed to Ambrose, who in turn wrote to Theodosius to say that no Christian bishop should pay for the erection of a building to be used for false worship.

Ambrose preached against Theodosius to his face; a discussion took place between them in church, and Ambrose refused to go to the altar to sing Mass until he had obtained a promise of pardon for the bishop.

In the year 390 news came to Milan of a shocking massacre at Thessalonica. Botheric, the governor, had had a popular charioteer imprisoned for seducing a slave in his family, and refused to release him when the public wanted to see him in the races. The enraged mob stoned several officers and Botheric himself was killed. Theodosius ordered reprisals of terrible savagery; he is reported to have countermanded his order but too late. When the people were assembled in the circus, soldiers rushed in and put to the sword some seven thousand persons. Ambrose wrote the emperor a letter, exhorting him to penance, and declaring his offering at the altar would not be received, nor would the Divine Mysteries be celebrated in his presence until atonement had been made. "What was done at Thessalonica is unparalleled in the memory of man.... You, who so often have been merciful and pardoned the guilty, have now caused many innocent to perish. The devil wished to wrest from you the crown of piety which was your highest glory. Drive him from you while you may.... I write this to you with my own hand that you may read it alone."

The appeal had its effect; Theodosius appears to have been sincerely repentant. In his funeral oration, Ambrose said of him: He, an emperor, was not ashamed to perform the public penance which lesser individuals shrink from, and to the end of his life he never ceased to grieve for his crime." So Christianity was displayed to the world as being no respecter of persons. We have another evidence of Theodosius' humility and Ambrose's moral sway. Once at Milan during Mass on a feast day, Theodosius brought his offering to the altar and then remained standing within the rails. Ambrose asked if he wanted anything; the emperor said that he was staying to assist at the Holy Mysteries and to take Communion. At this Ambrose sent his archdeacon with the message: My lord, the law is that you go out and stand with the rest. The purple robe makes princes, not priests." Theodosius apologized, saying he thought the custom was the same as at Constantinople, where his place was within the sanctuary.[5] He then took his place among the laity.

In 393 Valentinian II was slain in Gaul by Arbogastes, a pagan officer. Knowing Valentinian was among enemies, Ambrose had set out to rescue him, but on the way met his funeral procession. Ambrose made plain his indignation at the murder, and left Milan before the arrival of Eugenius, whom Arbogastes was putting forward as the new emperor. The bishop went from town to town, strengthening the people against the invaders. On his return, he received a letter from Theodosius, telling of his victory over Arbogastes at Aquileia. A few months later Theodosius died in Ambrose's arms.

In his funeral oration, Ambrose spoke with affection of this ruler and praised him for welding the empire together again, declaring that his two sons had come into an inheritance united by law and the Christian faith. The two sons, however, the feeble Arcadius and Honorius, were incapable of carrying on their father's labors. Only a few years later a young cavalry officer named Alaric was to lead the Visigoths south to capture and plunder Rome, while the frightened Honorius remained hidden in Ravenna.

Ambrose survived the emperor two years. When he fell sick, the bishop 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.

One day as he was dictating the latter work to Paulinus, his secretary and biographer, he suddenly stopped, and had to take to his bed. When Count Stilicho, guardian of Honorius, heard this, he declared publicly that Italy faced destruction the day the bishop died, and sent messengers begging Ambrose to pray for recovery. "I have not so behaved myself among you," Ambrose answered, "that I should be ashamed to live longer, but I am not afraid to die, for we have a good Master." 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."




<Letter to Marcellina>
<Ambrose, to his sister Marcellina>.[6]

. . . 2. First of all, some great men, counselors of state, begged me to give up the basilica and see to it that the people made no disturbance. I replied, of course, that a temple of God could not be surrendered by a bishop.

3. The next day my answer was approved by the people in the church The prefect came and began to argue with us to give up at least the Portian basilica, but the people clamored against it. He then went away, indicating that he would report to the Emperor.

4. The day following, which was Sunday, after the lessons and the sermon, when the catechumens had been dismissed,[7] I was teaching the creed to some advanced candidates in the baptistery of the church when it was reported to me that they had sent officials from the palace and were putting up hangings[8] around the basilica and a crowd of people were on their way there. I, however, remained at my ministrations, and began to say Mass.

5. While I was offering the oblation, I was told that a certain Castulus, whom the Arians called a priest, had been seized by the people. On their way they had met him in the streets. I began to weep bitterly and to implore God in the oblation that He would come to our aid and that no one's blood should be shed in the cause of the Church, or at least that it might be my blood, shed not only for my people but for the unbelievers too. In brief then I sent out priests and deacons and rescued the man from violence....

8. Then counts and tribunes came and urged me to order the basilica surrendered quickly, saying that the Emperor was only exercising his rights, since everything was in his power. I answered that if he asked of me what was mine, that is, my land, my money, or anything of the sort that was my own, I would not refuse it, although all that I have goes to the poor, but that the things which are God's are not subject to the imperial power. "If he wants my patrimony, take it over; if my body, I will go at once.

Do you wish to put me in chains or sentence me to death, it will be a joy to me. I will not defend myself behind the crowd of people, nor will I cling to the altars and beg for my life, but will gladly be slain for the altars."

9. I was indeed struck with horror when I learned that armed men had been sent to take possession of the basilica, lest the people might defend it and there might be some slaughter which would tend to the hurt of the whole city. I prayed that I might not survive the destruction of our great city or—it might be—of all Italy....

10. Then I was called on to restrain the people. I answered that it was in my power not to excite them but in God's hands to quiet them. And if they thought I was urging the people on, they ought to punish me at once or send me away to any desert place in the world they chose. After I had said this, they departed and I spent the whole day in the old basilica, but from there I went home to sleep, so that if anyone wanted to carry me off, he might find me ready....

(The next day Ambrose preaches to the people in the "old basilica" on the lesson for the day from the Book of Job and urges them to patience and courage under the trial.)

19. At last the command was given me: "Surrender the basilica." My reply was: "It is not lawful for me to surrender it nor good for you, Emperor, to receive it. By no right can you violate the house of a private person. Do you think that a house of God can be taken away from Him? It is said that for the Emperor everything is lawful, that all things are his. My answer is: "Do not, O Emperor, impose on yourself the burden of the idea that you have any imperial power over things which belong to God. Exalt not yourself, but if you hope for a long reign, submit yourself to God.' It is written: 'To God the things that are God's; to Caesar the things that are Caesar's. Palaces belong to the emperor, churches to the bishops. Authority is committed to you over public but not over sacred buildings." They said the Emperor had exclaimed: "I too should have one basilica." My answer was: "It is not lawful for you to have one. What have you to do with an adulteress? For she is an adulteress who is not joined to Christ in lawful wedlock."

20. While I was talking on the subject, tidings were brought that the royal hangings were taken down and the basilica filled with people who were calling for my presence.

So at once I turned my discourse to that and said: "How high and how deep are the oracles of the Holy Spirit! We said at Matins, as you, brethren, remember and made the response in great grief of mind: 'O God, the heathen are come into thine inheritance."'...

21. Whose gift now, is this, whose work is this but Thine, Lord Jesus? Thou sawest armed men coming to Thy temple; on the one hand, the people wailing and flocking in throngs so as not to seem to abandon the basilica of God; on the other hand, the soldiers ordered to use violence. Death was before my eyes for fear that madness should gain a footing while things stood in suspense. But Thou, O Lord, didst come between and madest of twain one. Thou didst restrain the armed men, saying: "If ye attack them with arms, if people enclosed in My temple are troubled, what profit was there in My blood?" Thanks to Thee, O Christ. No ambassador, no messenger but Thou, O Lord, hast saved Thy people. Thou hast put off my sackcloth and girded me with gladness.




(Ambrose, <Select Works and Letters. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers>, Series II.)

<Evening Hymn> (<Deus creator omnium>)


God that all things didst create 

And the heavens doth regulate, 

Who doth clothe the day with light, 

And with gracious sleep the night....

Day sinks; we thank thee for thy gift.

Night comes; to thee again we lift 

Our prayers and vows and hymns, that we 

Against all ills defended be....

That so, when shadows round us creep 

And all is hid in darkness deep,

Faith may not feel the gloom; and night 

Borrow from faith's clear gleam new light. . ..

From snares of sense, Lord, keep us free 

And let our hearts dream but of thee.

Let not the envious foe draw near 

To vex our quiet rest with fear.

Hail we the Father and the Son 

And Son's and Father's Spirit, one Blest Trinity whom all obey; 

Guard thou the souls that to thee pray.


<Morning Hymn> (<Aeterne rerum conditor>)


Eternal Lord, the world who made, 

Who rules the day and night's dark shade 

And sets the time to hours, that we 

May never faint or weary be.

Hark to the herald of the morn 

Who vigil through the dark has borne, 

To travelers in the dark a light 

That separates the night from night.

The daystar hears and at his call 

Loosens the sky from night's black thrall, 

While roaming brigands at his word 

Their mischief leave and sheathe their sword. . .

So let us rise in eager haste: 

The cock forbids us life to waste.

He stirs the sluggards and doth show 

Those who refuse the wrong they do....

O Jesus, aid us where we stray, 

Look down and set us on our way. 

Beneath thy gaze our faltering cease 

And in our tears guilt turns to peace.

Shine on our senses with thy light 

And from our minds put sleep to flight.

Let us our first songs raise to thee 

And all our hymns be praise to thee.
(F. A. Wright, <Fathers of the Church>, 1928.)


Endnotes

1 Treves, or Trier, an ancient German city on the Moselle River, was at this time the military headquarters on the northern border of the Empire.

2 Milan was now the administrative capital of the West, the imperial court having been moved there in 303, under Maximian.

3 St Basil, bishop of Caesarea, was the defender of his province against the Arian heresy, defying the emperor in the process. Basil is famous for his doctrinal writings, his monastic rule, and the liturgy which still bears his name in the Eastern rite. On Origen, see above, <St. Athanasius>, n. 5.

4 This is a precedent often cited in Church history.

5 Later it was part of the design of every Byzantine church to have a mosaic representation of a two-headed eagle set in the floor just outside the sanctuary, to mark the place for the imperial throne. Such eagles may still be seen in Eastern churches.

6 The occasion of this letter was the attempt, described above, by the Arian party at Milan to seize one of the Catholic basilicas.

7 The catechumens, persons under instruction in Catholic doctrine, were not permitted to remain in the church for the sacred mystery of the Mass but were required to leave after the reading of the lessons and the sermon.

8 The hangings were evidently banners that marked the basilica as imperial property.

Saint Ambrose, Bishop, Confessor, Doctor of the Church. Celebration of Feast Day is December 7.


Taken from "Lives of Saints", Published by John J. Crawley & Co., Inc.



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Crypte du saint évêque  Ambrose et des deux martyrs, Saints Gervase and Protase
Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio, Milan


Ambrose of Milan B Doctor (RM)

Born in Trier, Germany, c. 340; died in Milan 397.



To me St. Ambrose is a fascinating character. He seems to be a magnet drawing all the saints of his time to himself. He must have been quite a character: holy, erudite, and humorous. I've read so much about him over the years in the lives of other saints that I could write his biography from memory. But I'll let others do the talking.

St. Ambrose was largely responsible for the rise of Christianity in the West as the Roman Empire declined, and he was a courageous and untiring defender of the independence of the Church from the state.

The Times

A major influence during this period was the gradual infiltration of barbarians into the Roman Empire, culminating in definite attacks upon the heart of the empire and a gradual amalgamation of the Teutonic invaders with the Greco-Roman population. The governance of the empire had moved from Rome to Constantinople, named after the first Christian emperor. Rome still had some prestige as the regional center of government, but even the Western emperor normally had his abode in Milan or Ravenna.

The power of the Church was not yet consolidated. Recognition by Constantine in the Edict of Milan meant the end of systematic persecutions of Christians (except for sporadic local outbreaks), but paganism was still alive, even in the Imperial Court under Julian the Apostate. Nevertheless, there were locations within the empire where Christians were in the majority but they were divided among themselves--not just the rivalry of East versus West, but the orthodox versus the heterodox. Arianism was still strong and other heresies continued to arise. The situation was even more difficult because the Goths were evangelized primarily by the Arians.

The increasing worldliness incorporated into the hierarchy of the Church and into the more elaborate liturgies, sparked a new form of asceticism--monasticism--which was just beginning to take hold in the Western Church.

Early Life of Ambrose

This is the world into which St. Ambrose was born in Trier (Treves) about 339-40, not long after the first ecumenical council of Nicaea in 325. His father Ambrose, a civil servant, was the praetorian prefect (governor) of Gaul. His command included Spain, the Netherlands, and Britain. Ambrose had one brother, Satyrus, and a sister, Marcellina, who became a nun in 353, though she continued to live as a religious at home (there were few regular convents).

Ambrose was not baptized as a child because Christians still regarded any sin after baptism with such horror that the sacrament was postponed as long as possible. There was, however, a service of exhortation and benediction in which salt and the Sign of the Cross were employed in order to claim the child for God, and to withdraw him from the dominance of the powers of evil.

All we have of Ambrose's childhood is a legendary tale that a swarm of bees settled on his mouth as a prophecy that he would be gifted with eloquence. Upon the death of his father while Ambrose was still young, the family moved back to Rome. The brothers were tutored by a Roman priest named Simplician, whom the boys loved (he later succeeded Ambrose as bishop of Milan). Their education ended in the study of law.

Early Career

The two brothers began practicing law in the court of the prefect of Italy. Their oratory and learning seem to have attracted the notice of Ancius Probus, the prefect of Italy. Ambrose was particularly marked for the fast-track. When Ambrose was little more than 30 (c. 372), Emperor Valentinian appointed him 'consular' or governor of Aemilia and Liguria, whose capital was Milan, the administrative center of the imperial government in the West since the beginning of the 4th century. He filled this position with great ability and justice.

Election as Bishop

The Arian Bishop Auxentius of Milan, who banned Catholic congregations from worshipping in the diocese's churches, died in 374, and the Arians and Catholics fought over the vacant position which exercised a metropolitan's jurisdiction over the whole of northern Italy. Ambrose had only been in Milan for three years at the time of the bishop's death and he expected that there might be trouble over the selection of his successor.

So, Ambrose, who was a Catholic in name but still a catechumen, went to the cathedral to try to calm the rival parties. During his speech exhorting the people to concord and tranquility, a child is said to have cried, "Ambrose for bishop!" The cry was taken up by both sides, neither of which was anxious to decide the issue between them. The local bishops had asked Emperor Valentinian to make the appointment but he turned the dubious honor back to the bishops. Now the matter was out of their hands. Ambrose was unanimously elected bishop by all parties.

The election of Ambrose, the one in charge of the local police, heightens our awareness of a truism: all clergy are recruited from the laity. It is better to choose an irreproachable person esteemed by all, than a savant who sows discord. The choice of Ambrose was a bold one, but it surprises no one but us.

Our attitudes towards vocations seems different than that in the early church. We today see a vocation as the story of a soul-- discernment of the vocation privately, preparation in a seminary, and gradual growth into the clerical role. For the early Church it was above all the call of God expressed by the Church. To our taste, the secret history of Ambrose's soul did not count enough. But we forget that it is the Holy Spirit through the Church that calls.

