Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 1.djvu/426

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384

AMBROSE 384 AMBROSE in Africa. It was one of the four great prefectures of the Empire, and the highest office that could be held by a subject. Trier, Aries, and Lyons, the three principal cities of the province, contend for the honour of having given birth to the Saint. He was the youngest of three children, being preceded by a sister Alaroellina, who became a nun, and a brother Satyr'us, who, upon the unexpected appointment of Ambrose to the episcopate, resigned a prefecture in order to live witli him and relieve him from temporal cares. About the year 354 Ambrosius, the fatlier, died, whereupon the" family removed to Rome. The saintly and accomplished widow was greatly assisted in the religiois training of her two sons by the example and admonitions of her daughter, Mar- cellina, who was about ten years older than Ambrose. Marceliina had already received the virginal veil from the hands of Liberius, the Roman Pontiff, and with another consecrated virgin lived in her mother's house. From her the Saint imbibed that enthusiastic love of virginity which became his distinguishing trait. His progress in secular knowledge kept equal pace with his growth in piety. It was of extreme advantage to himself and to the Church that he ac- quired a thorough mastery of the Greek language and literature, the lack of which is so painfully apparent in the intellectual equipment of St. Augustine and, in the succeeding age, of the great St. Leo. In all probability the Greek Schism would not have taken place had East and West continued to converse as intimately as did St. Ambrose and St. Basil. Upon the completion of his liberal education, the Saint devoted liis attention to the study and practice of the law, and .soon so distinguished himself by the eloquence and ability of his pleadings at the court of the praetorian prefect, Anicius Probus, that the latter took him into his council, and later obtained for him from the Emperor Valentinian the office of consular governor of Liguria and Emilia, with residence in Milan. "Go", said the prefect, with unconscious prophecy, "conduct thyself not as a judge, but as bishop ". We have no means of ascer- taining how long he retained the civic government of his province; we know only that his upright and gentle administration gained for him the universal love and esteem of his subjects, paving the way for that sudden revolution in his life which was soon to take place. This was the more remarkable, because the province, and especially the city of Milan, was in a state of religious chaos, owing to the persistent machinations of the Arian faction. Bishop ov Mil. . — Ever since the heroic Bishop Dionysius, in the year 355, had been dragged in chains to liis place of exile in the distant East, the ancient chair of St. Barnabas had been occupied by the intruded Cappadocian, Auxentius, an Arian filled with bitter hatred of the Catholic Faith, ignorant of the Latin language, a wily and violent persecutor of his orthodox subjects. To the great relief of the Catholics, the death of the petty tyrant in 374 ended a bondage which had lastetl nearly twenty years. The bishops of the province, dreading the inevitable tumults of a popular election, begged the Em- peror Valentinian to appoint a successor by im- perial edict; he, however, decided that the election must take place in the usual way. It devolved upon Ambro.se, therefore, to maintain order in the city at this perilous juncture. Proceeding to the basilica in which the disimitcd clergy and people were as- sembled, he began a conciliatory discourse in the interest of peace and modrr:tion, but was inter- rupted by a voice (according to Pauliiuis, the voice of an infant) erj'ing, "Ambrose, Bishop". The cry was instantly repeated by the entire assembly, and Ambrose, to his surprise and dismay, was unani- mously pronounced elected, tjuite apart from any supernatural intervention, he was the only logical candidate, known to the Catholics as a firm believer in the Nicene Creed, unobnoxious to the Arians, as one who had kept aloof from all theological contro- versies. The only ditftculty was that of forcing the bewildered consular to accept an office for which his previous training nowise fitted him. Strange to say, like so many other believers of that age, from a misguided reverence for the sanctity of baptism, he was still only a catechumen, and by a wise provision of the canons ineligible to the episcopate. That he was sincere in his repugnance to accepting the responsibilities of the sacred ollice, those only have doubted who have judged a great man by the stand- ard of their own pettiness. Were Ambrose the worldly-minded, ambitious, and scheming individual they choose to paint him, he would have surely sought advancement in the career that lay wide open before him as a man of acknowledged ability and noble blood. It is difficult to believe that he re- sorted to the questionable expedients mentioned by his biographer as practised by him with a view to undermining his reputation with the populace. At any rate his efforts were tmsuccessful. Valentinian, who was proud that his favourable opinion of Am- brose had been so fully ratified by the voice of clergy and people, confirmed the election and pronounced severe penalties against all who should abet him in his attempt to conceal himself. The Saint finally acquiesced, received baptism at the hands of a Catholic bishop, and eight days later, 7 December, 374, the day on which East and West annually honour his memory, after the necessary preliminary degrees was consecrated bishop. He was now in his thirty-fifth year, and was destined to edify the Church for the comparatively long space of twenty-three active years. From the very beginning he proved himself to be that which he has ever since remained in the estimation of the Christian world, the perfect model of a Christian bishop. There is some truth underlying the ex- aggerated eulogy of the chastened Tlieodosius, as reported by Theodoret (v, 18), "I know no bishop worthy of the name, except Ambrose ". In him the magnanimity of the Roman patrician was tem- pered by the meekness and charity of the Christian saint. His first act in the episcopate, imitated by many a saintly siccessor, was to divest himself of his worldly goods. His personal property he gave to the poor; he made over his landed possessions to the Church, making provision for the support of his beloved sister. The self-devotion of his brother, Satyrus, relieved him from the care of the tem- poralities, and enabled him to attend exclusively to his spiritual duties. In order to supply the lack of an early theological training, he devoted himself assiduously to the study of Scripture and the Fathers, with a marked preference for Origen and St. Basil, traces of whose influence are repeatedly met with in his works. With a genius truly Roman, he, like Cicero, Virgil, and other classical authors, contented himself with thoroughly digesting and casting into a Latin mould the best fruits of Greek thought. His studies were of an eminently practical nature; he learned that he might teach. In the exordiiun of his treatise, " Pe Ofhciis", he complains that, owing to the suddeimess of his transfer from the tribimal to the pulpit, he was compelled to learn and teach simultaneously. His piety, .sound judgment, and genuine Catholic instinct preserved him from error, and his fame as an eloquent expounder of Catholic do<'trine soon reached the ends of the earth. His power as an orator is attested not only by the re- peated eulogies, but yet more by the conversion of the skilled rhetorician Augustine. His style is that of a man who is concerned with thoights rather than words. We camiot imagine him wasting time m turning an elegant phrase. "He was one of those".