From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.
This illustrious pontiff was deservedly placed in the calendar of the Church side by side with the glorious bishop of Myra. Nicholas confessed, at Nicæa, the divinity of the Redeemer; Ambrose, in his pity of Milan, was the object of the hatred of the Arians, and, by his invincible courage, triumphed over the enemies of Christ. Let Ambrose, then, unite his voice, as doctor of the Church, with that of St. Peter Chrysologus, and preach to the world the glories and the humiliations of the Messias. But, as doctor of the Church, he has a special claim to our veneration: it is, that among the bright luminaries of the Latin Church, four great masters head the list of sacred interpreters of the faith: Gregory, Augustine, Jerome; and then our glorious Ambrose, bishop of Milan, makes up the mystic number.
Ambrose owes his noble position in the calendar to the ancient custom of the Church, whereby, in the early ages, no saint’s feast was allowed to be kept in Lent. The day of his departure from this world and of his entrance into heaven was the fourth of April, which, more frequently than not, comes during Lent; so that it was requisite that the memory of his sacred death should be solemnized on some other day, and the seventh of December naturally presented itself for such a feast, inasmuch as it was the anniversary-day of Ambrose’s consecration as bishop.
But, independently of these considerations, the road which leads us to Bethlehem could be perfumed by nothing so fragrant as this feast of St. Ambrose. Does not the thought of this saintly and amiable bishop impress us with the image of dignity and sweetness combined? of the strength of the lion United with the gentleness of the dove? Time removes the deepest human impressions; but the memory of Ambrose is as vivid and dear in men’s minds as though he were still among us. Who can ever forget the young, yet staid and learned governor of Liguria and Emilia, who comes to Milan as a simple catechumen, and finds himself forced, by the acclamations of the people, to ascend the episcopal throne of this great city? And how indelibly impressed upon us are certain touching incidents of his early life! For instance, that beautiful presage of his irresistible eloquence—the swarm of bees coming round him as he was sleeping one day in his father’s garden, and entering into his mouth, as though they would tell us how sweet that babe’s words would be! And the prophetic gravity with which Ambrose, when quite a boy, would hold out his hand to his mother and sister, bidding them kiss it, for that one day it would be the hand of a bishop!
But what hard work awaited the neophyte of Milan, who was no sooner regenerated in the waters of Baptism, than he was consecrated priest and bishop! He had to apply himself, there and then, to close study of the sacred Scriptures, that so he might prepare himself to become the defender of the Church, which was * attacked, in the fundamental dogma of the Incarnation, by the false science of the Arians. In a short time he attained such proficiency in the sacred sciences, as to become, like the prophet, a wall of brass, which checked the further progress of Arianism: moreover, the works written by Ambrose possess such plenitude and surety of doctrine, as to be numbered by the Church among the most faithful and authoritative interpretations of her teaching.
But Ambrose had other and fiercer contests than those of religious controversy to encounter: his very life was more than once threatened by the heretics whom he had silenced. What a sublime spectacle that of a bishop blockaded in his church by the troops of the empress Justina, and defended within by his people, day and night! Pastor and flock, both are admirable. How had Ambrose merited such fidelity and confidence on the part of his people? By a whole life spent for the welfare of his city and his country. He had never ceased to preach Jesus to all men; and now, the people see their bishop become, by his zeal, his devotedness, and his selfsacrificing conduct, a living image of Jesus.