What did Ambrose think of this call? At first he protested (just like the prophets) saying he was not even baptized, and fled rather than yield to the tumult. St. Paulinus of Nola wrote of the incident:

"Ambrose left the church and had his tribunal prepared. . . . Contrary to his custom, he ordered people submitted to torture. When this was done the people did not acclaim him any the less [saying]: 'May his sin fall on us!' The people of Milan, knowing that Ambrose had not been baptized, sincerely promised him a remission of all his sins by the grace of baptism.

"Troubled, Ambrose returned to his house. . . . Openly he had prostitutes come in for the sole purpose, of course, that once the people saw that, they would go back on their decision. But the crowd only cried all the louder: 'May your sin fall on us'" (Paulinus, Life of Ambrose, 7).

The people, however, continually pursued him and insisted that he take the see. The emperor confirmed the nomination and Ambrose capitulated. Beginning on November 24, 373, Ambrose was taken through baptism and the various orders to be consecrated as bishop on December 1 or 7--one or two weeks later. (Talk about fast track!) (The dates vary somewhat depending on the source.)

As Bishop

Quite consciously Ambrose set out to be an exemplary bishop, in spite of the daunting divisions within his see, his own delicate constitution, and lack of preparation. He was a slight figure with a beard and moustache, but with the natural grace of one who had been born in a palace and who could handle authority. (An early 5th century portrait in a church he founded shows him as a short man with a long face, long nose, high forehead, brown hair, thick lips, and a left eyebrow higher than his right.) His natural dignity was soon ignited by enthusiasm to correct wrongs (such as high taxation, corrupt officials, venality in the law courts, and Arians in the imperial court).

On his election he dedicated himself to an austere life and the in- depth study of the Church Fathers and Scriptures under the direction of his former tutor Father Simplician--essentially doing his seminary work after his consecration.

Following his election his life was one of poverty and humility. He gave away all his acquired property. His inherited possessions he gave into the charge of his brother Satyrus, who had resigned his own governorship. Ambrose was a man of charity. He even sold church property in order to buy back captives taken in wars. He distinguished himself in defense of the oppressed, and there is a strikingly modern note in his objection to capital punishment.

This left Ambrose free to follow the life he considered appropriate to the clergy: prayer seven times daily, regular fasts (although the Church of Milan followed the Eastern rule with regard to Saturday and did not, as the Romans did, keep it as a fast), and no food until dinner. He gave daily audiences to any who wished to consult him, then occupied himself with reading and writing. His favorite writers were Philo, Origen, and Basil. He was a Greek scholar and read most of the Greek Fathers (but seems unfamiliar with the Latin Fathers such as Tertullian and Justin Martyr). He also read heretical works in order to refute them.

We think of a bishop in terms of ceremony, administration, and leadership, when it should mean pastoral vigilance, care for all, teaching of the Gospel, and performance of the liturgy. As bishop, Ambrose felt he was primarily responsible for the instruction of catechumens, and would himself hear confessions before he actually administered Baptism. Whenever Ambrose baptized new Christians, Ambrose always washed their feet, even though he knew this was not the usual Roman custom.

As a metropolitan, Ambrose had to occasionally summon councils to deal with appeals from the various dioceses and set the date for the observance of Easter. He also had to preside at the election and consecration of bishops.

Episcopal duties at this time are well summed up by Chateaubriand, "There could be nothing more complete or better filled than a life of the prelates of the fourth and fifth centuries. A bishop baptized, absolved, preached, arranged private and public penances, hurled anathemas or raised excommunications, visited the sick, attended the dying, buried the dead, redeemed captives, nourished the poor, widows, and orphans, founded almshouses and hospitals, ministered to the needs of his clergy, pronounced as a civil judge in individual cases, and acted as arbitrator in differences between cities. He published at the same time treatises on morals, on discipline, on theology. He wrote against heresiarchs and against philosophers, busied himself with science and history, directed letters to individuals who consulted him in one or other of the rival religions; corresponded with churches and bishops, monks, and hermits; sat at councils and synods; was summoned to the audience of Emperors, was charged with negotiations, and was sent as ambassador to usurpers or to Barbarian princes to disarm them or keep them within bounds. The three powers, religious, political, and philosophical were all concentrated in the bishop."

Church vs. State and Church vs. Error

Ambrose was an admired preacher and became an articulate opponent of Arianism, the view that the Word of God was a created being and, therefore, not eternal. While Arianism was almost stamped out in Italy, two problems remained: The Goths had been evangelized by the Arian bishop Ulfilas, and the Empress Justina, second wife of Valentinian I and mother of Valentinian II was an Arian.

Ambrose stood up to the Empress-Regent. He refused to give one of his churches to the Arian heretics, in spite of her telling him that he must do so (when religion was a civic duty in the Roman Empire all temples were at the disposal of the emperor). Ambrose's own description of the events are telling:

"First of all some great men, counsellors of state begged me to give up the basilica, and to manage that the people should make no disturbance. I replied, of course, that the temple of God could not be surrendered by a bishop.

"On the following day this answer was approved by the people in the church; and the Prefect was there and began to persuade us to give up at least the Portian basilica (the old one), but the people clamored against it. He then went away implying that he should report to the Emperor.

"The day after, which was Sunday, after the lesson and the sermon, when the catechumens were dismissed, I was teaching the Creed to certain candidates in the baptistery of the basilica. There it was reported to me that they had sent decani from the palace, and were putting up hangings, and that part of the people were going there. I, however, remained at my ministrations and began to celebrate Mass.

"Whilst offering the oblation, I heard that a certain Castalus, who, the Arians said, was a priest, had been seized by the people. Passers-by had come upon him in the streets. I began to weep bitterly, and to implore God in the oblation that He would come to our aid, and that no one's blood be shed in the Church's cause, or at least that it might be my blood shed for the benefit not of my people only, but also for the unbelievers themselves. Not to say more, I sent priests and deacons and rescued the man from violence."

Those who sought to wreck violence were fined by the bishop. Ambrose deprecated violence and counselled passive resistance. The faithful were advised to occupy the two churches in question. The soldiers threw a cordon around the building, so the people remained inside throughout the night. The protest worked; the court withdrew its soldiers.

The following year Ambrose was persecuted in many ways. An edict proclaimed tolerance of Arian worship. Ambrose was subpoenaed, next the Court claimed the Church's plate, then that he leave Milan; each he refused. He took refuge in the new basilica and spent the time preaching and instructing the congregation in the art of antiphonal singing, using some of his own compositions. Emperor Valerian again capitulated.

The Emperor Gratian was a Catholic and at his request Ambrose wrote De fide to counter Arian arguments. Arian immigrants seized one of the Milan churches in 378, but the next year Gratian ordered the basilica returned to Ambrose and the cessation of all heresies. De fide does not rely on rhetoric, but on the authority of scripture texts. He is aware that these may be variously interpreted, but insists that they must be read in the light of their context.

In 381 the Council of Constantinople convened to again denounce Arianism and its new manifestation--Macedonianism, which applied the Arian principle to the Holy Spirit to interpret Him as a tertiary god. Again at Gratian's insistence, Ambrose wrote a counter-argument entitled De spiritu. The book was effective but earned the severe criticism of Saint Jerome.

In 383, when Gratian was killed in battle by Maximus, Ambrose persuaded Maximus not to attempt to extend his domain into Italy against the new young emperor Valentinian II.

Ambrose was adamant that the Christian religion should be supported by the empire and worked hard to eradicate paganism. Pagan senators, led by the famous orator Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, wanted the heathen goddess of Victory honored by the return of the statue to the Senate in Rome. A debate was arranged with Ambrose on one side and Augustine, as the local teacher of rhetoric (soon to become a saint) on the other. Ambrose persuaded the Emperor Valentinian II to forbid it.

Ambrose also used his position to ensure that the vacant see of Sirmium, a former Arian stronghold, was filled by a Catholic. He thereby incurred the hatred of the Empress Justina, who was already jealous of his influence over her son.

When the conflict between Catholics and Arians deepened, Maximus invaded Italy despite Ambrose's pleas. Valentinian and Justina fled and sought the aid of Eastern Emperor Theodosius I, who defeated Maximus and had him executed in Pannonia (Hungary) and restored Valentinian to the throne; Theodosius now controlled both Eastern and Western empires.

At Milan, Theodosius convinced Valentinian to denounce Arianism and recognize Ambrose, but himself soon came into conflict with the bishop when Ambrose denounced Theodosius's order to the bishop of Kallinikum, Mesopotamia, to rebuild a Jewish synagogue destroyed by Christians. Theodosius later rescinded the order and himself paid for the reconstruction to prevent the bishop from having to support a non-Christian faith.

Ambrose was strong enough to call the greatest in Christendom to public penance. In 390 A mob at Thessaloniki (Salonica) killed the Roman governor because he had imprisoned their favorite charioteer. In reprisal Emperor Theodosius I invited the people to the circus and there butchered 7,000 of them. Ambrose wrote to the emperor urging him to submit to public penance: "The emperor belongs to the church, but is not its superior."

As a result Theodosius ordered the henceforth capital punishment should not be carried out for 30 days after the sentence had been passed to allow time for calm judgment to prevail. Theodosius did his public penance and was readmitted to communion with the Church at Christmas. This was the turning point between Theodosius and Ambrose and between the Church and the State.

Extant letters show that Ambrose never hesitated to remind the emperor that he owed allegiance to God, just as his military owed obedience to him. Thereafter, the public treasury no longer funded restoration or maintenance of pagan altars. Ambrose also threatened excommunication if the emperor failed to obey.

Strengthened by Ambrose, in 391 emperor Theodosius forbade all public observances of paganism (which wasn't actually enforced in the West, but led to civil disturbances in the East). The next year the emperor forbade all private observances of paganism. Homes Dudden points out that the Christians endeavored to facilitate the transition by fixing, wherever possible, the dates of Christian festivals to coincide with those of the old pagan feasts. The suppression of paganism was effected by Milan, not Rome.

In 393, Valentinian II was murdered in Gaul by Arbogastes, whose envoy, Eugenius, had attempted to restore paganism. Ambrose denounced the murder, and the defeat and execution of Arbogastes at Aquileia by Theodosius finally ended paganism in the empire.

When Theodosius died a few months after his victory, it was in the arms of Ambrose, who preached at his funeral.

Other errors arose, including that of Priscillian from Spain. Priscillian preached an extreme asceticism in reaction to the growing worldliness of the Church. Against the protests of Saints Ambrose, Martin of Tours, and Siricius, the State intervened in Church affairs and executed Priscillian and six others. Ambrose excommunicated the Emperor Maximus for his part in the execution.

An opposing heresy arose in Ambrose's own monastery, led by Jovinian, who condemned fasting, the virtues of virginity, and who denied the perpetual virginity of Mary. Jovinian was condemned and excommunicated by Pope St. Siricius in 390. (St. Jerome scurrilously refuted the heresies in Refutation of Jovinian.)

Literary Works

Above all Ambrose was a Doctor of the Church and a pastor of his people. His thinking was not original but he successfully synthesized the thoughts of others after having read extensively from the beginning of his episcopate. As a Greek scholar he interpreted Eastern theologians for the West, a work that was much needed.

He wrote extensively on the Bible, theology, and asceticism, and he wrote numerous homilies and psalms. As befitted a bishop, his teaching was more by his sermons than his writings. His discourses were very practical. His writings on doctrinal subjects include 'catechism lessons' (De mysteriis) to the newly baptized on baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist.

His greatest claim to originality is in the field of music and poetry, not theology. Until that time the music of the Church had been in the hands of the professional chanters who would sing the Psalms in a very slightly inflected recitative, the congregation merely singing an occasional refrain. As stated previously, Ambrose taught his people the art of antiphonal chanting, thus introducing congregational singing. St. Augustine tells in his Confessions how deeply the charm of this novel method had moved him when attending services in Milan, even stirring him to tears.

Ambrose also taught his congregation to sing his original hymns. Next to Hilary of Poitiers, Ambrose is the first of the great Latin hymn writers. They were set in what is now known as the Ambrosian meter. The poems were divided into four-line stanzas, each line limited to eight syllables arranged in iambic dimetre. Four extant hymns seem certain to have come from him: "Framer of the earth and sky," "Maker of all things God most high," "O come Redeemer of mankind appear," and "Now the third hour cometh."

All sources note that Ambrose is not the composer of the Te Deum, as had been thought for some time. However, there is a growing belief that he did compose the Athanasian Creed.

Among his best known works are De officiis ministrorum, a treatise on Christian ethics especially directed to the clergy; De virginibus, written for his sister St. Marcellina; and De fide, written against the Arians for Gratian.

In the realm of theology, his main contribution comes with his description of the character of the Church and the nature of the Sacraments. According to his view, man fell from grace at the Fall and the results of that Fall are communicated to each individual at his conception. The effect must be counter-balanced by grace which is communicated in the Sacraments, but can only be effected by faith. Faith itself is so effective that it can in some cases, such as those of the martyrs and confessors, even take the place of the Sacraments, and it can above all make possible a mystical union between Christ and the believer. Thus in two respects, in the emphasis on the ruin brought by sin and upon a personal union with Christ, Ambrose influenced Augustine and through him the whole future theology of the Western Church.

In his charting of individual eschatology, Ambrose opened the way for Gregory the Great. He laid great emphasis on the terror of the Last Judgement. He believed in an eternity of graduated bliss or punishment in various departments of purgatory. Although he did not claim that anything we could do for the dead would affect their future destiny, yet he held that prayers and Masses for the faithful departed might ease their situation before the final goal was reached.

Ambrose seems to have accepted the idea of a double standard: one for those seeking perfection and another for those still living in the world, i.e., extreme asceticism is not for everyone.

Personal Influence

Ambrose came to be known as the "Hammer of Arianism." Although he fought paganism, he did not refuse to dine with them. He was thought of with great affection by those who came into contact with him.

Ambrose was a close friend of St. Monica, and it was he who finally showed the still doubting St. Augustine that a person of intelligence could find the Christian faith totally satisfying when Augustine moved to Milan in 386 to fill the vacant university chair in rhetoric. Ambrose brought Augustine back to his faith and baptized him in the autumn of 387, answering a mother's many years' of prayers. Augustine describes Ambrose a sympathetic, seductive, and enticing others to live the life of Christ.

He also welcomed Saint Paulinus of Nola and his wife Teresa, though most had spurned Paulinus because he had been ordained and consecrated while still being married-- contrary to the discipline then in force.

Ambrose died on Easter Eve--April 4, 397, after a 23-year episcopate. It has been said that his chief importance was that he turned the Church into an instrument for the criticism and correction of the State, and that he was the first bishop to be used by the State in peace negotiations (Attwater, Bentley, Delaney, Dudden, Encyclopedia, Paredi, Wand, White).

Art and Patronage

In art St. Ambrose is portrayed as a bishop with a beehive (bees in iconography indicated a 'honeyed' tongue, someone with the gift of eloquent speech), and book. Sometimes the image includes (1) a scourge (often knotted with three thongs to symbolize the Trinitarian doctrines); (2) the saint standing on an armed man; (3) a child by him acclaiming him bishop (easily confused with Augustine or Hilary of Poitiers); (4) Ambrose writing in his study with the bull of St. Luke or a statue of the Virgin near; (5) SS Gregory, Jerome and Augustine ; or (6) Ambrose refusing Caesar admittance to Milan Cathedral (Roeder).

Patron of the French Army Commissariat (who are responsible for administration and procurement), bishops, beekeepers, bakers of honeybread, domestic animals, geese, and wax refiners (Roeder, White).


