From HandWiki
Short description: Christian theologian (c. 339–397)

Ambrose of Milan
Bishop of Milan
AmbroseOfMilan (cropped).jpg
Detail from possibly contemporary mosaic (c. 380–500) of Ambrose in the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio[1]
DioceseMediolanum (Milan)
Installed374 AD
Term ended4 April 397
Consecration7 December 374
Personal details
Birth nameAurelius Ambrosius
Bornc. 339
Augusta Treverorum, Gallia Belgica, Roman Empire (modern-day Trier, Germany)
Died4 April 397(397-04-04) (aged 56–57)
Mediolanum, Italia, Roman Empire (modern-day Milan, Italy)
BuriedCrypt of the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio
Feast day7 December
Venerated in
  • Roman Catholic Church
  • Eastern Orthodox Churches
  • Oriental Orthodox Churches
  • Anglican Communion
  • Lutheranism
Title as SaintDoctor of the Church
PatronageMilan and beekeepers[2]
ShrinesBasilica of Sant'Ambrogio
Notable work
  • De officiis ministrorum (377–391)
  • Exameron (it) (386–390)
  • De obitu Theodosii (395)
Theological work
EraPatristic Age
Tradition or movementTrinitarianism
Main interestsChristian ethics and mariology
Notable ideasFilioque,[4] anti-paganism, mother of the Church[5]

Ambrose of Milan (Latin: Aurelius Ambrosius; c. 339 – c. 397), venerated as Saint Ambrose,[lower-alpha 1] was a theologian and statesman who served as Bishop of Milan from 374 to 397. He expressed himself prominently as a public figure, fiercely promoting Roman Christianity against Arianism and paganism.[6] He left a substantial collection of writings, of which the best known include the ethical commentary De officiis ministrorum (377–391), and the exegetical Exameron (it) (386–390). His preachings, his actions and his literary works, in addition to his innovative musical hymnography, made him one of the most influential ecclesiastical figures of the 4th century.

Ambrose was serving as the Roman governor of Aemilia-Liguria in Milan when he was unexpectedly made Bishop of Milan in 374 by popular acclamation. As bishop, he took a firm position against Arianism and attempted to mediate the conflict between the emperors Theodosius I and Magnus Maximus. Tradition credits Ambrose with developing an antiphonal chant, known as Ambrosian chant, and for composing the "Te Deum" hymn, though modern scholars now reject both of these attributions. Ambrose's authorship on at least four hymns, including the well-known "Veni redemptor gentium", is secure; they form the core of the Ambrosian hymns, which includes others that are sometimes attributed to him. He also had notable influence on Augustine of Hippo (354–430), whom he helped convert to Christianity.

Western Christianity identified Ambrose as one of its four traditional Doctors of the Church. He is considered a saint by the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, Anglican Communion, and various Lutheran denominations, and venerated as the patron saint of Milan and beekeepers.

Background and career

Legends about Ambrose had spread through the empire long before his biography was written, making it difficult for modern historians to understand his true character and fairly place his behavior within the context of antiquity. Most agree he was the personification of his era.[7][8] This would make Ambrose a genuinely spiritual man who spoke up and defended his faith against opponents, an aristocrat who retained many of the attitudes and practices of a Roman governor, and also an ascetic who served the poor.[9]

Early life

Relief by Vuolvino (it) depicting Ambrose as a child while bees swarm his crib. His father is on the right of the image while the sky has three clouds "sending forth flames".[10] The relief is from the Altar of Sant'Ambrogio in the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio.

Ambrose was born into a Roman Christian family in the year 339.[11] Ambrose himself wrote that he was 53 years old in his letter number 49, which has been dated to 392. He began life in Augusta Trevorum (modern Trier) the capital of the Roman province of Gallia Belgica in what was then northeastern Gaul and is now in the Rhineland-Palatinate in Germany.[12] Scholars disagree on who exactly his father was. His father is sometimes identified with Aurelius Ambrosius,[13][lower-alpha 2] a praetorian prefect of Gaul;[15] but some scholars identify his father as an official named Uranius who received an imperial constitution dated 3 February 339 (addressed in a brief extract from one of the three emperors ruling in 339, Constantine II, Constantius II, or Constans, in the Codex Theodosianus, book XI.5).[16][17] What does seem certain is that Ambrose was born in Trier and his father was either the praetorian prefect or part of his administration.[18]

A legend about Ambrose as an infant recounts that a swarm of bees settled on his face while he lay in his cradle, leaving behind a drop of honey. His father is said to have considered this a sign of his future eloquence and honeyed tongue. Bees and beehives often appear in the saint's symbology.[19]

Ambrose' mother was a woman of intellect and piety.[20] It was probable that she was a member of the Roman family Aurelii Symmachi,[21] which would make Ambrose a cousin of the orator Quintus Aurelius Symmachus.[22] The family had produced one martyr (the virgin Soteris) in its history.[23] Ambrose was the youngest of three children. His siblings were Satyrus, the subject of Ambrose's De excessu fratris Satyri,[24] and Marcellina, who made a profession of virginity sometime between 352 and 355; Pope Liberius himself conferred the veil upon her.[25] Both Ambrose's siblings also became venerated as saints.

Some time early in the life of Ambrose, his father died. At an unknown later date, his mother fled Trier with her three children, and the family moved to Rome.[26][27] There Ambrose studied literature, law, and rhetoric.[23] He then followed in his father's footsteps and entered public service. Praetorian Prefect Sextus Claudius Petronius Probus first gave him a place as a judicial councillor,[28] and then in about 372 made him governor of the province of Liguria and Emilia, with headquarters at Milan.[15] [29]

Bishop of Milan

In 374 the bishop of Milan, Auxentius, an Arian, died, and the Arians challenged the succession. Ambrose went to the church where the election was to take place to prevent an uproar which seemed probable in this crisis. His address was interrupted by a call, "Ambrose, bishop!", which was taken up by the whole assembly.[30]

