St Ambrose
St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, one of the four Latin doctors of the Church, was
descended from a Roman family of some distinction, some time Christian, and counting
martyrs as well as state officials amongst its members. His father, likewise names
Ambrosius, was prefect of the Gauls, an office the jurisdiction of which extended over
Spain, Britain, Cis- and Trans-Alpine Gaul. His chief official residence was Treves,
where probably St. Ambrose was born, as seems most likely, A.D. 340. After his father’
s death, his mother and his elder brother, Satyrus, went with St. Ambrose to Rome,
not earlier than 353, where his elder sister, Marcellina, received the veil at Christmas
from Pope Liberius, the exact year being uncertain. Here the future bishop devoted
himself to legal studies, in which he met with great success. His skill in law and
general reputation soon led to his advancement, and about A.D. 370 he was appointed
by the Praetorian Prefect Probus governor of Liguria and AEmilia, with the rank of
consular. On this occasion Probus is said to have closed an address to St. Ambrose.
with the words, “Go and act, not as a judge, but as a bishop.” This advice was so well
followed by Ambrose, that owing to his equity and kindness the people came to look
up to him rather as a father than as a judge. After some few years Auxentius, the
intended Arian Bishop of Milan,
died, A.D. 374, and it is said that during the discussion as to the appointment of his
successor a child cried out in the assembly, “Ambrose Bishop,” and although he was
but a catechumen and so canonically unqualified, the multitude immediately elected
him by acclamation. St. Ambrose did all in his power, even, if we accept
the statements of his biographer Paulinus, probably a clerk of Milan, resorting to some
questionable expedients, to escape from the dignity laid upon him, but when his
election was ratified by the Emperor Valentinian, he recognized his appointment as
being the will of God, and insisted on being baptized by a Catholic priest. Eight days
later, December 7, A.D. 374, he was consecrated Bishop. The first care of the new
bishop was at once to divest himself of his worldly property, giving his silver and gold
to the poor and the Church, and committing the management of his estates, except a
life interest for his sister, to his brother Satyrus, who gave up his own office to come
to his assistance, and enable him to devote himself wholly to theological study and his
other episcopal duties. His chief studies were holy Scripture and ecclesiastical writers,
especially St. Basil the Great and Didymus of Alexandria, from whom no less a man
than St. Jerome accused him of plagiarizing. His natural abilities and thorough
knowledge of Greek stood him in good stead, when, as he himself, he had to learn and
to teach at the same time.
The life of St. Ambrose was a pattern of the discharge of episcopal duties. He spent
much time daily in study and devotion, besides the more public duties of his office. He
preached every Sunday and at certain seasons daily. His labors in preparing
catechumens for baptism were blessed with great success, amongst those taught by
him being St. Augustine. But the zeal and courage of the new Bishop were soon tried.
The Empress mother Justina was still an Arian, but had little influence during the life
of the Emperor Gratian, who was much attached to St. Ambrose. After his murder,  
however, A.D. 383, his brother Valentinian II., a boy of only twelve years of age,
ascended the throne and was naturally much under his mother’s influence. Justina led
him to support a demand of the Arians for the use of the Portian basilica, situated
outside the walls of Milan. This being refused, a second application was made for the
large and newer basilica within the city. Ambrose replied, “The Emperor has his
palaces, let him leave the churches to the Bishop.” Soldiers were sent to secure the
delivery of the basilica, but St. Ambrose with the faithful occupied the building and
remained within, singing psalms and hymns till the soldiers retired. St. Ambrose was
no less successful in his zeal against the expiring heathenism of Italy than against
Arianism. One of the many remnants till recent times of heathen worship had bee the
Altar of Victory in the Senate-house at Rome, which was removed under Gratian; the
prefect of Rome, Symmachus, himself a heathen but a friend of St. Ambrose, appealed
to Valentinian II. that it might be restored, and Ambrose successfully opposed this
appeal in two Epistles (17, 18)  addressed to the young Emperor. Yet again, when
Theodosius assumed to imperial power [A.D. 387], a renewed attempt was made and
once more frustrated. Later on, Eugenius the usurper judged it politic to take the
heathen’s side, the Altar of Victory was once more set up, and the temples stood open
as in the days of old. But this triumph lasted only for a brief period. When Theodosius
defeated the usurper at Aquileia, in the spring of 394, he also defeated paganism,
which sank to rise no more as a public religion, though it long lingered in private
amidst indifference, toleration, and at times persecution.
The influence exercised by Ambrose upon the rulers of his day is
sufficiently manifested by these facts, but he had the courage to use not only
influence, but, when needed, rebuke and Church discipline. Only a few months after his
elevation to the see of Milan, he remonstrated with Valentinian I. concerning the
severity of his rule and other abuses, and required amendment. The Emperor’s reply
did him honor: “Well, if I have offended, prescribe for me the remedies which the law
of God requires.” Again, on another occasion, in 390, Theodosius had put down a
seditious movement in Thessalonica with great severity, causing some 7,000 persons
to be slain. St. Ambrose at once, disregarding the possible consequences to himself,
wrote him a letter (Ep. 51) on the subject, exhorting him to repentance, and pointing
out that he could not permit him to be present at the celebration of the Mysteries, till
he had openly testified in his sorrow. At another time when the same Emperor had
ventured into the sanctuary or chancel of the church, which was the right of the clergy
alone, St. Ambrose rebuked him and caused him to retire.
These acts of ecclesiastical discipline were also accompanied by others in which the
great Bishop was able in temporal matters to assist the imperial family. Twice on
behalf of the young Emperor Valentinian II. he undertook a mission to Treves, to see
the usurper  Maximus, and when Valentinian died, St. Ambrose delivered a striking
oration at his funeral, recording his many virtues. Theodosius did not survive his
victory over Eugenius for many months. In January of the following year [A.D. 395], he
died at Milan, and the funeral oration which St. Ambrose pronounced over him is also
extant. Yet whilst thus devoting much time to weighty affairs of State, the Bishop
never neglected the duties of his office. He preached every Sunday, at great festivals,
once or more often, every day. He celebrated the Holy Mysteries daily. His life was
marked by perfect purity, sympathy, energy, and devotion. He was always ready to
help those requiring assistance, and so when Augustine came to Milan to teach
rhetoric, A.D. 384, he was kindly received and fascinated. Probably he owed his
conversion even more to the life and character than to the teaching of St. Ambrose.
One subject St. Ambrose never tired of recommending was Virginity; and such was the
power of his exhortations that mothers used to forbid their daughters to attend his
sermons and addresses. The indefatigable zeal of the great Bishop further exhibited
itself in the number of his writings. Many of them consist of addresses subsequently
worked up into treatises, and are on all subjects, dogmatic, controversial, exegetical,
and ascetic. There remain also a large number of valuable letters, and some hymns,
probably from four to twelve of those ascribed to him being genuine, and in use to the
present day. But besides his writings and his resistance to the attacks of Arianism,
heathenism, or the secular power, St. Ambrose devoted himself to actively defending
the cause of the Church and of orthodoxy wherever he had the opportunity. Although
the death of Satyrus, A.D. 379, must have greatly added to the troubles of St.
Ambrose, he was as watchful as ever against all possibilities of heretical aggression.
To his care and opposition to the party of the Empress Justina it was owing that the
city of Sirmium was preserved in A.D. 381 from receiving an Arian bishop. And in the
same year, when the Arians, hoping for large support from the East, had almost
persuaded the Emperor to summon a general council at Aquileia, St. Ambrose prevailed
upon him to summon only the neighboring bishops, and what might have been a
serious evil was avoided.
In such ways the holy man, embracing in his far-seeing care the interests of
religion far and wide, spent his days in unceasing labor till his health failed in the year
397, when, as is related by Paulinus, Count Stilicho, saying that the loss of such a
man threatened destruction to Italy, persuaded the nobles of the city to request St.;
Ambrose that he would pray for longer life. But the Saint replied: “I have not so lived
amongst you as to be ashamed of living, and I do not fear to die, for we have a good
Lord.” As some of the bystanders were discussing in whispers who would be St.
Ambrose’s successor, and mentioned Simplicianus, he overheard them, and said, “An
old man, but good.” For the last few hours of his life Ambrose lay with his arms
extended in the form of a cross, praying. Honoratus, Bishop of Vercellae, lying in
another room, heard himself called thrice, and coming down, offered him the Body of
the Lord, after receiving which St.
Ambrose breathed his last, on Good Friday night, April 4-5, A.D. 397, and was laid to
rest on Easter morning in the Ambrosian liturgy and rites, differing considerably from
the Roman use of the rest of the churches of Italy, continue to this day, though
doubtless with many modifications subsequent to the time of St. Ambrose.
St. Ambrose[2]
Bishop and Doctor
DECEMBER 7, A.D. 397

AN invincible courage and constancy in resisting evil is a necessary ingredient of virtue
especially in the episcopal character. Gentleness meekness, humility, and obedience,
make the servant of God ready to yield and conform himself to everyone in things
indifferent: but in those of duty he is not with willfulness or obstinacy, but with
modesty, yet invincible firmness. Of this virtue, St. Ambrose, in the judgment of the
learned Hermant, was the most admirable model among all the great pastors of God's
church since the apostles. His father, whose name was also Ambrose, was prefect of
the praetorium in Gaul, by which office not only France, but also a considerable part of
Italy and Germany, the five Roman provinces in Britain, eight in Spain, and Mauritania
Tingitana five Africa, were under his jurisdiction.* He was blessed with three children
Marcellina, the eldest, who received the religious veil from the hands of pope Liberius,
Satyrus, and our saint, who bore his father's name. It is clear from Paulinus that he
was born in the city where his father resided and kept his court in Gaul, but whether
this was Arles, Lyons, or Triers modern authors are not agreed in their conjectures. The
saint's birth happened about the year 340. While the child lay asleep in one of the
courts of his father's palace, a swarm of bees flew about his cradle and some of them
crept in and out at his mouth, which was open; at last they mounted up into the air so
high, that they quite vanished out of sight. This was esteemed a presage of future
greatness and eloquence. The like is said to have happened to Plato. The father of St.
Ambrose dying while he was yet an infant, his mother left Gaul and returned to Rome
her own country. She took special care of the education of her children an Ambrose,
profited much by her instructions, and by the domestic examples which she, his sister,
and other holy virgins that were with them. He learned the Greek language, became a
good poet and orator, and went with his brother Satyrus from Rome to Milan which was
then the seat of the praetorium, or supreme court of judicature. His writings are to this
day a standing proof how vigorously he applied himself to human literature. Having
finished his studies, he was taken notice of, and a friendship was courted by the first
men of the empire, particularly by Anicius Probus and Symmachus, two persons of
great learning and abilities, though the latter was an idolater. The first was made by
Valentinian, in 368, praetorian prefect of Italy, and in his court St. Ambrose pleaded
causes with so much reputation, that Probus made choice of him to be his assessor.