In the midst of these dangers which threatened his person, his great soul was calm and seemingly unconscious of the fury of his enemies. It was on that very occasion that he instituted, at Milan, the choral singing of the psalms. Up to that time, the holy canticles had been given from the ambo by the single voice of a lector; but Ambrose, shut up in his basilica with his people, takes the opportunity, and forms two choirs, bidding them respond to each other the verses of the psalms. The people forgot their trouble in the delight of this heavenly music; nay, the very howling of the tempest, and the fierceness of the siege they were sustaining, added enthusiasm to this first exercise of their new privilege. Such was the chivalrous origin of alternate psalmody in the western Church. Rome adopted the practice, which Ambrose was the first to introduce, and which will continue to be observed to the end of time. During these hours of struggle with his enemies the glorious bishop has another gift wherewith to enrich the faithful people who are defending him at the risk of their own lives. Ambrose is a poet, and he has frequently sung, in verses full of sweetness and sublimity, the greatness of the God of the Christians, and the mysteries of man’s salvation. He now gives to his devoted people these hymns, which he had composed only for his own private devotion. The basilicas of Milan soon echoed these accents of the sublime soul which first uttered them. Later on, the whole Latin Church adopted them; and in honour of the holy bishop who had thus opened one of the richest sources of the sacred liturgy, a hymn was, for a long time, called after his name, an Ambrosian. The Divine Office thus received a new mode of celebrating the divine praise, and the Church, the bride of Christ, possessed one means more of giving expression to the sentiments which animate her.
Thus our hymns, and the alternate singing of the psalms, are trophies of Ambrose’s victory. He had been raised up by God not for his own age alone, but also for those which were to follow. Hence, the Holy Ghost infused into him the knowledge of Christian jurisprudence, that he might be the defender of the rights of the Church at a period when paganism still lived, though defeated; and imperialism, or cæsarism, had still the instinct, though not the uncontrolled power, to exercise its tyranny. Ambrose’s law was the Gospel, and he would acknowledge no law which was in opposition to that. He could not understand such imperial policy as that of ordering a basilica to be given up to the Arians, for quietness’ sake! He would defend the inheritance of the Church; and in that defence, would shed the last drop of his blood. Certain courtiers dared to accuse him of tyranny:
‘No,’ answered the saint, ‘bishops are not tyrants, but have often to suffer from tyranny.’ The eunuch Calligonus, high chamberlain of the Emperor Valentinian II., had said to Ambrose; ‘What! darest thou, in my presence, to care so little for Valentinian! I will cut off thy head.' 'I would it might be so,' answered Ambrose, 'I should then die as a bishop, and thou wouldst have done what eunuchs are wont to do.'
This noble courage in the defence of the rights of the Church showed itself even more clearly on another occasion. The Roman senate, or rather that portion of the senate which, though a minority, was still pagan, was instigated by Symmachus, the prefect of Rome, to ask the emperor for the re-erection of the altar of victory in the Capitol, under the pretext of averting the misfortunes which threatened the empire. Ambrose, who had said to these politicians, 'I hate the religion of the Neros,' vehemently opposed this last effort of idolatry. He presented most eloquent petitions to Valentinian, in which he protested against an attempt which aimed at bringing a Christian prince to recognize that false doctrines have rights, and which would, if permitted to be tried, rob the one only Master of nations of the victories which He had won. Valentinian yielded to these earnest remonstrances, which taught him 'that a Christian emperor can honour only one altar—the altar of Christ and when the senators had to receive their answer, the prince told them that Rome was his mother, and he loved her: but that God was his Saviour, and he would obey Him.
If the empire of Rome had not been irrevocably condemned by God to destruction, the influence which St. Ambrose had over such well-intentioned princes as Valentinian would probably have saved it. The saint’s maxim was a strong one; but it was not to be realized until new kingdoms, springing up out of the ruins of the Roman empire, should be organized by the Christian Church. ‘An emperor’s grandest title,’ said Ambrose, 'is to be a son of the Church. An emperor is in the Church, he is not over her.’
It is beautiful to see the affectionate solicitude of St. Ambrose for the young emperor Gratian, at whose death he shed floods of tears. How tenderly, too, did he love Theodosius, that model Christian prince, for whose sake God retarded the fall of the empire, by the uninterrupted victory over all its enemies! On one occasion, indeed, this son of the Church showed in himself the pagan Cæsar; but his holy father Ambrose, by a severity which was inflexible because his affection for the culprit was great, brought him back to his duty and his God. ‘I loved,' says the holy bishop, in the funeral oration which he preached over Theodosius, ‘I loved this prince, who preferred correction to flattery. He stripped himself of his royal robes and publicly wept in the Church for the sin he had committed, and into which he had been led by evil counsel. In sighs and tears he sought to be forgiven. He, an emperor, did what common men would be ashamed to do, he did public penance; and for the rest of his life, he passed not a day without bewailing his sin.'
