Saint Ambrose of Milan

Saint Ambrose of Milan
Portrait of Ambrose by Matthias Stom, 17th century. Public Domain, courtesy of Wikimedia

This profile of Saint Ambrose of Milan is part of
Who's Who in Medieval History


Saint Ambrose of Milan was also known as:


Saint Ambrose of Milan was known for:

being a Doctor of the Church. Ambrose was the first to formulate ideas about church-state relations that would become the prevalent medieval Christian viewpoint on the matter. A bishop, teacher, writer, and composer, St. Ambrose is also famous for having baptized St.


Occupations & Roles in Society:

Philosopher & Theologian
Religious Leader

Places of Residence and Influence:

Italy: Milan

Important Dates:

Ordained: Dec. 7, c. 340
Died: April 4, 397

Quotation by Saint Ambrose:

"If you are at Rome live in the Roman style; if you are elsewhere live as they live elsewhere."
-- quoted by Jeremy Taylor in Ductor Dubitantium

About Saint Ambrose:

Ambrose was the second son of Ambrosius, the imperial viceroy of Gaul and part of an ancient Roman family who numbered among their ancestors several Christian martyrs. Though Ambrose was born at Trier, his father died not long after, and thus he was brought to Rome to be raised. Throughout his childhood the future saint would be acquainted with many members of the clergy and would regularly visit with his sister Marcellina, who was a nun.

Saint Ambrose as Bishop of Milan:

At about age 30, Ambrose became the governor of Aemilia-Liguria and took up residence in Milan.

Then, in 374, he was unexpectedly chosen as bishop, even though he was not yet baptized, to help avoid a disputed election and keep the peace. The choice proved fortunate for both Ambrose and the city, for though his family was venerable it was also somewhat obscure, and he did not pose much of a political threat; yet he was ideally suited to Christian leadership and exerted a favorable cultural influence on his flock.

He also displayed a rigid intolerance toward non-Christians and heretics.

Ambrose played an important role in the struggle against the Arian heresy, standing against them at a synod in Aquileia and refusing to turn over a church in Milan for their use. When a pagan faction of the senate appealed to Emperor Valentinian II for a return to regular pagan observances, Ambrose responded in a letter to the emperor with sound arguments that effectively shut the pagans down.

Ambrose frequently helped the poor, secured pardons for the condemned, and denounced social injustices in his sermons. He was always happy to educate people interested in becoming baptized. He frequently criticized public figures, and he advocated chastity to such an extent that parents of marriageable young women hesitated to let their daughters attend his sermons for fear they'd take the veil. Ambrose was enormously popular as bishop, and on the occasions when he butted heads with imperial authority, it was this popularity that kept him from suffering unduly in consequence.

Legend has it that Ambrose was told in a dream to search for the remains of two martrys, Gervasius and Protasius, which he found under the church.

Saint Ambrose the Diplomat:

In 383, Ambrose was engaged to negotiate with Maximus, who had usurped power in Gaul and was preparing to invade Italy.

The bishop was successful in dissuading Maximus from marching south. When Ambrose was asked to negotiate again three years later, his advice to his superiors was ignored; Maximus invaded Italy and conquered Milan. Ambrose stayed in the city and helped the populace. Several years later, when Valentinian was overthrown by Eugenius, Ambrose fled the city until Theodosius, the Eastern Roman emperor, ousted Eugenius and reunified the empire. Though he did not support Eugenius himself, Ambrose petitioned the emperor for pardons for those who had.

Literature and Music:

Saint Ambrose wrote voluminously; most of his surviving works are in the form of sermons. These have often been exalted as masterpieces of eloquence, and are the reason for Augustine's conversion to Christianity. The writings of Saint Ambrose include the Hexaemeron (“On the Six Days of Creation”), De Isaac et anima (“On Isaac and the Soul”), De bono mortis (“On the Goodness of Death”, and De officiis ministrorum, which expounded on the clergy's moral obligations.

Ambrose also composed beautiful hymns, including Aeterne rerum Conditor (“Framer of the earth and sky”) and Deus Creator omnium (“Maker of all things, God most high”).

The Philosophy and Theology of Saint Ambrose:

Both before and after his rise to the bishopric, Ambrose was an avid student of philosophy, and he incorporated what he learned into his own particular brand of Christian theology. One of the most notable ideas he expressed was of the Christian Church building its foundation on the ruins of the declining Roman Empire, and of the role of Christian emperors as dutiful servants of the church -- making them, therefore, subject to the influence of church leaders. This idea would have a powerful impact on the development of medieval Christian theology and the administrative policies of the medieval Christian Church.

More Saint Ambrose Resources:

Saint Ambrose at About Ancient/Classical History

This concise profile by N.S. Gill includes a portrait of Ambrose in mosaic.

Saint Ambrose in Print

The links below will take you to a site where you can compare prices at booksellers across the web. More in-depth info about the book may be found by clicking on to the book's page at one of the online merchants. 

Ambrose of Milan: Church and Court in a Christian Capital
by Neil B. McLynn

by Craig Alan Satterlee

Saint Ambrose on the Web

St. Ambrose
Extensive biography by James F. Loughlin at the Catholic Encyclopedia

St. Ambrose, Bishop Confessor, Doctor of the Church
A look at Ambrose's life taken from his own works and the biography by his secretary Paulinus, from "The Lives or the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints" by the Rev.

Alban Butler.

Philosophy and Theology
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Your Citation
Snell, Melissa. "Saint Ambrose of Milan." ThoughtCo, Aug. 11, 2016, Snell, Melissa. (2016, August 11). Saint Ambrose of Milan. Retrieved from Snell, Melissa. "Saint Ambrose of Milan." ThoughtCo. (accessed February 24, 2018).