Afterwards he made him governor of Liguria and ئmilia, that is, of all that country
which comprehends at this day the archbishoprics, with the suffragan dioceses, of
Milan, Turin, Genoa, Ravenna, and Bologna. Probus, who was a magistrate of great
worth and integrity, said to him at parting: "Go thy way, and govern more like a bishop
than a judge." The young governor, by his watchfulness, probity, and mildness,
endeavored to comply with this advice, which was most conformable to his natural
goodness and inclinations. Auxentius, an Arian, and a violent and subtle persecutor of
the Catholics, who upon the banishment of St. Dionysius had usurped the see of Milan
and held it tyrannically for almost twenty years, died in 374. The city was distracted by
furious parties and tumults about the election of a new bishop, some of the clergy and
people demanding an Arian, others a Catholic for their pastor. To prevent an open
sedition, St. Ambrose thought it the duty of his office to go to the church in which the
assembly was held: there he made an oration to the people with much discretion and
mildness, exhorting them to proceed in their choice with the spirit of peace, and
without tumult. While he was yet speaking, a child cried out, "Ambrose Bishop." This
the whole assembly took up, and both Catholics and Arians unanimously proclaimed
him bishop of Milan. This unexpected choice surprised him: he presently withdrew, and
made use of all the artifices he could to shun this charge. He ascended the bench of
justice, and affecting to seem cruel and unworthy of the priesthood, caused certain
criminals to be brought before him, and put to the torture. The people perceiving all
the stratagems he made use of, to be affected, continued still in their choice.
Whereupon he stole out of the city by night, with a design to retire to Pavia: but
missing his way, he wandered up and down all night, and found himself next morning
at the gates of Milan. His flight being known, a guard was set upon him, and a relation
of all that had passed was sent to the emperor, whose consent was necessary that an
officer in his service should be chosen bishop. Ambrose wrote also to him on his own
behalf, that he might be excused from that office. Valentinian, who was then at Triers,
answered the clergy and people, that it gave him the greatest pleasure that he had
chosen governors and judges who were fit for the episcopal office; and, at the same
time, he sent an order to the vicar or lieutenant of Italy to see that the election took
place. In the mean time Ambrose once more made his escape, and hid himself in the
house of Leontius, one of those senators who had the title of Clarissimi; but the vicar
of Italy having published a severe order against any one who should conceal him, or
who, knowing where he was, should not discover him, Leontius, by an innocent kind of
treachery, declared where he was. Ambrose, finding it in vain to resist any longer,
yielded himself up but insisted that the canons forbade any one who was only a
catechumen, to be promoted to the priesthood He was answered, that such
ecclesiastical canons may be dispensed with on extraordinary occasions. Ambrose
therefore was first baptized and, after due preparation, received the episcopal
consecration on the 7th of December in 374, not in 375, as some have written; for
Valentian I. died on the 10th of November in 375. St. Ambrose was about thirty-four
years old when he was ordained bishop.
He was no sooner placed in the episcopal chair, but considering that he was no
longer a man of this world, and resolving to break all ties which could hold him to it,
he gave to the church and the poor all the gold and silver of which he was possessed.
His lands and estates he gave also to the church, reserving only an income for the use
of his sister Marcellina, during her life. The care of his family and temporalities he
committed to his brother Satyrus, that, being disengaged from all temporal concerns,
he might give himself up wholly to his ministry and prayer. So perfectly did he
renounce the world, and his mind dwelt so much above it, that temptations to riches
and honors never had any weight with him. Soon after his ordination, he wrote to the
emperor Valentinian severe complaints against some of the imperial judges and
magistrates. To which the emperor replied, "I was long since acquainted with your
freedom of speech, which did not hinder me from consenting to your ordination.
Continue to apply to our sins the remedies prescribed by the divine law." St. Basil also
wrote to him, * to congratulate with him, or rather with the church, upon his
promotion, and to exhort him vigorously to oppose the Arians, and to fight a good
fight. St. Ambrose first applied himself to study the scriptures, and to read
ecclesiastical writers, particularly Origen and St. Basil. In his studies, he put himself
under the conduct and instruction of Simplicianus, a learned and pious Roman priest,
whom he loved as a friend, honored as a father, and reverenced as a master. * This
Simplicianus succeeded him in the archbishopric of Milan, and is honored among the
saints on the 16th of August. While St. Ambrose studied, he neglected not from the
beginning assiduously o instruct his people. He purged the diocese of Milan of the
leaven of the Arian heresy with such wonderful success, that, in the year 385, there
remained not one citizen of Milan infected with it, except a few Goths, and some
persons belonging to the imperial family, as he assures us. * His instructions were
enforced by an admirable innocence and purity of manners, prayer, rigorous abstinence,
and a fast which he kept almost every day; for he never dined except on Sundays, the
feasts of certain famous martyrs, and all Saturdays, on which it was the custom at
Milan never to fast; but when he was at Rome he fasted on Saturdays. To avoid the
danger of intemperance, he excused himself from going to banquets, or great tables,
and entertained others at his own with great frugality. He spent a considerable part
both of the day and of the night in devout prayer, and every day offered the holy
sacrifice of the altar for his people. * He devoted himself entirely to the service of his
flock, and of every state and condition in it; one laborious employment serving for
relaxation from another, he allowed himself no moments for amusement. He relieved
the poor, comforted the afflicted, and hearkened to all men with meekness and charity,
so that all his people loved and admired him. It was an inviolable rule with him never
to have any hand in making matches, never to persuade anyone to serve in the army,
and never to recommend persons to places at court. He had a soul exquisitely tender
and compassionate, and he often employed his interest to save the lives of
condemned persons. He wept with those that wept, and he rejoiced with those that
rejoiced. His charity was as extensive as the necessities of human nature, and he
styled the poor his stewards and treasurers, in whose hands he deposited hits
revenues. It was his constant care and practice to do good for evil, and requite
affronts and injuries by offices of kindness. His chamber was for the greatest part of
the day filled with persons who came to consult him, and to ask his private advice. St.
Austin, when he came to visit him, always found him so overwhelmed with such
business, or so intent in the few moments he was able to steal to himself, that he
often went into his chamber, and, after some stay, came out again without being
perceived by the holy bishop, whom, out of mere pity, he durst not interrupt. St.
Austin, while he taught rhetoric at Milan, before he was baptized, assisted frequently
at St. Ambrose's sermons, not out of piety, but out of curiosity, and for the pleasure of
hearing his eloquence; but took notice that his delivery was not so pleasing as that of
Faustus the Manichee, though what he said was always very solid; and he preached
every Sunday. *
Our holy bishop, in his discourses, frequently enlarged very much on the praises of the
holy state and virtue of virginity. By his exhortations many virgins, who came from
Bologna, Placentia, and even Mauritania, served God in this state under his direction.
He had been bishop only two years when, at the request of his sister Marcellina, he
committed to writing what he had delivered from the pulpit in commendation of that
holy state. * This he executed in his three books, On Virgins, or On Virginity, written in
the year 377, and penned with singular elegance, for which they are justly admired by
St. Jerome and St. Austin, though the sincere piety which the language everywhere
breathes, deserves chiefly the reader's attention. In the first book, the praises of St.
Agnes, and, in the second, the conduct and virtues of the Blessed Virgin Mary, (which
he proposes as a perfect pattern to virgins,) the example of St. Thecla, and the history
of a Christian virgin of Antioch, who was carried to the stews, * are set off with
inimitable elegance, and painted with the most beautiful flowers and figures of
rhetoric. He enlarges on the excellency of virginity, and shows the spiritual advantages
of that state. In the third book he prescribes the principal duties of those who have
embraced it, ordering them to be abstemious, to shun visits, and apply themselves to
spiritual exercises and reflection, to pray often in the day, and to repeat the Lord's
prayer and the psalms in bed before they sleep, and when they awake; and to recite
every morning the creed as the seal of our faith. He adds, that they ought to weep,
and to shun excessive mirth, particularly dancing, on which he mentions the fatal
consequences of the dancing of Herodias's daughter. St. Ambrose mentions *
that there were twenty virgins at Bologna, and that they labored with their own hands,
not only that they might gain a subsistence, but that they might also have
wherewithal to bestow in charity. St. Marcellina, who received the veil from pope
Liberius in the church of St. Peter at Rome, on Christmas day, * did not live in a
society of virgins, but with her relations in Rome. Many other consecrated virgins did
the same at that time; but they had a part of the church to themselves, separated
from the rest by boards; and on the walls were written sentences of the scripture for
their instruction. * St. Ambrose wrote his treatise, Of Widows, soon after the former
work, to exhort them to perpetual chastity. This was soon followed by that, On
Virginity, which he compiled to give us, from the holy scriptures, a high idea of that
virtue; but he adds a most necessary caution, that the veil is not to be given rashly to
young virgins, especially such as are of a light inconstant behavior. "Some complain,"
says he, " that mankind will shortly fail if so many are consecrated virgins. I desire to
know who ever wanted a wife and could not find one? The killing of an adulterer, the
pursuing or waging war against a ravisher, are the consequences of marriage. The
number of people is greatest where virginity is most esteemed. Inquire how many
virgins are consecrated every year at Alexandria, all over the East, and in Africa, where
there are more virgins than there are men in this country." May not the French and
Austrian Netherlands, full of numerous monasteries, yet covered with populous cities,
be at present esteemed a proof of this remark? The populousness of China, where
great numbers of newborn infants are daily exposed to perish, is a dreadful proof that
the voluntary virginity of some, in these remote ages of the world, is no prejudice.
Wars and the sea, not the number of virgins, are the destroyers of the human race, as
St. Ambrose observes; though the state of virginity is not to be rashly engaged in, and
marriage is not only holy, but the general state of mankind in the world. St. Ambrose's
book, entitled, The Institution of a Virgin, contains a confutation of Bonosus, who
renewed the error of Helvidius, denying the perpetual virginity of the Holy Mother of
God. The saint adds the instructions he had given to Ambrosia, one of the twenty
virgins at Bologna who served God under his direction. He shows that retirement,
silence, humility, and prayer, are the principal duties of a Christian virgin. Towards the
end, the ceremonies of the solemn profession of a virgin are described. She presented
herself at the foot of the altar, where she made her profession before the people. The
bishop preached to her, and gave her the veil which distinguished her from other
virgins, but her hair was not cut, as was done in the initiation of clergymen and
monks. In the close, the author invites Jesus Christ to come on the day of these
spiritual nuptials to receive his handmaid, who consecrates herself to him by a public
profession, after having long before dedicated herself to him in spirit and in her heart.
