Ambrose

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Ambrose : biography

between 337 and 340 – 4 April 397

Death and legacy

Soon after acquiring the undisputed possession of the Roman empire, Theodosius died at Milan in 395, and two years later (April 4, 397) Ambrose also died. He was succeeded as bishop of Milan by Simplician. Ambrose’s body may still be viewed in the church of S. Ambrogio in Milan, where it has been continuously venerated — along with the bodies identified in his time as being those of Sts. Gervase and Protase — and is one of the oldest extant bodies of historical personages known outside Egypt.

Character

Drawing based on a statue of St. Ambrose Many circumstances in the history of Ambrose are characteristic of the general spirit of the times. The chief causes of his victory over his opponents were his great popularity and the reverence paid to the episcopal character at that period. But it must also be noted that he used several indirect means to obtain and support his authority with the people.

He was generous to the poor; it was his custom to comment severely in his preaching on the public characters of his times; and he introduced popular reforms in the order and manner of public worship. It is alleged, too, that at a time when the influence of Ambrose required vigorous support, he was admonished in a dream to search for, and found under the pavement of the church, the remains of two martyrs, Gervasius and Protasius. The saints, although they would have had to have been hundreds of years old, looked as if they had just died. The applause of the people was mingled with the derision of the court party.

In popular culture

In the 2012 film Restless Heart: The Confessions of Saint Augustine, Bishop Ambrose is portrayed by Italian actor Andrea Giordana.

Church music

Saint Ambrose in His Study, ca. 1500. Spanish, Palencia. Wood with traces of polychromy. [[Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.]]

Ambrose is traditionally credited but not actually known to have composed any of the repertory of Ambrosian chant also known simply as "antiphonal chant", a method of chanting where one side of the choir alternately responds to the other. (The later pope St. Gregory I the Great is not known to have composed any Gregorian chant, the plainsong or "Romish chant".) However, Ambrosian chant was named in his honor due to his contributions to the music of the Church; he is credited with introducing hymnody from the Eastern Church into the West.

Catching the impulse from Hilary and confirmed in it by the success of Arian psalmody, Ambrose composed several original hymns as well, four of which still survive, along with music which may not have changed too much from the original melodies. Each of these hymns has eight four-line stanzas and is written in strict iambic dimeter (that is 2 x 2 iambs). Marked by dignified simplicity, they served as a fruitful model for later times.

  • Deus Creator Omnium
  • Aeterne rerum conditor
  • Jam surgit hora tertia
  • Jam Christus astra ascendante"
  • Veni redemptor gentium (a Christmas hymn)

In his writings, Ambrose refers only to the performance of psalms, in which solo singing of psalm verses alternated with a congregational refrain called an antiphon.

St. Ambrose was also traditionally credited with composing the hymn Te Deum, which he is said to have composed when he baptised St. Augustine of Hippo, his celebrated convert.

Mariology

The powerful Mariology of Ambrose of Milan influenced contemporary Popes like Pope Damasus and Siricius and later, Pope Leo the Great. Central to Ambrose is the virginity of Mary and her role as Mother of God.

  • The virgin birth is worthy of God. Which human birth would have been more worthy of God, than the one, in which the Immaculate Son of God maintained the purity of his immaculate origin while becoming human?Ambrose of Milan CSEL 64, 139
  • We confess, that Christ the Lord was born from a virgin, and therefore we reject the natural order of things. Because not from a man she conceived but from the Holy Spirit.Ambrose of Milan, De Mysteriis, 59, PG 16, 410