Contemplating the wounds of Christ, by which we have been saved, St. Ambrose said, "I can revel in none of my deeds, I have nothing to boast about; therefore, I will glory in Christ. I will not glory because I am just, but I will glory because I have been redeemed. I will not glory because I am exempt from sins, but I will glory because my sins have been forgiven. I will not glory because I have been a help nor because someone has helped me, but because Christ is my advocate with the Father, and Christ's blood was poured out on me. My sin has become for me the price of the Redemption through which Christ came to me. For my sake, Christ tasted death. Sin is more profitable than innocence. Innocence had made me arrogant, sin made me humble."
Around the year 333 Ambrose was born at Trier, the child of a noble Roman family. After his father's death he went to Rome, and was soon appointed consul with residence at Milan. While attempting to settle a dispute between the Arians and Catholics over the choice of a bishop, he himself was chosen, although only a catechumen at the time. He was ordained a priest and consecrated a bishop on Dec. 7. Thereupon he devoted himself wholeheartedly to the study of theology, and gave his possessions to the poor. He was an illustrious preacher, and through his sermons brought Augustine to the faith and baptized him. He wrote much on the Scriptures and Fathers, preached a homily every Sunday, resisted the interference of the secular powers with the rights of the Church and opposed the heretics. He composed many hymns, promoted sacred chant, and took a great interest in the Liturgy.
Candid and fearless no matter how strong the opposition, Ambrose was directed to confront Maximus, the murderer of the Emperor Gratian. When Maximus refused to do penance, Ambrose excommunicated him. Later he denied Emperor Theodosius entrance into church for his massacre of the inhabitants of Thessalonica. It was on this occasion that allusion was made to [King] David as a murderer and adulterer, and Ambrose retorted: "You have followed him in sin, now follow him in repentance." Humbly, Theodosius accepted the penance imposed.
We often meet this saint in the Divine Office as a teacher and as an inspired composer of hyms (fourteen of the hymns attributed to him are definitely authentic, true pearls of religious poetry). His writings are vibrant with ancient Christian liturgical spirit, for his life was wholly rooted in mystery and sacrament. He is one of the four great Latin Doctors of the Church and called the Pastoral Doctor. He placed the church first with each member as his highest priority. Service to each member and defending that honor was his daily and continual aim throughout his lifetime.
"The Divine Scripture is a sea, containing in it deep meanings, and an abyss of prophetic mysteries; and into this sea enter many rivers. There are Sweet and transparent streams, cool fountains too there are, springing up into life eternal, and pleasant words as an honey-comb. Agreeable sentences too there are, refreshing the minds of the hearers, if I may say so, with spiritual drink, and soothing them with, the sweetness of their moral precepts. Various then are the streams of the sacred Scriptures. There is in them a first draught for you, a second, and a last". (Letter 2.3: To Constantius, A Newly Appointed Bishop)
Ambrose is also called the "Patron of the Veneration of Mary". He firmly maintained that population increases in direct proportion to the esteem virginity is held. He laid the foundation for Marian thinking in the West. As the first Doctor of the Church, Saint Ambrose made it patently clear and claimed, from the very outset, that Mary had life-long virginity. The Council of Milan and the church made it official in the year 340 by the doctrine: Mary, Ever Virgin . Ambrose understood Mary as a symbol for the church and Augustine reiterated this idea. Both were instrumental in initiating Marian thinking in the Western Church. We find in the writings of Ambrose the first important Marian doctrine within Western Christianity. Ambrose is the first Christian author to call Mary the type and image of the church. She is the type of the church because she was a virgin, immaculate and married. He was one of the strongest opponents of Arianism in the West. His homilies and other writings on faith, the Holy Spirit, the Incarnation, the sacraments and other subjects were pastoral and practical.
"Ambrose exemplifies for us the truly catholic character of Christianity. He is a man steeped in the learning, law and culture of the ancients and of his contemporaries. Yet, in the midst of active involvement in this world, this thought runs through Ambrose’s life and preaching: The hidden meaning of the Scriptures calls our spirit to rise to another world."
Relics of St Ambrose in Milan Cathedral
Symbols: Scourge; beehive; tower; dove; cope and mitre; human bones; scroll with staff of music; pen book and pen; cross; chalice; bull; knotted scourge; two scourges; goose; writing tablet and stylus; heart surmounted with flame; scroll with quotation from writings.
Often Portrayed As: Bishop holding a church in his hand; beehive; man arguing with a pagan; with Saint Gregory the Great, Saint Jerome and Saint Augustine of Hippo.