The emperor Valentinian I., who resided sometimes at Triers, sometimes at Milan, died
of an apoplexy in Pannonia, being engaged in a war against the Sarmatians and the
Quadi, on the 17th of November, in the year 375, of his age fifty-five. Gratian, his
eldest son, by his first wife, Severa, then sixteen years old, was then at Triers,
and had been before associated by his father in the empire. Valentinian, his younger
son, by Justina, a second wife, was with his mother on the borders of Pannonia, and
him the army of his father saluted emperor, though he was then only four years old.
Gratian took not this step amiss, but confirmed to his brother that dignity, and
promised to be to him a father, and, contenting himself with the provinces which lie on
this side of the Alps, yielded up to him Italy, Africa, and Illyricum, though he kept the
administration till his brother should be of age and resided at Triers or Mentz.
Fritigern, king of the Goths, having invaded the Roman territories in Thrace and
Pannonia, Gratian determined to lead an army into the east to the succor of his uncle
Valens. But in order to guard himself against the snares of Arianism, of which Valens
was the protector, he desired of St. Ambrose, whom he honored with a singular
veneration, some instructions in writing against that heresy. In compliance with this
request, the holy prelate wrote, in 377, the work entitled On the Faith, to Gratian, or,
On the Trinity, which, with three books which he added in 379, consists of five books,
and is an excellent confutation of the Arian heresy, is written with much wit, vigor, and
subtlety, the subject is set off with lively and pleasant descriptions, and the
objections are removed with great clearness. St. Ambrose's books, Of the Holy Ghost,
are written in a less concise, less lively and smart style than the former, because, says
St. Austin, the subjects required not ornaments of speech to move the heart, but
proofs of the divine truth concerning the consubstantiality of the third Person
addressed to the understanding. Many things in it are copied from St. Athanasius, us,
and from Didymus and St. Basil's books on that subject. St. Ambrose's book, On the
Incarnation, is an answer to certain objections of the Arians, addressed to two officers
of Gratian's court.
Valens was defeated by the Goths, whom he had rashly engaged not very far from
Adrianople, and was himself burnt in a cottage into which he had retired in his flight,
in order to have his wounds dressed, in 378. His unhappy death was looked upon as a
just judgment for his persecution of the Catholics, and his tyranny, especially in having
caused the streets of Antioch to swim with streams of innocent blood, and many
houses to be consumed by flames; for which it was said he deserved to be himself
burned; and, as he was hated while he lived, so he died without being regretted.
Gratian, by the death of Valens, became master of the eastern empire: but, seeing it
attacked on all sides by triumphant barbarians, sent thither Theodosius, a general of
great probity and valor, who, with his father, a virtuous general of the same name, had
triumphed over the barbarians in Britain and Africa; but the father, out of mere
jealousy, being unjustly put to death by Valens, the son had led from that time a
retired life in Spain. Theodosius vanquished the Goths, pacified the whole empire, and
made excellent regulations in all the provinces under his command, insomuch that, on
the 16th of January, in 379, Gratian gave him the purple and crown at Sirmich, in
presence of their two armies, and declared him his colleague, and emperor of the east,
giving him thrace and all that Valens had possessed, and also the eastern part of
Illyricum, of which Thessalonica was then the capital. The Goths had extended their
ravages from Thrace into Illyricum, and as far as the Alps. St. Ambrose, not content to
lay out all the money he could raise in redeeming the captives, employed for that use
the gold vessels belonging to the church, which he caused be broken and melted down;
but such only as were not yet consecrated reserving those which were for a more
pressing necessity. * The Arians reproached him upon this account; to whom he
answered, that he thought it much more expedient to save the souls of men than gold;
for not only the lives of the captives, and the honor of the women were preserved, but
the children were rescued from being educated in idolatry. "I find," said he, "that the
blood of Jesus Christ poured out in the gold plate, hath not only shone therein, but
hath also impressed upon it the virtue of redemption." Many Arians who, upon that
occasion, fled from Illyricum into Italy, were converted to the faith by the care of St.
Ambrose, who was indefatigable in every branch of his pastoral charge. Every Lent he
bestowed so much pains and labor in instructing the catechumens, that, when he died,
five bishops could hardly go through with that which he used himself to perform.'' *
In 379, St. Ambrose lost his brother Satyrus, to whom he had committed the care of all
his temporal affairs. Satyrus, attempting to go to Africa to recover some money due to
his brother, was shipwrecked; and, not being baptized, desired some that were
there to give him the holy mysteries, that is, the blessed Eucharist, to carry with him;
for the faithful carried it in long voyages, that they might not die deprived of it. As
none but those who were baptized were allowed even to have a sight of it, Satyrus
begged them to wrap it in an orarium, which was a kind of long handkerchief, at that
time worn by the Romans about their necks. This he wrapped about him, and threw
himself into the sea, without seeking a plank to support him; yet, by swimming, he
was the first who came to land. It seems to have been in the isle of Sardinia. Satyrus,
being then a catechumen, addressed himself to the bishop of the place in order to be
immediately baptized; but first asked him whether he was in communion with the
Catholic bishops, that is, with the church of Rome, says St. Ambrose: and, finding that
he took part in the schism of Lucifer, he chose rather to venture again upon the sea
than to receive baptism from a schismatic. When he arrived in a Catholic country he
was baptized, the grace of which sacrament he never forfeited, as his brother affirms.
Satyrus died soon after his return to Milan, in the arms of St. Ambrose and St.
Marcellina, and left his wealth to be disposed of by them, without making a will. They
thought he had only made them stewards of it, and gave it all to the poor The funeral
of Satyrus was performed with great solemnity, at which St. Ambrose made an oration
which is extant, from which these particulars are taken. * The seventh day after, they
returned to the grave to repeat the solemn obsequies, as was usual; and St. Ambrose
made there another discourse, in which he expatiated on the happiness of death, and
the belief of the resurrection; on which account it is often called, A Discourse on the
Resurrection. The church commemorates St. Satyrus on the 17th of September.
In 381, St. Ambrose held a council at Milan, against the heresy of Apollinaris; and
assisted at another at Aquileia, in which he procured the deposition of two Arian
bishops, named Palladius and Secundianus. In a journey which he made to Sirmich, he
compassed the election of a Catholic bishop to occupy that see, notwithstanding the
intrigues of the empress Justina in favor of an Arian candidate. In 382, our saint
assisted at a council which pope Damasus held at Rome in order to apply a remedy to
the divisions which reigned in the oriental church about the see of Antioch. Paulinus
relates, that while he continued there, a certain woman that kept a public bath, and
lay bedridden of a palsy, caused herself to be conveyed in a chair to the place where
the holy bishop said mass, and importuned him to intercede with heaven for her; and
while he was praying, and laying his hands upon her, she caught hold of his garments,
and kissing them, found her strength return, and rose up and walked.
The emperor Gratian was chaste, temperate, mild, beneficent, and a zealous Catholic;
and St. Ambrose obtained of him, among other wholesome laws, one by which, to
prevent surprises in condemning accused persons, it was enacted, that no one should
be executed sooner than thirty days after sentence. He prevailed with the same prince
to remove the altar of victory out of the senate-house, which Julian the Apostate had
restored. Yet this emperor gave too much of his time to hunting, shooting of beasts in
a park, casting the javelin, and other such corporal exercises, making an
employment of a recreation, in which idleness his governors and ministers entertained
him that they might remain masters of affairs. Hence he did not sufficiently attend to
business, and look into the conduct of his officers; and Macedonius, prefect of the
praetorium, was a man openly addicted to bribery. Complaints which were raised,
alienated the affections of many, and Maximus, an accomplished general who
commanded the troops in Britain (where Theodosius had formerly been his colleague,
who was then become emperor of the east,) assumed the purple, and passed with his
army into Gaul. Gratian left Triers upon his approach, and near Lyons a battle was
fought, which continued five days, till Gratian, perceiving part of his army deserting
him, fled with three hundred horse. Andragathius, general of Maximus's horse,
contrived the following stratagem; he was carried in a close horse-litter, and it was
given out that it was the empress who was coming to her husband. Gratian passed the
Rhone to meet her, but when he came near, the general leaped out of the litter, and
stabbed him. This happened on the 25th of August in 383. Gratian lamented with his
expiring breath that his father Ambrose was not with him. Maximus after this ranged at
pleasure, treated those of Gratian's party with great severity, and threatened to cross
the Alps, and attack Valentinian II., Gratian's half brother, who resided at Milan with
his mother Justina. To prevent this danger the empress dispatched St. Ambrose upon
an embassy to Maximus. The saint, by the gravity of his person, the authority of his
office, his humble address, and eloquent insinuations, stopped the usurper in his
march, and at length concluded with him a treaty, by which Maximus was to enjoy
Gaul, Britain, and Spain, and Valentinian Italy with the rest of the west. St. Ambrose
passed the winter with Maximus at Triers, in 384; and had the courage constantly to
refuse to communicate with a tyrant who was stained with the blood of his master,
and to exhort him to do penance in these times of confusion the Gentiles at Rome
attempted to restore the abolished rites of their superstition. At their head appeared
Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, a senator of great eminence, an admirable scholar,
statesman, and orator, at that time prefect of Rome. In autumn, in the year 384, this
man presented a request to Valentinian, in the name of the senate, begging that the
altar of victory might be reestablished in the senate-house, and the salaries restored
to the priests and vestal virgins; to which he ascribed the victories and prosperity of
ancient Rome. A like petition had been before presented to Gratian in 382, but was
disavowed by the Christian senators, (who were the greater number,) and rejected by
that prince. St. Ambrose having privately received notice of Symmachus's petition,
wrote against it two beautiful apologies or letters to Valentinian, in which even his
eloquence seems superior to that of the pagan, who was esteemed the greatest orator
of his age. In the first he desired that a copy of Symmachus's petition should be
communicated to him, remonstrating at the same time to the emperor, that as all the
subjects of the Roman empire ought to submit to him, so he was obliged to obey the
only true God, and to defend the religion of Christ; that he could never concur to
idolatry; and the church or bishops would never receive oblations from him who had
given ornaments to the temples of idols: his gifts cannot be presented on the altar of
Jesus Christ who hath made an altar for false gods, etc. * In the second the saint
confuted all that was alleged in the petition. * These apologies being read in the
council in presence of the emperor, he answered the Gentiles, that he loved Rome as
his mother, but obeyed God as the author of his salvation.  