SOURCE : http://www.saintpatrickdc.org/ss/1207.shtml


Église du Monastère des Bénédictines à Couvrechef - La Folie (Caen). Maître verrier: J. J. K. Ray.


    
December 7

St. Ambrose, Bishop and Confessor, Doctor of the Church

From his works, and his short life written at the request of St. Austin, by Paulinius, who was his deacon and secretary at the time of his death, and was afterwards promoted to the priesthood. See also the Church historians of that age; and the histories of his life compiled by Hermant, Tillemont, Rivet, Hist. Littér. de la France, t. 1, part. 2, p. 325. Vagliano, Sommario de Gliarcivescovi di Milano; and Du Frische and Nic. le Nourri, the two Maurist Benedictin editors of his works, in 1686, at the end of the second and last volume. See also Archiepiscoporum Mediolanensium Series Critico-Chronologica, Auctore Jos. Saxio Bibl. Ambrosianæ præfecto. Anno 1756.

A.D. 397.


AN invincible courage and constancy in resisting evil is a necessary ingredient of virtue, especially in the episcopal character. Gentleness, meekness, humility, and obedience, make the servant of God ready to yield and conform himself to every one in things indifferent: but in those of duty he is inflexible, not with wilfulness or obstinacy, but with modesty, yet invincible firmness. Of this virtue, St. Ambrose, in the judgment of the learned Hermant, was the most admirable model among all the great pastors of God’s church since the apostles. His father, whose name was also Ambrose, was prefect of the prætorium in Gaul, by which office not only France, but also a considerable part of Italy and Germany, the five Roman provinces in Britain, eight in Spain, and Mauritania Tingitana in Africa were under his jurisdiction. 
1 He was blessed with three children, Marcellina, the eldest, who received the religious veil from the hands of Pope Liberius, Satyrus, and our saint who bore his father’s name. It is clear from Paulinus that he was born in the city where his father resided, and kept his court in Gaul, but whether this was Arles, Lyons, or Triers, modern authors are not agreed in their conjectures. The saint’s birth happened about the year 340. Whilst the child lay asleep in one of the courts of his father’s palace, a swarm of bees flew about his cradle, and some of them crept in and out at his mouth, which was open; at last they mounted up into the air so high, that they quite vanished out of sight. This was esteemed a presage of future greatness and eloquence. The like is said to have happened to Plato. The father of St. Ambrose dying whilst he was yet an infant, his mother left Gaul and returned to Rome, her own country. She took special care of the education of her children, and Ambrose profited much by her instructions, and by the domestic examples which she, his sister, and other holy virgins that were with them, set him.

  He learned the Greek language, became a good poet and orator, and went with his brother Satyrus from Rome to Milan, which was then the seat of the prætorium, or supreme court of judicature. His writings are to this day a standing proof how vigorously he applied himself to human literature. Having finished his studies, he was taken notice of, and his friendship was courted by the first men of the empire, particularly by Anicius Probus and Symmachus, two persons of great learning and abilities, though the latter was an idolater. The first was made by Valentinian, in 368, prætorian prefect of Italy, and in in his court St. Ambrose pleaded causes with so much reputation, that Probus made choice of him to be his assessor. Afterwards he made him governor of Liguria and Æmilia, that is of all that country which comprehends at this day the archbishoprics, with the suffragan diocesses of Milan, Turin Genoa, Ravenna, and Bologna. Probus, who was a magistrate of great worth and integrity, said to him at parting: “Go thy way, and govern more like a bishop than a judge.” The young governor, by his watchfulness, probity, and mildness, endeavoured to comply with this advice, which was most conformable to his natural goodness and inclinations. Auxentius, an Arian, and a violent and subtle persecutor of the Catholics, who upon the banishment of St. Dionysius had usurped the see of Milan, and held it tyrannically for almost twenty years, died in 374. The city was distracted by furious parties and tumults about the election of a new bishop, some of the clergy and people demanding an Arian, others a Catholic for their pastor. To prevent an open sedition, St. Ambrose thought it the duty of his office to go to the church in which the assembly was held; there he made an oration to the people with much discretion and mildness, exhorting them to proceed in their choice with the spirit of peace, and without tumult. While he was yet speaking, a child cried out: “Ambrose Bishop.” This the whole assembly took up, and both Catholics and Arians unanimously proclaimed him bishop of Milan. This unexpected choice surprised him: he presently withdrew, and made use of all the artifices he could to shun this charge. He ascended the bench of justice, and affecting to seem cruel and unworthy of the priesthood, caused certain criminals to be brought before him and put to the torture. The people perceiving all the stratagems he made use of, to be affected, continued still in their choice. Whereupon he stole out of the city by night, with a design to retire to Pavia; but missing his way, he wandered up and down all night, and found himself next morning at the gates of Milan. His flight being known, a guard was set upon him, and a relation of all that had passed was sent to the emperor, whose consent was necessary that an officer in his service should be chosen bishop. Ambrose wrote also to him on his own behalf, that he might be excused from that office. Valentinian, who was then at Triers, answered the clergy and people, that it gave him the greatest pleasure that he had chosen governors and judges who were fit for the episcopal office; and, at the same time, he sent an order to the vicar or lieutenant of Italy to see that the election took place. In the mean time Ambrose once more made his escape, and hid himself in the house of Leontius, one of those senators who had the title of Clarissimi; but the vicar of Italy having published a severe order against any one who should conceal him, or who, knowing where he was, should not discover him, Leontius, by an innocent kind of treachery declared where he was. Ambrose finding it in vain to resist any longer, yielded himself up: but insisted that the canons forbade any one who was only a catechumen, to be promoted to the priesthood. He was answered, that such ecclesiastical canons may be dispensed with on extraordinary occasions. Ambrose therefore was first baptized, and, after due preparation, received the episcopal consecration on the 7th of December in 374, not in 375, as some have written: for Valentinian I. died on the 10th of November in 375. St. Ambrose was about thirty-four years old when he was ordained bishop.

  He was no sooner placed in the episcopal chair, but, considering that he was no longer a man of this world, and resolving to break all ties which could hold him to it, he gave to the church and the poor all the gold and silver of which he was possessed. His lands and estates he gave also to the church, reserving only an income for the use of his sister Marcellina, during her life. The care of his family and temporalities he committed to his brother Satyrus, that, being disengaged from all temporal concerns, he might give himself up wholly to his ministry and prayer. So perfectly did he renounce the world, and his mind dwelt so much above it, that temptations to riches and honours never had any weight with him. Soon after his ordination he wrote to the emperor Valentinian severe complaints against some of the imperial judges and magistrates. To which the emperor replied: “I was long since acquainted with your freedom of speech, which did not hinder me from consenting to your ordination. Continue to apply to our sins the remedies prescribed by the divine law.” St. Basil also wrote to him, 2 to congratulate with him, or rather with the church, upon his promotion, and to exhort him vigorously to oppose the Arians, and to fight a good fight. St. Ambrose first applied himself to study the scriptures, and to read ecclesiastical writers, particularly Origen and St. Basil. In his studies he put himself under the conduct and instruction of Simplicianus, a learned and pious Roman priest, whom he loved as a friend, honoured as a father, and reverenced as a master. This Simplicianus succeeded him in the archbishopric of Milan, and is honoured among the saints on the 16th of August. 3 Whilst St. Ambrose studied he neglected not from the beginning assiduously to instruct his people. He purged the diocess of Milan of the leaven of the Arian heresy with such wonderful success, that, in the year 385, there remained not one citizen of Milan infected with it, except a few Goths, and some persons belonging to the imperial family, as he assures us. 4 His instructions were enforced by an admirable innocence and purity of manners, prayer, rigorous abstinence, and a fast which he kept almost kept every day; for he never dined except on Sundays, the feasts of certain famous martyrs, and all Saturdays, on which it was the custom at Milan never to fast; but when he was at Rome he fasted on Saturdays. To avoid the danger of intemperance, he excused himself from going to banquets or great tables, and entertained others at his own with great frugality. He spent a considerable part both of the day and of the night in devout prayer; and every day offered the holy sacrifice of the altar for his people. 5 He devoted himself entirely to the service of his flock, and of every state and condition in it; one laborious employment serving for relaxation from another, he allowed himself no moments for amusement. He relieved the poor, comforted the afflicted, and hearkened to all men with meekness and charity; so that all his people loved and admired him. It was an inviolable rule with him never to have any hand in making matches, never to persuade any one to serve in the army, and never to recommend persons to places at court. He had a soul exquisitely tender and compassionate, and he often employed his interest to save the lives of condemned persons. He wept with those that wept, and he rejoiced with those that rejoiced. His charity was as extensive as the necessities of human nature, and he styled the poor his stewards and treasurers, in whose hands he deposited his revenues. It was his constant care and practice to do good for evil, and to requite affronts and injuries by offices of kindness. His chamber was for the greater part of the day filled with persons who came to consult him, and to ask his private advice. St. Austin, when he came to visit him, always found him so overwhelmed with such business, or so intent in the few moments he was able to steal to himself, that he often went into his chamber, and, after some stay, came out again without being perceived by the holy bishop, whom, out of mere pity, he durst not interrupt. St. Austin, whilst he taught rhetoric at Milan, before he was baptized, assisted frequently at St. Ambrose’s sermons, not out of piety, but out of curiosity, and for the pleasure of hearing his eloquence; but took notice that his delivery was not so pleasing as that of Faustus the Manichee, though what he said was always very solid; and he preached every Sunday. 6

  Our holy bishop in his discourses frequently enlarged very much on the praises of the holy state of virtue and virginity. By his exhortations many virgins, who came from Bologna, Placentia, and even Mauritania, served God in this state under his direction. He had been bishop only two years, when, at the request of his sister Marcellina, he committed to writing what he had delivered from the pulpit in commendation of that holy state. 7 This he executed in his three books, On Virgins, or On Virginity, written in the year 377, and penned with singular elegance, for which they are justly admired by St. Jerom and St. Austin, though the sincere piety which the language every where breathes, deserves chiefly the reader’s attention. In the first book, the praises of St. Agnes, and in the second, the conduct and virtues of the Blessed Virgin Mary, (which he proposes as a perfect pattern to virgins,) the example of St. Thecla, and the history of a Christian virgin of Antioch, who was carried to the stews, 8 are set off with inimitable elegance, and painted with the most beautiful flowers and figures of rhetoric. He enlarges on the excellency of virginity, and shows the spiritual advantages of that state. In the third book, he prescribes the principal duties of those who have embraced it, ordering them to be abstemious, to shun visits, and apply themselves to spiritual exercises and reflection, to pray often in the day, and to repeat the Lord’s prayer and the psalms in bed before they sleep, and when they awake; and to recite every morning the creed as the seal of our faith. He adds that they ought to weep, and to shun excessive mirth, particularly dancing, on which he mentions the fatal consequences of the dancing of Herodias’s daughter. St. Ambrose mentions 9 that there were twenty virgins at Bologna, and that they laboured with their own hands, not only that they might gain a subsistence, but that they might also have wherewithal to bestow in charity. St. Marcellina, who received the veil from Pope Liberius, in the church of St. Peter at Rome, on Christmas-day, 10 did not live in a society of virgins, but with her relations in Rome. Many other consecrated virgins did the same at that time; but they had a part of the church to themselves, separated from the rest by boards; and on the walls were written sentences of the scriptures for their instruction. 11 St. Ambrose wrote his treatise, Of Widows, soon after the former work, to exhort them to perpetual chastity. This was soon followed by that, On Virginity, which he compiled to give us, from the holy scriptures, a high idea of that virtue; but he adds a most necessary caution, that the veil is not to be given rashly to young virgins, especially such as are of a light inconstant behaviour. “Some complain,” says he, “that mankind will shortly fail if so many are consecrated virgins. I desire to know who ever wanted a wife and could not find one? The killing of an adulterer, the pursuing or waging war against a ravisher, are the consequences of marriage. The number of people is greatest where virginity is most esteemed. Inquire how many virgins are consecrated every year at Alexandria, all over the East, and in Africa, where there are more virgins than there are men in this country.” May not the French and Austrian Netherlands, full of numerous monasteries, yet covered with populous cities, be at present esteemed a proof of this remark? The populousness of China, where great numbers of new-born infants are daily exposed to perish, is a dreadful proof that the voluntary virginity of some in these remote ages of the world is no prejudice. Wars and the sea, not the number of virgins, are the destroyers of the human race, as St. Ambrose observes; though the state of virginity is not to be rashly engaged in, and marriage is not only holy, but the general state of mankind in the world. St. Ambrose’s book, entitled the institution of a virgin, contains a confutation of Bonosus, who renewed the error of Helvidius, denying the perpetual virginity of the holy Mother of God. The saint adds the instructions he had given to Ambrosia, one of the twenty virgins at Bologna who served God under his direction: he shows that retirement, silence, humility, and prayer are the principal duties of a Christian virgin. Towards the end the ceremonies of the solemn profession of a virgin are described. She presented herself at the foot of the altar, where she made her profession before the people; the bishop preached to her, and gave her the veil which distinguished her from other virgins; but her hair was not cut, as was done in the initiation of clergymen and monks. In the close the author invites Jesus Christ to come on the day of these spiritual nuptials to receive his handmaid, who consecrates herself to him by a public profession, after having long before dedicated herself to him in spirit and in her heart.

  The emperor Valentinian I. who resided sometimes at Triers, sometimes at Milan, died of an apoplexy in Pannonia, being engaged in a war against the Sarmatians and the Quadi, on the 17th of November, in the year 375, of his age fifty-five. Gratian, his eldest son, by his first wife, Severa, then sixteen years old, was then at Triers, and had been before associated by his father in the empire. Valentinian, his younger son, by Justina, a second wife, was with his mother on the borders of Pannonia, and him the army of his father saluted emperor, though he was then only four years old. Gratian took not this step amiss, but confirmed to his brother that dignity, and promised to be to him a father, and, contenting himself with the provinces which lie on this side of the Alps, yielded up to him Italy, Africa, and Illyricum, though he kept the administration till his brother should be of age, and resided at Triers or Mentz. Fritigern, king of the Goths, having invaded the Roman territories in Thrace and Pannonia, Gratian determined to lead an army into the East to the succour of his uncle Valens. But in order to guard himself against the snares of Arianism, of which Valens was the protector, he desired of St. Ambrose, whom he honoured with a singular veneration, some instructions in writing against that heresy. In compliance with this request, the holy prelate wrote, in 377, the work entitled, On the Faith, to Gratian, or, On the Trinity, which, with three books which he added in 379, consists of five books, and is an excellent confutation of the Arian heresy, is written with much wit, vigour, and subtilty, the subject is set off with lively and pleasant descriptions, and the objections are removed with great clearness. St. Ambrose’s books, Of the Holy Ghost, are written in a less concise, less lively, and smart style than the former, because, says St. Austin, the subjects required not ornaments of speech to move the heart, but proofs of the divine truth concerning the consubstantiality of the Third Person addressed to the understanding. Many things in it are copied from St. Athanasius, and from Didymus and St. Basil’s books on that subject. St. Ambrose’s book, On the Incarnation, is an answer to certain objections of the Arians addressed to two officers of Gratian’s court.