But we should have a very false idea of St. Ambrose if we thought that he turned his attention only to affairs of importance like these, which brought him before the notice of the world. No pastor could be more solicitous than he about the slightest detail which affected the interests of his flock. We have his life written by his deacon, Paulinus, who knew secrets which intimacy alone can know, and these fortunately he has revealed to us. Among other things, he tells us that when Ambrose heard confessions, he shed so many tears that the sinner was forced to weep: ‘You would have thought,’ says Paulinus, ‘that they were his own sins that he was listening to.’ We all know the tender paternal interest he felt for Augustine, when he was a slave to error and to his passions; and if we would have a faithful portrait of Ambrose, we must read in the Confessions of the bishop of Hippo the fine passage where he expresses his admiration and gratitude for his spiritual father. Ambrose had told Monica that her son Augustine, who gave her so much anxiety, would be converted. That happy day at last came; it was Ambrose’s hand which immersed in the cleansing waters of Baptism him who was to be the prince of the Doctors of the Church.
A heart thus loyal in its friendship could not but be affectionate to those who were related by ties of blood. He tenderly loved his brother Satyrus, as we may see from the two funeral orations which he has left us upon this brother, wherein he speaks his praises with all the warmth of enthusiastic admiration. He had a sister, too, named Marcellina, who was equally dear to her saintly brother. From her earliest years, she had spurned the world and its pomps, and the position which she might expect to enjoy in it, being a patrician’s daughter. She had received the veil of virginity from the hands of Pope Liberius, but lived in her father’s house at Rome. Her brother Ambrose was separated from her, but he seemed to love her the more for that; and he communicated with her in her holy retirement by frequent letters, several of which are still extant. She deserved all the esteem which Ambrose had for her; she had a great love for the Church of God, and she was heart and soul in all the great undertakings of her brother the bishop. The very heading of these letters shows the affection of the saint: ‘The brother to the sister or;’ To my sister Marcellina, dearer to me than mine own eyes and life.’ Then follows the letter, in an energetic and animated style, well suited to the soul-stirring communications he had to make to her about his struggles. One of them was written in the midst of the storm, when the courageous pontiff was besieged in his basilica by Justina’s soldiers. His discourses to the people of Milan, his consolations and his trials, the heroic sentiments of his great soul, all is told in these despatches to his sister, where every line shows how strong and holy was the attachment between Ambrose and Marcellina. The great basilica of Milan still contains the tombs of the brother and sister: and over them both is daily offered the divine sacrifice.
Such was Ambrose, of whom Theodosius was one day heard to say: 'There is but one bishop in the world.' Let us glorify the holy Spirit, who has vouchsafed to produce this sublime model in the Church, and let us beg of the holy pontiff to obtain for us, by his prayers, a share in that lively faith and ardent love which he himself had, and which he evinces in the delicious and eloquent writings he has left us on the mystery of the Incarnation. During these days, which are preparing us for the birth of our Incarnate Lord, Ambrose is one of our most powerful patrons.
His love towards the blessed Mother of God teaches us what admiration and love we ought to have for Mary. St. Ephrem and St. Ambrose are the two fathers of the fourth century who are the most explicit upon the glories of the office and the person of the Mother of Jesus. To confine ourselves to St. Ambrose, he has completely mastered this mystery, which he understood, and appreciated, and defined in his writings. Mary’s exemption from every stain of sin; Mary’s uniting herself, at the foot of the cross, with her divine Son for the salvation of the world; Jesus’ appearing, after His resurrection, to Mary first of all—on these and so many other points St. Ambrose has spoken so clearly as to deserve to be considered one of the most prominent witnesses of the primitive traditions respecting the privileges and dignity of the holy Mother of God.