Ambrose, though known to be Nicene Christian in belief, was considered acceptable to Arians due to the charity he had shown concerning their beliefs. At first he energetically refused the office of bishop, for which he felt he was in no way prepared: Ambrose was a relatively new Christian who was not yet baptized nor formally trained in theology.[15] Ambrose fled to a colleague's home, seeking to hide. Upon receiving a letter from the Emperor Gratian praising the appropriateness of Rome appointing individuals worthy of holy positions, Ambrose's host gave him up. Within a week, he was baptized, ordained and duly consecrated as the new bishop of Milan. This was the first time in the West that a member of the upper class of high officials had accepted the office of bishop.[31]

As bishop, he immediately adopted an ascetic lifestyle, apportioned his money to the poor, donating all of his land, making only provision for his sister Marcellina. This raised his standing even further; it was his popularity with the people that gave him considerable political leverage throughout his career. Upon the unexpected appointment of Ambrose to the episcopate, his brother Satyrus resigned a prefecture in order to move to Milan, where he took over managing the diocese's temporal affairs.[12]


Arius (died 336) was a Christian priest who asserted (around the year 300) that God the Father must have created the Son, making the Son a lesser being who was not eternal and of a different "essence" than God the Father. This Christology, though contrary to tradition, quickly spread through Egypt and Libya and other Roman provinces.[32] Bishops engaged in "wordy warfare", and the people divided into parties, sometimes demonstrating in the streets in support of one side or the other.[33]

Arianism appealed to many high-level leaders and clergy in both the Western and Eastern empires. Although the western Emperor Gratian (r. 367–383) supported orthodoxy, his younger half brother Valentinian II, who became his colleague in the empire in 375, adhered to the Arian creed.[34] Ambrose sought to refute Arian propositions theologically, but Ambrose did not sway the young prince's position.[34] In the East, Emperor Theodosius I (r. 379–395) likewise professed the Nicene creed; but there were many adherents of Arianism throughout his dominions,[20] especially among the higher clergy.

In this state of religious ferment, two leaders of the Arians, bishops Palladius of Ratiaria and Secundianus of Singidunum, confident of numbers, prevailed upon Gratian to call a general council from all parts of the empire. This request appeared so equitable that Gratian complied without hesitation. However, Ambrose feared the consequences and prevailed upon the emperor to have the matter determined by a council of the Western bishops. Accordingly, a synod composed of thirty-two bishops was held at Aquileia in the year 381. Ambrose was elected president and Palladius, being called upon to defend his opinions, declined. A vote was then taken and Palladius and his associate Secundianus were deposed from their episcopal offices.[20]

Ambrose struggled with Arianism for over half of his term in the episcopate.[35] Ecclesiastical unity was important to the church, but it was no less important to the state, and as a Roman, Ambrose felt strongly about that.[36] Judaism was more attractive for those seeking conversion than previous scholars have realized,Cite error: Closing </ref> missing for <ref> tag

Soon after acquiring the undisputed possession of the Roman Empire, Theodosius died at Milan in 395, and Ambrose gave the eulogy.[37] Two years later (4 April 397) Ambrose also died. He was succeeded as bishop of Milan by Simplician.[38] Ambrose's body may still be viewed in the church of Saint Ambrogio in Milan, where it has been continuously venerated – along with the bodies identified in his time as being those of Saints Gervase and Protase.

Ambrose is remembered in the calendar of the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church on 7 December, and is also honored in the Church of England and in the Episcopal Church on 7 December.[39][40]


In 1960, Neil B. McLynn wrote a complex study of Ambrose that focused on his politics and intended to "demonstrate that Ambrose viewed community as a means to acquire personal political power". Subsequent studies of how Ambrose handled his episcopal responsibilities, his Nicene theology and his dealings with the Arians in his episcopate, his pastoral care, his commitment to community, and his personal asceticism, have mitigated this view.[41][42]

Statue of Saint Ambrose with a scourge in Museo del Duomo, Milan. Unknown Lombard author, early 17th century.

All of Ambrose' writings are works of advocacy of his religion, and even his political views and actions were closely related to his religion.[43] He was rarely, if ever, concerned about simply recording what had happened; he did not write to reveal his inner thoughts and struggles; he wrote to advocate for his God.[44] Boniface Ramsey writes that it is difficult "not to posit a deep spirituality in a man" who wrote on the mystical meanings of the Song of Songs and wrote many extraordinary hymns.[45] In spite of an abiding spirituality, Ambrose had a generally straightforward manner, and a practical rather than a speculative tendency in his thinking.[46] De Officiis is a utilitarian guide for his clergy in their daily ministry in the Milanese church rather than "an intellectual tour de force".[47]

Christian faith in the third century developed the monastic life-style which subsequently spread into the rest of Roman society in a general practice of virginity, voluntary poverty and self-denial for religious reasons. This life-style was embraced by many new converts, including Ambrose, even though they did not become actual monks.[48]

The bishops of this era had heavy administrative responsibilities, and Ambrose was also sometimes occupied with imperial affairs, but he still fulfilled his primary responsibility to care for the well-being of his flock. He preached and celebrated the Eucharist multiple times a week, sometimes daily, dealt directly with the needs of the poor, as well as widows and orphans, "virgins" (nuns), and his own clergy. He replied to letters personally, practiced hospitality, and made himself available to the people.[49]

Saint Ambrose in His Study, c. 1500. Spanish, Palencia. Wood with traces of polychromy. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.

Ambrose had the ability to maintain good relationships with all kinds of people.[50] Local church practices varied quite a bit from place to place at this time, and as the bishop, Ambrose could have required that everyone adapt to his way of doing things. It was his place to keep the churches as united as possible in both ritual and belief.[25] Instead, he respected local customs, adapting himself to whatever practices prevailed, instructing his mother to do the same.[51] As bishop, Ambrose undertook many different labors in an effort to unite people and "provide some stability during a period of religious, political, military, and social upheavals and transformations".[52]

Brown says Ambrose "had the makings of a faction fighter".[53] While he got along well with most people, Ambrose was not averse to conflict and even opposed emperors with a fearlessness born of self-confidence and a clear conscience and not from any belief he would not suffer for his decisions.[54] Having begun his life as a Roman aristocrat and a governor, it is clear that Ambrose retained the attitude and practice of Roman governance even after becoming a bishop.[55]

