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Confessional Lutheran theology, hagiography, philosophy, music, culture, sports, education, and whatever else is on the fevered mind of Orycteropus Afer

07 December 2012
  + Ambrose of Milan, Bishop, Doctor, & Hymnodist +
Consecrated 7 December AD 374

Ambrose and Theodosius Saint Ambrose of Milan was born in Trier around AD 340. He became a Roman governor in northern Italy and the people of Milan later named him bishop by general acclaim. He stands as one of the four Latins among the eight Doctors of the undivided Church. Augustine, Jerome, and Gregory the Great are the West's other representatives; Athanasius, John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, and Gregory of Nazianzus represent the East.

Ambrose was also an author of hymns, the best known of which is probably Intende, qui regis Israel (usually known by its second stanza as Veni, Redemptor gentium). Martin Luther translated it into German (Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland); its English translations (from Luther or the original Latin) usually appear as Savior of the Nations, Come; Savior of the Heathen, Known; or Come, Thou Redeemer of the Earth).

His name is also associated with Ambrosian Chant, of which a number of samples in PDF may be found at Canto Ambrosiano — Spartiti. This style of chanting the ancient liturgy took hold in the province of Milan. For more on his musical influence in the Church, see the NetHymnal for a detailed list with links to translations and adaptations of a number of the Hymns of Saint Ambrose.

While serving as a civil governor, Ambrose sought to bring peace among Christians in Milan who were divided into quarreling factions. When a new bishop was to be elected in 374, Ambrose addressed the crowd, and someone cried out, "Ambrose, bishop!" The entire gathering gave their support. At this time, Ambrose was still a catechumen, an unbaptized person still under instruction before joining the church. This acclaim hastened the catechetical process and the 34-year-old was baptized on December 7, after which he was consecrated bishop of Milan.

Baptism of Augustine A strong defender of the faith, Ambrose convinced the Roman emperor Gratian in 379 to forbid the Arian heresy in the West. At Ambrose's urging, Gratian's successor, Theodosius, also publicly opposed Arianism.

Ambrose died on Good Friday, 4 April 397, but the Church was unwilling to honor such a known and popular person on the day commemorating the death of Christ. Thus, his feast day was transferred from his "heavenly birthday" (or death date) to the date of his baptism and subsequent consecration as bishop.

Ambrose was also instrumental in the conversion of Augustine of Hippo. Some early traditions hold that the hymn Te Deum Laudamus ("We Praise You, O God") was a spontaneous composition by Ambrose, perhaps with Augustine's help, upon the baptism of the latter. While later researchers hold this to be unlikely, some scholars are convinced that he was largely responsible for authorship of the Athanasian Creed (14k PDF).

As a courageous doctor and musician he upheld the truth of God's Word. Once again this Advent-tide, thousands upon thousands of believers will use Savior of the Nations, Come to pray for the Second Coming of our Lord. Here is my favorite, passed on to us from Ambrose via Martin Luther and William Morton Reynolds:

Savior of the nations, come;
Virgin's Son, here make Thy home!
Marvel now, O heaven and earth,
That the Lord chose such a birth.

Not by human flesh and blood;
By the Spirit of our God
Was the Word of God made flesh,
Woman's offspring, pure and fresh.

Ambrose Mosaic Wondrous birth! O wondrous Child
Of the virgin undefiled!
Though by all the world disowned,
Still to be in heaven enthroned.

From the Father forth He came
And returneth to the same,
Captive leading death and hell
High the song of triumph swell!

Thou, the Father's only Son,
Hast over sin the victory won.
Boundless shall Thy kingdom be;
When shall we its glories see?

Brightly doth Thy manger shine,
Glorious is its light divine.
Let not sin o'ercloud this light;
Ever be our faith thus bright.

Praise to God the Father sing,
Praise to God the Son, our King,
Praise to God the Spirit be
Ever and eternally.

Lection

Psalm 27:5-11 or 33:1-5,20-21
Ecclesiasticus 2:7-11,16-18
1 Peter 1:3-9, 13-21
Luke 12:35-37, 42-44

Collect

O God, who graciously gave Your servant Ambrose eloquence to proclaim Your righteousness and fearlessness to bear reproach for the honor of Your Name, mercifully grant to all pastors and overseers such excellence in preaching and faithfulness in ministering Your Word that Your people may be partakers with them of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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