1. Education

St. Ambrose


Ambrose of Milan

An actual portrait in mosaic of Ambrose of Milan in the church St. Ambrogio in Milan.

Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Distinctions of St. Ambrose:

St. Ambrose was one of the 8 great Doctors of the Church (Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, Gregory the Great, Athanasius, John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, and Gregory of Nazianzus).

Occupation: Christian

  • Bishop
  • Governor


Ambrose lived from about 340- April 4, 397.

Place of Birth


Offices St. Ambrose Held:

Before becoming a Christian bishop (274-397), Ambrose had a traditional education emphasizing classical literature from which he quoted -- but without attribution -- in his writing [for an example, see the "Christian war" quote below ], and studied law at Rome and joined the staff of Praetorian Prefect Sextus Petronius Probus in Illyria. Later, in 370, he became governor of Aemilia-Liguria, stationed in Milan.

Controveries / Heresies:

Sr. Ambrose was actively opposed to the Arian heresy.

Writings of St. Ambrose:

Most of his writing consists of homilies and oral commentaries on the Bible written down by listeners. His writing is divided into "exegetical, dogmatic, ascetico-moral, and occasional." The exegetical are commentaries on Biblical books; the dogmatic are theological, and the moral-ascetical are his sermons. The extant writing of Ambrose comes from after his consecration as bishop of Milan. Erasmus edited the writings on St. Ambrose in four volumes in 1527. An English version was published in 1896.

Christian War:

Louis J. Swift says Ambrose was the first to formulate a Christian ethic of war, believing wars against barbarians were just because they safeguarded Christianity and protected the Empire, but civil wars and usurpations were not. Wars should be defensive, agreements honored, and fairness and mercy observed.

"Now let us discuss fortitude, which (being a loftier virtue than the rest) is divided into two parts, as it concerns matters of war and matters at home. But the thought of warlike matters seems to be foreign to the duty of our office, for we have our thoughts fixed more on the duty of the soul than on that of the body; nor is it our business to look to arms, but rather to the affairs of peace. Our fathers, however, as Joshua, the son of Nun, Juerubbaal, Samson, and David, gained great glory also in war.

177. David never waged war unless he was driven to it. Thus prudence was combined in him with fortitude in the battle. For even when about to fight single-handed against Goliath, the enormous giant, he rejected the armour with which he was laden. His strength depended more on his own arm than on the weapons of others. Then, at a distance, to get a stronger throw, with one cast of a stone, he slew his enemy. After that he never entered on a war without seeking counsel of the Lord. Thus he was victorious in all wars, and even to his last years was ready to fight. And when war arose with the Philistines, he joined battle with their fierce troops, being desirous of winning renown, while careless of his own safety. "
From On the Duties of the Clergy Book I at New Advent and Ambrose Selected Works and Letters at CCEL which notes a passage from Cicero De Officiis 1.18.61 for comparison:

"We must realize, however, that while we bave set down four cardinal virtues from which as sources moral rectitude and moral duty emanate, that achievement is most glorious in the eyes of the world which is won with a spirit great, exalted, and superior to the vicissitudes of earthly life."

Ambrose praised as an act of virtue Moses' slaying of the Egyptian overseer.

Biographical Sources:

Ambrose's own writing, and a "Life" written after his death by Paulinus, his secretary.

Saint's Day:

7 December


"St. Ambrose on Violence and War," by Louis J. Swift; Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association , Vol. 101, (1970), pp. 533-543.
St. Ambrose Quotes.
"The Classical Latin Quotations in the Letters of St. Ambrose," by Sister Charles and Saint Ambrose; Greece & Rome , Second Series, Vol. 15, No. 2 (Oct., 1968), pp. 186-197.

Go to other Ancient / Classical History pages on Famous Romans.

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