His acts and writings show he was quite clear about the limits of imperial power over the church's internal affairs including doctrine, moral teaching, and governance. He wrote to Valentinian: "In matters of faith bishops are the judges of Christian emperors, not emperors of bishops." (Epistle 21.4). He also famously told to the Arian bishop chosen by the emperor, "The emperor is in the church, not over the church." (Sermon Against Auxentius, 36). [56][57] Ambrose's acts and writings "created a sort of model which was to remain valid in the Latin West for the relations of the Church and the Christian State. Both powers stood in a basically positive relationship to each other, but the innermost sphere of the Church's life--faith, the moral order, ecclesiastical discipline--remained withdrawn from the State's influence."[57]

Ambrose was also well aware of the limits of his power. At the height of his career as a venerable, respected and well loved bishop in 396, imperial agents marched into his church, pushing past him and his clergy who had crowded the altar to protect a political suspect from arrest, and dragged the man from the church in front of Ambrose who could do nothing to stop it.[58] "When it came to the central functions of the Roman state, even the vivid Ambrose was a lightweight".[58]

Attitude towards Jews

The most notorious example of Ambrose's anti-Jewish animus occurred in 388, when Emperor Theodosius I was informed that a crowd of Christians had retaliated against the local Jewish community by destroying the synagogue at Callinicum on the Euphrates.[59] The synagogue most likely existed within the fortified town to service the soldiers serving there, and Theodosius ordered that the offenders be punished, and that the synagogue be rebuilt at the expense of the bishop.[60] Ambrose wrote to the emperor arguing against this, basing his argument on two assertions: first, if the bishop obeyed the order, it would be a betrayal of his faith.[61] Second, if the bishop instead refused to obey the order, he would become a martyr and create a scandal for the emperor.[61] Ambrose, referring to a prior incident where Magnus Maximus issued an edict censuring Christians in Rome for burning down a Jewish synagogue, warned Theodosius that the people in turn exclaimed "the emperor has become a Jew", implying Theodosius would receive the same lack of support from the people.[62] Theodosius rescinded the order concerning the bishop.[63][61]

That was not enough for Ambrose, and when Theodosius next visited Milan, Ambrose confronted him directly in an effort to get the emperor to drop the entire case. McLynn argues that Ambrose failed to win the emperor's sympathy and was mostly excluded from his counsels thereafter.[64][65] The Callinicum affair was not an isolated incident. Generally speaking, Ambrose presents a strong anti-Jewish polemic.[66] While McLynn says this makes Ambrose look like a bully and a bigot to modern eyes, scholars also agree Ambrose' attitudes toward the Jews cannot be fairly summarized in one sentence, as not all of Ambrose' attitudes toward Jews were negative.[65]

Ambrose makes extensive and appreciative use of the works of Philo of Alexandria – a Jew – in Ambrose' own writings, treating Philo as one of the "faithful interpreters of the Scriptures".[67] Philo was an educated man of some standing and a prolific writer during the era of Second Temple Judaism. Forty–three of his treatises have been preserved, and these by Christians, rather than Jews.[66] Philo became foundational in forming the Christian literary view on the six days of creation through Basil's Hexaemeron. Eusebius, the Cappadocian Fathers, and Didymus the Blind appropriated material from Philo as well, but none did so more than Ambrose. As a result of this extensive referencing, Philo was accepted into the Christian tradition as an honorary Church Father. "In fact, one Byzantine catena even refers to him as 'Bishop Philo'. This high regard for Philo even led to a number of legends of his conversion to Christianity, although this assertion stands on very dubious evidence".[68] Ambrose also used Josephus, Maccabees, and other Jewish sources for his writings. He praises some individual Jews.[69] Ambrose tended to write negatively of all non-Nicenes as if they were all one category. This served a rhetorical purpose in his writing and should be considered accordingly.[70]

Attitude towards pagans

Modern scholarship indicates paganism was a lesser concern than heresy for Christians in the fourth and fifth centuries, which was the case for Ambrose, but it was still a concern.[71] Writings of this period were commonly hostile and often contemptuous toward a paganism Christianity saw as already defeated in Heaven.[72] The great Christian writers of the third to fifth centuries attempted to discredit continuation in these "defeated practices" by searching pagan writings, "particularly those of Varro, for everything that could be regarded by Christian standards as repulsive and irreligious."[73] Ambrose' work reflects this triumphalism.[lower-alpha 3]

Throughout his time in the episcopate, Ambrose was active in his opposition to any state sponsorship of pagan cults.[77] When Gratian ordered the Altar of Victory to be removed, it roused the aristocracy of Rome to send a delegation to the emperor to appeal the decision, but Pope Damasus I got the Christian senators to petition against it, and Ambrose blocked the delegates from getting an audience with the emperor.[78][79][80] Under Valentinian II, an effort was made to restore the Altar of Victory to its ancient station in the hall of the Roman Senate and to again provide support for the seven Vestal Virgins. The pagan party was led by the refined senator Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, who used all his prodigious skill and artistry to create a marvelous document full of the maiestas populi Romani.[81] Hans Lietzmann writes that "Pagans and Christians alike were stirred by the solemn earnestness of an admonition which called all men of goodwill to the aid of a glorious history, to render all worthy honor to a world that was fading away".[82]

Then Ambrose wrote Valentinian II a letter asserting that the emperor was a soldier of God, not simply a personal believer but one bound by his position to serve the faith; under no circumstances could he agree to something that would promote the worship of idols.[lower-alpha 4] Ambrose held up the example of Valentinian's brother, Gratian, reminding Valentinian that the commandment of God must take precedence.[85] The bishop's intervention led to the failure of Symmachus' appeal.[86][87]

In 389, Ambrose intervened against a pagan senatorial delegation who wished to see the emperor Theodosius I. Although Theodosius refused their requests, he was irritated at the bishop's presumption and refused to see him for several days.[88] Later, Ambrose wrote a letter to the emperor Eugenius complaining that some gifts the latter had bestowed on pagan senators could be used for funding pagan cults.[89][90]


Ambrose joins Augustine, Jerome, and Gregory the Great as one of the Latin Doctors of the Church. Theologians compare him with Hilary, who they claim fell short of Ambrose's administrative excellence but demonstrated greater theological ability. He succeeded as a theologian despite his juridical training and his comparatively late handling of biblical and doctrinal subjects.[38]

Ambrose's intense episcopal consciousness furthered the growing doctrine of the Church and its sacerdotal ministry, while the prevalent asceticism of the day, continuing the Stoic and Ciceronian training of his youth, enabled him to promulgate a lofty standard of Christian ethics. Thus we have the De officiis ministrorum, De viduis, De virginitate and De paenitentia.[38]

Ambrose displayed a kind of liturgical flexibility that kept in mind that liturgy was a tool to serve people in worshiping God, and ought not to become a rigid entity that is invariable from place to place. His advice to Augustine of Hippo on this point was to follow local liturgical custom. "When I am at Rome, I fast on a Saturday; when I am at Milan, I do not. Follow the custom of the church where you are."[91][92] Thus Ambrose refused to be drawn into a false conflict over which particular local church had the "right" liturgical form where there was no substantial problem. His advice has remained in the English language as the saying, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do."