The empress Justina, though an Arian, durst not openly espouse the interest of
her sect during the lives of her husband Valentinian I and of Gratian. But the peace
which St. Ambrose had procured between Maximus and her son, gave her an
opportunity to persecute the Catholics, especially the holy bishop; for she ungratefully
forgot the obligations which she and her son had to him. When Easter was near at
hand, in 385, she sent to him certain ministers of state to demand of him the Portian
basilic, now called St. Victor's, without the city, for the use of the Arians, for herself,
her son, and many officers of the court. The saint repined, that he could never give up
the temple of God. By other messengers of the first rank she afterwards demanded the
new basilic; then again insisted on having at least the former; but the bishop was
inflexible. Certain deans or officers of the court were sent to take possession of the
Portian basilic by hanging up in it imperial escutcheons. The citizens, enraged at this
violence, seized in the street an Arian priest called Castulus. St. Ambrose being
informed of this while he was at the altar, wept bitterly, prayed that God would suffer
no blood to be shed, and sent out certain priests and deacons who delivered the Arian
priest. The court, to punish the citizens for this commotion, taxed them two hundred
pounds weight in gold. They answered, that they were willing to pay as much more,
provided they might be allowed to retain the true faith. Certain counts and tribunes
came to summon St. Ambrose to deliver up the basilic, saying, the emperor claimed it
as his right. The bishop answered, "Should he require what is my own as my land or
my money, I would not refuse him, though all that I possess belongs to the poor; but
the emperor has no right to that which belongs to God. If you require my estate, you
may take it; if my body, I readily give it up; have you a mind to load me with irons, or
to put me to death, I am content. I shall not fly to the protection of the people, nor
cling to the altars: I choose rather to be sacrificed for the sake of the altars." * St.
Ambrose continued all that day in the old basilic; but at night went home to his house,
that if they designed to seize him, they might readily find him. The next morning,
which was Wednesday, he went out before day to the old basilic, which was
immediately surrounded with soldiers. A troop of soldiers was sent to seize on the new
church; but St. Ambrose sent certain priests thither to officiate, and they threatened
the soldiers with excommunication if they offered any violence; and they came into the
church and prayed peaceably, being Catholics. In the evening St. Ambrose preached on
patience. After the sermon a secretary arrived from the court, who, calling the bishop
aside, made him severe reproaches, and told him that he set himself up for a tyrant.
The bishop replied, "' Maximus, who complains that by my embassy I stopped him from
marching into Italy, says not that I am the tyrant over Valentinian. Bishops never set
themselves up for tyrants, but have often suffered much from tyrants." The Catholics
spent all that day in sorrow and the basilic being surrounded with soldiers, St.
Ambrose could not return home to his own house but passed the night in reading
psalms with his brethren in the little basilic of the church, or in some oratory in the
outer buildings. The next day which was Maundy Thursday, St. Ambrose prayed and
preached to the people, till news was brought him that the emperor had withdrawn the
soldiers from the basilic, and had restored to the merchants and citizens the mulct
which he had imposed upon them. Upon which all joined in joy and thanksgiving. St.
Ambrose gave an account of these transactions to his sister Marcellina, who was then
at Rome, and had earnestly begged it of him. At the conclusion of this relation, he
adds that he foresees greater commotions. After this he says, "The eunuch Calligonus,
high chamberlain, said to me: 'Thou despisest Valentinian, while I am yet living; I will
cut off thy head.' To which I replied: 'May God permit me so to suffer; then I shall
suffer as a bishop, and you will act a part becoming a eunuch or courtier. I beseech
God that all the enemies of the church may cease persecuting her and level all their
shafts at me, to quench their thirst with my blood '" * Soon after Calligonus was
convicted of a heinous crime, and beheaded.
The empress was still more exasperated against St. Ambrose by the resistance of the
people; and persuaded her son to make a law for authorizing the religious assemblies
of the Arians, which was published on the 23d of January, 386. * The true author of
this law was Mercurinus, whom the Arians made bishop of Milan for those of their sect,
and who took the name of Auxentius II In consequence of this law, which forbade any
one under pain of death to oppose the religious assemblies of Arians, no one could as
much as advise or present a petition against a church being yielded up to
them without incurring the danger of being proscribed or put to death. * The empress,
therefore, in the following Lent, in 386, again demanded of St. Ambrose the Portian
basilic. The holy prelate answered, "Naboth would not give up the inheritance of his
ancestors, and shall I give up that of Jesus Christ? God forbid that I should abandon
that of my fathers; of St. Dionysius, who died in exile for the defence of the faith; of
St. Eustorgius the confessor; of St. Miroclus, and of all the other holy bishops, my
predecessors." Dalmatius, a tribune and notary, came to St. Ambrose from the
emperor, with an order that he should choose his judges at court, as Auxentius had
done on his side, that his and Auxentius's cause might be tried before them and the
emperor; which if he refused to do, he was forthwith to retire, and yield up his see to
Auxentius. The saint took the advice of his clergy, and of some Catholic bishops who
were then at Milan; then wrote his answer to the emperor, wherein, amongst other
things, he says, "Who can deny that in causes of faith the bishops judge Christian
emperors? so far are they from being judged by them. Would you have me choose lay
judges, that if they maintain the true faith, they may be banished, or put to death?
Would you have me expose them either to a prevarication, or to torments? Ambrose is
not of that consequence, for the priesthood to be debased and dishonored for his sake.
The life of one man is not to be compared with the dignity of all the bishops. If a
conference is to be held about the faith, it belongs to the bishops to hold it, as was
done under Constantine, who left them the liberty of being judges."
After sending this remonstrance to the emperor, signed by his own hand, St. Ambrose
retired into the church, where he was for some time guarded by the people, who stood
within doors night and day, lest he should be carried away by violence; and the church
was soon surrounded by soldiers sent from court, who suffered people to go in, but no
one to come out. St. Ambrose being thus shut up with the people, preached often to
them. One of those sermons which he made on Palm Sunday is extant, * under this
title: On not Delivering up the Basilics. In it he says, " Are you afraid that I would
forsake you, to secure my own life? But you might have observed by my answer, that I
could not possibly forsake the church, because I fear the Lord of the whole world more
than the emperor; that if they carry me by force from the church, they may draw away
my body, but they can never separate my mind from it; that if he proceeds against me
as a prince, I will suffer as a bishop. Why then are you troubled? I shall never quit you
voluntarily; but I can never resist or oppose violence. I can sigh and lament; I can
weep and groan. But tears are my only arms against swords, soldiers, and Goths.
Bishops have no other defence. I cannot, I ought not to resist any other ways. But as
to flying away and forsaking my church, that I will never do. The respect which I have
for the emperor does not make me yield cowardly: I offer myself willingly to torments,
and fear not the mischiefs they threaten me with. It was proposed to me to deliver up
the vessels belonging to the church: I answered, that if they asked me for my land, my
gold, or my silver, I willingly offered them; but I can take nothing out of the church of
God. If they aim at my body and my life, you ought only to be spectators of the
combat; if it is appointed by God, all your precautions will be vain. He that loveth me
cannot give a better testimony thereof than by suffering me to become the victim of
Jesus Christ. I expected something extraordinary, either to be killed by the sword, or
to be burned for the name of Jesus Christ. They offer me pleasures instead of
sufferings. Let none therefore disturb you by saying, that a chariot is prepared or that
Auxentius had spoken severe things. It was generally said, that murderers were sent,
and that I was condemned to die. I fear it not, and will not leave this place. Whither
should I go? Is not every place full of groans and tears, since orders are everywhere
given to drive away Catholic bishops, to put those to death who resist, and to
proscribe all the officers of cities who put not these orders in execution? What have we
said in our answers to the emperor which is not agreeable to duty and humility? If he
asketh tribute, we do not refuse it: the church lands pay tribute. If he desireth our
estates, he may take them: none of us maketh any opposition; I do not give them;
but then I do not refuse them: the people's contributions are more than sufficient to
maintain the poor. We are reproached on account of the gold which we distribute
amongst them: so far am I from denying it, that I glory in it: the prayers of the poor
are my defence; those blind, those lame, those aged persons are more powerful than
the stoutest warriors. We render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God
the things that are God's. The tribute is Caesar's, the church is God's. Nobody can say
that this is to be wanting in respect to the emperor. What is more for his honor than
to style him the son of the church? The emperor is in the church, not above it." The
saint spoke with an astonishing intrepidity of the sword, fire, or banishment, detected
boldly the impiety of Auxentius, and other Arian persecutors, and called their new law
a flying sword sent over the empire to kill some by corporal death, others in their souls
by the guilt of sacrilege. What he mentioned of the chariot is explained by Paulinus,
who relates, that one Euthymius had placed a chariot at a house near the church, that
he might take away St. Ambrose with greater ease, and carry him into banishment. But
a year after he was himself put into the same chariot, and carried from that very house
into banishment; under which misfortune St. Ambrose furnished him with money and
other necessaries for his journey. This historian mentions several other stratagems
laid during this time to take or kill the servant of God, and says that one came with a
sword to the chamber of St. Ambrose, in order to murder him; but that, lifting up his
hand with the naked sword, his arm remained extended in the air motionless, till he
confessed that Justina had sent him upon that errand, and, upon his repentance, he
recovered the use of the arm. When St. Ambrose had remained several days in the
church and adjacent buildings within its enclosure, with the people who kept the doors
shut, and guarded the passes, the guards were removed, and he returned to his house.
St. Ambrose mentions * that the Arians reproached him with leading the people into
error by singing hymns; and he allows that by hymns he taught them to testify their
faith in the Trinity. To comfort his people under this persecution, he encouraged them
to assiduity in singing the hymns and anthems which he composed. Psalms were
always sung throughout the whole church; but St. Ambrose seems first to have
established at Milan the custom which he learned from the oriental churches,
of singing psalms alternately by two choirs, * which spread from Milan to all the
churches of the west. * God gave a visible consolation to this saint and his afflicted
flock in the very heat of the persecution by the discovery of the relics of SS. Gervasius
and Protasius, of which he gives an account in a letter to his sister. * He writes, that
being desirous to dedicate a new church (which at present is called from him the
Ambrosian basilic) in the same manner that he had before consecrated the Roman
basilic, (which was another church at Milan near the Roman gate,) he was at a loss for
want of some relics of martyrs, till, causing the ground to be broken up before the rails
of the sepulchers of SS. Nabor and Felix, he found the bones of SS. Gervasius and
Protasius. These relics were laid in the Faustinian basilic, and the next morning were
translated into the Ambrosian basilic; during which translation a blind man, named
Severus, a butcher by trade, was cured by touching the bier on which the relics lay,
with a handkerchief, and then applying it to his eyes. He had been blind several years,
was known to the whole city, and the miracle was performed before a prodigious
number of people; and is testified also by St. Austin, * who was then at Milan, in three
several parts of his works, and by Paulinus in the life of St. Ambrose. Our saint made
two sermons on the occasion of this translation, in which he speaks of this and other
miracles wrought by the holy relics, by which he assures us that many possessed
persons were delivered, and many sick healed. St. Austin * and Paulinus say, that an
end was put to the persecution of St. Ambrose by the discovery of these relics in 386.