This his devotion to Mary explains St. Ambrose’s enthusiastic admiration for the holy state of Christian virginity, of which he might justly be called the doctor. He surpasses all the fathers in the beautiful and eloquent manner in which he speaks of the dignity and happiness of virginity. Four of his writings are devoted to the praises of this sublime state. The pagans would fain have an imitation of it by instituting seven Vestal virgins, whom they loaded with honours and riches, and to whom they in due time restored liberty. St. Ambrose shows how contemptible these were, compared with the innumerable virgins of the Christian Church, who filled the whole world with the fragrance of their humility, constancy, and disinterestedness. But on this magnificent subject, his words were even more telling than his writings; and we learn from his contemporaries, that when he went to preach in any town, mothers would not allow their daughters to be present at his sermon, lest this irresistible panegyrist of the eternal nuptials with the Lamb should convince them that that was the better part, and persuade them to make it the object of their desires.
But our partiality and devotion to the great saint of Milan have made us exceed our usual limits: it is time to read the account of his virtues given us by the Church:
Ambrosius episcopus Mediolanensis, Ambrosii civis Romani filius, patre Galliae præfecto natus est. In hujus infantis oro examen apum consedisse dicitur: quæ res divinam viri eloquentiam præmonstrabat. Romæ liberalibus disciplinis eruditus est. Post a Probo praefecto Liguriae et Æmiliae præpositus: unde postea ejusdem Probi jussu cum potestate Mediolanum venit: ubi mortuo Auxentio, Ariano episcopo, populus de successore deligendo dissidebat. Quare Ambrosius, pro officii sui munere ecclesiam ingressus ut commotam seditionem sedaret, quum multa de quiete et tranquillitate reipublicæ præclare dixisset, derepente puero Ambrosium episcopum exclamante, universi populi vox erupit, Ambrosium episcopum deposcentis.
Recusante illo, et eorum precibus resistente, ardens populi studium ad Valentinianum imperatorem delatum est, cui gratissimum fuit a se delectos judices ad sacerdotium postulari. Fuit id etiam Probo præfecto jucundum, qui Ambrosio proficiscenti quasi divinans dixerat: Vade, age, non ut judex, sed ut episcopus. Itaque quum ad populi desiderium imperatoris voluntas accederet, Ambrosius baptizatus (erat enim catechumenus) sacrisque initiatus, ac servatis omnibus ex instituto Ecclesiæ Ordinum gradibus, octavo die, qui fuit septimo Idus Decembris, episcopale onus suscepit. Factus episcopus, Catholioam fidem et disciplinam ecclesiasticam acerrime defendit: multosque Arianos, et alios hæreticos, ad fidei veritatem convertit, in quibus clarissimum Ecclesiae lumen sanctum Augustinum Jesu Christo peperit.
Gratiano imperatore occiso, ad Maximum ejus interfectorem legatus iterum profectus est; eoque poenitentiam agere recusante, se ab ejus communione semovit. Theodosium imperatorem propter cædem Thessalonicae factam ingressu ecclesiae prohibuit. Cui, quum ille David quoque regem adulterum et homicidam fuisse dixisset, respondit Ambrosius: Qui secutus es errantem, sequere pœnitentem. Quare Theodosius sibi ab eo impositam publicam pœnitentiam humiliter egit. Ergo sanctus episcopus pro Ecclesia Dei maximis laboribus curisque perfunctus, multis libris etiam egregie conscriptis, antequam in morbum incideret, mortis suæ diem praedixit. Ad quem aegrotum Honoratus Vercellensis episcopus, Dei voce ter admonitus accurrit, eique sanctum Domini Corpus præbuit: quo ille sumpto, conformatis in crucis similitudinem manibus orans, animam Deo reddidit, pridie Nonas Aprilis, anno post Christum natum trecentesimo nonagesimo septimo.
