December 7: Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, 397

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

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Saint Ambrose in His Study, ca. 1500. Spanish, Palencia. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.

About this commemoration

Ambrose was the son of a Roman governor in Gaul, and in 373 he himself was governor in Upper Italy. Though brought up in a Christian family, Ambrose had not been baptized. He became involved in the election of a Bishop of Milan only as mediator between the battling factions of Arians and orthodox Christians. The election was important, because the victorious party would control the powerful see of Milan.

Ambrose exhorted the nearly riotous mob to keep the peace and to obey the law. Suddenly both sides raised the cry, “Ambrose shall be our bishop!” He protested, but the people persisted. Hastily baptized, he was ordained bishop on December 7, 373.

Ambrose rapidly won renown as a defender of orthodoxy against Arianism and as a statesman of the Church. He was also a skillful hymnodist.  He introduced antiphonal chanting to enrich the liturgy, and wrote straightforward, practical discourses to educate his people in such matters of doctrine as Baptism, the Trinity, the Eucharist, and the Person of Christ. His persuasive preaching was an important factor in the conversion of Augustine of Hippo.

Ambrose did not fear to rebuke emperors, including the hot-headed Theodosius, whom he forced to do public penance for the slaughter of several thousand citizens of Salonika. About Baptism, Ambrose wrote: “After the font (of baptism), the Holy Spirit is poured on you, ‘the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and godliness, and the spirit of holy fear’” (De Sacramentis 3.8).

A meditation attributed to him includes these words: “Lord Jesus Christ, you are for me medicine when I am sick; you are my strength when I need help; you are life itself when I fear death; you are the way when I long for heaven; you are light when all is dark; you are my food when I need nourishment.”Among hymns attributed to Ambrose are “The eternal gifts of Christ the King,” “O Splendor of God’s glory bright,” and a series of hymns for the Little Hours.

Collects

I O God, who didst give to thy servant Ambrose grace eloquently to proclaim thy righteousness in the great congregation, and fearlessly to bear reproach for the honor of thy Name: Mercifully grant to all bishops and pastors such excellency in preaching, and fidelity in ministering thy Word, that thy people may be partakers with them of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ our Lord,who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

II O God, you gave your servant Ambrose grace eloquently to proclaim your righteousness in the great congregation, and fearlessly to bear reproach for the honor of your Name: Mercifully grant to all bishops and pastors such excellence in preaching and faithfulness in ministering your Word, that your people may be partakers with them of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Lessons

Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 2:7–11,16–18

Acts 4:23–31

Luke 12:35–37,42–44

Psalm

27:5-11

Preface of a Saint (1)

Text from Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

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We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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14 Responses to December 7: Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, 397

  1. Michael Hartney says:

    Readings. Hebrew reading: Adding Sirach (a change in HWHM) to the title of Ecclesiasticus is helpful.
    New New Testament reading: This is a nice length for a reading.

    Bio. 7th paragraph: Notwithstanding yesterday’s comment to the contrary, might we include the Hymnal 1982’s # for this hymn? It is # 5.

    • Michael Hartney says:

      Title spacing in the printed edition: The margin and spacing for the title are not aligned in the printed edition.

  2. Tom Broad says:

    I will admit quite freely that English grammar is not one of my strengths, often being unable to discern a split infinitive or the like. Nevertheless, I will point out that this portion of the collect was difficult to navigate for all who tried it this morning: “O God, you gave your servant Ambrose grace eloquently to proclaim your righteousness in the great congregation, and fearlessly to bear reproach for the honor of your Name.” Perhaps someone well acquainted with proper grammatical structure would suggest a better placement for “eloquently” and “fearlessly” to ease the Collect’s readability and aural comprehension.

    • Nigel Renton says:

      It isn’t incorrect as written, just infelicitous. The reader needs to pause slightly after “grace”. It is no longer considered inappropriate to split the infinitive, but that would be ugly.

      It would be perfectly acceptable grammar to move the adverbs to follow “righteousness” and “reproach” respectively. Certainly, in common parlance only a pedant would insist on the given word order.

      (Another “rule” is that one shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition. A comment on that is attributed to Winston Churchill: “This is the kind of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put.”)

  3. John LaVoe says:

    I have two concerns with the collect. First, it’s one of those that asks something for someone else (bishops and pastors). My bias is that when we pray we shouldn’t act like a seniors group thinking up jobs for the youth group. The prayer should be “workable” for everyone praying it. Maybe that’s a pipe dream.

    The other concern is the logic of the “so that” clause: (“that your people may be partakers with them [i.e., with the bishops and pastors] of the glory that shall be revealed.”) By what theological logic does the fate of the laity hinge differently (or even instrumentally) from that of the clergy, depending upon the quality of the preaching and pastoral ministry of the clergy? I thought Jesus took care of “the glory that shall be revealed.” I’m not trying to challenge the importance of the faith community, including the place of clergy, but the implication seems to be that quality clergy performance is the “sine qua non” of salvation (or that the Church is nothing more than a collection of passive members totally dependent on the active role of the clergy — i.e., the ordination model of ideal Christianity.).

    Mercifully grant to all bishops and pastors such excellence in preaching and faithfulness in ministering your Word, that your people may be partakers with them of the glory that shall be revealed

    • John LaVoe says:

      Additional — The readings are acceptable, although I don’t see the merit in breaking the gospel when it would read well without deleting the omitted verses. I particularly appreciate the quotation in the final paragraph (“you are for me medicine when I am sick” etc.) and I have used it with pastoral notes to parishioners and others. I found this commemoration a meaningful one.

  4. Philip Wainwright says:

    “In the great congregation”—what exactly does this add? And perhaps we could just pray for all who preach and minister to others in Christ’s name, and downplay the clerical emphasis

  5. Pingback: Tweets that mention December 7: Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, 397 « Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music -- Topsy.com

  6. Pingback: Ambrose of Milan « Father Dan's Blog

  7. Nigel Renton says:

    An improved subtitle would be: “Christian Apologist, Hymnist, and Bishop”.

    It is clear that the December 7 date was chosen because that is the date of his hurried baptism and ordination as a Bishop. We know the day of his death (April 4, 397), a date he could share in the Calendar with Dr. King–especially because it has become customary to celebrate the latter on or close to his birthday (Jan. 14), observed by many as a public holiday. Isn’t it a principle that the day of a person’s entry into the Church Triumphant “outranks” honors granted by human action?

    Some such sentence as this is needed: “Ambrose was born to a noble Roman family in about 337”.

    Last line, third paragraph: after “Hippo”, add “(see August 28)”.

    Final paragraph: I agree with those who call for The Hymnal 1982 numbers to be shown .I don’t have my ’82 hymnal within easy reach: I presume these hymns are listed because they are in that hymnal.

  8. Very well written! Appreciate your article.

  9. You should also write one Pope Gregory I (also known as Gregory the Great) who is known to be the first to introduce music to worship. The Gregorian Chant is attributed to him, though other scholars suggest a Carolingian synthesis of a Roman and Gallican chant.

  10. Charles Fogarty says:

    As an Episcopalian I see no problem praying for Bishops.

  11. Episcopalian or not, everybody needs prayers, especially when one has to minister.

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