The Arians indeed, at court, pretended that St. Ambrose had suborned men to feign
themselves possessed; which calumny he confutes in the second of these sermons by
the notoriety and evidence of the facts, which was such as to put the Arians to silence,
and to oblige the empress to let St. Ambrose remain in peace. Dr. Middleton revives
the slanders of the Arians, pretending these miracles to be juggle and imposture. But
Dr. Cave * mentions the miraculous cure of Severus, and the many other miracles
wrought by those relics, and by the towels and handkerchiefs laid upon the bodies, as
incontestable, attested by St. Ambrose in sermons preached upon the spot before the
relics. This learned Protestant critic adds: "The truth of which miracles is abundantly
justified by St. Ambrose, St. Austin, and Paulinus, who were all then upon the place;
and indeed they were notoriously evident to the whole city, and twice the subject of
St. Ambrose's sermons. I make no doubt but God suffered these to confront the Arian
impieties, and to give the highest attestation to the Catholic cause, so mightily at this
time opposed, traduced, and persecuted."* Maximus, who had been then acknowledged
emperor both by Valentinian and Theodosius in solemn treaties, wrote to Valentinian,
exhorting him not to persecute the Catholic church, as Sozomen and Theodoret testify.
"All Italy," said he, "Africa, Gaul, Aquitaine, and Spain; and, in short, Rome, which
holds the first rank in religion, as well as in empire, maintain this faith."  
In the year 387, news daily came to Milan of the preparations Maximus was making to
invade Italy. Ambition is restless and insatiable, its burning thirst is only increased by
the greatest successes, till it is at length buried in the pit which itself has dug, as
Cineas elegantly, but unsuccessfully represented to king Pyrrhus. Maximus thought
Britain, Gaul, and Spain, which he possessed in peace, and without danger of being
molested, as nothing, so long as he was not master of Italy: and the astonishing
success of his usurpation made him only enlarge his views further, and think more due
to him. Valentinian and his weak mother were in no condition to oppose him, and in
this distress they had again recourse to St. Ambrose whom they besought to stand in
the gap, and venture on a second embassy to stop the march of a prosperous usurper.
The good bishop, burying the memory both of public and private injuries, readily
undertook the journey and arriving at Triers, the next day went to court. Maximus
refused to admit him to an audience but in public consistory, though the contrary
was a customary privilege both of bishops and of all imperial ambassadors. St.
Ambrose made a remonstrance upon this account, but chose rather to recede from his
dignity, than not execute his commission. He therefore was introduced into the
consistory, where Maximus was seated on a throne, who rose up to give him a kiss
according to the custom of saluting bishops and great men in those times. But
Ambrose stood still among the counselors, though they persuaded him to go near the
throne, and the emperor called him. Maximus reproached him with having deceived him
in his former embassy, by preventing him from entering Italy at a time when nothing
could have opposed him. St. Ambrose said he was come to justify himself though it
was glorious to have saved the life of an orphan prince, but that he could not have
opposed the march of his legions, or shut up the Alps with his body, and that he had
not deceived him in anything; only when Maximus insisted that Valentinian should
come to him, he had pleaded that it was not reasonable that a child should cross the
Alps in the depth of winter. He added, that Valentinian had sent Maximus's brother,
whom he saw there present, safe to him, when he could have sacrificed him to his
passion, when the news of the bloody assassination of his brother Gratian was brought
to him; but he conquered his resentment, and scorned to pay like for like. The bishop
reproved Maximus for the murder of Gratian, and of many great men whom he had put
to death for no other crime than their fidelity to their natural prince; for which he
admonished him to do penance. He also entreated him to give up the body of Gratian
to Valentinian, a brother dead, for his own brother whom he had received alive and
unhurt; the ashes of an emperor only, that he might not be deprived of the honor of a
burial. The tyrant answered that he would consider of it; but he was
extremely incensed at St. Ambrose, because he constantly refused to communicate
either with the tyrant, or with any of his bishops; these were the Ithacians, who
desired the death of the Priscillianist heretics. When he was inflexible in this point he
was ordered forthwith to depart. Seeing Hyginus, an aged bishop, sent at the same
time into banishment, he interceded that he might be furnished with necessary
provisions, and not sent without a garment to cover him, or a bed to lie on. But St.
Ambrose could not be heard, and was himself thrust out of doors. He therefore,
returned to Milan, and wrote to Valentinian an account of his unsuccessful embassy,
advising him to be cautious how he treated with Maximus, a concealed enemy, who
pretended peace, but intended war. * The event showed the truth of this conjecture.
For Valentinian sent Dominus, a favorite courtier, to succeed St. Ambrose in his
embassy. Maximus entertained him with all the obliging caresses and demonstrations
of honor, amused him with assurances, and, as an instance of his friendship towards
Valentinian, sent back with him a considerable part of his army, as he gave out, to
assist the emperor against the barbarians who were then falling upon Pannonia. But
these soldiers coming to the Alps, seized all the narrow passages; which was no
sooner done but Maximus followed after with his whole army, and marched with out
tile least opposition into Italy, where he took up his quarters at Aquileia.
The news of this unexpected surprise carried terror into every place Valentinian and his
mother, in the utmost consternation, took ship, and fled to Thessalonica, whence they
sent to the emperor Theodosius, to beg his speedy assistance before all was lost. That
great prince had been employed in quelling the barbarians on different sides, and
settling the peace of the church and state in the East, which had hindered him from
revenging the death of Gratian. Upon receiving the message of the fugitive young
emperor, he left Constantinople, and went to Thessalonica, where, in the most tender
and paternal manner, he comforted the distressed remains of the family of the great
Valentinian I. He represented to the young prince that, by favoring the Arian impiety,
and persecuting the Catholic church, he had provoked heaven; and he effaced out of
his mind all the impressions of heresy; for it was a fundamental maxim with
Theodosius to undertake no enterprise without first doing everything by which
he might engage God on his side. Theodosius had some time before buried his most
virtuous wife, the empress Flaccilla, who was descended of the ئIian family, (of which
was the emperor Adrian,) but was more illustrious by her virtues than by her birth.
Prayer and the care of the poor were her chief employments. She went to visit them,
served them herself, and was proud of descending to the lowest offices of Christian
charity in attending the sick under the most loathsome diseases. * She made no other
use of the entire confidence which her husband reposed in her, and of the influence
which her virtue and amiable qualifications gave her over the mind of that great prince,
than to inspire him with piety, the most sacred respect for the divine law, and the
warmest zeal for religion; finding much more pleasure in seeing him holy, than seeing
him master of the world. To preserve him from the snares of the Arians, whose impiety
she detested, she engaged him to chase from his palace some who kept a secret
correspondence with Eunomius, and appealing to the decisions of the Nicene council
from all captious sophisms, avoided the dangers of subtle curiosity. *
Theodosius being then a widower, and meeting at Thessalonica the princess Galla,
sister to Valentinian II to give him a pledge of his friendship, married her, and, in
spring 388, declared war against Maximus, and dismissed the ambassador the tyrant
had sent to court his favor. It was his chief care to procure the blessing of God upon
his army. For this he gave orders for solemn prayers to be everywhere put up to God,
and sent to entreat the most eminent solitaries in Egypt to lift up their hands to
heaven while he fought. * He consulted in particular St. John, who foretold his victory,
and the principal events of his reign. * Setting out from Thessalonica, he caused
excellent regulations for the discipline and moderation of his troops in their march, to
be made and observed insomuch that no city nor province was aggrieved by their
passage. With incredible valor and prudence he entirely defeated Maximus upon the
banks of the Save, near Siscia, now Peisseg, in Pannoma, and, soon after, that tyrant's
brother Marcelm upon the Drave, though their armies wore superior in numbers to his
own. Thence he dispatched Arbogastes, general of the barbarians in his army into
Gaul, to seize that country, and marched himself to Aquileia, where Maximus had shut
himself up. His own soldiers, seeing it impossible to escape, stripped him of his
imperial robes, and delivered him into the hands of Theodosius, who reproached him
for his perfidiousness with more compassion than anger, and was inclined to spare his
life; but at last suffered him to be beheaded on the 28 of July, 388, after he had
reigned almost five years.
Theodosius proceeded to Milan, where he stayed from the 10th of October to the latter
end of May. At Calinicus in Mesopotamia, certain Christians who had been insulted by
the Jews in a religious procession, pulled down their synagogue. Theodosius, who had
been informed of the affair by the count of the East, ordered the bishop, and other
Christians who ha demolished the synagogue, to rebuild it, and to be rigorously
punished. The Oriental bishops wrote to St. Ambrose, entreating him to obtain a
mitigation of this sentence. St. Ambrose solicited him first by a strong letter * and
afterwards by a discourse which he made him in the church; and did not go up to the
altar to say mass, till he had procured his promise of pardon. * The deputies of the
senate came to compliment the emperor a Milan, and petitioned that the altar of
victory, which Maximus had allowed to be restored, might be preserved in the senate-
house. Theodosius seemed inclined, upon motives of state, to grant their request; but
St. Ambrose easily engaged him to reject it. This emperor, after having passed all the
winter and part of the spring at Milan, went to Rome, where in June he received the
honor of a triumph. He made his entrance in a chariot drawn by elephants, which the
king of Persia had lately sent him. The spoils of enemies, and the representations of
provinces which he had conquered on delivered, were carried before him. The lords of
his court, in rich apparel encompassed him, and the senate, nobility, and people,
followed with extraordinary acclamations. The magnificence of this pomp was
incredible, * yet nothing in it seemed to be regarded but the conqueror, for whom it
was made, and the greatest ornament of this triumph was the modesty of him that
triumphed. Pacatus, the Gaulish orator, pronounced a panegyric before him, with the
applause of the senate and all the orders of the city. Theodosius made the young
Valentinian ride in his chariot, and share in the glory of the triumph. During his
residence at Rome, he walked about without guards, and gained the hearts of the
people by his civility and generosity. He abolished the remains of idolatry, prohibited
pagan festivals and sacrifices, and caused the temples to be stripped of their
ornaments and the idols to be broke in pieces. But he preserved those statues which
had been made by excellent artists, ordering them to be set up in galleries or other
public places, as an ornament to the city. Symmachus, who had entered into a
confederacy with Maximus, and pronounced a flattering speech in his honor, was
accused of high treason, and fled into a church for sanctuary. But Theodosius would
take no notice of what had passed during the reign of the usurper; and Symmachus
made a panegyric in the senate in his honor, in the close of which he artfully renewed
his petition for the altar of victory. Theodosius was offended at the obstinacy of such a
solicitation, and returning him thanks for his panegyric, reproved him for his assurance,
and commanded him to present himself no more before him. But he soon restored him
to his favor and dignity. * Theodosius returned to Milan on the 1st of September, and
restored the whole western empire to Valestinian, in whose mind, by repeated
instructions, he imprinted so deeply the Catholic faith, that the young prince put
himself entirely under the discipline of St. Ambrose, and honored him as his father to
his death. His mother, Justina, was dead before the end of the war. The heresiarch
Jovinian having been condemned by pope Siricius at Rome, retired to Milan but was
there rejected by Theodosius, and anathematized by St. Ambrose, in a council which
he held in 390.
