|For an unhappy Augustine in Rome in the year 384, the chair of rhetoric at Milan was to prove a godsend for him - literally.
This was not because of the fact that Milan was then the city of the Emperor and his court.
No, it was because Milan was the home of the bishop, Ambrose.
The way Ambrose preached the Scriptures swayed Augustine. Ambrose showed Augustine how to appreciate the Bible in spiritual terms.
His sermons were quite mystical, and used a Neo-Platonic concept of the soul.
He immediately became another incentive in the roundabout route of Augustine towards conversion to the Christian religion.
Ambrose was born in Trier, Germany in about the year 340. By the age of thirty-three years Ambrose had a successful career as a lawyer, an important position as the governor of Milan, the approval and friendship of the emperor, and a large estate.
And then the people insisted he become their priest and bishop. Reluctantly he accepted about the year 373, and was baptised, ordained and made Bishop of Milan all within a period of two days.
In his new role in the church, he acted decisively. He spoke out against errors in belief, converted pagans, built churches, and wrote books of instruction about the faith.
Tradition holds that he wrote the great hymn of thanksgiving, the Te Deum laudamus
. A further tradition, which is universally doubted, was that Ambrose and Augustine spontaneously composed the great Christian hymn, Te Deum laudamus ("
O God, we praise You")
at the baptism of Augustine
by Ambrose. This tradition was written down in the Legenda Aurea
of Jacobus de Voragine O.P. in 1252-1260, and by Nicholas of Allesandria O.S.A.
in his Sermo de beato Augustino
("Sermon about blessed Augustiune") in 1332.
It is certain, however, that Ambrose composed religious hymns and wrote books on Scripture, dogma, and morality.
As a church leader, he lived in a spirit of prayer and material simplicity. He slept little and fasted frequently. He gave liberally of his wealth to the poor. As a result, he attracted huge crowds wherever he went.
In his writings about the duties of the clergy, Ambrose provided humane rules for dealing with those in need, the old, the sick, and children without parents. He urged his priests not to pursue those who had wealth, but rather to favour those without wealth.
He was a confidant of the Roman Emperors who lived in Milan: Gratian, Valentinian II and later of Theodosius. Ambrose sought to defend the autonomy of the church against the power of the state.
Emperors are not the judges of bishops, he wrote. His comment that "The Emperor is within the church, not above it" became a cardinal principle of the medieval church.
There is more about Amberose in an earlier section of Augnet. To see it, click here.