St. Ambrose of Milan

St. Ambrose is a doctor of the church, one of the many saints who combatted Arianism, and is well-known for encouraging the use of antiphonal chant. Because of his connection to bees and to chant (I am a beekeeper; my wife is a cantor), my wife and I named our son after St. Ambrose.

Ambrose was also the first to speak of Mary as an image of the church. He often preached about how Mary is truly the Mother of God (Theotokos). This distinction was important, because the Arian heresy so prevalent in his days claimed that Jesus was created by God, rather than being one of the persons of God.


Lifetime: 340 to 397
Region: Milan, Italy
Patronages: Beekeepers; Candle Makers; Learning
Iconograpy: Bee or bee hive; Bishop's miter and vestments; Scourge
Feast Day: December 7

According to legend, when Ambrose was a baby, a swarm of bees flew in, buzzing all around his head. However, Ambrose wasn't stung -- instead, a drop of honey was left on his mouth. This was seen as a prophecy that he would go on to become an excellent speaker.

After finishing schooling, Ambrose became the governor of his town, as his father before him had been. During his tenure as governor, Ambrose became well-liked by the people around Milan.

Ambrose had never gotten baptized, nor had he been through catechesis. While Ambrose was governor, the bishop of Milan died, and the people began to fight about who should replace him. The bishop who had just passed was an Arian, and the Arians wanted to appoint another Arian, but those who didn't subscribe to that belief (which would later be declared a heresy) wanted a bishop who reflected their own beliefs. 

As governor, Ambrose went to the church to try to quell the uproar before it became a full-on fight. Hoowever, Ambrose was well-liked by both sides and had a reputation of being charitable in theological matters. Soon after his arrival, one person shouted out, "Ambrose for bishop!" The crowd quickly took this up as a chant, demanding to appoint him bishop immediately, but Ambrose refused, since he was not qualified. He fled to a friend's house to hide until the clamoring died down.

Ambrose's plan didn't work. The emperor caught word of the conflict, and said that anyone who hid Ambrose would be punished, and Ambrose's friend gave him up. Within a week, Ambrose was baptized, ordained, and consecrated bishop of Milan.

As bishop, Ambrose became even more popular. He donated all his land and money to the poor and dedicated himself to asceticism. He also began studying theology with dedication in order to make up for his shortcoming. 

Ambrose became a great preacher, incorporating his knowledge of Greek and the Old Testament, finally fulfilling his childhood prediction with his honeyed tongue. His preaching was so convincing that one well-known skeptic converted to Christianity because of it. Ambrose baptized him and that convert went on to become one of the most influential Christian thinkers in the entire history of the church - St. Augustine of Hippo.

During his time as Bishop of Milan, Ambrose worked tirelessly to find peaceful resolution to the Arian conflict, as well as to do anything in his power to help the poor, including melting down some of his church's gold to give away. He also reformed some of the ways of worship, making them less rigid, so that worship could remain a tool for worshipping God, rather than a stumbling block.

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