Sunday, December 7, 2008

December 7 - Ambrose of Milan, Reluctant Bishop, Careful Leader, Doctor of the Church

Ambrose hadn't expected to be interrupted in the middle of his speech. Of course, he had expected there to be a degree of outrage and confusion at the meeting but it was unexpected for it to interrupt the address he had been asked to give to bring peace and calmness to the crowd. Auxentius--the bishop of Milan--had died only recently and there was considerable conflict over who would succeed him. Auxentius had been an Arian and the other Arians insisted upon the appointment of one of their number. The non-Arians insisted that Arianism was heterodox and that an orthodox bishop should be appointed. In the middle of Ambrose's address on the need for unity and peace, he was interrupted by cries of "Ambrose, bishop!" He shook his head humbly and tried to pick up the fast escaping thread of his address but soon the cries were being voiced by the whole crowd. Both Arians and non-Arians approved of the conciliatory nature of Ambrose's words and so they insisted upon his appointment in one voice.

However, Ambrose was reluctant to accept the position. He insisted that they seek some other fit person to serve. He protested that he wasn't even baptized and found a hiding place with a dear friend. The word of Ambrose's appointment spread and soon the emperor was congratulating the people in Milan for their selection noble-born Ambrose. When word continued to spread Amrbose's host and friend eventually gave up his hiding place and Ambrose reluctantly agreed to become bishop of Milan. Within the following week, Ambrose was baptized, ordained, and installed as bishop of Milan. Soon, he was overseeing the life of the Church in Milan and providing counsel to the priests in the city using his extensive political and diplomatic experience and expertise.

Ambrose was an able and competent bishop who helped define the relationship between the Church and the State--not to mention he also advised and mentored Augustine of Hippo. When emperor Theodosius had massacred 7,000 people in the city of Thessalonica, it was Ambrose that hoped to win back the emperor's heart from death and evil through tough love. He refused to admit Theodosius to the shared Eucharistic table and went so far as to suggest he would excommunicate the emperor if penance was not done. Theodosius had executed an atrocity and Ambrose understood that the only way back for the emperor was the way of repentance and forgiveness. Under Ambrose's direction, Theodosius repented and served public penance for his crimes.

Ambrose's influence upon the growth and development of the Church during a turbulent time should not be understated. He had kept the Church together even in times of theological dispute and civil unrest. For this reason, it is right to remember his story and to resolve to seek unity and peace with the same fervor as our brother Ambrose.

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