This council was yet sitting, when the news of a dreadful massacre committed at
Thessalonica was brought to Milan. * Botheric, who was general of the forces in
Illyricum, and resided at Thessalonica, caused a charioteer who belonged to the circus
to be put in prison, for having seduced a young servant in his family, and refused to
release him on a certain festival on which his appearance in the circus was demanded
for the public diversion. The people, not being able to obtain his liberty, grew enraged,
and proceeded to so violent a sedition, that some officers were stoned to death, and
their bodies dragged along the streets, and Botheric himself was slain. Upon this news
Theodosius, who was naturally hasty, was transported with passion; but was mitigated
by St. Ambrose and some other bishops, and promised to pardon the delinquents.
Ruffinus, who became afterwards a firebrand in the state, and was master of the
offices, and other courtiers and ministers persuaded him, that the insolence of the
people was grown to the highest pitch merely by impunity, and must be restrained by
an example of severity. It was therefore resolved that a warrant should be sent to the
commander in Illyricum, to let loose the soldiers against the city, till about seven
thousand persons should be put to death. This inhuman commission was executed with
the utmost cruelty, while the people were assembled in the circus, soldiers surrounding
and rushing in upon them. The slaughter continued for three hours, and seven
thousand men were massacred, without distinguishing the innocent from the guilty.
Such was the brutality of the soldiers, that a faithful slave, who offered to die for his
master, was murdered by them. It is also related, that a certain father seeing his two
sons ready to be butchered, by his tears moved the murderers to compassion so far,
that they promised to spare the life of one of them, whom they left to his choice; but
while the distracted father ran first to one, then to another, not being able to abandon
either of them, they, growing impatient of delays, massacred them both.
The horror with which the news of this tragical scene filled the breast of St. Ambrose
and his colleagues is not to be expressed; but our saint thought it best to give the
emperor a little time to reflect, and enter into himself. The emperor was not then at
Milan; but was to return in two or three days. St. Ambrose, that he might not see him
too soon, left the town, and wrote him a very tender strong letter, which is extant,
exhorting him to penance, and declaring that he neither could nor would receive his
offering, or celebrate the divine mysteries before him, till that obligation
was satisfied; for, how much soever he loved and respected him, he gave the
preference to God; and he loved his majesty, not to his prejudice, but to his salvation.
* Soon after, the bishop came to town, and the emperor, according to his custom,
went to church. But St. Ambrose went out and met him at the church-porch, and,
forbidding him any further entrance, said, "It seems, sir, that you do not yet rightly
apprehend the enormity of the massacre lately committed. Let not the splendor of your
purple robes hinder you from being acquainted with the infirmities of that body which
they cover. You are of the same mold with those subjects which you govern; and there
is one common Lord and Emperor of the world. With what eyes will you behold his
temple? With what feet will you tread his sanctuary? How will you lift up to him in
prayer those hands which are still stained with blood unjustly spilled? Depart,
therefore, and attempt not by a second offense, to aggravate your former crime; but
quietly take the yoke upon you which the Lord has appointed for you. It is sharp, but it
is medicinal, and conducive to your health." The prince offered something by way of
extenuation, and said that David had sinned. The holy bishop replied, "Him whom you
have followed in sinning, follow also in his repentance." * Theodosius submitted,
accepted the penance which the church prescribed, and retired to his palace, where he
passed eight months in mourning, without ever going into the church, and clad with
penitential or mourning weeds. After this term, the feast of Christmas being come, he
remained still shut up in his palace, shedding many tears. Ruffinus, the master of the
offices, and prefect or comptroller of his household or palace, who was not baptized
before the year 391, asked him the reason of his grief, and told him he had only
punished criminals, and had no cause to fall into depression of mind; for piety required
not so cruel an affliction. Thus this courtier, after having induced his master to commit
a crime, attempted by his flatteries to weaken his repentance. But the emperor,
redoubling his tears and sighs, said to him, "Ruffinus, thou cost but make sport and
mock me. Thou little knowest the anguish and trouble I feel. I weep and bewail my
miserable condition. The church of God is open to beggars and slaves; but the church
doors, and consequently the gates of heaven too, are shut against me. For our Lord
has peremptorily declared, Whatever you shall bind on earth, shall be bound in
heaven." Ruffinus said, " If you please, I will run to the bishop, and will use so many
arguments with him that I will persuade him to absolve you." The emperor answered,
"It will not be in your power to do it. I know the justice of the sentence he has
passed, and he is an inflexible man where the laws of religion are concerned, and will
never, out of respect to the imperial dignity, do anything against the law of God." He
added, that it was better to finish his penance than vainly demand the favor of an over-
hasty absolution. Ruffinus insisted upon it that he should prevail. Whereupon the
emperor said, "Go quickly then." And, flattering himself with the hopes that Ruffinus
had given him, he followed him soon after. St. Ambrose no sooner saw the comptroller
coming towards him, but he abruptly broke out, and said, "Ruffinus, you carry your
assurance and boldness beyond all bounds. You were the adviser and author of this
massacre. How can you then intercede for another? You have laid aside all shame, and
neither blush nor tremble at the remembrance of so great a crime, and an assault
made upon the image of God." Ruffinus fell to entreaties, and besought the bishop
with all possible earnestness, adding, that the emperor would be there by-and-by. "If
so," said the bishop, "I tell you plainly, I shall forbid him to enter the church-porch.
And, if he think good to turn his power into force and tyranny, here I am, most ready
to undergo any death, and to present my throat to the sword." Ruffinus, seeing the
resolution of the bishop, dispatched a messenger to the emperor, to inform him
of what had passed, and to advise him to stay at home. The prince received the
information in the midst of the high street; but said, "I will go, and receive the affront
and rebuke which I deserve." When he came to the enclosure of the holy place he did
not go into the church; but went to the bishop, who was sitting in the auditory, and
besought him to give him absolution. St. Ambrose stood up, and said, " What! Do you
come here to trample upon the holy laws of God ?" "I respect them," said the emperor,
"I will not enter the sacred porch contrary to the rules: but I beseech you to free me
from these bonds; and not shut against me the door which the Lord hath opened to all
penitents." The bishop said, "What penance have you done, after having been guilty of
such a crime ?" "It is your part," said the emperor, "to inform me what I ought to do;
to prescribe the remedies, and apply the plaster: and it is mine to submit, and to
comply with the prescriptions." * St. Ambrose ordered him to place himself among the
public penitents in the church. Sozomen assures us, that the emperor made a public
confession of his sin, and St. Ambrose, in his funeral oration, describes how he knelt
at the church door, and lay long prostrate in the rank of the penitents, repeating, with
David: My soul hath cleaved to the pavement: O Lord, restore my life, according to thy
word. * He remained in this posture, beating his breast from time to time, tearing his
hair, and, with tears running down his cheeks, begged pardon of God, lamenting his sin
in the sight of all the people, who were so touched at is as to weep along with him,
and to pray a long while. St. Ambrose enjoined him, before he gave him absolution, to
draw up a law to cancel all decrees that are made in haste or passion, and to
command a respite of thirty days before execution of all warrants or sentences which
regard life or the forfeiture of estates, that it may be discovered if any surprise or
passion had any part in it. This law the emperor forthwith commanded to be drawn up,
and signed it with his own hand, promising always to observe it. Such a law in part
had been made by Gratian, eight years before, with which this of Theodosius is now
joined in one. * Theodosius, after his absolution, passed no day to his death on which
he did not bewail afresh this offense, into which he was drawn by surprise, and
through the instigation of others, as St. Ambrose remarks.
Theodoret mentions another example of humility and religion which this great emperor
showed while he was at Milan; which some moderns placed before, and others after his
penance. * It happened on a great festival, that, having brought his offering to the
altar, he remained within the rails of the sanctuary, that is, within the chancel or choir.
St. Ambrose asked him if he wanted anything. The emperor said he stayed to assist at
the holy mysteries, and to communicate. The bishop sent his archdeacon to him with
this message: "My lord, it is lawful for none but the sacred ministers to remain within
the sanctuary. Be pleased therefore to go out, and continue standing with the rest.
The purple robe makes princes, but not priests." Theodosius answered, that he stayed
not with a design of doing anything against the church, or out of any affectation to
distinguish himself from all the rest, but that he thought the custom was the same at
Milan as at Constantinople, where his place was in the sanctuary; and, after having
thanked the archbishop for being so kind as to inform him of his duty, he went out of
the rails, and took his place among the laity. At his return to Constantinople, on the
first great holiday that he went to the great church, he went out of the sanctuary after
he had made his offering. The archbishop Nectarius sent to desire him to come back,
and resume the place designed for him. The pious emperor answered, with a sigh,
"Alas! how hard is it for me to learn the difference between the priesthood and the
empire! I am encompassed with flatterers, and have found but one man that has set
me right, and told me the truth. I know but one true bishop in the world; this is
Ambrose." From that time he kept without the rails or chancel, a little above the
people, in which he was imitated by succeeding emperors. Theodosius, after staying
almost three years in the West, left Valentinian in peaceable possession of that
empire, and would carry home no other recompense of his labors and victories than the
glory of having restored the prince, and afforded so many nations disinterested
protection. In his return into the East, all the people came out to meet him with
extraordinary joy, and his reception in every city on the road was a kind of triumph,
especially at Constantinople, where he arrived on the 9th of November 391; and he
appeared more glorious by the marks of love which he received of his subjects than by
the victories he had gained over his enemies.
The young Valentinian followed in everything the advice and instructions of St.
Ambrose, honoring and loving him with as much ardor as his mother had formerly
persecuted him with fury. Never was prince more ready to correct his faults. When he
was told that he was too fond of the sports of the circus, he renounced those
diversions, except on indispensable occasions. When some, said that his passion for
hunting diverted his mind from business, he presently ordered all the wild beasts he
kept in a park to be killed. It was said by some that he advanced the hour of his meal
too early, out of intemperance: he made use of this advice, and became so
abstemious, that he fasted very often, and ate but little, even in the magnificent
entertainments which he provided for his courtiers. He eased his subjects of many
burdens and taxes, and never imposed any new ones, saying, the people were already
too much oppressed. Yet count Arbogastes, general of his forces, came to an open
breach with him. This man was a Frank by birth, but had been brought up from his
youth in the Roman army, and was a pagan. By the great power to which he arrived, he
assumed so much as to command Valentinian, and dispose of all things at pleasure.
