St. Ambrose and the 1%

He gives strength to the fainting;
for the weak he makes vigor abound.
Isaiah 40: 29

 St. Ambrose, bishop of Milan, doctor of the church, like most of the early church fathers spoke strongly against the inequalities of his society and the greed of the rich. In a commentary on the psalms he wrote”

 “God our Lord willed that this land be the common possession of all and give its fruit to all. But greed distributed the right of possessions. Therefore, if you claim as your private property part of what was granted in common to all human beings and to all animals, it is only fair that you share some of this with the poor, so that you will not deny nourishment to those who are also partakers of your right.”

St. Ambrose, In Psalmo 118.8.22

In a world of massive inequality the 1% should take heed of these words of a fourth century bishop.

Interestingly, the church celebrates the feast of St. Ambrose not on the anniversary of his death – Good Friday, April 4, 397 – but on the anniversary of his ordination as bishop, December 7, 374, because of the extraordinary nature of his call to be bishop of Milan.

At the death of the previous bishop who was a proponent of the Arian heresy (that denied the divinity of Jesus) the city was divided. While they were meeting to chose the new bishop, Ambrose, the governor of the region and only a catechumen, came to restore order and prevent violence. Suddenly a voice was raised, “Ambrose for bishop.”  The cry was immediately taken up by the assembly.

Ambrose tried to flee but gave in and was baptized and ordained bishop within the space of a week.

He gave his lands to the church, sold his goods and gave the money to the poor. He began an intense study of the scriptures and the fathers of the church. He lived an austere life and was an advocate of the poor. He also excommunicated an emperor who was responsible for the killing of 7,000 people, mostly civilians.

Oh that we had more bishops who would be like Ambrose in these respects – loving the scriptures, caring for the church, advocating for the poor, and castigating the powerful for their cruelty and greed.



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