Ambrose, bishop of Milan, was the son of a Roman citizen, whose name was also Ambrose, and who held the office of prefect of Cisalpine Gaul. It is related that when the saint was an infant, a swarm of bees rested on his lips; it was a presage of his future extraordinary eloquence. He received a liberal education at Rome, and not long after was appointed, by the prefect Probus, to be governor of Liguria and Emilia, whence, later on, he was sent, by order of the same Probus, to Milan, with power of judge; for the people of that city were quarrelling among themselves about the successor of the Arian bishop, Auxentius, who had died. Wherefore, Ambrose, having entered the church that he might fulfil the duty that had been imposed on him, and quell the disturbance that had arisen, delivered an eloquent discourse on the advantages of peace and tranquillity in a State. Scarcely had he finished speaking, than a boy exclaimed: ‘Ambrose, bishop!’ The whole multitude shouted: ‘Ambrose, bishop!'
On his refusing to accede to their entreaties, the earnest request of the people was presented to the emperor Valentinian, who was gratified that they whom he selected as judges were thus sought after to be made priests. It was also pleasing to the prefect Probus, who, as though he foresaw the event, said to Ambrose on his setting out: 'Go, act not as judge, but as bishop.' The desire of the people being thus seconded by the will of the emperor, Ambrose was baptized (for he was only a catechumen), and was admitted to sacred Orders, ascending by all the degrees of Orders as proscribed by the Church; and on the eighth day, which was the seventh of the Ides of December (December 7), he received the burden of the episcopacy. Being made bishop, he most strenuously defended the Catholic faith, and ecclesiastical discipline. He converted to the true faith many Arians, and other heretics, among whom was that brightest luminary of the Church, St. Augustine, the spiritual child of Ambrose in Christ Jesus.
When the emperor Gratian was killed by Maximus, Ambrose was twice deputed to go to the murderer, and insist on his doing penance for his crime; which he refusing to do, Ambrose refused to hold communion with him. The emperor Theodosius having made himself guilty of the massacre at Thessalonica, was forbidden by the saint to enter the church. On the emperor’s excusing himself by saying that king David had also committed murder and adultery, Ambrose replied: ‘Thou hast imitated his sin, now imitate his repentance.’ Upon which, Theodosius humbly performed the public penance which the bishop imposed upon him. The holy bishop having thus gone through the greatest labours and solicitudes for God’s Church, and having written several admirable books, foretold the day of his death, before he was taken with his last sickness. Honoratus, the bishop of Vercelli, was thrice admonished by the voice of God to go to the dying saint: he went, and administered to him the sacred Body of our Lord. Ambrose having received it, and placing his hands in the form of the cross, prayed, and yielded his soul up to God, on the eve of the Nones of April (April 4), in the year of our Lord 397.
Let us salute this great doctor in the words which the holy Church addresses to him in the Office of Vespers.
O doctor optime, Ecclesiæ sanctæ lumen, beate Ambrosi, divinæ legis amator, deprecare pro nobis Filium Dei.
O most admirable doctor, light of Holy Church, blessed Ambrose, lover of the divine law, pray for us to the Son of God.
The Ambrosian liturgy is not so rich in its praises of St. Ambrose as we might naturally expect it to be. Even the Preface of the Mass is so short and so wanting in any special allusion to the saint, that we think it useless to insert it. We will content ourselves with giving two of the responsories of the night Office, the hymn, and the collect, which strikes us as being the finest. With regard to the hymn, it is well to mention that almost the whole of it is a modern composition, having been, like a great many other hymns of the Ambrosian breviary, subjected to very considerable corrections. The ancient hymn began with the verse Miraculum laudabile; but is extremely poor both in sentiment and expression.
R. Super quem requiescam, dicit Dominus, nisi super humilem et mansuetum, * Trementem verba mea? V. Inveni David servum meum, oleo sancto meo unxi eum. * Trementem verba mea?
R. Directus est vir inclytus, ut Arium destrueret: splendor Ecclesiæ, claritas vatum; * Infulas dum gerit saeculi, acquisivit paradisi. V. Dictum enim fuerat proficiscenti: Vade, age non ut judex sed ut episcopus. * Infulas dum gerit sæculi, acquisivit paradisi.