  Valens was defeated by the Goths, whom he had rashly engaged not very far from Adrianople, and was himself burnt in a cottage into which he had retired in his flight, in order to have his wounds dressed, in 378. His unhappy death was looked upon as a just judgment for his persecution of the Catholics, and his tyranny, especially in having caused the streets of Antioch to swim with streams of innocent blood, and many houses to be consumed by flames; for which it was said he deserved to be himself burnt; and, as he was hated whilst he lived, so he died without being regretted. Gratian, by the death of Valens, became master of the eastern empire: but, seeing it attacked on all sides by triumphant barbarians, sent thither Theodosius, a general of great probity and valour, who, with his father, a virtuous general of the same name, had triumphed over the barbarians in Britain and Africa; but the father, out of mere jealousy, being unjustly put to death by Valens, the son had led from that time a retired life in Spain. Theodosius vanquished the Goths, pacified the whole empire and made excellent regulations in all the provinces under his command, insomuch that, on the 16th of January, in 379, Gratian gave him the purple and crown at Sirmich, in presence of their two armies, and declared him his colleague, and emperor of the East, giving him Thrace and all that Valens had possessed, and also the eastern part of Illyricum, of which Thessalonica was then the capital. The Goths had extended their ravages from Thrace into Illyricum, and as far as the Alps. St. Ambrose, not content to lay out all the money he could raise in redeeming the captives, employed for that use the gold vessels belonging to the church, which he caused to be broken and melted down; but such only as were not yet consecrated, reserving those which were for a more pressing necessity. 12 The Arians reproached him upon this account; to whom he answered, that he thought it much more expedient to save the souls of men than gold; for not only the lives of the captives, and the honour of the women were preserved, but the children were rescued from being educated in idolatry. “I find,” said he, “that the blood of Jesus Christ poured out in the gold plate, hath not only shone therein, but hath also impressed upon it the virtue of redemption.” Many Arians who, upon that occasion, fled from Illyricum into Italy, were converted to the faith by the care of St. Ambrose, who was indefatigable in every branch of his pastoral charge. Every Lent he bestowed so much pains and labour in instructing the catechumens, that, when he died, five bishops could hardly go through with that which he used himself to perform. 13

  In 379 St. Ambrose lost his brother Satyrus, to whom he had committed the care of all his temporal affairs. Satyrus, attempting to go to Africa to recover some money due to his brother, was shipwrecked; and, not being baptized, desired some that were there to give him the holy mysteries, that is, the blessed eucharist, to carry with him; for the faithful carried it in long voyages, that they might not die deprived of it. As none but those who were baptized were allowed even to have a sight of it, Satyrus begged them to wrap it in an orarium, which was a kind of long handkerchief, at that time worn by the Romans about their necks. This he wrapt about him and threw himself into the sea, without seeking a plank to support him; yet, by swimming, he was the first who came to land. It seems to have been in the isle of Sardinia. Satyrus, being then a catechumen, addressed himself to the bishop of the place in order to be immediately baptized; but first asked him whether he was in communion with the Catholic bishops, that is, with the Church of Rome, says St. Ambrose: and finding that he took part in the schism of Lucifer, he chose rather to venture again upon the sea than to receive baptism from a schismatic. When he arrived in a Catholic country he was baptized, the grace of which sacrament he never forfeited, as his brother affirms. Satyrus died soon after his return to Milan, in the arms of St. Ambrose and St. Marcellina, and left his wealth to be disposed of by them, without making a will. They thought he had only made them stewards of it, and gave it all to the poor. The funeral of Satyrus was performed with great solemnity, at which St. Ambrose made an oration, which is extant, from which these particulars are taken. 14 The seventh day after, they returned to the grave to repeat the solemn obsequies, as was usual; and St. Ambrose made there another discourse, in which he expatiated on the happiness of death, and the belief of the resurrection; on which account it is often called, A Discourse on the Resurrection. The Church commemorates St. Satyrus on the 17th of September.

  In 381 St. Ambrose held a council at Milan, against the heresy of Apollinaris; and assisted at another at Aquileia, in which he procured the deposition of two Arian bishops, named Palladius and Secundianus. In a journey which he made to Sirmich, he compassed the election of a Catholic Bishop to occupy that see, notwithstanding the intrigues of the Empress Justina in favour of an Arian candidate. In 382 our saint assisted at a council which Pope Damasus held at Rome in order to apply a remedy to the divisions which reigned in the Oriental Church about the see of Antioch. Paulinus relates, that whilst he continued there, a certain woman that kept a public bath, and lay bedrid of a palsy, caused herself to be conveyed in a chair to the place where the holy bishop said mass, and importuned him to intercede with heaven for her: while he was praying, and laying his hands upon her, she caught hold of his garments, and kissing them, found her strength return, and rose up and walked.

  The Emperor Gratian was chaste, temperate, mild, beneficent, and a zealous Catholic; and St. Ambrose obtained of him, among other wholesome laws, one by which, to prevent surprises in condemning accused persons, it was enacted that no one should he executed sooner than thirty days after sentence. He prevailed upon the same prince to remove the altar of victory out of the senate-house, which Julian the Apostate had restored. Yet this emperor gave too much of his time to hunting, shooting of beasts in a park, casting the javelin, and other such corporal exercises, making an employment of a recreation, in which idleness his governors and ministers entertained him, that they might remain masters of affairs. Hence he did not sufficiently attend to business, and look into the conduct of his officers; and Macedonius, prefect of the prætorium, was a man openly addicted to bribery. Complaints which were raised, alienated the affections of many; and Maximus, an accomplished general who commanded the troops in Britain, (where Theodosius had formerly been his colleague, who was then become emperor of the east,) assumed the purple, and passed with his army into Gaul. Gratian left Triers upon his approach, and near Lyons a battle was fought, which continued five days, till Gratian, perceiving part of his army deserting him, fled with three hundred horse. Andragathius, general of Maximus’s horse, contrived the following stratagem: He was carried in a close horse-litter, and it was given out that it was the empress who was coming to her husband. Gratian passed the Rhone to meet her; but when he came near, the general leaped out of the litter, and stabbed him. This happened on the 25th of August in 383. Gratian lamented with his expiring breath that his father Ambrose was not with him. Maximus after this ranged at pleasure, treated those of Gratian’s party with great severity, and threatened to cross the Alps, and attack Valentinian II., Gratian’s half-brother, who resided at Milan with his mother Justina. To prevent this danger the empress despatched St. Ambrose upon an embassy to Maximus. The saint, by the gravity of his person, the authority of his office, his humble address, and eloquent insinuations, stopped the usurper in his march, and at length concluded with him a treaty, by which Maximus was to enjoy Gaul, Britain, and Spain, and Valentinian Italy with the rest of the West. St. Ambrose passed the winter with Maximus at Triers, in 384; and had the courage constantly to refuse to communicate with a tyrant who was stained with the blood of his master, and to exhort him to do penance. In these times of confusion the Gentiles at Rome attempted to restore the abolished rites of their superstition. At their head appeared Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, a senator of great eminence, an admirable scholar, statesman, and orator, at that time prefect of Rome. In Autumn, in the year 384, this man presented a request to Valentinian, in the name of the senate, begging that the altar of victory might be re-established in the senate-house, and the salaries restored to the priests and vestal virgins; to which he ascribed the victories and prosperity of ancient Rome. A like petition had been before presented to Gratian in 382, but was disavowed by the Christian senators, (who were the greater number,) and rejected by that prince. St. Ambrose having privately received notice of Symmachus’s petition, wrote against it two beautiful apologies or letters to Valentinian, in which even his eloquence seems superior to that of the pagan, who was esteemed the greatest orator of his age. In the first he desired that a copy of Symmacus’s petition should be communicated to him, remonstrating at the same time to the emperor, that as all the subjects of the Roman empire ought to submit to him, so he was obliged to obey the only true God, and to defend the religion of Christ; that he could never concur to idolatry; and the Church or bishops would never receive oblations from him who had given ornaments to the temples of idols: his gifts cannot be presented on the altar of Jesus Christ who hath made an altar for false gods, &c. 15 In the second the saint confuted all that was alleged in the petition. 16 These apologies being read in the council in presence of the emperor, he answered the Gentiles, that he loved Rome as his mother, but obeyed God as the author of his salvation.

  The Empress Justina, though an Arian, durst not openly espouse the interest of her sect during the lives of her husband, Valentinian I. and of Gratian. But the peace which St. Ambrose had procured between Maximus and her son, gave her an opportunity to persecute the Catholics, especially the holy bishop; for she ungratefully forgot the obligations which she and her son had to him. When Easter was near at hand, in 385, she sent to him certain ministers of state to demand of him the Portian basilic, now called St. Victor’s, without the city, for the use of the Arians, for herself, her son, and many officers of the court. The saint replied, that he could never give up the temple of God. By other messengers of the first rank she afterwards demanded the new basilic; then again insisted on having at least the former; but the bishop was inflexible. Certain deans or officers of the court were sent to take possession of the Portian basilic, by hanging up in it imperial escutcheons. The citizens, enraged at this violence, seized in the street an Arian priest called Castulus. St. Ambrose being informed of this whilst he was at the altar, wept bitterly, prayed that God would suffer no blood to be shed, and sent out certain priests and deacons, who delivered the Arian priest. The court, to punish the citizens for this commotion, taxed them two hundred pounds weight in gold. They answered, that they were willing to pay as much more, provided they might be allowed to retain the true faith. Certain counts and tribunes came to summon St. Ambrose to deliver up the basilic, saying, the emperor claimed it as his right. The bishop answered: “Should he require what is my own, as my land or my money, I would not refuse him, though all that I possess belongs to the poor: but the emperor has no right to that which belongs to God. If you require my estate, you may take it; if my body, I readily give it up; have you a mind to load me with irons, or to put me to death, I am content. I shall not fly to the protection of the people, nor cling to the altars: I choose rather to be sacrificed for the sake of the altars.” 17 St. Ambrose continued all that day in the old basilic; but at night went home to his house, that if they designed to seize him, they might readily find him. The next morning, which was Wednesday, he went out before day to the old basilic, which was immediately surrounded with soldiers. A troop of soldiers was sent to seize on the new church; but St. Ambrose sent certain priests thither to officiate, and they threatened the soldiers with excommunication if they offered any violence; and they came into the church and prayed peaceably, being Catholics. In the evening St. Ambrose preached on patience. After the sermon a secretary arrived from the court, who, calling the bishop aside, made him severe reproaches, and told him that he set himself up for a tyrant. The bishop replied: “Maximus, who complains that by my embassy I stopped him from marching into Italy, says not that I am the tyrant over Valentinian. Bishops never set themselves up for tyrants; but have often suffered much from tyrants.” The Catholics spent all that day in sorrow: and the basilic being surrounded with soldiers, St. Ambrose could not return home to his own house; but passed the night in reading psalms with his brethren in the little basilic of the church, or in some oratory in the outer buildings. The next day, which was Maundy Thursday, St. Ambrose prayed and preached to the people, till news was brought him that the emperor had withdrawn the soldiers from the basilic, and had restored to the merchants and citizens the mulct which he had imposed upon them. Upon which all joined in joy and thanksgiving. St. Ambrose gave an account of these transactions to his sister Marcellina, who was then at Rome, and had earnestly begged it of him. At the conclusion of this relation, he adds that he foresees greater commotions. After this he says: “The eunuch Calligonus, high chamberlain, said to me: ‘Thou despisest Valentinian, whilst I am yet living; I will cut off thy head.’ To which I replied: ‘May God permit me so to suffer: then I shall suffer as a bishop, and you will act a part becoming a eunuch or courtier. I beseech God that all the enemies of the church may cease persecuting her, and level all their shafts at me, to quench their thirst with my blood.’” 18 Soon after Calligonus was convicted of a heinous crime, and beheaded.

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  The empress was still more exasperated against St. Ambrose by the resistance of the people; and persuaded her son to make a law for authorizing the religious assemblies of the Arians, which was published on the 23rd of January, 386. 19 The true author of this law was Mercurinus, whom the Arians made bishop of Milan for those of their sect, and who took the name of Auxentius II. In consequence of this law, which forbade any any one under pain of death to oppose the religious assemblies of Arians, no one could so much as advise or present a petition against a church being yielded up to them without incurring the danger of being proscribed or put to death. 20 The empress, therefore, in the following Lent, in 386, again demanded of St. Ambrose the Portian basilic. The holy prelate answered: “Naboth would not give up the inheritance of his ancestors, and shall I give up that of Jesus Christ? God forbid that I should abandon that of my fathers, of St. Dionysius, who died in exile for the defence of the faith; of St. Eustorgius, the confessor; of St. Miroclus, and of all the other holy bishops, my predecessors.” Dalmatius, a tribune and notary, came to St. Ambrose from the emperor, with an order that he should choose his judges at court, as Auxentius had done on his side, that his and Auxentius’s cause might be tried before them and the emperor; which if he refused to do, he was forthwith to retire, and yield up his see to Auxentius. The saint took the advice of his clergy, and of some Catholic bishops who were then at Milan; then wrote his answer to the emperor, wherein, amongst other things, he says: “Who can deny that in causes of faith the bishops judge Christian emperors? so far are they from being judged by them. Would you have me choose lay judges, that if they maintain the true faith, they may be banished, or put to death? Would you have me expose them either to a prevarication, or to torments? Ambrose is not of that consequence, for the priesthood to be debased and dishonoured for his sake. The life of one man is not to be compared with the dignity of all the bishops. If a conference is to be held about the faith, it belongs to the bishops to hold it, as was done under Constantine, who left them the liberty of being judges.”

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  After sending this remonstrance to the emperor, signed by his own hand, St. Ambrose retired into the church, where he was for some time guarded by the people, who stood within doors night and day, lest he should be carried away by violence; and the church was soon surrounded by soldiers sent from court, who suffered people to go in, but no one to come out. St. Ambrose being thus shut up with the people, preached often to them. One of those sermons which he made on Palm Sunday is extant, 21 under this title: On not Delivering up the Basilics. In it he says, “Are you afraid that I would forsake you, to secure my own life? But you might have observed by my answer, that I could not possibly forsake the church, because I fear the Lord of the whole world more than the emperor; that if they carry me by force from the church, they may draw away my body, but they can never separate my mind from it: that if he proceeds against me as a prince, I will suffer as a bishop. Why then are you troubled? I shall never quit you voluntarily; but I can never resist or oppose violence. I can sigh and lament: I can weep and groan. But tears are my only arms against swords, soldiers, and Goths. Bishops have no other defence. I cannot, I ought not to resist any other ways. But as to flying away and forsaking my church, that I will never do. The respect which I have for the emperor does not make me yield cowardly: I offer myself willingly to torments, and fear not the mischiefs they threaten me with.—It was proposed to me to deliver up the vessels belonging to the church: I answered, that if they asked me for my land, my gold, or my silver, I willingly offered them: but I can take nothing out of the church of God. If they aim at my body and my life, you ought only to be spectators of the combat; if it is appointed by God, all your precautions will be vain. He that loveth me cannot give a better testimony thereof than by suffering me to become the victim of Jesus Christ.—I expected something extraordinary, either to be killed by the sword, or to be burnt for the name of Jesus Christ. They offer me pleasures instead of sufferings. Let none, therefore, disturb you by saying, that a chariot is prepared, or that Auxentius hath spoken severe things.—It was generally said, that murderers were sent, and that I was condemned to die. I fear it not, and will not leave this place. Whither should I go? Is not every place full of groans and tears, since orders are everywhere given to drive away Catholic bishops, to put those to death who resist, and to proscribe all the officers of cities who put not these orders in execution.—What have we said in our answers to the emperor which is not agreeable to duty and humility? If he asketh tribute, we do not refuse it: the church lands pay tribute. If he desireth our estates, he may take them: none of us maketh any opposition; I do not give them; but then I do not refuse them: the people’s contributions are more than sufficient to maintain the poor. We are reproached on account of the gold which we distribute amongst them: so far am I from denying it, that I glory in it: the prayers of the poor are my defence; those blind, those lame, those aged persons are more powerful than the stoutest warriors. We render to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. The tribute is Cæsar’s, the church is God’s. Nobody can say that this is to be wanting in respect to the emperor. What is more for his honour than to style him the son of the church? The emperor is in the church, not above it.” The saint spoke with an astonishing intrepidity of the sword, fire, or banishment, detected boldly the impiety of Auxentius, and other Arian persecutors, and called their new law a flying sword sent over the empire to kill some by corporal death, others in their souls by the guilt of sacrilege. What he mentioned of the chariot is explained by Paulinus, who relates, that one Euthymius had placed a chariot at a house near the church, that he might take away St. Ambrose with greater ease, and carry him into banishment. But a year after he was himself put into the same chariot, and carried from that very house into banishment: under which misfortune St. Ambrose furnished him with money and other necessaries for his journey. This historian mentions several other stratagems laid during this time to take or kill the servant of God, and says that one came with a sword to the chamber of St. Ambrose, in order to murder him; but that, lifting up his hand with the naked sword, his arm remained extended in the air motionless, till he confessed that Justina had sent him upon that errand, and upon his repentance, he recovered the use of the arm. When St. Ambrose had remained several days in the church and adjacent buildings within its inclosure, with the people who kept the doors shut, and guarded the passes, the guards were removed, and he returned to his house.