One interpretation of Ambrose's writings is that he was a Christian universalist.[93] It has been noted that Ambrose's theology was significantly influenced by that of Origen and Didymus the Blind, two other early Christian universalists.[93] One quotation cited in favor of this belief is:

Our Savior has appointed two kinds of resurrection in the Apocalypse. 'Blessed is he that hath part in the first resurrection,' for such come to grace without the judgment. As for those who do not come to the first, but are reserved unto the second resurrection, these shall be disciplined until their appointed times, between the first and the second resurrection.[94]

One could interpret this passage as being another example of the mainstream Christian belief in a general resurrection (that both those in Heaven and in Hell undergo a bodily resurrection), or an allusion to purgatory (that some destined for Heaven must first undergo a phase of purification). Several other works by Ambrose clearly teach the mainstream view of salvation. For example: "The Jews feared to believe in manhood taken up into God, and therefore have lost the grace of redemption, because they reject that on which salvation depends."[95]

Giving to the poor

In De Officiis, the most influential of his surviving works, and one of the most important texts of patristic literature, he reveals his views connecting justice and generosity by asserting these practices are of mutual benefit to the participants.[96][97][98] Ambrose draws heavily on Cicero and the biblical book of Genesis for this concept of mutual inter-dependence in society. In the bishop's view, it is concern for one another's interests that binds society together.[99] Ambrose asserts that avarice leads to a breakdown in this mutuality, therefore avarice leads to a breakdown in society itself. In the late 380s, the bishop took the lead in opposing the greed of the elite landowners in Milan by starting a series of pointed sermons directed at his wealthy constituents on the need for the rich to care for the poor.[100]

Some scholars have suggested Ambrose' endeavors to lead his people as both a Roman and a Christian caused him to strive for what a modern context would describe as a type of communism or socialism.[41] He was not just interested in the church but was also interested in the condition of contemporary Italian society.[101] Ambrose considered the poor not a distinct group of outsiders, but a part of a united people to be stood with in solidarity. Giving to the poor was not to be considered an act of generosity towards the fringes of society but a repayment of resources that God had originally bestowed on everyone equally and that the rich had usurped.[102] He defines justice as providing for the poor whom he describes as our "brothers and sisters" because they "share our common humanity".[103]


The theological treatises of Ambrose of Milan would come to influence Popes Damasus, Siricius and Leo XIII. Central to Ambrose is the virginity of Mary and her role as Mother of God.[104]

  • The virgin birth is worthy of God. Which human birth would have been more worthy of God, than the one in which the Immaculate Son of God maintained the purity of his immaculate origin while becoming human?[105]
  • We confess that Christ the Lord was born from a virgin, and therefore we reject the natural order of things. Because she conceived not from a man but from the Holy Spirit.[106]
  • Christ is not divided but one. If we adore him as the Son of God, we do not deny his birth from the virgin. ... But nobody shall extend this to Mary. Mary was the temple of God but not God in the temple. Therefore, only the one who was in the temple can be worshiped.[107]
  • Yes, truly blessed for having surpassed the priest (Zechariah). While the priest denied, the Virgin rectified the error. No wonder that the Lord, wishing to rescue the world, began his work with Mary. Thus she, through whom salvation was being prepared for all people, would be the first to receive the promised fruit of salvation.[108]

Ambrose viewed celibacy as superior to marriage and saw Mary as the model of virginity.[109]


Ambrose studied theology with Simplician, a presbyter of Rome.[20] Using his excellent knowledge of Greek, which was then rare in the West, Ambrose studied the Old Testament and Greek authors like Philo, Origen, Athanasius, and Basil of Caesarea, with whom he was also exchanging letters.[110] Ambrose became a famous rhetorician whom Augustine came to hear speak. Augustine wrote in his Confessions that Faustus, the Manichean rhetorician, was a more impressive speaker, but the content of Ambrose's sermons began to affect Augustine's faith. Augustine sought guidance from Ambrose, and again records in his Confessions that Ambrose was too busy to answer his questions. In a passage of Augustine's Confessions in which Augustine wonders why he could not share his burden with Ambrose, he comments: "Ambrose himself I esteemed a happy man, as the world counted happiness, because great personages held him in honor. Only his celibacy appeared to me a painful burden."[111] Simplician regularly met with Augustine, however, and Augustine writes of Simplician's "fatherly affection" for him. It was Simplician who introduced Augustine to Christian Neoplatonism.[112] It is commonly understood in the Christian Tradition that Ambrose baptized Augustine.

In this same passage of Augustine's Confessions is an anecdote which bears on the history of reading:

When [Ambrose] read, his eyes scanned the page and his heart sought out the meaning, but his voice was silent and his tongue was still. Anyone could approach him freely and guests were not commonly announced, so that often, when we came to visit him, we found him reading like this in silence, for he never read aloud.[111]

This is a celebrated passage in modern scholarly discussion. The practice of reading to oneself without vocalizing the text was less common in antiquity than it has since become. In a culture that set a high value on oratory and public performances of all kinds, in which the production of books was very labor-intensive, the majority of the population was illiterate, and where those with the leisure to enjoy literary works also had slaves to read for them, written texts were more likely to be seen as scripts for recitation than as vehicles of silent reflection. However, there is also evidence that silent reading did occur in antiquity and that it was not generally regarded as unusual.[113][114][115]


