For an unhappy Augustine in Rome in the year 384, the chair of rhetoric at Milan was to prove a godsend for him – literally, because in Milan Augustine met Ambrose, the bishop of Milan.
The way Ambrose preached the Scriptures swayed Augustine. Ambrose showed Augustine how to appreciate the Bible in spiritual terms. His sermons were quite mystical, and used a Neo-Platonic concept of the soul. Ambrose immediately became another incentive in the roundabout route of Augustine towards conversion to the Christian religion.
Ambrose was born in Trier, Germany in about the year 340. By the age of thirty-three years Ambrose had a successful career as a lawyer, an important position as the governor of Milan, the approval and friendship of the emperor, and a large estate. And then the people insisted he become their priest and bishop. Reluctantly he accepted about the year 373, and was baptised, ordained and made Bishop of Milan all within a period of two days. In his new role in the church, he acted decisively. He spoke out against errors in belief, converted pagans, built churches, and wrote books of instruction about the faith.
Tradition holds that he wrote the great hymn of thanksgiving, the Te Deum laudamus. A further tradition, which is now universally doubted, was that Ambrose and Augustine spontaneously composed the Te Deum laudamus ("O God, we praise You") at the baptism of Augustine by Ambrose. This tradition was written down in the Legenda Aurea of Jacobus de Voragine O.P. in 1252-1260, and by Nicholas of Allesandria O.S.A. in his Sermo de beato Augustino ("Sermon about blessed Augustine") in 1332. It is certain, however, that Ambrose composed religious hymns and wrote books on Scripture, dogma, and morality.
As a church leader, he lived in a spirit of prayer and material simplicity. He slept little and fasted frequently. He gave liberally of his wealth to the poor. As a result, he attracted huge crowds wherever he went. In his writings about the duties of the clergy, Ambrose provided humane rules for dealing with those in need, the old, the sick, and children without parents. He urged his priests not to pursue those who had wealth, but rather to favour those without wealth.
He was a confidant of the Roman Emperors who lived in Milan: Gratian, Valentinian II and later of Theodosius. Ambrose sought to defend the autonomy of the church against the power of the state. He wrote that emperors are not the judges of bishops: "The Emperor is within the church, not above it" became a cardinal principle of the medieval church.
Further informationThere is more about Ambrose in an earlier section of Augnet. To see it, click here. To read about how Augustine owed Ambrose much, click here.
For the Augnet photo gallery on Milan (where Ambrose was the bishop who baptised St Augustine there), click here.
Ambrose (c. 340 – 4 April 397) was a bishop of Milan who became one of the most influential ecclesiastical figures of the 4th century. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ambrose
The impact of Ambrose of Milan upon the young Augustine. An lengthy and footnoted essay. This essay was written for History 202.3, University of Saskatchewan, 1 December 1998. (AX242) https://jamespaulgaard.wordpress.com/2009/02/09/the-impact-of-ambrose-of-milan-on-the-young-augustine