R. Upon whom shall I rest, saith the Lord, but upon him that is humble and meek. * Who trembleth at my words? V. I have found David my servant, and with my holy oil have I anointed him. * Who trembleth at my words?
R. This illustrious man was sent that he might destroy Arius: he was the glory of the Church, the ornament of pontiffs; * Whilst wearing an earthly mitre, he gained that of heaven. V. It was said to him as he set out: Go, act not as judge, but as bishop. * Whilst wearing an earthly mitre, he gained that of heaven.
Nostrum parentem maximum
Canamus omnes, turbidas
Qui fluctuantis sæculi
Terris procellas expulit.
Puer quiescit: floreis
Apes labellis insident;
Mellis magistræ, melicum
Signant ducem facundiæ.
Parvam, futuri praescius,
Dextram coli vult osculis;
Vixdum solutus fasciis,
Quaerit tiaræ tænias.
Infans locutus, Insubrum
Ambrosio fert infulam;
Hanc fugit: at semper fugam
Honos fefellit obvius.
Velat sacrata denique
Doctum tiara verticem:
Ceu tectus ora casside,
Bellum minatur Ario.
Nen sceptra concussas timet,
Non imperantem fœminam,
Temploque, clausis postibus,
Arcet cruentum Cæsarem.
Sordes fluentis abluit
Fide coaequans martyres,
Invenit artus martyrum.
Jam nunc furentem tartari
Lupum flagello submove;
Quem Pastor olim rexeris,
Gregem tuere jugiter.
Deo Patri sit gloria,
Ejusque soli Filio,
Cum Spiritu Paraclito,
Nunc et per omne saeculum.
Let us all sing the praise of our august father,
who drove from the land
the turbid storms
of a tempestuous age.
A babe, he sleeps;
when lo! a swarm of bees lights on his flowery lips;
these honeymakers thus telling us that here was one
who would captivate men by the sweetness of his eloquence.
Prescient of the future,
he must have his infant hand honoured with kisses;
and he who has scarce been freed from swathing bands,
plays with the fillets of a mitre.
A boy cries out,
and Milan would have Ambrose receive the mitre;
Ambrose flees from it,
but honours ever pursue those who run from them.
At last the sacred mitre
crowns this head where wisdom sits;
the helmet once on,
our warrior gives Arius battle.
Unflinching, he fears neither sceptres,
nor a haughty empress;
and when a blood-stained Cæsar attempts to enter the church,
he closes the doors against him and repels him from the holy spot.
He washes away the sins of Augustine
in the heavenly laver of baptism;
companion to the martyrs by his faith,
he discovers the relics of martyrs.
Holy pontiff, now with thy scourge
drive away far from us the furious wolf of hell:
that flock which thou once didst govern,
let it for ever enjoy thy protection.
To God the Father,
and to his only Son,
and to the holy Paraclete,
be glory now and for all ages.
Æterne omnipotens Deus, qui beatum Ambrosium, tui nominis Confessorem, non solum huic Ecclesiæ, sed omnibus per mundum diffusis Ecclesiis Doctorem dedisti: præsta ut, quod ille divino afflatus Spiritu docuit, nostris jugiter stabiliatur in cordibus, et quem patronum, te donante, amplectimur, eum apud tuam misericordiam defensorem habeamus. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.
O almighty and eternal God, who hast given the blessed Ambrose, the Confessor of thy holy name, to be a Doctor of heavenly truth, not to this Church (of Milan) alone, but to all the Churches throughout the world: grant, that the doctrine he taught by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, may be ever firmly fixed in our hearts, and that he whom we tenderly love as the patron thou hast given to us, may be to us a defender, powerful to obtain us thy mercy. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Mozarabic liturgy has nothing proper on St. Ambrose. The Greeks, on the contrary, honour the memory of the great bishop of Milan by hymns replete with the most magnificent praises. We give a few of the most striking passages.