Ambrose's writings extend past literature and into music, where he was an important innovator in early Christian hymnography.[116] His contributions include the "successful invention of Christian Latin hymnody",[117] while the hymnologist Guido Maria Dreves designated him to be "The Father of church hymnody".[118] He was not the first to write Latin hymns; the Bishop Hilary of Poitiers had done so a few decades before.[116] However, the hymns of Hilary are thought to have been largely inaccessible because of their complexity and length.[116][119] Only fragments of hymns from Hilary's Liber hymnorum exist, making those of Ambrose the earliest extant complete Latin hymns.[119] The assembling of Ambrose's surviving oeuvre remains controversial;[116][120] the almost immediate popularity of his style quickly prompted imitations, some which may even date from his lifetime.[121] There are four hymns for which Ambrose's authorship is universally accepted, as they are attributed to him by Augustine:[116]

  • "Aeterne rerum conditor"
  • "Deus creator omnium"
  • "Iam surgit hora tertia"
  • "Veni redemptor gentium" (also known as "Intende qui regis Israel")

Each of these hymns has eight four-line stanzas and is written in strict iambic tetrameter (that is 4 × 2 syllables, each iamb being two syllables). Marked by dignified simplicity, they served as a fruitful model for later times.[38] Scholars such as the theologian Brian P. Dunkle have argued for the authenticity of as many as thirteen other hymns,[120] while the musicologist James McKinnon contends that further attributions could include "perhaps some ten others".[116] Ambrose is traditionally credited but not actually known to have composed any of the repertory of Ambrosian chant also known simply as "antiphonal chant", a method of chanting where one side of the choir alternately responds to the other. However, Ambrosian chant was named in his honor due to his contributions to the music of the Church.[citation needed] With Augustine, Ambrose was traditionally credited with composing the hymn "Te Deum". Since the hymnologist Guido Maria Dreves in 1893, however, scholars have dismissed this attribution.[122]

Stained-glass window by Sergio de Castro based on the Ambrosian hymns about the Creation of the universe, Church of the Benedictines at Couvrechef – La Folie (Caen), 1956–59


De officiis ministrorum (377–391) in a c. 900 manuscript now kept in the Abbey library of Saint Gall (Cod. Sang. 97 p. 51).[123] The work is probably Ambrose's best known.[124]

Source:[125][126] All works are originally in Latin. Following each is where it may be found in a standard compilation of Ambrose's writings. His first work was probably De paradiso (377–378).[127] Most have approximate dates, and works such as De Helia et ieiunio (377–391), Expositio evangelii secundum Lucam (377–389) and De officiis ministrorum (377–391) have been given a wide variety of datings by scholars.[lower-alpha 5] His best known work is probably De officiis ministrorum (377–391),[124] while the Exameron (it) (386–390) and De obitu Theodosii (395) are among his most noted works.[127][2] In matters of exegesis he is, like Hilary, an Alexandrian. In dogma he follows Basil of Caesarea and other Greek authors, but nevertheless gives a distinctly Western cast to the speculations of which he treats. This is particularly manifest in the weightier emphasis which he lays upon human sin and divine grace, and in the place which he assigns to faith in the individual Christian life.[38] There has been debate on the attribution of some writings: for example De mysteriis is usually attributed to Ambrose, while the related De sacramentis is written in a different style with some silent disagreements, so there is less consensus over its author.[128]


  • Exameron (it). 6 books. 386–390.  (PL, 14.133–288; CSEL, 32.1.3–261; FC, 42.3–283)
  • De paradiso. 377–378.  (PL, 14.291–332; CSEL, 32.1.265–336; FC, 42.287–356)
  • De Cain et Abet. 377–378.  (PL, 14.333–80; CSEL, 32.1.339–409; FC, 42.359–437)
  • De Noe. 378–384.  (PL, 14.381–438; CSEL, 32.1.413–97)
  • De Abraham. 2 books. 380s.  (PL, 14.441–524; CSEL, 32.1.501–638)
  • De Isaac et anima. 387–391.  (PL, 14.527–60; CSEL, 32.1.641–700; FC, 65.9–65.)
  • De bono mortis. 390.  (PL, 14.567–96; CSEL, 32.1.707–53; FC, 65.70–113)
  • De fuga saeculi. 391–394.  (PL, 14.597–624; CSEL, 32.2.163–207; FC, 65.281–323)
  • De Iacob et vita beata. 386–388.  (PL, 14.627–70; CSEL, 32.2.3–70; FC, 65.119–84)
  • De Joseph. 387–388.  (PL, 14.673–704; CSEL, 32.2.73–122; FC, 65.187–237)
  • De patriarchis. 391.  (PL, 14.707–28; CSEL, 32.2.125–60; FC, 65.243–75)
  • De Helia et ieiunio. 377–391.  (PL, 14.731–64; CSEL, 32.2.411–65)
  • De Nabuthae. 389.  (CSEL, 32.2.469)
  • De Tobia. 376–390.  (PL, 14.797–832; CSEL, 32.2.519–573)
  • De interpellatione Iob et David. 4 books. 383–394.  (PL, 14.835–90; CSEL, 32.2.211–96; FC, 65.329–420)
  • Apologia prophetae David. 387.  (PL, 14.891–926; CSEL, 32.2.299–355)
  • Enarrationes in xii psalmos davidicos.  (PL, 14.963–1238; CSEL, 64)
  • Expositio in Psalmum cxviii. 386–390.  (PL, 15.1197–1526; CSEL, 62)
  • Expositio Esaiae prophetae.  (CCSL, 14.405–8)
  • Expositio evangelii secundum Lucam. 10 books. 377–389.  (PL, 15.1527–1850; CSEL, 32.4; CCSL, 14.1–400)

Moral and ascetical commentary

  • De officiis ministrorum. 377–391.  (PL, 16.25–194)
  • De virginibus. 377. 
  • De viduis. 377.  (PL, 16.247–76)
  • De virginitate. 378.  (PL, 16.279–316)
  • De institutione virginis. 391–392.  (PL, 16.319–43)
  • Exhortatio virginitatis. 393–395.  (PL, 16.351–80)

