Ambrose was descended from an ancient roman family, which, at an early period had embraced Christianity, and numbered among its descendants both Christian martyrs and high officials of State.
After the early death of his father, Ambrose followed his father’s career. He was educated in Rome, studying literature, law, and rhetoric. Overtime, he was made governor of Liguria and Emilia in Northern Italy. He was a very popular political figure.
In the late 4th century there was a deep conflict in the diocese of Milan between the Nicene Church and Arians. The bishop of Milan, Auxentius, an Arian, died, and the Arians challenged the succession. Ambrose went to the church where the election was to take place, to prevent an uproar, which was possible in this crisis. His address was interrupted by a call from a little boy “Ambrose, bishop!” the cry was instantly repeated by the entire assembly, and Ambrose, to his surprise and dismay, was unanimously pronounced elected.
Ambrose was the only logical candidate, known to the Catholics as a firm believer in the Nicene Creed, and amiable to the Arians, as one who had kept aloof from all theological controversies. The only difficulty was that of forcing the bewildered consular to accept an office for which he wasn’t prepared, nor had prior training; because he was neither baptized nor formally trained in theology.
Upon his appointment, Ambrose fled to a colleague’s home seeking to hide. Upon receiving a letter from the Emperor Gratian praising the appropriateness of Rome appointing individuals evidently worthy of holy positions, Ambrose’s host gave him up. Within a week, he was baptized, ordained and duly consecrated bishop of Milan.
As bishop, he immediately adopted an ascetic lifestyle, apportioned his money to the poor, donating all of his land. This raised his popularity even further, giving him considerable political leverage over even the emperor.
After meeting Ambrose, Augustine re-evaluated himself and was forever changed. In 387, Ambrose baptized Augustine. St. Monica, Augustine’s mother, loved Ambrose. She referred to him “as an angel of God who uprooted her son from his former ways and led him to his convictions of Christ.”
Ambrose is credited with advising Augustine of Hippo to follow local liturgical customs. “When I am at Rome, I fast on a Saturday; when I am at Milan, I do not. Follow the custom of the church where you are,” he stated. This advice remains today, and is translated in English as the saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
Ambrose studied largely on the virginity of Mary and her role as Mother of God. He viewed celibacy as superior to marriage and saw Mary as virginity’s model.
St. Ambrose is the Confessor and Doctor of the Church. He is the patron saint of bee keepers, beggars, learning and Milan, and his feast day is celebrated on December 7