Ambrose, one of the four great Fathers and Doctors of the Western Church, was born in 340 A.D. His father, a Roman by birth, was Prefect of Gaul and also part of Germany and Italy. One of three children, Ambrose was a man who was refined and polished in his writings and in his profound theological speculation. He was a talented student in school who learned to write credible poetry, composed music and became an excellent speaker.
When his father died, Ambrose returned to Rome with his mother and siblings. Probus, who was chief Prefect of the Roman Empire at that time, pointed Ambrose in the direction of law. Well known and respected in his legal career, Ambrose became Governor of Northern Italy before the age of forty. He made his home in the city of Milan.
After Ambrose served three years as Governor, the city of Milan was stirred by the death of the bishop who had governed the Church there for twenty years. The Diocese of Milan was torn asunder by rival factions, necessitating the intervention of the Governor to ensure an orderly election of a new bishop. Ambrose went to the scene of disorder and took his place among the orators. As soon as he spoke the crowd was stilled. He encouraged the people to hold a peaceable election. While he was speaking, a child’s voice was heard crying out, “Ambrose for Bishop!” Soon, the whole assembly took up the cry and demanded, “Ambrose for Bishop!”
Feeling thunderstruck by the turn of events, Ambrose settled the crowd and left. He took comfort in thinking that neither the bishops nor Emperor Valentian Ill would ever ratify such a “wrongheaded” choice. However, realizing that Ambrose had the talents to both heal the wounds and unify the people, the bishops and the Emperor overruled the objections of Ambrose.
Within days, Ambrose was baptized and ordained a priest. One week later, on December 7, 374, he was consecrated Bishop of Milan.
During his time as Bishop he experienced many fierce, bitter struggles in his efforts to eradicate the heresy of Arianism, which denied the divinity of Christ. He had many churches built and enriched them with relics. He preached and instructed with wonderful eloquence. The poor, the imprisoned, widows, orphans and the unfortunate won his time and attention. The pen of Ambrose was as eloquent as his tongue; his writings are voluminous, and those regarding religious doctrine are still constantly quoted and appealed to as proof of Christian teaching.
One of the many things for which Ambrose is remembered is his inspiration to a young wayward man who had decided to get his life in order. Ambrose probably did not realize the potential greatness that knelt before him as he baptized Augustine on Holy Saturday 387.
Ambrose was not afraid to die, and he informed those weeping for him as he lay gravely ill not to be concerned for him. He was ready to go home to be with his Master. He died on Good Friday, April 4, 397, at the age of fifty-seven, having been Bishop for twenty-two years. He was buried beside the graves of St. Gervase and St. Protase in his beloved city of Milan. His feast day is celebrated on December 7.