The emperor at length resolved no longer to brook his imperious behavior, and bear
with his insolence. In 392, when they were both together in Gaul, busy in securing the
country against the Germans, their misintelligence was carried to the highest pitch.
But at length a seeming peace was concluded. The emperor pressed St. Ambrose to
come to him at Vienne in Gaul, to be a witness to their reconciliation, and he was
desirous to be baptized by him, being then in the twentieth year of his age. In his
impatience to see him, and receive the holy sacrament of regeneration he used often
to say, "Shall I be so happy as to see my father?" He never had that happiness, being
strangled by Arbogastes while he was diverting himself in the garden of his palace, on
the banks of the Rhone, at Vienne, on the 15th of May, 392. St. Ambrose, who was
advanced on his journey as far as the Alps, upon hearing this tragic news, returned to
Milan, watering all his steps with his tears. Valentinian's corpse was buried with
Gratian's at Milan, and St. Ambrose pronounced his funeral oration, in which he largely
proves, that his desire of baptism supplied the want of it, and promises always to
remember him in his sacrifices and prayers. Arbogastes placed the imperial diadem on
the head of Eugenius, a rhetorician by profession, a man of parts and learning,
who had long been in his service, and, from an ignoble condition, had been raised to
high undeserved honors. This man was a nominal Christian, but unsettled in religious
principles; for he flattered the heathens, and placed great confidence in divinations
and auguries. They hastened their march into Italy, and courted St. Ambrose by very
obliging letters; but before they arrived at Milan, the holy bishop had retired to
Bologna, where he assisted at the translation of the relics of SS. Vitalis and Agricola.
Thence he went to Florence, where he consecrated a church, called afterwards the
Ambrosian basilic, like another at Milan, which was mentioned above. At Florence St.
Ambrose lived in the house of the most considerable among the citizens named
Decentius, whose infant child happened to die. The mother laid him upon the bed of
St. Ambrose while he was abroad. The saint, being returned, laid himself upon
the child in imitation of Eliseus, and by his prayers restored him to life, as Paulinus
assures us. Theodosius refused all terms proposed to him by Eugenius's ambassadors,
and raised a powerful army to march against the traitors. He prepared himself for war
by fasts, prayers, and frequent visiting of churches ; * and he sent to implore the
prayers of St. John of Egypt. That holy hermit, who had formerly foretold him the
defeat of Maximus, sent him an assurance that this enterprise against Eugenius would
be more difficult than the former against Maximus had been, yet that he should obtain
a complete victory, but should die shortly after. * Theodosius, before he set out,
among many actions of heroic and public charity, justice, devotion, and piety, by a
rescript inserted in the Roman law, pardoned all injuries in word or action that had
ever been committed against his person. "For," said he, "if it be by indiscreet levity
that any one has spoken against us, we ought not to regard it: if it is by folly, we
ought to pity him; if by ill will, we are very willing to pardon him." *
His army was assembled under Timasius, who commanded the Roman legions; Stilico,
a Vandal prince who had married Serena, the emperor's niece; Gainas, general of the
Goths, etc. Theodosius joined them in Thrace, marched through Pannonia
and Illyricum, and forced the passes of the Alps, which Arbogastes had so fenced and
guarded as to look upon them as not only impregnable, but even inaccessible. Yet
Arbogastes was not dismayed, and drew up his army in battalia in the spacious plains
of Aquileia, at the foot of the Alps. In the first engagement Arbogastes gained the
day; and, in a second, the army of Theodosius was upon the point of being broken and
dispersed, when, by a fervent prayer, he conjured God to defend the cause of his own
divine honor. * Soon after, there arose from the Alps an impetuous wind, which put the
squadrons of the enemy into strange disorder, drove back their darts and arrows, and
beat clouds of dust upon their faces, which deprived many of the use of their sight,
and almost of their respiration, * which gave T'heodosius a complete victory.
Theodoret * tells us, that the prince, before this second battle, shut himself up one
night in a church to pray, and falling asleep, saw in a vision two men in white, on
white horses, who promised him that they would assist him. The one was St. Philip the
apostle, the other St. John the Evangelist. Evagrius and his companions taking leave of
St. John in Thebais, that holy man giving them his blessing said: "Go in peace, my
dear children, and know that they hear this day in Alexandria that Theodosius has
defeated the tyrant Eugenius. But this prince will not long enjoy the advantage of his
victory, and God will ere long withdraw him out of this world." * Eugenius who was
seated on a hill near the field of battle, was taken and brought to Theodosius, who
reproached him with his crimes and credulity in the promises of heathenish diviners,
and commanded him to be beheaded on the 6th of September in 394. Arbogastes,
after wandering two days in the mountains became his own executioner, thrusting two
swords one after another through his body.* Theodosius pardoned all the rest of their
party; and never was any prince more moderate in his victory. He knew how to pardon,
scarce how to punish; and he seemed to forget that he had enemies as soon as he had
overcome. Being informed that the children of Eugenius and Flavian (general of his
Roman forces) had taken sanctuary in the churches of Aquileia, he sent a tribune with
an order to save their lives. He took care to have them educated in the Christian
religion, left possessions for them, and used them as if they had been of his own
family. As this victory was rather God's than his own, his first care was that a solemn
thanksgiving should be rendered to him throughout his whole empire. He wrote
particularly to St. Ambrose on that subject. This holy archbishop had returned to Milan
as soon as Eugenius was departed thence, and upon receiving his letter, with the news
of his victory, he offered the holy sacrifice in thanksgiving, and sent one of his deacons
to him with letters, in which, after having expressed his joy for the prosperity of his
arms, he represented to him, that he ought to give God the whole glory thereof, that
piety had contributed more to it than valor, and that his victory was incomplete unless
he pardoned those who were involved in the misfortune rather than in the crimes of
the tyrant, to which mercy he strongly exhorted him. * This he besought in particular in
favor of those who had taken refuge in the churches, which the saint doubted not of
obtaining from a prince in whose behalf God had wrought prodigies, as he had formerly
done in favor of Moses, Josue, Samuel, and David. * A little while after, St. Ambrose
went to Aquileia to wait upon the emperor. Their interview was full of joy and
tenderness. The archbishop prostrated himself before this prince whom piety and the
visible protection of God had rendered more venerable than his victories and crowns,
and prayed that God would bestow on him all the blessings of heaven, as he had
loaded him with all the prosperity of the earth. The emperor, on his side, cast himself
at the feet of the archbishop, imputing to his prayers the favors which he had received
from God, and entreating him to pray for his salvation, as he had done for his success.
Then they entertained themselves about the means of restoring religion.
Theodosius soon followed St. Ambrose to Milan, who was gone the day before; but the
prince refrained some time from the holy communion, because he had been stained
with blood, though shed in a just and necessary war. In the mean time he studied by
compunction to purify his soul, and was assaulted by a mortal dropsy, which the
fatigues of his expedition and the severity of winter had brought on him. He sent for
his children to Milan and would receive them in the church on the day on which he
received the communion the first time after his wars. He gave his two sons excellent
instructions how to govern well, then turning to St. Ambrose he said, "These are the
truths which you have taught me, and which I myself have experienced. It is your part
to make them descend in my family, and to instruct, according to your custom, these
young emperors whom I leave to you." The archbishop answered, that he hoped God
would give to the children a teachable heart and easy temper, which he had given the
father. He granted and confirmed by law, a general amnesty and pardon to all rebels
who were returned to their duty, by which they were reestablished in their estates and
dignities. He discharged the people of the augmentations of tribute, desiring that his
subjects might enjoy the advantage of a victory to which they had contributed by their
prayers and labors. Nothing could be more pathetic than his last exhortations to those
senators who still remained idolaters, that they would embrace the faith of Christ, in
which he declared it to have been his greatest desire to make all his subjects faithful
servants of Jesus Christ. * He gave much of his time to his devotions, and to pious
conversation with St. Ambrose, in whose arms he expired on the 17th of January in the
year 395, of his age the fiftieth. St. Ambrose preached his funeral sermon on the
fortieth day after his death, end his body was conveyed to Constantinople, and
everywhere received with honors which rather resembled triumphs than funeral
In the year 395, St. Ambrose discovered the bodies of the holy martyrs Nazarius and
Celsus, in a garden near Milan, and translated them into the basilic of the apostles,
near the Roman gate. Their blood was gathered up with plaster and linen; and
this was distributed to others as a precious relic. * A person possessed with a devil
was delivered by St. Ambrose at these relics, before which the devil tormented him till
the saint bade him hold his peace. One who had counterfeited grants for the office of a
tribune, the saint delivered to Satan; and even before the bishop had done speaking,
the unclean spirit seized on him, and began to tear him: "At which,'' saith
the secretary Paulinus, "we were all much terrified." He adds, "We saw in those days
many dispossessed at his command, and by the laying on of his hands." He also
mentions sick persons who were cured by his prayers. The reputation of St. Ambrose
reached the most distant countries, and drew to Milan two Persians of the greatest
authority and wisdom in that nation, who came thither furnished with many questions
to make trial of his wisdom. They discoursed with him by the help of an interpreter for
a whole day, and departed full of admiration. A little before our saint's death, Fritigil,
queen of the Marcomanni, having heard of the fame of his sanctity from a certain
Christian that came from Italy, was moved by it to believe in Jesus Christ, and sent
ambassadors to him with presents for the church of Milan, entreating St. Ambrose to
instruct her by writing in what she was to believe. He sent her an excellent letter in
form of a catechism, which is now lost. The queen having received it, persuaded the
king to submit himself and his people to the Romans, and went herself to Milan--but
to her great affliction, did not find St. Ambrose alive.
Our holy bishop made the administration of the sacrament of penance a chief part of
his pastoral care. Paulinus writes thus of him: "Whenever any person confessed their
sins to him, in order to receive penance, he shed such an abundance of tears as to
make the penitent also to weep. The sins which were confessed to him he never
disclosed to any one, only interceded with God." * In his writings he explains in great
detail all the parts and duties of penance. Speaking of the obligation of confessing
sins, he says: "If thou wilt be justified, confess thy crime. For an humble confession
loosens the bonds of sins." * And again, "Why are you ashamed to do this in the
church, where it ought only to be an object of shame not to confess our faults, seeing
we are all sinners; where he is most commendable who is most humble, and he is the
most just who is the lowest in his own eyes." * Against the Novatian heresy St.
