Ambrose of Milan

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Our father among the saints Ambrose of Milan came to be bishop of Milan as the only competent candidate to succeed Auxentius, a bishop of [Arianism|Arian]] persuasion, in 374. A catechumen and trained as a lawyer, he learned his theology through intense study of subject as he was successively baptized and then consecrated as Bishop of Milan. He held to the Nicene belief and through the eloquence of his arguments he persuaded Emperor Gratian to the Nicene confession. Later, he persuaded Gratian to convene a local council, in 381, at Aquileia that deposed the Arian bishops Palladius and Secundianus from their episcopal offices and thus strengthened the Orthodox position in the West. Ambrose zealously combatted imperial court attempts at favoritism to the parties of Arians, the "old" religion, and the Jews, particularly opposing the favors from Emperor Valentinian who supported the Arians. In defending the Orthodox position he has often been compared to Hilary of Poitier. He was known for his sermons which greatly influenced the conversion of Augustine of Hippo.


Ambrose was born a citizen of Rome in Trier, Germany between 337 and 340. His family were Christians. His father was prefect of Gallia Narbonensis, His mother was a woman of intellect. He was educated in Rome a for a career following that of his father. As his education in literature, law, and rhetoric progressed he was placed by praetor Anicius Probus on the council of Ligura and Emilia and then made consular prefect which was headquartered in Milan. In this position he established himself as an excellent administrator.

In the contention between the Nicene and Arian parties for the succession to the vacant see of Milan after the death of the Arian Auxentius in 374, an address that Ambrose delivered in the midst of the crisis led to his acclamation as the only competent candidate for the position of bishop of Milan. While he was only a catechumen, he was quickly baptized and then within days installed as the new bishop of Milan. He quickly began studying theological under Simplician, a presbyter of Rome. After settling his personal life, dividing his money among the poor and arranging for the care of his family, and he, then, devoted himself to the work of the church.

Soon, the new bishop of Milan began to follow the cause of the Nicenes within the church in arguments with the Arians. In the imperial court Ambrose enjoyed the support of Gratian who was the son of Valentinian I, but Ambrose’s arguments could not bring the younger son Valentinian from the Arian side. As the religious arguments progressed, the leaders of the Arians, Palladius and Secundianus, proposed to Gratian to call a general council. Sensing that this was a reasonable request, Gratian agreed, but Ambrose foreseeing adverse consequences, convinced the Emperor to limit the council to a meeting only of the Western bishops. This synod was convened at Aquileia in 381 with 32 bishops present. With Ambrose presiding, the council called upon Palladius to defend his opinions. Citing that the meeting was not representative of the church and was biased, Palladius refused. The synod then voted to depose both Palladius and Secundianus from their episcopal offices. But, the fight against the Arians intensified when, in 384, Valentinian, his mother Justina, and many among the clergy and the laity who professed the Arian faith requested of Ambrose, as bishop, the use of two churches in Milan and its suburbs. Ambrose refused and when called before the council to answer for his behavior, he was accompanied by a crowd of people whose zeal so over overawed Valentinian’s ministers that Ambrose was allowed to leave the meeting without having to surrender the churches. The prefect of the city followed up with further persuasive requests for use of a church in the suburbs. Since Ambrose was still being obstinate, the officers of the household began to take action to prepare the churches for the emperor, but backed off upon seeing the strength of Ambrose’s firm stand, particularly when he stated, “ If you demand my person, I am ready to submit: carry me to prison or to death. I will not resist, but I will never betray the church of Christ. I will not call upon the people to succour me. I will die at the foot of the altar rather than desert it. The tumult of people I will not encourage, but God alone can appease it,