Saint Ambrose

7th December

Since the beginning of the 4th century a principle of Faith caused a rift within the Church. This was caused by what has become known as Arianism, a heresy that declared that Jesus Christ was created, did not exist eternally and so not equal with God the Father as the second Person of the Trinity. It was at the Council of Nicaea (325 AD) that the Church declared that Arianism was wrong. This declaration was expressed in what we know as the Nicene Creed, a summary of the fundamental beliefs upheld by the Church. However the rift in the Church did not heal immediately because even Bishops continued to support the Arian beliefs!

St. Ambrose lived during this turbulent time of the Catholic Church. He was born around 340AD in Trier, Gaul (present-day Germany) where his father had been appointed Governor. He was brought up in a wealthy Roman Christian family together with his two siblings, Satyrus and Marcellina.

It is widely believed that when he was an infant his face was covered with a swarm of bees that left a drop of honey on his face. His father interpreted this experience that Ambrose would one day become an eloquent speaker.

After his father’s death the family returned to Rome where Ambrose studied law, literature and rhetoric. After becoming a successful lawyer, he was appointed to a place in the Council. He was about 32 years old when he was made governor of LIguria and Emilia, with his headquarters in Milan that was regarded as the second capital of Italy at the time.

As Governor, he attended the meeting that had been convened to elect a Bishop of Milan after the death of its Bishop. His aim was to prevent conflicts that could arise between Bishops supporting Arianism and those upholding the Creed of Nicaea. He was so eloquent in his address that both sides started to call out his name as the next Bishop, probably each side hoping to find an ally in Ambrose. He refused to recognize this acclaim. He ran away and tried to find refuge in a friend’s house. He felt he was not suitable for this role because he was not yet baptized! Although  he was a ’professed Christian’  he was still a catechumen, preparing for Baptism and besides, he had not pursued theological studies.

The Emperor himself convinced Ambrose to accept. He was baptized, ordained and consecrated Bishop of Milan in 374AD.

Then, Ambrose donated all his lands and money to the poor. He applied himself to the study of Theology, Scripture and the Church Fathers. People from all walks of life looked up to him not only for his charitable deeds but also for his eloquence.  He has even been described as ‘politically as powerful as the Emperor.’

His preaching attracted Augustine of Hippo to a spiritual conversion. It was Bishop Ambrose who baptized Augustine and directed him along the path to Sainthood  becoming known as St. Augustine of Hippo, Africa.

Ambrose put all his energy to put an end to Arianism in Milan. As he stood firm amid controversies, defending the Faith, he found himself in conflict with political leaders and Emperors, continuing to offer his services to those in need during violent political strifes, even when his own life could have been in danger.

Towards the end of his life he retired to Bologna where he passed away on April 4, 397AD. It was Good Friday.

St. Ambrose was acclaimed as one of the first Doctors of the Church.

We live in a ‘fast-paced society’ that tends to put our core values to the test, so that we are carried away ‘with the crowd’, although we feel inside that we should not. During our lifetime we might not have to face drastic experiences but it is never too early to build up our kids to stand firm in today’s culture, because even as children they will have to face challenges of choices whether to stand firm or follow ‘the crowd’ in order to be liked and accepted.

Refer to the story of St. Ambrose and how he stood firm during very strong adversity. You might consider watching another experience of ’standing firm’ from the Old Testament and talk about it:

  • Encourage them to talk about possible situations where they would need to stand firm : suggestions from others to lie, to take things they do not own, to copy homework/classwork, to make fun of another student, to cheat, to play truant.
  • Explore with them what actions they could take.
  • Listen with empathy because it might be that they would be talking about their own experiences without having owned up to them before!* For the older children, explain that ‘Creed’ stands for ‘beliefs.’ Today we say the Nicene Creed at the beginning of Mass. There is also the Apostles Creed that is also a summary of what we believe as Catholics. It was a declaration professed by those who were going to be baptized in the early times of the Church.

Watch The Apostles Creed/ I believe in God/Prayer for Kids 

Family Prayer Time

Choose statements from the Apostles Creed and say them prayerfully as a family.

Lead prayers to ask God, for help in difficult situations, for forgiveness when they feel they went astray. Follow with (very brief!) silent pauses for them to voice their thoughts.

Consider repeating on various days: WE BELIEVE:
God is always with us. God is there to help us if we falter. God loves each one of us. God will help us to be strong wherever we may be.

How to use this space

God speaks to us in many ways, including through the Saints of the Church. Here you will find useful background and activities to better understand the holy life, helping you to connect the saints to daily life in a meaningful way.