Ambrose wrote his two books of Penance. In the first, he shows that absolution is to
be given to penitents for all sins, however grievous. But, towards the end, observes
that their penitence must be condign and sincere. " If any one," says he, "be guilty of
secret * sins, and does penance for them very heartily, in obedience to the commands
of Jesus Christ, how shall he receive the reward, unless he be restored to the
communion of the church? I would have the guilty hope for the pardon of his sins; yet
he should beg it with tears, sighs, and the lamentations of all the people. I would
have him pray for absolution; and when it is twice or thrice delayed, let him believe
that this delay proceeds from the want or importunity in his prayers. Let him redouble
his weeping, let him render himself more worthy of pity; and then let him return, let
him throw himself at the feet of the faithful, let him embrace them, kiss them, bathe
them with his tears; and let him not forsake them, that so our Lord may say to him,
Many sins are forgiven him because he loved much. I have known some persons who,
in their penance, have disfigured their face with much weeping who have hollowed
their cheeks with continual tears, who have prostrated themselves on the ground to be
trod under foot, who, by their continual fasting, have rendered their countenances so
pale and disfigured, that they carried in a living body the very image of death." In the
second book, after answering some objections of the Novatians, he shows that
penance is false and fruitless without a total change of heart and manners, in which
its very essence consists. "There are others," says he, "who may be immediately
restored to communion. These do not so much desire to be loosed, as to bind the
priest; for they do not unburden their own conscience, but burden that of the priest,
who is commanded not to give holy things to dogs; that is, not easily to admit impure
souls to communion. I have found more persons who have preserved the innocence of
their baptism, than who have done penance as they should do after they have lost it.
They must renounce the world, and allow less time for sleep than nature requires; they
must break their sleep with groaning and sighing, and employ part of that time in
prayers; they must live in such a manner as to be dead to the use of this life: let such
men deny themselves, and change themselves wholly," etc. St. Ambrose exhorts the
faithful to very frequent communion, because the holy eucharist is our spiritual bread
and daily nourishment, not a poison. In his book, On the Mysteries, composed in 387,
he instructs the new baptized, expounding the ceremonies of baptism and
confirmation, and the sacrament of the holy Eucharist, which he does in the clearest
terms. * That this book On the Mysteries, is the undoubted work of our holy doctor, is
manifest not only from the unanimous consent of authors, but also from the first part
of this book itself. After having explained the ancient types of the Eucharist, as the
sacrifice of Melchizedech, the manna, and the water coming out of the rock, he adds:
"You will say perhaps I see something else; how can I be sure that I receive the body
of Christ? Prove that it is not what hath been formed by nature, but what the
benediction hath consecrated, and that the benediction is more powerful than nature,
because it changes even nature itself." He urges the example of the rod of Moses
changed into a serpent, and several other miracles, and, lastly, the incarnation, which
mystery he compares to that of the Eucharist. "A virgin," says he, "brought forth. This
is contrary to the order of nature. The body which we consecrate came forth of a virgin.
Why do you seek for the order of nature in the body of Jesus Christ, since Jesus Christ
was born of a virgin against the order of nature. Jesus Christ had real flesh which was
fastened to the cross, and laid in the sepulcher. So the Eucharist is the true sacrament
of this flesh. Christ himself assures us of it. This is, says he, my body. Before the
benediction of these heavenly words it is of another nature; after the consecration it is
the body. If man's benediction has been capable of changing the nature of things,
what shall we say of the divine consecration, wherein the very words of our Saviour
himself operate? The word of Jesus Christ, which could make that out of nothing which
was not, can it not change that which is into what it was not?" etc. The saint
recommends to the new believers to keep the mysteries secret. St. Austin, who was
baptized by St. Ambrose in 387, must have been present at these discourses which St.
Ambrose then made to the Neophytes. St. Ambrose was particularly careful in the
choice of his clergy. This appears from several instances which the saint himself
relates. One of his friends he would never be prevailed upon to admit among the
clergy, on account of some levity in his carriage. Another, who was one of the clergy,
he forbade ever to walk before him, on a like account; for he was persuaded that such
faults proceeded from an irregularity of the minds. * He forbids the clergy to meddle
with business or traffic, wishing them to be contented with their small patrimony, or, if
they have none, with their salaries. * In order to regulate the manners of the clergy
that they might be the light of the world, he composed, in 386, three books On the
Offices of the Ministers; in which, however, he offer descends to precepts of morality
adapted to Christians of all denominations.*.One of St. Ambrose' last actions was the
ordination of St. Honoratus bishop of Vercelli. A few days before he fell sick, he
foretold his death but said he should live till Easter. Before he took his bed, he
continued his usual studies, and expounded the forty-third psalm. While he dictated
this exposition, Paulinus, who was his amanuensis, looking up, saw a flame in the
form of a small shield covering his head, and by degrees creeping into his mouth; upon
which his face became white as snow, though soon after it returned to its usual
complexion. "I was so affrighted thereat," says Paulinus, "that I remained without
motion, and could not write what he dictated till the vision was over. He was then
repeating a passage of scripture which I well remember; and on that day he left off
both writing and reading, so that he could not finish the psalm." We have this
exposition of St. Ambrose upon the forty-third psalm, which ends at the twenty-fifth
verse, and nothing is said upon the two last. He must have been already sick, for
Paulinus assures us, that when he was well, he never spared the pains of writing his
books with his own hand. After having ordained a bishop of Pavia, he was taken so ill
that he kept his bed a long time. Upon this news, count Stilico, the guardian and prime
minister of Honorius, who governed the western empire, was much troubled, and said
publicly, "The day that this great man dies, destruction hangs over Italy." And,
therefore, sending for as many of the nobility and magistrates of the city as he knew
had the greatest interest and sway with the bishop, he persuaded them to go to him,
and by all means prevail with him to beg of God a longer life. They went, and standing
about his bed with tears, entreated him to intercede with heaven for his own life, for
the sake of others; to whom he answered, "I have not so behaved myself among you
that I should be ashamed to live longer; nor am I afraid to die, because we have a
good master." He lay in a gallery, at the end whereof were four deacons, discoursing
together who might succeed him. They spoke so low that they could hardly hear each
other. Yet when they named Simplician, the bishop, though at a distance, cried out
three times, "He is old, but good." At which they were so surprised that they hastened
out of the place. As St. Ambrose was praying in the same place, he beheld Jesus Christ
coming towards him with a smiling countenance. This he told Bassianus, bishop of
Lodi, who was praying with him, and from him Paulinus learned it. The saint died a few
days after. The day on which he expired, he lay with his hands extended in form of a
cross for several hours, moving his lips in constant prayer, though it could not be
understood what he said. St. Honoratus, bishop of Vercelli, was there, and being gone
into an upper chamber to take a little rest, heard a voice crying three times to him:
"Arise, and make haste, for he is going to depart." He went down, and gave him the
body of our Lord, which the saint had no sooner swallowed, but he gave up the ghost.
* St. Ambrose died about midnight before Holy Saturday, the 4th of April, in 397. He
was about fifty-seven years old, and had been bishop twenty-two years and four
months. * The common suffrage of all antiquity has ranked him among the four great
doctors of the Latin church.* His feast is kept on the 7th of December, the day on
which he was ordained bishop; and he is honored on the same not only in the western
calendars, but also in those of the oriental church. The body of St. Ambrose reposes in
a vault under the high altar, in the Ambrosian basilic at Milan. It was first interred near
the relics of SS. Gervasias and Protasius. God was pleased to honor him, by
manifesting that through his intercession he protected the state against the idolaters.
Radagaisus, a king of the Goths, a pagan, threatened the destruction of Christianity,
and the ruin of the Roman empire, which he invaded with an army, it is said, of two
hundred thousand, others say, four hundred thousand men, about the year 405. He had
vowed to sacrifice all the Romans to his gods, and he seems to have been the last
instrument which the devil raised, to attempt to reestablish idolatry in the empire. The
pagans among the Romans seemed disposed to rebel, and openly imputed these
calamities to the establishment of Christianity. But the Romans, commanded
by Stilico, obtained a complete victory, without any loss of men, and Radagaisus was
taken prisoner, with his two sons, and put to death. Tillemont gives the following
relation: * "Radagaisus besieged Florence. This city was reduced to the utmost straits,
when St. Ambrose, who had once retired thither, (and who had now been dead nine
years) appeared to a person of the house where he had lodged, and promised him that
the city should be delivered from the enemy on the next day. The man told it to the
inhabitants, who took courage, and resumed the hopes which they had quite lost; and
on the next day came Stilico with his army. Paulinus, who relates this, learned it from
a lady who lived at Florence." And this proves what St. Paulinus, the bishop of Nola,
says: "That God granted the preservation of the Romans to the prayers of St. Peter,
St. Paul, and the other martyrs and confessors, who were honored by the church
throughout the empire." Though the forces of the emperor Honorius were too weak to
oppose this torrent, at their approach Radagaisus was struck with a sudden panic, and
fled, and his scattered troops were taken, and sold like droves of cattle.
St. Ambrose joined together, in the conduct of his life, a wonderful generosity and
inflexibility where the divine law was concerned. with all possible prudence and
moderation; yet in all his actions tempered the boldness and authority of a bishop
with an air of sweetness and charity. By this he gained all hearts; and his inflexible
severity in points of duty appeared amiable and mild, while everyone saw that it
proceeded wholly from the most tender charity. St. Austin tells us, that in his first
interview, when he was a stranger to St. Ambrose, and enslaved to the world and his
passions, he was won by him, because he saw in him a good eye, and a kind
countenance, the index, of his benevolent heart. "I saw a man affectionate and kind to
me," says he. When a friend shows, by his words and behavior that he has sincerely
and only our interest at heart, this opens all the avenues of our mind, and strengthens
and enforces his admonitions, so that they never fail to make deep impressions. They
who speak affectionately and from their hearts, speak powerfully to the hearts of
others. This is the property of true charity, the most essential qualification of a
minister of Christ, who is dead to the world and himself, and seeks no interest but
that of Christ and his neighbor in the salvation of souls.  
From his works, and his short life written at the request of St. Austin, by Paulinus, who
was his deacon and secretary at the time of his death, and was afterwards promoted
to the priesthood. See also the Church historians of that age and the histories of his
life compiled by Hermant,Tillemont, Rivet, Hist. Litter. De la France, t. 1, part 2, p.
325; Vagliano, Sommario De Gliarcivescovi di Milano; and Du Frische and Nic. Le
Nourri, the two Maurist Benedicting editors of his works, in 1686, at the end of the
second and last volume. See also Archiepiscoporum Mediolanensium Series Critico-
Chronologica, Auctore Jos. Saxio Bibl.  Ambrosianae praefecto. Anno 1756.   
[1] The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Volume 10.
[2] Butler's Lives of the Saints – Dec 7.
Lives of Saints