Today is the feast of St. Ambrose, one of the first-named Doctors of the Church (along with St. Augustine, St. Jerome and St. Gregory the Great). Together, these four men are known as the Great Doctors of the Western Church. He is also one of the four doctors (along with Augustine, John Chrysostom and Athanasius) who support the Chair of Peter in tribune of St. Peter’s in Rome. It is clear that the Church considers him one of the most important theologians in the history of Christianity.
The connection between St. Ambrose and St. Augustine is even deeper, of course, as St. Ambrose was very influential in the conversion of the bishop of Hippo. As St. Augustine writes in his Confessions (book 5):
And so I came to Milan to Ambrose, the bishop, known throughout the world as among the best of men, devout in your worship. At that time his eloquence valiantly ministered to your people ‘ the abundance of your substenance’ and the ‘the gladness of oil’ (Ps. 44:8; 80:17;147:14) and the sober intoxication of your wine. I was led to him by you, unaware that through him, in full awareness, I might be led to you.
It was the preaching of St. Ambrose which first attracted Augustine to the faith of his mother, and he was especially impressed with Ambrose’s ability to interpret the Scriptures allegorically – a skill which allowed Augustine to overcome his aversion to the apparent mundane nature of the Word of God.
Unlike many saints, we do not celebrate St. Ambrose’s feast day on the anniversary of his death, but instead on the anniversary of his episcopal consecration – an event that appears quite extraordinary to our modern eyes: he was not even baptized when he was appointed bishop by popular acclamation, and thus went from catechumen to bishop in eight days! In hindsight, it is clear that the Holy Spirit had much to do with his appointment, however. He is not only a great Doctor of the Church in his own right, but also the spiritual father of another Doctor.
St. Ambrose, pray for us!