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  St. Ambrose mentions 22 that the Arians reproached him with leading the people into error by singing hymns; and he allows that by hymns he taught them to testify their faith in the Trinity. To comfort his people under this persecution, he encouraged them to assiduity in singing the hymns and anthems which he composed. Psalms were always sung throughout the whole church; but St. Ambrose seems first to have established at Milan the custom which he learned from the oriental churches, of singing psalms alternately by two choirs, 23 which spread from Milan to all the churches of the west. 24 God gave a visible consolation to this saint and his afflicted flock in the heat of the persecution by the discovery of the relics of SS. Gervasius and Protasius, of which he gives an account in a letter to his sister. 25 He writes, that being desirous to dedicate a new church, (which at present is called from him the Ambrosian basilic) in the same manner that he had before consecrated the Roman basilic, (which was another church at Milan near the Roman gate,) he was at a loss for want of some relics of martyrs, till causing the ground to be broken up before the rails of the sepulchres of SS. Nabor and Felix, he found the bones of SS. Gervasius and Protasius. These relics were laid in the Faustinian basilic, and the next morning were translated into the Ambrosian basilic; during which translation a blind man, named Severus, a butcher by trade, was cured by touching the bier on which the relics lay, with a handkerchief, and then applying it to his eyes. He had been blind several years, was known to the whole city, and the miracle was performed before a prodigious number of people; and is testified also by St. Austin, 26 who was then at Milan, in three several parts of his works, and by Paulinus in the life of St. Ambrose. Our saint made two sermons on the occasion of this translation, in which he speaks of this and other miracles wrought by the holy relics, by which he assures us, that many possessed persons were delivered, and many sick healed. St. Austin 27 and Paulinus say, that an end was put to the persecution of St. Ambrose by the discovery of these relics in 386. The Arians indeed at court pretended, that St. Ambrose had suborned men to feign themselves possessed; which calumny he confutes in the second of these sermons by the notoriety and evidence of the facts, which were such as to put the Arians to silence, and to oblige the empress to let St. Ambrose remain in peace. Dr. Middleton revives the slanders of the Arians, pretending these miracles to be juggle and imposture. But Dr. Cave 28 mentions the miraculous cure of Severus, and the many other miracles wrought by those relics, and by the towels and handkerchiefs laid upon the bodies, as incontestable, attested by St. Ambrose in sermons preached upon the spot before the relics. This learned Protestant critic adds: “The truth of which miracles is abundantly justified by St. Ambrose. St. Austin, and Paulinus, who were all then upon the place; and indeed they were notoriously evident to the whole city, and twice the subject of St. Ambrose’s sermons. I make no doubt but God suffered these to confront the Arian impieties, and to give the highest attestation to the Catholic cause, so mightily at this time opposed, traduced, and persecuted.” 29 Maximus, who had been then acknowledged emperor both by Valentinian and Theodosius in solemn treaties, wrote to Valentinian, exhorting him not to persecute the Catholic church, as Sozomen and Theodoret testify. “All Italy,” said he, “Africa, Gaul, Aquitain, and Spain; and, in short, Rome, which holds the first rank in religion, as well as in empire, maintain this faith.”

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  In the year 387, news daily came to Milan of the preparations Maximus was making to invade Italy. Ambition is restless and insatiable; its burning thirst is only increased by the greatest success, till it is at length buried in the pit which itself has dug, as Cineas elegantly, but unsuccessfully represented to King Pyrrhus. Maximus thought Britain, Gaul, and Spain, which he possessed in peace, and without danger of being molested, as nothing, so long as he was not master of Italy: and the astonishing success of his usurpation made him only enlarge his views further, and think more due to him. Valentinian and his weak mother were in no condition to oppose him, and in this distress they had again recourse to St. Ambrose, whom they besought to stand in the gap, and venture on a second embassy to stop the march of a prosperous usurper. The good bishop, burying the memory both of public and private injuries, readily undertook the journey, and arriving at Triers, the next day went to court. Maximus refused to admit him to an audience but in public consistory, though the contrary was a customary privilege both of bishops and of all imperial ambassadors. St. Ambrose made a remonstrance upon this account, but chose rather to recede from his dignity than not execute his commission. He therefore was introduced into the consistory, where Maximus was seated on a throne, who rose up to give him a kiss, according to the custom of saluting bishops and great men in those times. But Ambrose stood still among the counsellors, though they persuaded him to go near the throne, and the emperor called him. Maximus reproached him with having deceived him in his former embassy, by preventing him from entering Italy at a time when nothing could have opposed him. St. Ambrose said he was come to justify himself, though it was glorious to have saved the life of an orphan prince: but that he could not have opposed the march of his legions, or shut up the Alps with his body, and that he had not deceived him in any thing; only when Maximus insisted that Valentinian should come to him, he had pleaded that it was not reasonable that a child should cross the Alps in the depth of winter. He added, that Valentinian had sent Maximus’s brother, whom he saw there present, safe to him, when he could have sacrificed him to his passion, when the news of the bloody assassination of his brother Gratian was brought to him; but he conquered his resentment, and scorned to pay like for like. The bishop reproved Maximus for the murder of Gratian, and of many great men whom he had put to death for no other crime than their fidelity to their natural prince; for which he admonished him to do penance. He also entreated him to give up the body of Gratian to Valentinian, a brother dead, for his own brother whom he had received alive and unhurt; the ashes of an emperor only that he might not be deprived of the honour of a burial. The tyrant answered, that he would consider of it; but he was extremely incensed at St. Ambrose, because he constantly refused to communicate either with the tyrant, or with any of his bishops; these were the Ithacians, who desired the death of the Priscillianist heretics. When he was inflexible in this point, he was ordered forthwith to depart. Seeing Hyginus, an aged bishop, sent at the same time into banishment, he interceded that he might be furnished with necessary provisions, and not sent without a garment to cover him, or a bed to lie on. But St. Ambrose could not be heard, and was himself thrust out of doors. He therefore returned to Milan, and wrote to Valentinian an account of his unsuccessful embassy, advising him to be cautious how he treated with Maximus a concealed enemy, who pretended peace, but intended war. 30 The event showed the truth of this conjecture. For Valentinian sent Domninus, a favourite courtier, to succeed St. Ambrose in this embassy. Maximus entertained him with all the obliging caresses and demonstrations of honour, amused him with assurances, and, as an instance of his friendship towards Valentinian, sent back with him a considerable part of his army, as he gave out, to assist the emperor against the barbarians who were then falling upon Pannonia. But these soldiers, coming to the Alps, seized all the narrow passages; which was no sooner done, but Maximus followed after with his whole army, and marched without the least opposition into Italy, where he took up his quarters at Aquileia.

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  The news of this unexpected surprise carried terror into every place. Valentinian and his mother, in the utmost consternation, took ship, and fled to Thessalonica, whence they sent to the emperor Theodosius, to beg his speedy assistance before all was lost. That great prince had been employed in quelling the barbarians on different sides, and settling the peace of the church and state in the East, which had hindered him from revenging the death of Gratian. Upon receiving the message of the fugitive young emperor, he left Constantinople, and went to Thessalonica, where, in the most tender and paternal manner, he comforted the distressed remains of the family of the great Valentinian I. He represented to the young prince that, by favouring the Arian impiety, and persecuting the Catholic church, he had provoked heaven; and he effaced out of his mind all the impressions of heresy; for it was a fundamental maxim with Theodosius to undertake no enterprise without first doing every thing by which he might engage God on his side. Theodosius had some time before buried his most virtuous wife, the empress Flaccilla, who was descended of the Ælian family, (of which was the Emperor Adrian,) but was more illustrious by her virtues than by her birth. Prayer and the care of the poor were her chief employments. She went to visit them, served them herself, and was proud of descending to the lowest offices of Christian charity in attending the sick under the most loathsome diseases. 31 She made no other use of the entire confidence which her husband reposed in her, and of the influence which her virtue and amiable qualifications gave her over the mind of that great prince, than to inspire him with piety, the most sacred respect for the divine law, and the warmest zeal for religion; finding much more pleasure in seeing him holy, than seeing him master of the world. To preserve him from the snares of the Arians, whose impiety she detested, she engaged him to chase from his palace some who kept a secret correspondence with Eunomius, and appealing to the decisions of the Nicene council from all captious sophisms, avoided the dangers of subtle curiosity. 32 Theodosius being then a widower, and meeting at Thessalonica the princess Galla, sister to Valentinian II., to give him a pledge of his friendship, married her, and in spring 388, declared war against Maximus, and dismissed the ambassador the tyrant had sent to court his favour. It was his chief care to procure the blessing of God upon his army. For this he gave orders for solemn prayers to be every where put up to God, and sent to entreat the most eminent solitaries in Egypt to lift up their hands to heaven whilst he fought. 33 He consulted in particular St. John, who foretold his victory, and the principal events of his reign. 34 Setting out from Thessalonica, he caused excellent regulations for the discipline and moderation of his troops in their march to be made and observed, insomuch that no city nor province was aggrieved by their passage. With incredible valour and prudence he entirely defeated Maximus upon the banks of the Save, near Siscia, now Peisseg, in Pannonia, and soon after that tyrant’s brother Marcellin, upon the Drave, though their armies were superior in numbers to his own. Thence he despatched Arbogastes, general of the barbarians in his army, into Gaul, to seize that country, and marched himself to Aquileia, where Maximus had shut himself up. His own soldiers, seeing it impossible to escape, stripped him of his imperial robes, and delivered him into the hands of Theodosius, who reproached him for his perfidiousness with more compassion than anger, and was inclined to spare his life; but at last suffered him to be beheaded on the 28th of July, 388, after he had reigned almost five years.

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  Theodosius proceeded to Milan, where he staid from the 10th of October to the latter end of May. At Calinicus in Mesopotamia, certain Christians who had been insulted by the Jews in a religious procession, pulled down their synagogue. Theodosius, who had been informed of the affair by the count of the East, ordered the bishop, and other Christians who had demolished the synagogue, to rebuild it, and to be rigorously punished. The Oriental bishops wrote to St. Ambrose, entreating him to obtain a mitigation of this sentence. St. Ambrose solicited him first by a strong letter, 35 and afterwards by a discourse which he made him in the church; and did not go up to the altar to say mass, till he had procured his promise of a pardon. 36 The deputies of the senate came to compliment the emperor at Milan, and petitioned that the altar of victory, which Maximus had allowed to be restored, might be preserved in the senate-house. Theodosius seemed inclined, upon motives of state, to grant their request; but St. Ambrose easily engaged him to reject it. This emperor, after having passed all the winter and part of the spring at Milan, went to Rome, where in June he received the honour of a triumph. He made his entrance in a chariot drawn by elephants, which the king of Persia had lately sent him. The spoils of enemies, and the representations of provinces which he had conquered or delivered, were carried before him. The lords of his court in rich apparel encompassed him, and the senate, nobility, and people followed with extraordinary acclamations. The magnificence of this pomp was incredible, 37 yet nothing in it seemed to be regarded but the conqueror, for whom it was made, and the greatest ornament of this triumph was the modesty of him who triumphed. Pacatus, the Gaulish orator, pronounced a panegyric before him, with the applause of the senate and all the orders of the city. Theodosius made the young Valentinian ride in his chariot; and share in the glory of the triumph. During his residence at Rome he walked about without guards, and gained the hearts of the people by his civility and generosity. He abolished the remains of idolatry, prohibited pagan festivals and sacrifices, and caused the temples to be stripped of their ornaments, and the idols to be broken in pieces. But he preserved those statues which had been made by excellent artists, ordering them to be set up in galleries, or other public places, as an ornament to the city. Symmachus, who had entered into a confederacy with Maximus, and pronounced a flattering speech in his honour, was accused of high treason, and fled into a church for sanctuary. But Theodosius would take no notice of what had passed during the reign of the usurper: and Symmachus made a panegyric in the senate in his honour, in the close of which he artfully renewed his petition for the altar of victory. Theodosius was offended at the obstinacy of such a solicitation, and returning him thanks for his panegyric, reproved him for his assurance, and commanded him to present himself no more before him. But he soon restored him to his favour and dignity. 38 Theodosius returned to Milan on the 1st of September, and restored the whole western empire to Valentinian, in whose mind, by repeated instructions, he imprinted so deeply the Catholic faith, that the young prince put himself entirely under the discipline of St. Ambrose, and honoured him as his father to his death. His mother, Justina, was dead before the end of the war. The heresiarch Jovinian having been condemned by Pope Siricius at Rome, retired to Milan; but was there rejected by Theodosius, and anathematized by St. Ambrose, in a council which he held in 390.