Dogmatic writings

  • De fide. 5 books. 378–380.  (PL, 16.549–726; CSEL, 78)
  • De Spiritu Sancto. 381.  (PL, 16.731–850; CSEL, 79.15–222; FC, 44.35–214)
  • De incarnationis dominicae sacramento. 381–382.  (PL, 16.853–84; CSEL, 79.223–81; FC, 44.219–62)
  • Explanatio symboli ad initiandos.  PL, 17.1193–96; CSEL, 73.1–12)
  • De sacramentis. 6 books. 390.  (PL, 16.435–82; CSEL, 73.13–116; FC, 44.269–328)
  • De mysteriis. 
  • De paenitentia. 384–394.  (PL, 16.485–546; CSEL, 73.117–206)
  • Expositio fidei.  (PL, 16.847–50)
  • De sacramento regenerationis sive de philosophia.  (fragmented; CSEL, 11.131)


  • De excessu fratris. 375–378.  (PL, 16.1345–1414; CSEL, 73.207–325; FC, 22.161–259)
  • De obitu Valentiniani.  (PL, 16.1417–44; CSEL, 73.327–67; FC, 22.265–99)
  • De obitu Theodosii. 25 February 395.  (PL, 16.1447–88; CSEL, 73.369–401; FC, 22.307–332)
  • Contra Auxentium de basilicis tradendis. 386.  (PL, 16.1049–53)


  • 91 letters
  • Ambrosiaster or the "pseudo-Ambrose" is a brief commentary on Paul's Epistles, which was long attributed to Ambrose.


File:Divi Ambrosii Episcopi Mediolanensis Omnia Opera.tif

The history of the editions of the works of St. Ambrose is a long one. Erasmus edited them in four tomes at Basle (1527). A valuable Roman edition was brought out in 1580, in five volumes, the result of many years' labour; it was begun by Sixtus V, while yet the monk Felice Peretti. Prefixed to it is the life of St. Ambrose composed by Baronius for his Annales Ecclesiastici. The excellent Maurist edition of du Frische and Le Nourry appeared at Paris (1686–90) in two folio volumes; it was twice reprinted at Venice (1748–51, and 1781–82). The latest edition of the writings of St. Ambrose is that of Paolo Angelo Ballerini (Milan, 1878) in six folio volumes.

Standard editions

  • Migne, Jacques Paul, ed (1845) (in la). Patrologia Latina. 14–17. Paris.  Based on the Maurist edition published in Paris by Jacques Du Frische and Denis-Nicolas Le Nourry.
  • (in la) Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum. 11, 32, 62, 64, 73, 78–79. Vienna: Imperial Academy of Sciences in Vienna. 1866. 
  • Ballerini, P. A., ed (1875–1883) (in la). Opera omnia. Milan.  Based on the Maurist edition published in Paris by Jacques Du Frische and Denis-Nicolas Le Nourry.
  • Catholic University of America, ed (1947) (in en). Fathers of the Church. 22, 42, 44, 65. Washington DC.: Catholic University of America Press. OCLC 8110481. 
  • Corpus Christianorum. 14. Turnhout: Brepols. 1953. OCLC 1565173. 


  • Hexameron, De paradiso, De Cain, De Noe, De Abraham, De Isaac, De bono mortis – ed. C. Schenkl 1896, Vol. 32/1 (In Latin)
  • De Iacob, De Ioseph, De patriarchis, De fuga saeculi, De interpellatione Iob et David, De apologia prophetae David, De Helia, De Nabuthae, De Tobia – ed. C. Schenkl 1897, Vol. 32/2
  • Expositio evangelii secundum Lucam – ed. C. Schenkl 1902, Vol. 32/4
  • Expositio de psalmo CXVIII – ed. M. Petschenig 1913, Vol. 62; editio altera supplementis aucta – cur. M. Zelzer 1999
  • Explanatio super psalmos XII – ed. M. Petschenig 1919, Vol. 64; editio altera supplementis aucta – cur. M. Zelzer 1999
  • Explanatio symboli, De sacramentis, De mysteriis, De paenitentia, De excessu fratris Satyri, De obitu Valentiniani, De obitu Theodosii – ed. Otto Faller 1955, Vol. 73
  • De fide ad Gratianum Augustum – ed. Otto Faller 1962, Vol. 78
  • De spiritu sancto, De incarnationis dominicae sacramento – ed. Otto Faller 1964, Vol. 79
  • Epistulae et acta – ed. Otto Faller (Vol. 82/1: lib. 1–6, 1968); Otto Faller, M. Zelzer ( Vol. 82/2: lib. 7–9, 1982); M. Zelzer ( Vol. 82/3: lib. 10, epp. extra collectionem. gesta concilii Aquileiensis, 1990); Indices et addenda – comp. M. Zelzer, 1996, Vol. 82/4