HYMN TO ST. AMBROSE
(Taken from the Menæa of the Greeks. December 7)
Præfecturæ thronum exornans virtute duplici, divina inspiratione hierarchiæ thronum utiliter implevisti: ideo fidelis œconomus principatus in utroque factus, duplicem coronam hæreditasti.
In continentia, et laboribus, et vigiliis multis, et precibus intensis animam corpusque purificasti, Dei sapiens, vas electionis Dei nostri, apostolis similis demonstratus, accepisti dona.
Pium regem post peccatum, ut olim David Nathan, audacter animadvertens, Ambrosi beatissime, sapienter excommunicationi subjecisti, et poenitentiam docens Deo digne, in gregem tuum revocasti.
Sancte pater, sacratissime Ambrosi, lyra resonans, salutare melos orthodoxorum dogmatum, attrahens fidelium animas, canora divini Paracliti cithara: Dei magnum organum, laudandissima Ecclesiae tuba, fons limpidissimus, fluentum eluens libidinum; Christum ora, Christum deprecare dari Ecclesias unanimem pacem et magnam misericordiam.
Eliam prophetam imitatus, Baptistamque similiter, reges inique agentes animadvertisti viriliter; hierarchiæ thronum divinitus ornasti, et miraculorum multitudine mundum ditasti, ideoque divinæ Scripturae alimonia fideles roborasti, et infideles immutasti. Sacerdos Ambrosi, Christum Deum deprecare dare peccatorum remissionem recolentibus cum amore tuam sanctam memoriam.
Ab omni noxa adversariorum servasti gregem, beate; et Arii errorem omnem delevisti splendore verborum tuorum.
In divina tua memoria sacerdotum coetus oblectatur, et fidelium chori cum angelis incorporati exsultant et delectantur, nutriturque hodie spiritualiter Ecclesia in verbis tuis, Ambrosi pater.
Agricola videris sulcans fidei promptum agrum et doctrinae; inseminans, Deisapiens, dogmata: et spica multiplicata, distribuis Ecclesiae cœlestem Spiritus panem.
Roma tua celebrat præclara gesta; fulgidus enim ut sidus undique miraculorum magnas faces, sacerdos, cum fide immisisti, vere mirande.
Mane accedens ad Christum, splendoribus fulgebas ditanter: ideo divinum nactus lumen, illuminas honorantes te ubique cum fide.
Corpus tuum et animam Deo consecrasti: et capax donorum, pater, cor tuum conglutinasti dulci amori enixe inhærens.
Accepto, sapiens, verbi talento, ut servus fidelis ad mensam illud dedisti et multiplicasti, atque adsportasti integrum cum fructu Domino tuo, Ambrosi.
Claram fecisti stolam sacram laboribus tuis, et visus es pastor rationabilium alumnorum sapiens, quos baculo tuo in doctrinae pascua antepellebas.
Thou that didst adora with twofold virtue the throne of the prefecture, didst meritoriously fill the throne of the hierarchy on which divine inspiration placed thee: faithful steward, therefore, in both dignities, thou hast inherited a double crown.
Thou didst purify thy soul and body by continency, and labours, and much watching, and intense prayer, O divinely wise one, O vessel of election of our God! thou wast like to the apostles, thou didst receive, like them, the gifts of the Holy Ghost.
As heretofore Nathan reproved David, so didst thou boldly chide the good emperor after his sin, O most blessed Ambrose! Thou didst wisely subject him to excommunication, and didst teach him to do condign penance: thus restoring him to thy fold.
Holy father, most saintly Ambrose, sweet sounding lute, refreshing melody of true dogmas, attracting the souls of believers, sweet harp of the holy Spirit, organ of God, incomparable trumpet of the Church, most limpid fountain which cleansest the turbid passions! offer thy prayers to Christ, and beseech him to bestow on his Church unanimity and peace and plentiful mercy.