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  This council was yet sitting, when the news of a dreadful massacre committed at Thessalonica was brought to Milan. 39 Botheric, who was general of the forces in Illyricum, and resided at Thessalonica, caused a charioteer who belonged to the circus to be put into prison, for having seduced a young servant in his family, and refused to release him on a certain festival on which his appearance in the circus was demanded for the public diversion. The people not being able to obtain his liberty, grew enraged, and proceeded to so violent a sedition, that some officers were stoned to death, and their bodies dragged along the streets, and Botheric himself was slain. Upon this news Theodosius, who was naturally hasty, was transported with passion; but was mitigated by St. Ambrose and some other bishops, and promised to pardon the delinquents. Ruffinus, who became afterwards a firebrand in the state, and was master of the offices, and other courtiers and ministers persuaded him, that the insolence of the people was grown to the highest pitch merely by impunity, and must be restrained by an example of severity. It was therefore resolved that a warrant should be sent to the commander in Illyricum, to let loose the soldiers against the city till about seven thousand persons should be put to death. This inhuman commission was executed with the utmost cruelty, whilst the people were assembled in the circus, soldiers surrounding and rushing in upon them. The slaughter continued for three hours, and seven thousand men were massacred, without distinguishing the innocent from the guilty. Such was the brutality of the soldiers, that a faithful slave, who offered to die for his master, was murdered by them. It is also related, that a certain father, seeing his two sons ready to be butchered, by his tears moved the murderers to compassion so far, that they promised to spare the life of one of them, whom they left to his choice; but while the distracted father ran first to one, then to another, not being able to abandon either of them, they, growing impatient of delays, massacred both. The horror with which the news of this tragical scene filled the breast of St. Ambrose and his colleagues is not to be expressed; but our saint thought it best to give the emperor a little time to reflect and enter into himself. The emperor was not then at Milan; but was to return in two or three days. St. Ambrose, that he might not see him too soon, left the town, and wrote him a very tender strong letter, which is extant, exhorting him to penance, and declaring that he neither could nor would receive his offering, or celebrate the divine mysteries before him, till that obligation was satisfied; for, how much soever he loved and respected him, he gave the preference to God; and he loved his majesty, not to his prejudice, but to his salvation.” 40 Soon after the bishop came to town, and the emperor, according to his custom, went to church. But St. Ambrose went out and met him at the church-porch, and, forbidding him any further entrance, said: “It seems, sir, that you do not yet rightly apprehend the enormity of the massacre lately committed. Let not the splendour of your purple robes hinder you from being acquainted with the infirmities of that body which they cover. You are of the same mould with those subjects which you govern; and there is one common Lord and Emperor of the world. With what eyes will you behold his temple? With what feet will you tread his sanctuary? How will you lift up to him in prayer those hands which are still stained with blood unjustly spilt? Depart, therefore, and attempt not, by a second offence, to aggravate your former crime; but quietly take the yoke upon you which the Lord has appointed for you. It is sharp, but it is medicinal and conducive to your health.” The prince offered something by way of extenuation, and said that David had sinned. The holy bishop replied: “Him whom you have followed in sinning, follow also in his repentance.” 41 Theodosius submitted, accepted the penance which the church prescribed, and retired to his palace, where he passed eight months in mourning, without ever going into the church, and clad with penitential or mourning weeds. After this term, the feast of Christmas being come, he remained still shut up in his palace, shedding many tears. Ruffinus, the master of the offices, and prefect or comptroller of his household or palace, who was not baptized before the year 391, asked him the reason of his grief, and told him he had only punished criminals, and had no cause to fall into depression of mind; for piety required not so cruel an affliction. Thus this courtier, after having induced his master to commit a crime, attempted by his flatteries to weaken his repentance. But the emperor, redoubling his tears and sighs, said to him: “Ruffinus, thou dost but make sport and mock me. Thou little knowest the anguish and trouble I feel. I weep and bewail my miserable condition. The Church of God is open to beggars and slaves; but the church doors, and consequently the gates of heaven too, are shut against me. For our Lord has peremptorily declared, Whatever ye shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven.” Ruffinus said: “If you please, I will run to the bishop, and will use so many arguments with him, that I will persuade him to absolve you.” The emperor answered: “It will not be in your power to do it. I know the justice of the sentence he has passed, and he is an inflexible man where the laws of religion are concerned, and will never, out of respect to the imperial dignity, do any thing against the law of God.” He added, that it was better to finish his penance than vainly demand the favour of an over-hasty absolution. Ruffinus insisted upon it that he should prevail. Whereupon the emperor said: “Go quickly then.” And, flattering himself with the hopes that Ruffinus had given him, he followed him soon after. St. Ambrose no sooner saw the comptroller coming towards him, but he abruptly broke out, and said: “Ruffinus, you carry your assurance and boldness beyond all bounds. You were the adviser and author of this massacre. How can you then intercede for another? You have laid aside all shame, and neither blush nor tremble at the remembrance of so great a crime, and an assault made upon the image of God.” Ruffinus fell to entreaties, and besought the bishop with all possible earnestness, adding, that the emperor would be there by-and-by. “If so,” said the bishop, “I tell you plainly, I shall forbid him to enter the church-porch. And, if he think good to turn his power into force and tyranny, here I am, most ready to undergo any death, and to present my throat to the sword.” Ruffinus, seeing the resolution of the bishop, despatched a messenger to the emperor, to inform him of what had passed, and to advise him to stay at home. The prince received the information in the midst of the high street; but said: “I will go and receive the affront and rebuke which I deserve.” When he came to the inclosure of the holy place he did not go into the church; but went to the bishop, who was sitting in the auditory, and besought him to give him absolution. St. Ambrose stood up, and said: “What! do you come here to trample upon the holy laws of God?” “I respect them,” said the emperor, “I will not enter the sacred porch contrary to the rules; but I beseech you to free me from these bonds; and not shut against me the door which the Lord hath opened to all penitents.” The bishop said: “What penance have you done, after having been guilty of such a crime?” “It is your part,” said the emperor, “to inform me what I ought to do; to prescribe the remedies, and apply the plaster: and it is mine to submit, and to comply with the prescriptions.” 42 St. Ambrose ordered him to place himself amongst the public penitents in the church. Sozomen assures us, that the emperor made a public confession of his sin: and St. Ambrose, in his funeral oration, describes how he knelt at the church door, and lay long prostrate in the rank of the penitents, repeating, with David: My soul hath cleaved to the pavement: O Lord, restore my life, according to thy word. 43 He remained in this posture, beating his breast from time to time, tearing his hair, and, with tears running down his cheeks, begged pardon of God, lamenting his sin in the sight of all the people, who were so touched at it, as to weep along with him, and to pray a long while. St. Ambrose enjoined him, before he gave him absolution, to draw up a law to cancel all decrees that are made in haste or passion, and to command a respite of thirty days before execution of all warrants or sentences which regard life or the forfeiture of estates, that it may be discovered if any surprise or passion had any part in it. This law the emperor forthwith commanded to be drawn up, and signed it with his own hand, promising always to observe it. Such a law in part had been made by Gratian, eight years before, with which this of Theodosius is now joined in one. 44 Theodosius, after his absolution, passed no day to his death on which he did not bewail afresh this offence, into which he was drawn by surprise, and through the instigation of others, as St. Ambrose remarks.

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  Theodoret mentions another example of humility and religion which this great emperor showed whilst he was at Milan; which some moderns placed before, and others after his penance. 45 It happened on a great festival, that, having brought his offering to the altar, he remained within the rails of the sanctuary, that is, within the chancel or choir, St. Ambrose asked him if he wanted any thing? The emperor said he stayed to assist at the holy mysteries, and to communicate. The bishop sent his archdeacon to him with this message: “My lord, it is lawful for none but the sacred ministers to remain within the sanctuary. Be pleased therefore to go out, and continue standing with the rest. The purple robe makes princes, but not priests.” Theodosius answered, that he stayed not with a design of doing any thing against the church, or out of any affectation to distinguish himself from all the rest: but that he thought the custom was the same at Milan as at Constantinople, where his place was in the sanctuary; and, after having thanked the archbishop for being so kind as to inform him of his duty, he went out of the rails, and took his place among the laity. At his return to Constantinople, on the first great holiday that he went to the great church, he went out of the sanctuary after he had made his offering. The archbishop Nectarius sent to desire him to come back, and resume the place designed for him. The pious emperor answered, with a sigh, “Alas! how hard is it for me to learn the difference between the priesthood and the empire! I am encompassed with flatterers, and have found but one man who has set me right, and told me the truth. I know but one true bishop in the world; that is Ambrose.” From that time he kept without the rails or chancel, a little above the people, in which he was imitated by succeeding emperors. Theodosius, after staying almost three years in the West, left Valentinian in peaceable possession of that empire, and would carry home no other recompence of his labours and victories than the glory of having restored that prince, and afforded so many nations a disinterested protection. In his return into the East, all the people came out to meet him with extraordinary joy, and his reception in every city on the road was a kind of triumph, especially at Constantinople, where he arrived on the 9th of November, 391; and he appeared more glorious by the marks of love which he received of his subjects than by the victories he had gained over his enemies.

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  The young Valentinian followed in every thing the advice and instructions of St. Ambrose, honouring and loving him with as much ardour as his mother had formerly persecuted him with fury. Never was prince more ready to correct his faults. When he was told that he was too fond of the sports of the circus, he renounced those diversions, except on indispensable occasions. When some said that his passion for hunting diverted his mind from business, he presently ordered all the wild beasts he kept in a park to be killed. It was said by some that he advanced the hour of his meal too early, out of intemperance: he made use of this advice, and became so abstemious, that he fasted very often, and ate but little, even in the magnificent entertainments which he provided for his courtiers. He eased his subjects of many burdens and taxes, and never imposed any new ones, saying, the people were already too much oppressed. Yet Count Arbogastes, general of his forces, came to an open breach with him. This man was a Frank by birth, but had been brought up from his youth in the Roman army, and was a pagan. By the great power to which he arrived, he assumed so much as to command Valentinian, and dispose of all things at pleasure. The emperor at length resolved no longer to brook his imperious behaviour, and bear with his insolence. In 392, when they were both together in Gaul, busy in securing the country against the Germans, their misintelligence was carried to the highest pitch. But at length a seeming peace was concluded. The emperor pressed St. Ambrose to come to him at Vienne in Gaul, to be a witness to their reconciliation, and he was desirous to be baptized by him, being then in the twentieth year of his age. In his impatience to see him, and receive the holy sacrament of regeneration, he used often to say, “Shall I be so happy as to see my father?” He never had that happiness, being strangled by Arbogastes whilst he was diverting himself in the garden of his palace, on the banks of the Rhone, at Vienne, on the 15th of May, 392. St. Ambrose, who was advanced on his journey as far as the Alps, upon hearing this tragical news, returned to Milan, watering all his steps with his tears. Valentinian’s corpse was buried with Gratian’s at Milan, and St. Ambrose pronounced his funeral oration, in which he largely proves, that his desire of baptism supplied the want of it, and promises always to remember him in his sacrifices and prayers. Arbogastes placed the imperial diadem on the head of Eugenius, a rhetorician by profession, a man of parts and learning, who had long been in his service, and, from an ignoble condition, had been raised to high undeserved honours. This man was a nominal Christian, but unsettled in religious principles; for he flattered the heathens, and placed great confidence in divinations and auguries. They hastened their march into Italy, and courted St. Ambrose by very obliging letters; but before they arrived at Milan, the holy bishop had retired to Bologna, where he assisted at the translation of the relics of SS. Vitalis and Agricola. Thence he went to Florence, where he consecrated a church, called afterwards the Ambrosian basilic, like another at Milan, which was mentioned above. At Florence, St. Ambrose lived in the house of the most considerable among the citizens, named Decentius, whose infant child happened to die. The mother laid him upon the bed of St. Ambrose while he was abroad. The saint, being returned, laid himself upon the child, in imitation of Eliseus, and by his prayers restored him to life, as Paulinus assures us. Theodosius refused all terms proposed to him by Eugenius’s ambassadors, and raised a powerful army to march against the traitors. He prepared himself for war by fasts, prayers, and frequent visiting of churches; 46 and he sent to implore the prayers of St. John of Egypt. That holy hermit, who had formerly foretold him the defeat of Maximus, sent him an assurance that this enterprise against Eugenius would be more difficult than the former against Maximus had been, yet that he should obtain a complete victory, but should die shortly after. 47 Theodosius, before he set out, among many actions of heroic and public charity, justice, devotion, and piety, by a rescript inserted in the Roman law, pardoned all injuries in word or action that had ever been committed against his person. “For,” said he, “if it be by indiscreet levity that any one has spoken against us, we ought not to regard it: if it be by folly, we ought to pity him; if by ill will, we are very willing to pardon him.” 48

  His army was assembled under Timasius, who commanded the Roman legions; Stilico, a Vandal prince who had married Serena, the emperor’s niece; Gainas, general of the Goths, &c. Theodosius joined them in Thrace, marched through Pannonia and Illyricum, and forced the passes of the Alps, which Arbogastes had so fenced and guarded as to look upon them as not only impregnable, but even inaccessible. Yet Arbogastes was not dismayed, and drew up his army in battalia in the spacious plains of Aquileia, at the foot of the Alps. In the first engagement Arbogastes gained the day; and, in a second, the army of Theodosius was upon the point of being broken and dispersed, when, by a fervent prayer, he conjured God to defend the cause of his own divine honour. 49 Soon after there arose from the Alps an impetuous wind, which put the squadrons of the enemy into strange disorder, drove back their darts and arrows, and beat clouds of dust upon their faces which deprived many of the use of their sight, and almost of their respiration, 50 which gave Theodosius a complete victory. Theodoret 51 tells us, that the prince, before this second battle, shut himself up one night in a church to pray, and falling asleep, saw in a vision two men in white, on white horses, who promised him that they would assist him. The one was St. Philip the apostle, the other St. John the evangelist. Evagrius and his companions taking leave of St. John in Thebais, that holy man, giving them his blessing, said: “Go in peace, my dear children, and know that they hear this day in Alexandria that Theodosius has defeated the tyrant Eugenius. But this prince will not long enjoy the advantage of his victory, and God will ere long withdraw him out of this world.” 52 Eugenius, who was seated on a hill near the field of battle, was taken and brought to Theodosius, who reproached him with his crimes and credulity in the promises of heathenish diviners, and commanded him to be beheaded on the 6th of September in 394. Arbogastes, after wandering two days in the mountains, became his own executioner, thrusting two swords one after the other through his body. 53 Theodosius pardoned all the rest of the party: and never was any prince more moderate in his victory. He knew how to pardon, scarcely how to punish; and he seemed to forget that he had enemies as soon as he had overcome. Being informed that the children of Eugenius and Flavian (general of his Roman forces) had taken sanctuary in the churches of Aquileia, he sent a tribune with an order to save their lives. He took care to have them educated in the Christian religion, left possessions for them, and used them as if they had been of his own family. As this victory was rather God’s than his own, his first care was that a solemn thanksgiving should be rendered to him throughout his whole empire. He wrote particularly to St. Ambrose on that subject. This holy archbishop had returned to Milan as soon as Eugenius was departed thence: and, upon receiving his letter, with the news of his victory, he offered the holy sacrifice in thanksgiving, and sent one of his deacons to him with letters, in which, after having expressed his joy for the prosperity of his arms, he represented to him, that he ought to give God the whole glory thereof, that piety had contributed more to it than valour, and that his victory was incomplete unless he pardoned those who were involved in the misfortune rather than in the crimes of the tyrant, to which mercy he strongly exhorted him. 54 This he besought in particular in favour of those who had taken refuge in the churches; which the saint doubted not of obtaining from a prince in whose behalf God had wrought prodigies, as he had formerly done in favour of Moses, Joshue, Samuel, and David. 55 A little while after St. Ambrose went to Aquileia to wait upon the emperor. Their interview was full of joy and tenderness. The archbishop prostrated himself before this prince, whom piety and the visible protection of God had rendered more venerable than his victories and crowns, and prayed that God would bestow on him all the blessings of heaven as he had loaded him with all the prosperity of the earth. The emperor, on his side, cast himself at the feet of the archbishop, imputing to his prayers the favours which he had received from God, and entreating him to pray for his salvation, as he had done for his success. Then they entertained themselves about the means of restoring religion.

