Friday, December 07, 2018

Roman of Romans

Today is the feast of St. Ambrose of Milan, Doctor of the Church. He is unusual in having been baptized, confirmed, ordained, and consecrated a bishop all in the same week. The most Roman of the Church Fathers had been an imperial administrator in Milan. He was Christian, but still a catechumen, when Auxentius, the Arian bishop of Milan (Mediolanum), died. The Arian controversy was threatening to split Milan, so he went in person to the church to make sure that order was kept. He got up in front of everybody to give a speech about how it was important to keep the peace as a successor for Auxentius was chosen, and the crowd started shouting, "Ambrosius Episcopus!" Ambrose had to flee to a friend's house, but word had gotten back to Emperor Gratian about it and he, naturally assuming that Ambrose had actually had been chosen bishop, sent an official letter to Milan congratulating them on such an excellent choice. So he gave in and became bishop of the second most important see in the West. But Roman in his sense of duty, once he was in office, he gave away his wealth and threw himself with a will into learning everything about his role.

From his work De officiis ministrorum (Book II, Chapter IV):

There is, then, a blessedness even in pains and griefs. All which virtue with its sweetness checks and restrains, abounding as it does in natural resources for either soothing conscience or increasing grace. For Moses was blessed in no small degree when, surrounded by the Egyptians and shut in by the sea, he found by his merits a way for himself and the people to go through the waters. When was he ever braver than at the moment when, surrounded by the greatest dangers, he gave not up the hope of safety, but besought a triumph?

What of Aaron? When did he ever think himself more blessed than when he stood between the living and the dead, and by his presence stayed death from passing from the bodies of the dead to the lines of the living? What shall I say of the youth Daniel, who was so wise that, when in the midst of the lions enraged with hunger, he was by no means overcome with terror at the fierceness of the beasts. So free from fear was he, that he could eat, and was not afraid he might by his example excite the animals to feed on him.

There is, then, in pain a virtue that can display the sweetness of a good conscience, and therefore it serves as a proof that pain does not lessen the pleasure of virtue. As, then, there is no loss of blessedness to virtue through pain, so also the pleasures of the body and the enjoyment that benefits give add nothing to it. On this the Apostle says well: “What things to me were gain, those I counted loss for Christ,” and he added: “Wherefore I count all things but loss, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.”

From a letter to Ambrose by St. Basil the Great:

I have given glory to God, Who in every generation selects those who are well-pleasing to Him; Who of old indeed chose from the sheepfold a prince for His people; Who through the Spirit gifted Amos the herdman with power and raised him up to be a prophet; Who now has drawn forth for the care of Christ’s flock a man from the imperial city, entrusted with the government of a whole nation, exalted in character, in lineage, in position, in eloquence, in all that this world admires. This same man has flung away all the advantages of the world, counting them all loss that he may gain Christ, and has taken in his hand the helm of the ship, great and famous for its faith in God, the Church of Christ. Come, then, O man of God; not from men have you received or been taught the Gospel of Christ; it is the Lord Himself who has transferred you from the judges of the earth to the throne of the Apostles; fight the good fight; heal the infirmity of the people, if any are infected by the disease of Arian madness; renew the ancient footprints of the Fathers.

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