  • H. Wace and P. Schaff, eds, A Select Library of Nicene and Post–Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, 2nd ser., x [Contains translations of De Officiis (under the title De Officiis Ministrorum), De Spiritu Sancto (On the Holy Spirit), De excessu fratris Satyri (On the Decease of His Brother Satyrus), Exposition of the Christian Faith, De mysteriis (Concerning Mysteries), De paenitentia (Concerning Repentance), De virginibus (Concerning Virgins), De viduis (Concerning Widows), and a selection of letters]
  • St. Ambrose "On the mysteries" and the treatise on the sacraments by an unknown author, translated by T Thompson, (London: SPCK, 1919) [translations of De sacramentis and De mysteriis; rev edn published 1950]
  • S. Ambrosii De Nabuthae: a commentary, translated by Martin McGuire, (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America, 1927) [translation of On Naboth]
  • S. Ambrosii De Helia et ieiunio: a commentary, with an introduction and translation, Sister Mary Joseph Aloysius Buck, (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America, 1929) [translation of On Elijah and Fasting]
  • S. Ambrosii De Tobia: a commentary, with an introduction and translation, Lois Miles Zucker, (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America, 1933) [translation of On Tobit]
  • Funeral orations, translated by LP McCauley et al., Fathers of the Church vol 22, (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1953) [by Gregory of Nazianzus and Ambrose],
  • Letters, translated by Mary Melchior Beyenka, Fathers of the Church, vol 26, (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America, 1954) [Translation of letters 1–91]
  • Saint Ambrose on the sacraments, edited by Henry Chadwick, Studies in Eucharistic faith and practice 5, (London: AR Mowbray, 1960)
  • Hexameron, Paradise, and Cain and Abel, translated by John J Savage, Fathers of the Church, vol 42, (New York: Fathers of the Church, 1961) [contains translations of Hexameron, De paradise, and De Cain et Abel]
  • Saint Ambrose: theological and dogmatic works, translated by Roy J. Deferrari, Fathers of the church vol 44, (Washington: Catholic University of American Press, 1963) [Contains translations of The mysteries, (De mysteriis) The holy spirit, (De Spiritu Sancto), The sacrament of the incarnation of Our Lord, (De incarnationis Dominicae sacramento), and The sacraments]
  • Seven exegetical works, translated by Michael McHugh, Fathers of the Church, vol 65, (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1972) [Contains translations of Isaac, or the soul, (De Isaac vel anima), Death as a good, (De bono mortis), Jacob and the happy life, (De Iacob et vita beata), Joseph, (De Ioseph), The patriarchs, (De patriarchis), Flight from the world, (De fuga saeculi), The prayer of Job and David, (De interpellatione Iob et David).]
  • Homilies of Saint Ambrose on Psalm 118, translated by Íde Ní Riain, (Dublin: Halcyon Press, 1998) [translation of part of Explanatio psalmorum]
  • Ambrosian hymns, translated by Charles Kraszewski, (Lehman, PA: Libella Veritatis, 1999)
  • Commentary of Saint Ambrose on twelve psalms, translated by Íde M. Ní Riain, (Dublin: Halcyon Press, 2000) [translations of Explanatio psalmorum on Psalms 1, 35–40, 43, 45, 47–49]
  • On Abraham, translated by Theodosia Tomkinson, (Etna, CA: Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 2000) [translation of De Abraham]
  • De officiis, edited with an introduction, translation, and commentary by Ivor J Davidson, 2 vols, (Oxford: OUP, 2001) [contains both Latin and English text]
  • Commentary of Saint Ambrose on the Gospel according to Saint Luke, translated by Íde M. Ní Riain, (Dublin: Halcyon, 2001) [translation of Expositio evangelii secundum Lucam]
  • Ambrose of Milan: political letters and speeches, translated with an introduction and notes by JHWG Liebschuetz, (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2005) [contains Book Ten of Ambrose's Letters, including the oration on the death of Theodosius I; Letters outside the Collection (Epistulae extra collectionem); Letter 30 to Magnus Maximus; The oration on the death of Valentinian II (De obitu Valentiniani).]

Several of Ambrose's works have recently been published in the bilingual Latin-German Fontes Christiani series (currently edited by Brepols).

See also

  • Ambrosian hymnography
  • Ambrosian Liturgy and Rite
  • Saint Ambrose Basilica, Milan
  • Church Fathers
  • St. Ambrose Cathedral, Linares
  • Saint Ambrose University, Davenport, Iowa
  • Ambrose University College, Calgary, Alberta



  1. Italian: Sant'Ambrogio [ˌsantamˈbrɔːdʒo]; Template:Lang-lmo Template:IPA-lmo.
  2. "S. Paulinus in Vit. Ambr. 3 has the following: posito in administratione prefecture Galliarum patre eius Ambrosio natus est Ambrosius. From this, practically all of Ambrose's biographers have concluded that Ambrose's father was a praetorian prefect in Gaul. This is the only evidence we have, however, that there ever was an Ambrose as prefect in Gaul."[14]
  3. These Christian sources have had great influence on perceptions of this period by creating an impression of overt and continuous conflict that has been assumed on an empire-wide scale, while archaeological evidence indicates that, outside of violent rhetoric, the decline of paganism away from the imperial court was relatively non-confrontational.[74][75][76](Trombley, 2001)
  4. Romans claimed to be the most religious of peoples.[83] Their unique success in war, conquest, and the formation of an empire, was attributed to the empire maintaining good relations with the gods through proper reverence and worship practices.[84] This did not change once the empire 's official religion became Christianity.
  5. Though both Paredi 1964, pp. 436–440 and Ramsey 2002, pp. 55–64 give dates for most of Ambrose's writings, the dates from Ramsey are preferred, as the publication is more recent and the author is dating the works from the perspective of scholarly consensus, whereas in Paredi, the author offers dates based on his own research. Regardless, when Ramsey does not provide dates for a work, those of Paredi are used.