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  Theodosius soon followed St. Ambrose to Milan, who was gone the day before; but the prince refrained for some time from the holy communion, because he had been stained with blood, though shed in a just and necessary war. 56 In the mean time he studied by compunction to purify his soul, and was assaulted by a mortal dropsy, which the fatigues of his expedition and the severity of winter had brought on him. He sent for his children to Milan, and would receive them in the church on the day on which he received the communion the first time after his wars. He gave his two sons excellent instructions how to govern well, then turning to St. Ambrose, he said: “These are the truths which you have taught me, and which I myself have experienced. It is your part to make them descend in my family, and to instruct, according to your custom, these young emperors whom I leave to you.” The archbishop answered, that he hoped God would give to the children a teachable heart and easy temper, which he had given the father. He granted and confirmed by law a general amnesty and pardon to all rebels who were returned to their duty, by which they were re-established in their estates and dignities. He discharged the people of the augmentations of tribute, desiring that his subjects might enjoy the advantage of a victory to which they had contributed by their prayers and labours. Nothing could be more pathetic than his last exhortations to those senators who still remained idolaters, that they would embrace the faith of Christ, in which he declared it to have been his greatest desire to make all his subjects faithful servants of Jesus Christ. 57 He gave much of his time to his devotions, and to pious conversation with St. Ambrose, in whose arms he expired on the 17th of January in the year 395, of his age the fiftieth. St. Ambrose preached his funeral sermon on the fortieth day after his death, and his body was conveyed to Constantinople, and every where received with honours which rather resembled triumphs than funeral solemnities.

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  In the year 395 St. Ambrose discovered the bodies of the holy martyrs Nazarius and Celsus, in a garden near Milan, and translated them into the basilic of the apostles, near the Roman gate. Their blood was gathered up with plaster and linen; and this was distributed to others as a precious relic. 58 A person possessed with the devil was delivered by St. Ambrose at these relics, before which the devil tormented him till the saint bade him hold his peace. One who had counterfeited grants for the office of a tribune, the saint delivered to Satan; and even before the bishop had done speaking, the unclean spirit seized on him, and began to tear him: “At which,” saith the secretary Paulinus, “we were all much terrified.” He adds. “We saw in those days many dispossessed at his command, and by the laying on of his hands.” He also mentions sick persons who were cured by his prayers. The reputation of St. Ambrose reached the most distant countries, and drew to Milan two Persians of the greatest authority and wisdom in that nation, who came thither furnished with many questions to make trial of his wisdom. They discoursed with him by the help of an interpreter for a whole day, and departed full of admiration. A little before our saint’s death, Fritigil, queen of the Marcomanni, having heard of the fame of his sanctity from a certain Christian that came from Italy, was moved by it to believe in Jesus Christ, and sent ambassadors to him with presents for the Church of Milan, entreating St. Ambrose to instruct her by writing in what she was to believe. He sent her an excellent letter in form of a catechism, which is now lost. The queen having received it, persuaded the king to submit himself and his people to the Romans, and went herself to Milan: but to her great affliction, did not find St. Ambrose alive.

  22
  Our holy bishop made the administration of the sacrament of penance a chief part of his pastoral care. Paulinus writes thus of him: Whenever any person confessed their sins to him, in order to receive penance, he shed such an abundance of tears as to make the penitent also to weep. The sins which were confessed to him he never disclosed to any one, only interceded with God. 59 In his writings he explains in a great detail all the parts and duties of penance. Speaking of the obligation of confessing sins, he says: “If thou wilt be justified, confess thy crime: for an humble confession loosens the bonds of sins.” 60 And again: “Why are you ashamed to do this in the church, where it ought only to be an object of shame not to confess our faults, seeing we are all sinners; where he is most commendable who is most humble, and he is the most just who is the lowest in his own eyes.” 61 Against the Novatian heresy St. Ambrose wrote his two books Of Penance. In the first, he shows that absolution is to be given to penitents for all sins, however grievous; but, towards the end, observes that their penitence must be condign and sincere. “If any one,” says he, “be guilty of secret 62 sins, and does penance for them very heartily, in obedience to the commands of Jesus Christ, how shall he receive the reward, unless he be restored to the communion of the church? I would have the guilty hope for the pardon of his sins; yet he should beg it with tears, sighs, and the lamentations of all the people. I would have him pray for absolution; and when it is twice or thrice delayed, let him believe that this delay proceeds from the want of importunity in his prayers. Let him redouble his weeping, let him render himself more worthy of pity; and then let him return, let him throw himself at the feet of the faithful, let him embrace them, kiss them, bathe them with his tears; and let him not forsake them, that so our Lord may say to him, Many sins are forgiven him because he loved much. I have known some persons who, in their penance, have disfigured their face with much weeping, who have hollowed their cheeks with continual tears, who have prostrated themselves on the ground to be trodden under foot, who, by their continual fasting, have rendered their countenances so pale and disfigured, that they carried in a living body the very image of death.” In the second book, after answering some objections of the Novatians, he shows, that penance is false and fruitless without a total change of heart and manners, in which its very essence consists. “There are others,” says he, “who may be immediately restored to communion. These do not so much desire to be loosed, as to bind the priest; for they do not unburden their own conscience, but burden that of the priest, who is commanded not to give holy things to dogs; that is, not easily to admit impure souls to communion. I have found more persons who have preserved the innocence of their baptism, than who have done penance as they should do after they have lost it. They must renounce the world, and allow less time for sleep than nature requires; they must break their sleep with groaning and sighing, and employ part of that time in prayers; they must live in such a manner as to be dead to the use of this life: let such men deny themselves, and change themselves wholly,” &c. St. Ambrose exhorts the faithful to very frequent communion, because the holy eucharist is our spiritual bread and daily nourishment, not a poison. In his book, On the Mysteries, composed in 387, he instructs the newly baptized, expounding the ceremonies of baptism and confirmation, and the sacrament of the holy eucharist, which he does in the clearest terms. 63 That this book On the Mysteries, is the undoubted work of our holy doctor, is manifest not only from the unanimous consent of authors, but also from the first part of this book itself. After having explained the ancient types of the eucharist, as the sacrifice of Melchisedech, the manna, and the water flowing out of the rock, he adds: “You will say perhaps I see something else: how can I be sure that I receive the body of Christ? Prove that it is not what hath been formed by nature, but what the benediction hath consecrated, and that the benediction is more powerful than nature, because it changes even nature itself.” He urges the example of the rod of Moses changed into a serpent, and several other miracles; and, lastly, the incarnation, which mystery he compares to that of the eucharist. “A virgin,” says he, “brought forth. This is contrary to the order of nature. The body which we consecrate came forth of a virgin: Why do you seek for the order of nature in the body of Jesus Christ, since Jesus Christ was born of a virgin against the order of nature. Jesus Christ had real flesh which was fastened to the cross, and laid in the sepulchre. So the eucharist is the true sacrament of this flesh. Christ himself assures us of it. This is, says he, my body. Before the benediction of these heavenly words it is of another nature, after the consecration it is the body. If man’s benediction has been capable of changing the nature of things, what shall we say of the divine consecration, wherein the very words of our Saviour himself operate? The word of Jesus Christ, which could make that out of nothing which was not, can it not change that which is into what it was not?” &c. The saint recommends to the new believers to keep the mysteries secret. St. Austin, who was baptized by St. Ambrose in 387, must have been present at these discourses which St. Ambrose then made to the Neophytes. St. Ambrose was particularly careful in the choice of his clergy. This appears from several instances which the saint himself relates. One of his friends he would never be prevailed upon to admit among the clergy, on account of some levity in his carriage. Another, who was one of the clergy, he forbade ever to walk before him, on a like account; for he was persuaded that such faults proceed from an irregularity of the mind. 64 He forbids the clergy to intermeddle with business or traffic, wishing them to be contented with their small patrimony, or, if they have none, with their salaries. 65 In order to regulate the manners of the clergy that they might be the light of the world, he composed, in 386, three books On the Offices of the Ministers; in which, however, he often descends to general precepts of morality adapted to Christians of all denominations. 66

  One of St. Ambrose’s last actions was the ordination of St. Honoratus, bishop of Vercelli. A few days before he fell sick, he foretold his death, but said, he should live till Easter. Before he took his bed he continued his usual studies and expounded the forty-third psalm. Whilst he dictated this exposition, Paulinus, who was his amanuensis, looking up, saw a flame in the form of a small shield covering his head, and by degrees creeping into his mouth; upon which his face became white as snow, though soon after it returned to its usual complexion. “I was so affrighted thereat,” says Paulinus, “that I remained without motion, and could not write what he dictated till the vision was over. He was then repeating a passage of scripture which I well remember; and on that day he left off both writing and reading, so that he could not finish the psalm.” We have this exposition of St. Ambrose upon the forty-third psalm, which ends at the twenty-fifth verse, and nothing is said upon the two last. He must have been already sick; for Paulinus assures us, that when he was well, he never spared the pains of writing his books with his own hand. After having ordained a bishop of Pavia, he was taken so ill that he kept his bed a long time. Upon this news Count Stilico, the guardian and prime minister of Honorius, who governed the western empire, was much troubled, and said publicly, “The day that this great man dies, destruction hangs over Italy.” And therefore sending for as many of the nobility and magistrates of the city as he knew had the greatest interest and sway with the bishop, he persuaded them to go to him, and by all means prevail with him to beg of God a longer life. They went, and standing about his bed with tears, entreated him to intercede with heaven for his own life for the sake of others; to whom he answered, “I have not so behaved myself among you that I should be ashamed to live longer; nor am I afraid to die, because we have a good master.” He lay in a gallery, at the end whereof were four deacons, discoursing together who might succeed him. They spoke so low that they could hardly hear each other. Yet when they named Simplician, the bishop, though at a distance, cried out three times, “He is old, but good.” At which they were so surprised that they hastened out of the place. As St. Ambrose was praying in the same place, he beheld Jesus Christ coming towards him with a smiling countenance. This he told Bassianus, bishop of Lodi, who was praying with him, and from him Paulinus learned it. The saint died a few days after. The day on which he expired he lay with his hands extended in the form of a cross for several hours, moving his lips in constant prayer, though it could not be understood what he said. St. Honoratus, bishop of Vercelli was there, and being gone into an upper chamber to take a little rest, heard a voice crying three times to him: “Arise, and make haste; for he is going to depart.” He went down, and gave him the body of our Lord, which the saint had no sooner swallowed, but he gave up the ghost. 67 St. Ambrose died about midnight before Holy Saturday, the 4th of April in 397; he was about fifty-seven years old, and had been bishop twenty two-years and four months. 68 The common suffrage of all antiquity has ranked him among the four great doctors of the Latin Church. 69 His feast is kept on the 7th of December, the day on which he was ordained bishop; and he is honoured on the same not only in the western calendars, but also in those of the oriental Church. The body of St. Ambrose reposes in a vault under the high altar in the Ambrosian basilic at Milan; it was first interred near the relics of SS. Gervasius and Protasius. God was pleased to honour him by manifesting that through his intercession he protected the state against the idolaters. Radagaisus, a king of the Goths, a pagan, threatened the destruction of Christianity and the ruin of the Roman empire, which he invaded with an army, it is said, of two hundred thousand, others say, four hundred thousand men, about the year 405. He had vowed to sacrifice all the Romans to his gods; and he seems to have been the last instrument which the devil raised to attempt to re-establish idolatry in the empire. The pagans among the Romans seemed disposed to rebel, and openly imputed these calamities to the establishment of Christianity. But the Romans, commanded by Stilico, obtained a complete victory, without any loss of men, and Radagaisus was taken prisoner, with his two sons, and put to death. Tillemont gives the following relation: 70 “Radagaisus besieged Florence. This city was reduced to the utmost straits, when St. Ambrose, who had once retired thither, (and who had now been dead nine years,) appeared to a person of the house where he had lodged, and promised him that the city should be delivered from the enemy on the next day. The man told it to the inhabitants, who took courage and resumed the hopes which they had quite lost; and on the next day came Stilico with his army. Paulinus who relates this, learned it from a lady who lived at Florence.” And this proves what St. Paulinus, the bishop of Nola, says: “That God granted the preservation of the Romans to the prayers of St. Peter, St. Paul, and other martyrs and confessors who were honoured by the Church throughout the empire.” Though the forces of the emperor Honorius were too weak to oppose this torrent, at their approach Radagasius was struck with a sudden panic and fled, and his scattered troops were taken, and sold like droves of cattle.

  24
  St. Ambrose joined together in the conduct of his life a wonderful generosity and inflexibility, where the divine law was concerned, with all possible prudence and moderation; yet in all his actions tempered the boldness and authority of a bishop with an air of sweetness and charity. By this he gained all hearts, and his inflexible severity in points of duty appeared amiable and mild, whilst every one saw that it proceeded wholly from the most tender charity. St. Austin tells us, that in his first interview, when he was a stranger to St. Ambrose, and enslaved to the world and his passions, he was won by him, because he saw in him a good eye, and a kind countenance the index of his benevolent heart. “I saw a man affectionate and kind to me,” says he. When a friend shows by his words and behaviour, that he has sincerely and only our interest at heart, this opens all the avenues of our mind, and strengthens and enforces his admonitions, so that they never fail to make deep impressions. They who speak affectionately, and from their hearts, speak powerfully to the hearts of others. This is the property of true charity, the most essential qualification of a minister of Christ, who is dead to the world and himself, and seeks no other interest but that of Christ and his neighbour in the salvation of souls.
  25


Note 1. Every magistrate who was a judge of military persons and causes, and a commander of the soldiery, was styled a prætor, and his court was called prætorium. The prefect of the prætorium at Rome was the commander of the emperor’s guard called prætorian: to him was committed the care of maintaining public discipline and good manners, and he received all appeals made from governors of provinces. This office was created by Augustus to supply the duties of Magister Militum under the dictators. See Hotomanus De Magistratibus Romanorum, l. 1, p. 1874, (ap. Grævium, t. 2.) Constantine the Great abolished the prætorian guards and the prætorium at Rome, and instituted four prefects of the prætorium, two in the East, the one called of the East, the other of Illyricum; and two in the West, called the one of Italy, the other of the Gauls. These were the supreme magistrates of the empire, and held the next place to the emperor. All other magistrates and governors in their provinces were subject to them, and they commanded both the armies and the provinces. (See Onuphrius, De Imperio Romano, c. 24, (ap Grævium, t. 1, p. 449.) Hotomanus, de Magistrat. Rom. l. 1, (ib. t. 2.) Also Notitia Dignitatum Imperii Occid. p. 1790, (ap. Græv. t. 7, p. 1790.) Gutherius, De Officiis Domus Augustæ apud Sallangre, in Thesauro Antiquit. Rom. t. 3. [back]

Note 2. St. Basil, ep. 55. [back]

Note 3. See Vagliano, Vite de gli Arcivescovi di Milano, c. 15, p. 98. The poem of St. Ennodius in his praise, and the epitaph of St. Marcellina, composed by St. Simplicianus, still extant in St. Ambrose’s church. [back]

Note 4. St. Ambr. ep. 20, n. 12. [back]

Note 5. Ep. 20, n. 15. [back]

Note 6. St. Aug. Conf. l. 5, c. 13; l. 6, c. 3. [back]

Note 7. St. Ambr. l. 1, de Virgin. [back]

Note 8. See SS. Theodora and Didymus. [back]

Note 9. L. 1, de Virgin, c. 10, and l. de Instit. Virgin, c. 1. [back]

Note 10. St. Ambr. l. 3, de Virgin, c. 1. [back]

Note 11. L. ad Virg. laps, c. 6. [back]

Note 12. St. Ambr. Offic. l. 2, c. 15, n. 70, et c. 38. [back]

Note 13. Paulin. Tit. Ambrose, n. 38. [back]

