Page images
PDF
EPUB

INTRODUCTION

T. AMBROSE WAS BORN in 339 in Augusta Trevero

rum, the modern Trier or Trèves, famous for its size

and beauty and as a residence of emperors and as the political capital of the Roman territory west of the Alps.

His family was both Roman and distinguished. It had given consuls and prefects to the Empire, and at least one martyr, a virgin named Soteris, to the Church. At the time of Ambrose's birth, his father, Aurelius Ambrose, held the high office of Pretorian Prefect of the Gauls.

There were already two children in the family: the older Marcellina, a girl of great strength of character and always inclined to the religious life; the younger a boy, Uranius Satyrus, of delicate health and excessively shy, between whom and Ambrose there developed an intense brotherly affection.

Paulinus, St. Ambrose's biographer, tells little about the early life of Ambrose. After his father died, his mother, whose name is nowhere mentioned, went with her family to live in Rome, where Marcellina received the veil from Pope Liberius in the Basilica of St. Peter on the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6, 353. St. Ambrose in De virginibus (3.11-14)

summarizes the address which Pope Liberius gave on this occasion. Since at this time there were no convents of virgins in Rome, Marcellina together with another consecrated virgin continued to live in her mother's house.

In the meantime, St. Ambrose and Satyrus had begun their schooling, which was divided into three parts: training in the elementary school; in the school of the grammaticus, which consisted of the critical study of the chief masterpieces of Greek and Latin literature; and in the school of the rhetor, which included instruction in the theory of oratory and oratorical composition, and in the practice of the application of these rules. In addition to this program, certain supplementary studies were available to youth of great promise. It appears that Ambrose studied philosophy and mathematics. Although he claims to be only an amateur in the field, he also exhibits some knowledge of medicine.

After completing their education, Ambrose and Satyrus left Rome in 365 and went to Sirmium as advocates attached to the Court of the Italian Prefecture. The prefect, Vulcatius Rufinus, was an old man of a distinguished family and honorable career. They soon attracted his attention by the brilliance of their oratory. In 368, Rufinus died and was succeeded by very rich and generous Sextus Petronius Probus, a young man of thirty-four years. He promoted the brothers to the Prefect's Judicial Committee. Probably in 370, Satyrus was a provincial governor, and Ambrose was named 'Consular,' or Governor, of the province of Aemelia Liguria.

After some years, probably in October, 373, Auxentius, the intended Arian Bishop of Milan, died. The exiled Catholic Bishop Dionysius by this time was also dead. It was necessary to elect a new bishop, and the Catholics and Arians contended violently to supply the winning candidate. Suddenly, with sur

prising unanimity, both parties agreed on Ambrose as bishop. St. Ambrose resorted to all sorts of subterfuges to avoid the appointment, but he finally yielded, as Paulinus says, 'recognizing the Divine Will concerning him.' The consecration was performed on December 1 by the bishops of the province, the principal consecrator being the Bishop of Aquileia. He had been baptized on November 24.

After his consecration, St. Ambrose made a donation of his acquired property to the Church, but retained his inherited property under his own control, although devoting the bulk of the income to charitable purposes. This was in accord with his own regulations for his clergy. He committed such property as he retained to the charge of his brother Satyrus, except a life interest for his sister. Satyrus gave up his own office to come to Ambrose's assistance, and to enable him to devote himself entirely to theological study and his other episcopal duties.

St. Ambrose spent much of his time in prayer, laying special stress on the duty of prayer at night. Next to prayer he valued the discipline of fasting. He strongly urged his people to practice fasting, especially in Lent, and he himself was scrupulous in this observance. He also considered fine clothes unsuitable for the clergy, and he himself cultivated simplicity in attire.

St. Ambrose held daily audiences which were attended by crowds of people of all classes and conditions, even by strangers from distant countries. When the long receptions were over, he devoted himself to study. It was probably at this time, chiefly, that Ambrose became acquainted with the works of various Jewish and Christian writers, on some of whom he leaned extensively in his own compositions. His favorite authors clearly were Philo, Origen, and Basil, but he

shows some knowledge of the various works of Josephus, Eusebius, Hippolytus, Didymus, and Athanasius. He even studied the works of certain heretics, in order to be better able to refute their erroneous views.

His work as bishop of a great city was varied and extremely arduous. The following duties are noteworthy:

1. The administration of baptism and penance. He took great care to give adequate instruction to catechumens, the most famous of whom was St. Augustine. He was equally conscientious with the exercise of penitential discipline.

2. The superintendence of the charities of the Church. The details of this work were entrusted to the deacons, but the final responsibility rested with the bishop. He also was consulted directly on special cases.

3. The defence of the oppressed.
4. The hearing and determining of civil causes.
5. The discipline of his clergy.

In addition, as the sole metropolitan of northern Italy, he had the general supervision of the various dioceses of the province. He convoked ordinary and extraordinary provincial councils, heard appeals, issued directions as to the proper day for observing Easter, and consecrated bishops to the vacant sees.

During the fourth century the position of women had materially improved. The State gave them more protection against unjust and cruel treatment, and the Church held them in high honor, even allowing them to minister as deaconesses. The women of this period seem to have been more deeply influenced by Christianity than paganism, and in the Church they found many opportunities for the exercise of their energies. Pure marriage, widowhood, and virginity are the three degrees of the virtue of chastity. According to St. Am

« PreviousContinue »