  1. "Saint Ambrose, in the Sacello di San Vittore in Ciel d'Oro". Artstor. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Brown 2021.
  3. Guiley 2001, p. 16.
  4. Siecienski 2010, p. 57.
  5. Sharkey & Weinandy 2009, p. 208.
  6. McKinnon 2001.
  7. Smith 2021, p. 5.
  8. Ramsey 2002, p. ix.
  9. Ramsey 2002, pp. ix-x, 1-2.
  10. Paredi 1964, pp. 442–443.
  11. Cvetković 2019, p. 44.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Loughlin 1907.
  13. Greenslade 1956, p. 175.
  14. Paredi 1964, p. 380.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Attwater & John 1993.
  16. Barnes 2011, pp. 45–46.
  17. Cvetković 2019, p. 44–46.
  18. Cvetković 2019, p. 46.
  19. Thornton 1879, p. 15.
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 Grieve 1911, p. 798.
  21. Barnes 2011, p. 50.
  22. Cvetković 2019, p. 55–57.
  23. 23.0 23.1 Cvetković 2019, p. 52.
  24. (in it) Santi Beati, Italy, 
  25. 25.0 25.1 Mediolanensis 2005, p. 6.
  26. Cvetković 2019, p. 49.
  27. Template:CE1913
  28. McSherry, James (2011). Outreach and Renewal: A First-millennium Legacy for the Third-millennium Church. Cistercian studies series, 236. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press. p. 19. ISBN 9780879072360. "An accomplished orator and legal advocate, Ambrose was appointed to the Judicial Council by Probus, Praetorian Prefect of Italy." 
  29. Sparavigna 2016, p. 2.
  30. Butler 1991, p. 407.
  31. Lietzmann 1951, p. 57.
  32. Kaye 1853, p. 33.
  33. Kaye 1853, p. 5.
  34. 34.0 34.1 Butler 1991, p. 408.
  35. Ramsey 2002, pp. 6–7: "By Ambrose's day [Arianism] was in slow decline but far from having breathed its last: Ambrose's struggles with it occupied his energies for more than half of his term as bishop."
  36. Lietzmann 1951, p. 37.
  37. Norwich 1989, p. 116.
  38. 38.0 38.1 38.2 38.3 38.4 Grieve 1911, p. 799.
  39. "The Calendar" (in en). 
  40. (in en) Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018. Church Publishing, Inc.. 17 December 2019. ISBN 978-1-64065-235-4. 
  41. 41.0 41.1 Smith 2021, pp. 3-4.
  42. Mediolanensis 2005, pp. 4-5.
  43. Mediolanensis 2005, p. 5.
  44. Mediolanensis 2005, p. 4.
  45. Ramsey 2002, pp. ix-x.
  46. Ramsey 2002, p. 1.
  47. Davidson 1995, p. 315.
  48. Ramsey 2002, p. 9.
  49. Ramsey 2002, pp. 5-6.
  50. Smith 2021, p. 2.
  51. Ramsey 2002, p. 6.
  52. Smith 2021, p. 1.
  53. Brown 2012, p. 124.
  54. Ramsey 2002, p. 2.
  55. Smith 2021, pp. 6-7.
  56. Brown 2003, p. 80.
  57. 57.0 57.1 Kempf 1980, p. 88.
  58. 58.0 58.1 Brown 2012, p. 146.
  59. Elliott 2019, p. 27.
  60. Lee 2013, p. 41.
  61. 61.0 61.1 61.2 Elliott 2019, p. 28.
  62. Nirenberg 2013, pp. 117–118.
  63. MacCulloch 2010, p. 300.
  64. McLynn 1994, pp. 308–9.
  65. 65.0 65.1 Elliott 2019, p. 29.
  66. 66.0 66.1 Elliott 2019, p. 23.
  67. Elliott 2019, p. 23, 49.
  68. Elliott 2019, p. 26.
  69. Elliott 2019, p. 30.
  70. Elliott 2019, p. 31.
  71. Salzman 1993, p. 375.
  72. Hagendahl 1967, pp. 601-630.
  73. North, John (2017). "The Religious History of the Roman Empire". doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780199340378.013.114. 
  74. Bayliss, pp. 65, 68.
  75. Salzman, Sághy & Testa 2016, p. 7.
  76. Cameron 1991, pp. 121-124.
  77. Lietzmann 1951, p. 68.
  78. Lietzmann 1951, p. 69.
  79. Sheridan 1966, p. 187.
  80. Ambrose Epistles 17-18; Symmachus Relationes 1-3.
  81. Lietzmann 1951, p. 76.
  82. Lietzmann 1951, pp. 76, 77.
  83. Cicero, Marcus Tullius (1997). The nature of the gods; and, On divination. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books. ISBN 978-1-57392-180-0.  2.8
  84. Sherk, Robert K. (1984). Rome and the Greek East to the Death of Augustus. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-511-55268-7.  doc. 8, 9–10.
  85. Lietzmann 1951, p. 77.
  86. Salzman 2006, p. 362.
  87. Lietzmann 1951, pp. 77-78.
  88. Cameron 2011, pp. 63–64.
  89. McLynn 1994, pp. 344–346.
  90. Cameron 2011, pp. 74–80.
  91. Augustine of Hippo, Epistle to Januarius, II, section 18 
  92. Augustine of Hippo, Epistle to Casualanus, XXXVI, section 32 
  93. 93.0 93.1 Hanson, JW (1899). "18. Additional Authorities". Universalism: The Prevailing Doctrine of The Christian Church During Its First Five Hundred Years. Boston and Chicago: Universalist Publishing House. Retrieved 8 December 2012. 
  94. The Church Fathers on Universalism, Tentmaker,, retrieved 5 December 2007 
  95. Ambrose (1907), "Exposition of the Christian Faith, Book III", The Catholic Encyclopedia, New York: Robert Appleton Co,, retrieved 24 February 2009  from New Advent.
  96. Davidson 1995, p. 312.
  97. Smith 2021, pp. 205-210.
  98. Davidson 1995, p. 313.
  99. Smith 2021, pp. 210-212.
  100. Brown 2012, p. 147.
  101. Wojcieszak 2014, pp. 177–187.
  102. Brown 2012, p. 133.
  103. Smith 2021, pp. 214, 216.
  104. ""St. Ambrose", Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese". 
  105. Ambrose of Milan CSEL 64, 139
  106. Ambrose of Milan, De Mysteriis, 59, pp. 16, 410
  107. "NPNF2-10. Ambrose: Selected Works and Letters – Christian Classics Ethereal Library".,was,the,temple,of,god,but,not,in#highlight. 
  108. Ambrose of Milan, Expositio in Lucam 2, 17; PL 15, 1640
  109. De virginibus (On Virgins); De virginitate
  110. Schaff, ed., Letter of Basil to Ambrose, Christian Classics Ethereal library,, retrieved 8 December 2012 
  111. 111.0 111.1 Augustine. Confessions Book Six, Chapter Three.
  112. Gafford II 2015, pp. 20-21.
  113. Fenton, James (28 July 2006). "Read my lips". The Guardian (London). 
  114. Gavrilov 1997, p. 56–73, esp. 70–71.
  115. Burnyeat 1997, pp. 74-76.
  116. 116.0 116.1 116.2 116.3 116.4 116.5 McKinnon 2001, § para. 4.
  117. Cunningham 1955, p. 509.
  118. Dunkle 2016, p. 1.
  119. 119.0 119.1 Boynton 2001, "1. History of the repertory".
  120. 120.0 120.1 Dunkle 2016, p. 11.
  121. Dunkle 2016, pp. 3–4.
  122. McKinnon 2001, § para. 2.
  123. "Ambrose, De officiis ministrorum". swissuniversities. 
  124. 124.0 124.1 Ramsey 2002, p. 60.
  125. Paredi 1964, pp. 436–440.
  126. Ramsey 2002, pp. 55–64.
  127. 127.0 127.1 Ramsey 2002, p. 56.
  128. St. Ambrose "On the mysteries" and the treatise "On the sacraments" by an unknown author,

Works cited

Further reading

External links

Preceded by
Archbishop of Milan
Succeeded by