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Ambrosius

Bishop of Milan in the fourth century, and one of the latest and most distinguished of what are denominated the Fathers of the Christian Church. He was born at Arelaté (Arles), then the metropolis of Gallia Narbonensis, according to some authorities in A.D. 333, according to others, 340. His father was the emperor's lieutenant in that district, and, after his death, Ambrose, who was the youngest of three children, returned with the widow and family to Rome. Here, under the instructions of his mother and his sister Marcellina, who had vowed virginity, he received a highly religious education, and that bias in favour of Catholic orthodoxy by which he was subsequently so much distinguished. Having studied law, he pleaded causes in the court of the praetorian prefect, and was in due time appointed proconsul of Liguria. He thereupon took up his residence at Milan, where a circumstance occurred which produced a sudden change in his fortunes, and transformed him from a civil governor into a bishop. Auxentius, bishop of Milan, the Arian leader in the West, died, and left that see vacant, when a warm contest for the succession ensued between the Arians and Catholics. In the midst of a tumultuous dispute Ambrose appeared in the midst of the assembly, and exhorted them to conduct the election peaceably. At the conclusion of his address a child in the crowd exclaimed, “Ambrose is bishop!” and, whether accidentally or by management, the result throws a curious light upon the nature of the times; for the superstitious multitude, regarding the exclamation as a providential and miraculous suggestion, by general acclamation declared Ambrose to be elected. After various attempts to decline the episcopal office, Ambrose at length entered upon the discharge of its duties, and rendered himself conspicuous by his decided and unremitting opposition to the tenets of Arianism. To his zealous endeavours also was owing the failure of the attempt made by the remains of a pagan party to re-establish the worship of paganism. The strength and ability of Ambrose were such that, although opposed to him on ecclesiastical points, Valentinian and his mother respected his talents, and in moments of political exigency required his assistance. The most conspicuous act on the part of Ambrose was his treatment of Theodosius for the massacre at Thessalonica. The emperor was consigned to a retirement of eight months, and not absolved even then until he had signed an edict, which ordained that an interval of thirty days should pass before any sentence of death, or even of confiscation, should be executed. After having paid the funeral honours to Theodosius, who died soon after obtaining peaceable possession of the entire Roman Empire, the bishop departed from this world, with a composure worthy of his firm character, in the year 397. It is evident that Ambrose was one of those men of great energy of mind and temperament who, in the adoption of a theory or a party, hold no middle course, but act with determination towards the fulfilment of their purposes. Ambrose effected much to advance the Roman Catholic Church to the power to which it afterwards attained.

The writings of this Father are numerous, and the great object of almost all of them was to maintain the faith and discipline of the Catholic Church, while some of them are written to recommend celibacy as the summit of Christian perfection. His best work is the treatise De Officiis, on the duties of a Christian priest. His hymns are also very famous, but only four can be proved to be his— “Deus creator omnium,” “Aeterne rerum conditor,” “Veni redemptor gentium,” and “Iam surgit hora tertia.” The noble “Te Deum laudamus” was long ascribed to him. He introduced the practice of singing choral hymus arranged antiphonally (cantus Ambrosianus). He is probably the author of a Latin version of the History of the Jewish War by Josephus, long ascribed to one Hegesippus. The best text of St. Ambrosius is that in Migne's Patrologia Latina (4 vols.).

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