Ambrose

61

Ambrose : biography

between 337 and 340 – 4 April 397
  • Christ is not divided but one. If we adore him as the Son of God, we do not deny his birth from the virgin… But nobody shall extend this to Mary. Mary was the temple of God but not God in the temple. Therefore only the one who was in the temple can be worshipped.
  • Yes, truly blessed for having surpassed the priest (Zechariah). While the priest denied, the Virgin rectified the error. No wonder that the Lord, wishing to rescue the world, began his work with Mary. Thus she, through whom salvation was being prepared for all people, would be the first to receive the promised fruit of salvation.Ambrose of Milan, Expositio in Lucam 2, 17; PL 15, 1640

Ambrose viewed virginity as superior to marriage and saw Mary as the model of virginity.De virginibus (On Virgins); De virginitate He is alleged to have founded an institution for virgins in Rome.

Augustine

Ambrose was Bishop of Milan at the time of Augustine’s conversion, and is mentioned in Augustine’s Confessions.

Celibacy

In a passage of Augustine’s Confessions in which Augustine wonders why he could not share his burden with Ambrose, he makes a comment which bears on the history of celibacy:

Reading

In this same passage of Augustine’s Confessions is a curious anecdote which bears on the history of reading:

This is a celebrated passage in modern scholarly discussion. The practice of reading to oneself without vocalizing the text was less common in antiquity than it has since become. In a culture that set a high value on oratory and public performances of all kinds, in which the production of books was very labor-intensive, the majority of the population was illiterate, and where those with the leisure to enjoy literary works also had slaves to read for them, written texts were more likely to be seen as scripts for recitation than as vehicles of silent reflection. However, there is also evidence that silent reading did occur in antiquity and that it was not generally regarded as unusual.

Theology

Ambrose ranks with Augustine, Jerome, and Gregory the Great, as one of the Latin Doctors of the Church. Theologians compare him with Hilary, who they claim fell short of Ambrose’s administrative excellence but demonstrated greater theological ability. He succeeded as a theologian despite his juridical training and his comparatively late handling of Biblical and doctrinal subjects. His spiritual successor, Augustine, whose conversion was helped by Ambrose’s sermons, owes more to him than to any writer except Paul.

Ambrose’s intense episcopal consciousness furthered the growing doctrine of the Church and its sacerdotal ministry, while the prevalent asceticism of the day, continuing the Stoic and Ciceronian training of his youth, enabled him to promulgate a lofty standard of Christian ethics. Thus we have the De officiis ministrorum, De viduis, De virginitate and De paenitentia.

Ambrose displayed a kind of liturgical flexibility that kept in mind that liturgy was a tool to serve people in worshiping God, and ought not to become a rigid entity that is invariable from place to place. His advice to Augustine of Hippo on this point was to follow local liturgical custom. "When I am at Rome, I fast on a Saturday; when I am at Milan, I do not. Follow the custom of the church where you are." Thus Ambrose refused to be drawn into a false conflict over which particular local church had the "right" liturgical form where there was no substantial problem. His advice has remained in the English language as the saying, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do."

One interpretation of Ambrose’s writings is that he was a Christian universalist. It has been noted that Ambrose’s theology was significantly influenced by that of Origen and Didymus the Blind, two other early Christian universalists. One quotation cited in favor of this belief:

One could interpret this passage as being another example of the mainstream Christian belief in a general resurrection (both for those in heaven and for those in hell). Several other works by Ambrose clearly teach the mainstream view of salvation. For example: