Ambrose was born in Gaul, where his father was governor. His family shortly moved to Rome, where Ambrose was raised to be a skilled poet, orator, and lawyer. After practicing law in the Roman courts for a time, he was named governor of an Italian province and headquartered in Milan. There a crisis arose when Bishop Auxentius died in 374. The city was divided over who should replace him, and tensions were high. Ambrose assembled the people and used his oratorical powers to appeal for unity. But while he was speaking, a child cried out: “Let Ambrose be bishop!” The crowd took up the chant, and the 35-year-old governor, to his dismay, was elected the city’s pastor.

He set himself to study theology, soon becoming a great preacher and a deft defender of orthodox doctrine. He combated paganism and heresy with diligence, maintained the independence of the church against civil powers, and championed morality. He confronted political leaders, even emperors, when necessary. He wrote books and treatises, sermons, hymns, and letters. He tended Milan like a shepherd.

Perhaps none of that was more important than his influence on a hot-blooded infidel who slipped into town one Sunday to hear him preach. The skeptical Augustine found himself deeply impressed by the power of Ambrose’s sermons, and he sought personal counseling from the bishop. But Ambrose was too busy. Visitors were allowed into his room, but he paid scant attention to them. He just went ahead reading. Several times Augustine sat watching him, but Ambrose remained unaware of it. His preaching, however, reached the prodigal, and shortly afterward Augustine was converted.

Ambrose continued preaching until he fell sick in 397. When distressed friends prayed for his healing, he said, “I have so lived among you that I cannot be ashamed to live longer, but neither do I fear to die; for we have a good Lord.” On Good Friday, April 3, 397, Ambrose lay with his hands extended in the form of the cross, moving his lips in prayer. His friends huddled in sadness and watched. Sometime past midnight their beloved bishop passed to his good Lord.

Church officials are in charge of God’s work, and so they must also have a good reputation. They must not be bossy, quick-tempered, heavy drinkers, bullies, or dishonest in business. They must stick to the true message they were taught, so that their good teaching can help others and correct everyone who opposes it. (Titus 1:7,9)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). April 3.

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