Tag Archives: St. Ambrose

Spare me from Saint Ambrose

Saint Ambrose is known as the bishop who charmed Saint Augustine by his preaching to such an extent that Augustine was baptized by Ambrose.

Augustine was a hard nut to crack. His mother tired herself out with years of prayers for him. But God used Ambrose to move Augustine to conversion.

Later Augustine was brought to a deeper conversion when he heard the voice of a child saying. “Tolle, lege” – “Take up and read.” Augustine picked up the letter of Saint Paul to the Romans and read verses of chapter 13

…not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh, to gratify the desires.

Ambrose himself had also, according to some stories, heard the voice of child that changed his life. As a public official in Milan he was trying to assuage rival factions who had been fighting over who would be the new bishop. The quarrel, between Arians and Catholics, had torn apart the city, to the point of rioting and bloodshed. As they gathered to choose the new bishop. Ambrose spoke to the crowd, arguing for calm. And then a voice, perhaps of a child, cried out, “Ambrose for bishop.” Ambrose made all sorts of excuses, including the fact that he was not even baptized. He fled, but he was found and persuaded to be baptized, confirmed, and ordained in the course of a week.

The voice of a child changed their lives.

But maybe we should let ourselves be changed by the voice of Ambrose who spoke strongly against the dangers of wealth and for the poor. In the midst of a consumer culture, his words are prophetic and difficult. Here are a few quote which might challenge us.

“You are not making a gift of what is yours to the poor man, but you are giving him back what is his. You have been appropriating things that are meant to be for the common use of everyone. The earth belongs to everyone, not to the rich.”

“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.”

“It is not, therefore, that you [the rich] desire to possess something useful for yourself so much as it is that you want to exclude others. Your concern is more to despoil the poor than to increase your own wealth. You consider it to your detriment if a poor person has anything that is thought worthy of a rich person‘s possession. You believe that whatever belongs to anyone else is your loss. Why does harm done to nature give you pleasure? The world was created for all, but you few rich try to keep it for yourselves. For not merely landed property but the heavens themselves, the air, the sea are claimed for the use of a few wealthy persons. This air, which you include in your widespread possessions—how many people can it provide for!”

Spare us, Lord, from these hard sayings. We might have to change our lives – as did Ambrose and Augustine.

 

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.