Note 14. St. Ambr. de Excessu Fr. Satvri. [back]

Note 15. St. Ambr. ep. 17. [back]

Note 16. Ep. 18. [back]

Note 17. Rufin. Hist. l. 11, c. 15; St. Ambrose, ep 20, ad Soror. Mabill. Itin. Ital. p. 17. [back]

Note 18. St. Aug. l. 6, cap. Julian, c. 14, n. 41. [back]

Note 19. L. ult. Cod. Theod. de fide Cathol. [back]

Note 20. St. Ambr. ep. 21, ad Valen. [back]

Note 21. See Ambr. Serm. de Basil, non trad. post. ep. 21, n. 8, 19. [back]

Note 22. Serm. de Basil, non trad. n. 34, Paulin. vit. n. 3. [back]

Note 23. S. Isid. Offic. l. 1, c. 7; S. Aug. Conf. 1. 9, c. 7. [back]

Note 24. Several hymns composed by St. Ambrose are still used by the Latin Church in the divine office. Among these twelve are ascribed to him by St. Austin, St. Isidore, Bede, Cassiodorus, the Roman council in 430, &c. as Deus Creator Omnium—Jam surgit hora tertia—Veni Redemptor Gentium Illuminans altissimus—Æterna Christi Munera—Somno refectis artubus—Consors paterni luminis—O lux beata Trinitas—Fit porta Christi pervia, &c. Most of the hymns which occur in the daily or ferial office in the Latin Church seem to be St. Ambrose’s. This holy doctor is said to have first introduced into the West the custom of singing hymns in the church. Those which he made are so composed, that the sense ends at the fourth verse, that they may be sung by two chorusses. St. Hilary was at the same time an excellent composer of hymns. George Cassander, in the dedicatory epistle before his Collection of Hymns, observes, that these titles of hymns, A Hymn of St. Peter, of St. Paul, &c., are to be thus understood, A hymn or song of praise of God, in memory of St. Peter, St. Paul, &c. And so we are to understand a church, an altar, a mass of St. Peter, of St. Paul, &c., which manner of speaking occurs in SS. Ambrose, Austin, &c. [back]

Note 25. Ep. 2. [back]

Note 26. S. Ambr. ep 22; S. Aug. Conf. l. 9, c. 7 et 1, and l. 22, de Civ. c. 8, n. 2; also Serm. 286, (ol. 39, de div.) c. 8, n. 2. See on SS. Gervasius and Protasius, June 19. [back]

Note 27. S. Aug. Conf. l. 9, c. 7. [back]

Note 28. Cave’s Life of St. Ambrose, sect. 4, p. 400. See Petri Puricelli Historica Dissertatio de SS. Gervasio et Protasio, in fol. Mediolani, 1658. [back]

Note 29. St. Ambrose built four churches at Milan. 1. Dedicated to God in honour of the Blessed Virgin and all holy virgins, now called St. Simplicianus’s. 2. In honour of St. Peter, now called St. Nazarius’s. 3. In honour of all the saints, now St. Dionysius’s. 4. In honour of all saints, commonly called the Ambrosian. It never was the cathedral, but St. Ambrose was there interred; and his body, and those of SS. Gervasius and Protasius repose there to this day. The archbishop, Peter Oldradus, in 784, built an adjoining monastery, called St. Ambrose’s. Archbishop Arnulph, in 1002, erected there the figure of the brazen serpent brought from Constantinople, not that which Moses set up in the desert, but a type of the cross, as was usual. (See Gretser, De Cruce, l. 1, c. 41.) The same archbishop placed there a great wooden cross, in which he put a considerable portion of Christ’s true cross. See Petri Puricelli Descriptio Historica Basilicæ Ambrosianæ, ap. Grævium, t. 4; Thesaur. Scriptor. Ital. c. 2, pp 49, 472. [back]

Note 30. S. Amb. ep. 24. [back]

Note 31. Theodoret, l. 5, c. 18. [back]

Note 32. Sozom. l. 7, c. 5, 6. [back]

Note 33. S. Aug. l. 5, de Civ. c. 26. [back]

Note 34. Evagr. Vit. Patr. c. 1. [back]

Note 35. S. Ambr. ep. 40. [back]

Note 36. Paulin. in Vit. S. Ambros. [back]

Note 37. See Claudian Consul. Honor; Sozom. l. 7, c. 14, Pacatus in Panegyr. [back]

Note 38. Socrat. l. 5, c. 14; Symmach. l. 1, ep. 31; Prudent. l. 1, cont. Symmach. v. 503. [back]

Note 39. Theodoret, l. 5, c. 17; S. Aug. de Civ. Dei, l. 5, c. 29; S. Ambr. ep. 15; Paulin. &c. [back]

Note 40. S. Ambr. ep. 51. [back]

Note 41. “Secutus es errantem: sequere pœnitentem.”—Paulin. Vit. Ambr. n. 24. [back]

Note 42. Theodoret, Hist. l. 5, c. 18. [back]

Note 43. Ps. cviii. [back]

Note 44. L. 13, Cod. Theod. de pœn. [back]

Note 45. Theodoret, Hist. l. 5, c. 18. Sozom. l. 7, c. 24. [back]

Note 46. Sozom. l. 7, c. 22. [back]

Note 47. Evagr. Vit. Patr. c. 1. Theodoret, Hist. l. 5, c. 24. [back]

Note 48. Leg. 1. Siquis maledic. Imper. Cod. Theodos. [back]

Note 49. Rufin. l. 2, c. 33. [back]

Note 50. Claudian, in Paneg. Consul. Honor. Oros. l. 7, c. 35. S. Aug. l. 26, de Civ. Dei. Rufin. Socr. Sozom. Theodoret. [back]

Note 51. Theodor. l. 5, c. 24. [back]

Note 52. Evagr. l. 1, c. 1, Pallad. in Lausiac. c. 4. [back]

Note 53. Claudian, though a Pagan, thus addresses Theodosius on this victory:

“O nimium dilecte Deo, cui militat æther,
Et fortunati veniunt ad classica venti.”
 [back]

Note 54. St. Ambr. ep. 61. [back]

Note 55. Ep. 62. [back]

Note 56. This was prescribed in some penitential canons. See St. Basil to St. Amphil. c. 13, Num. c. 31; St. Ambrose in fun. Theodos. [back]

Note 57. Oros. l. 7, c. 36. [back]

Note 58. Paulin. in vit. Ambros. n. 32; St. Aug. ep. 31, et ep. 7, alias ep. 46; S. Paulin. Natal. 9; S. Gaudent. Serm. 17, p. 90; Bibl. Patr. Ennod. Carm. 18. [back]

Note 59. Paulin. n. 39. [back]

Note 60. S. Ambr. l. 2, de pœnit. c. 6, n. 40. [back]

Note 61. Ib. c. 10, n. 91, 92. [back]

Note 62. “Siquis occulta habens crimina.” Daillé will have it to be read, “Siquis multa habens crimina.” But his correction is condemned by the authority of all manuscript copies. [back]

Note 63. The same doctrine, and some of the same expressions occur in the six books On the Sacraments, which are ascribed to St. Ambrose by the writers of the ninth century, and in MSS. of the eighth century. The author was a bishop, lived where the number of adult catechumens was very great, and remains of idolatry still subsisted. But the work is an imitation of St. Ambrose’s on the mysteries, more at large, written in a low flat style. If these books should not be St. Ambrose’s, as the Benedictin editors of his works doubt, and Ceillier and Rivet (p. 397,) think most probable, the cause of the church is so much the stronger, by having two vouchers instead of one. (See the remarks of the Benedictin editors, t. 3, p. 341, ed. Ben.) The ancient liturgy and ecclesiastical office of the church of Milan, called the Ambrosian rite, certainly received a new lustre from our saint’s care, but is proved from his writings to have been older as to many accidental differences from the Roman; whether St. Barnabas, or more probably, St. Marocles was the first author. (See Le Brun, Explic. des Cérém. de la Messe, t. 2, diss. 3, p. 175; and L’Origine Apostolica della Chiesa Milanese, e del Rito della Stessa. Opera del dottore Nicolo Sormanni, Oblato e Prefecto della Bibl. Ambros. in Milano. 1755.) The sermons attributed to St. Ambrose in former editions are thrown by the Benedictins into the Appendix, with the treatise, To a Devout Virgin, and two Prayers before Mass, though some critics think one of these, which begins “Summe Sacerdos,” &c., differs not so much in style but it may be the work of our saint. On the Te Deum, see Berti’s Life of St. Austin, also Le Brun, &c.

  The Commentaries of St. Ambrose on the scripture were originally sermons which he preached to his people. His Hexaëmeron, or On the Work of Six Days, or The Creation, is copied in some places from St. Basil. His book On Paradise, or on the Fall of Adam, is a continuation of the same work. His books On Cain and Abel, On Noah and the Ark, On Isaac, and On the Soul, (in which he explains the union of the Divine Word with the soul, and that of Christ with his church by an application of the sacred book of Canticles to that subject,) contain an exposition of those parts of scripture, and set off in an elegant and beautiful style the lives of those patriarchs as excellent models of virtue. In his treatise On the Advantage of Death he shows the happiness of dying, because death has nothing terrible in itself, and is a deliverance from snares and sin; for to live on still to sin without repentance, is worse than to die at present in sin. He closes it by a pathetic invitation of souls to heaven. The treatise On the Flight of the World is filled with solid instructions on the vanity of the world, the danger of its charms, and the frailty of our nature prone to evil. In the two books On Jacob, and On a Happy Life, he gives excellent instructions on docility and perseverance to the new baptized Christians, with an exposition of the history of that patriarch. It is followed by the book On Joseph, and by that On the Benedictions of the Twelve Patriarchs. That On Elias and Fasting, consists of sermons preached before and in Lent, and commends fasting and the virtue of temperance. That On Naboth, is an invective against avarice from that part of Achab’s history. That On Toby is composed out of several sermons preached on the virtues of that holy man. The four books On the Interpellation, or, Complaints of Job and David, are a strong description of the miseries, dangers, and snares of this life; for even affluence of earthly goods is a dangerous snare, by which souls fall into pride and the forgetfulness of God. The apology of David justifies the honour of that holy king, inasmuch as his repentance expiated his crimes. The saint gives a devout and elegant exposition of the Miserere psalm, which expressed the penitential sentiments in which the king wept for his sins all the remainder of his life. His commentaries on several of the psalms abound in excellent maxims of morality: that on the hundred and eighteenth is his master-piece. His commentary on St. Luke was the first that was written among the Latins on that gospel. Several excellent passages of morality and piety, are interspersed in this work; and the saint admirably expresses his tender and ardent love to our Divine Redeemer; but a great part of this book is taken up in showing the harmony and concordance of the evangelists in the sacred history.

  The treatise To a Virgin that was Fallen, is attributed to St. Ambrose in ancient MSS. and though the style differs from that of his other works, it seems not sufficient alone to disprove the testimony of the oldest copies that are extant; at least the author was a bishop, and very ancient. The virgin was a young lady of quality, who had pronounced her vows publicly before the people, taken the veil, and entered a monastery. Yet three years after fell into sin with a man, and had a child: was convicted before the bishop, and put under public penance. The author of this treatise represents to her the heinousness of her crime, exhorts her to do penance in continual sorrow and grief all the rest of her life, that at least she might avoid the punishment of hell, and tells her that she ought not to expect absolution in this life; so as ever to be released from the severity of her penance before her death. This expression may be softened by a mild interpretation, though some have thought it savours of Novatianiam, and consequently that the author cannot be this father; it was, perhaps, some other prelate of the same name.

  St. Ambrose in the rules which he lays down for oratory, requires a chaste, simple, clear style, full of weight and gravity, without either affecting elegance, or despising the smoothness and graces of language. Yet he fell into the fashionable defects of his time, and gave his discourse such ornaments as were then in vogue. But, notwithstanding puns and quibbles which he sometimes uses, he wrote with uncommon force, and with an affecting tenderness. For an instance of the first, Fenelon appeals to his letter of Theodosius; and of the latter, to what he writes on the death of his brother, Satyrus. The books which he took pains about are very smart, ingenious, and adorned with flowers and figures: in the rest, his style is always noble, short, sententious, and full of strokes of wit; it always has a certain sweetness and smoothness. His letters to the emperors and some others are masterpieces, and show how well he was acquainted with the world and business, and had a free air and easy way in conversing with all ranks, and managing all affairs. See the Benedictin monks of St. Vanne, Critiques de M. Dupin, t. 3. 
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Note 64. St. Ambr. l. 1. Offic. c. 18, n. 72. [back]

Note 65. Ibid. l. 1, c. 36, n. 184. [back]

Note 66. The Roman orator wrote a famous book of offices, or practical precepts of morality, which two Roman emperors read so diligently as to be able to repeat it by heart. It is, nevertheless, imperfect, and would have been more useful if the method in some parts had been clearer. To remedy this last inconvenience, the Marquis Andrea Luigi de Sylva, in his elegant and prolix Italian commentary on Cicero’s Offices, dedicated to Don Philip of Spain, duke of Parma, printed at Vicenza in 1756, has reduced the principles of morality laid down in this book into a clearer order. But the author was unacquainted with the duties of resignation, humility, mortification, penance, and others, and even of the regulation of the affections, and the end of our actions. Aristotle’s ethics seem the most complete system of morals that ever came from the pen of a heathen, and the four cardinal virtues are explained by him in a clear and beautiful order. Yet he is utterly a stranger to the most heroic moral virtues; and spoils the rest by allowing a mixture of vanity, pride, and self-love in the composition of every virtue. His description of the magnanimous or perfectly virtuous man is the portraiture of the most intolerable refined pride. (Ethic. l. 7, c. 7, 8. See Francis II. duke of Rochefoucault’s Maxims, and M. l’Esprit, Fausseté des Vertues Humaines.) Indeed so much is man’s reason blinded by his passions, that the systems of morality laid down by all the greatest heathen philosophers are disgraced by many shocking impieties and absurdities. (See Bishop Cumberland on the Law of Nature.) And the best human virtues which are barely human (or destitute of principles of revealed religion) are mostly so interested that self-love seems to spring of all the actions and affections which they produce; pure virtue is very rare, and only found where it is built on the gospel principles of self-denial, and the crucifixion of inordinate self-love. This gives a great advantage to this work of St. Ambrose above those of heathen philosophers, though he often confines his discourse to moral or philosophical considerations. However, the author discovers how great an advantage morality derives from the gospel revelation. Thus he shows (b. 3, ch. 1,) that the maxim of Scipio, “That he was never more busy nor less alone than when he was by himself,” was more excellently verified in Moses, Elias, Eliseus, and the apostles, who not only knew how to converse with themselves, but also were always with God, and employed in heavenly meditation, which is the just man’s delight. [back]

Note 67. Paulin. n. 47. [back]

Note 68. See Pagi ad an. 397. [back]

Note 69. These four doctors are St. Jerom, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, and St. Gregory the Great. [back]

Note 70. Tillemont, Hist. des Emp. t. 5, p. 540. [back]

Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73).  Volume XII: December. The Lives of the Saints.  1866.




Voir aussi :

Textes de Saint Ambroise (Traité sur l'Évangile de saint Luc - tome 1 ; Traité sur l'Évangile de saint Luc - tome 2 ; Des Devoirs : livres, 1, 2 et 3 ; Des Sacrements ; Des Mystères) :


Saint Ambroise de Milan, article du Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique : http://jesusmarie.free.fr/ambroise.html