Following the examples of the prophet Elias and of the Baptist, thou didst fearlessly reprove kings for their evil doings; thou didst admirably adorn the throne of the hierarchy; thou didst enrich the world with the multitude of thy miracles; and therefore thou didst strengthen the faithful and convert the unbelievers, by the nourishment of the divine Scriptures. O Ambrose! O holy priest! pray to Christ our Lord that he grant the forgiveness of their sins to them that celebrate with love thy holy memory.
Thou, O blessed pastor, didst defend thy flock from all their enemies; and by the splendour of thy teachings, didst dissipate every error of Arius.
The assembly of the priests rejoices in celebrating thy holy memory, and the choirs of the faithful, united with the angelic spirits, exult and are glad; the Church to-day is spiritually nourished by thy words, O father Ambrose!
Thou art the husbandman, that tillest the field, which is open to all men, of faith and doctrine; thou there sowest the dogmas of truth, for thou art filled with heavenly wisdom; and the grain being multiplied, thou distributest to the Church the heavenly bread of the holy Spirit.
Rome celebrates thy glorious deeds, for, bright as a star, thou shootest forth everywhere the great blaze of thy miracles, O truly admirable pontiff.
From the earliest dawn thou didst approach to Christ, richly bright with his rays upon thee: therefore, having reached the divine light, thou enlightenest them that, throughout the world, honour thee with faith.
Thou didst consecrate thy body and soul to God; and thy heart, O father, which was made for great gifts, thou didst fasten to his sweet love, and there it clung intensely.
Entrusted with the talent of the word, thou didst, as a wise and prudent servant, put it out to usury and multiply it and bring it with interest to thy Lord, O Ambrose!
The holy robe of the pontiff thou didst adorn with thy labours: thou wast the wise shepherd of the intellectual flock, and with thy pastoral staff thou didst lead them before thee into the pastures of doctrine.
And we, too, O immortal Ambrose, unworthy though we be to take part in such a choir, we, too, will praise thee! We will praise the magnificent gifts which our Lord bestowed upon thee. Thou art the light of the Church and the salt of the earth by thy heavenly teachings; thou art the vigilant pastor, the affectionate father, the unyielding pontiff; oh! how must thy heart have loved that Jesus, for whom we are now preparing! With what undaunted courage thou didst, at the risk of thy life, resist them that blasphemed this divine Word! Well indeed hast thou thereby merited to be made one of the patrons of the faithful, to lead them, each year, to Him who is their Saviour, and their King! Let, then, a ray of the truth, which filled thy sublime soul whilst here on earth, penetrate even into our hearts; give us a relish for thy sweet and eloquent writings; get us a sentiment of devoted love for the Jesus who is so soon to be with us. Obtain for us, after thy example, to take up His cause with energy, against the enemies of our holy faith, against the spirits of darkness, and against ourselves. Let everything yield, let everything be annihilated, let every knee bow, let every heart confess itself conquered, in the presence of Jesus, the eternal Word of the Father, the Son of God, and the Son of Mary, our Redeemer, our Judge, our All.
Glorious saint! humble us, as thou didst Theodosius; raise us up again contrite and converted, as thou didst lovingly raise up this thy strayed sheep and carry him back to thy fold. Pray, too, for the Catholic hierarchy, of which thou wast one of the brightest ornaments. Ask of God, for the priests and bishops of His Church, that humble yet inflexible courage wherewith they should resist the powers of the world, as often as these abuse the authority which God has put into their hands. Let their face, as our Lord Himself speaks, become hard as adamant against the enemies of the Church, and may they set themselves as a wall for the house of Israel; may they consider it as the highest privilege, and the greatest happiness, to be permitted to expose their property, and peace, and life, for the liberty of this holy bride of Christ.
Valiant champion of the truth! arm thyself with thy scourge, which the Church has given thee as thy emblem; and drive far from the flock of Christ the wolves of the Arian tribe, which, under various names, are even now prowling round the fold. Let our ears be no longer shocked with the blasphemies of these proud teachers, who presume to scan, judge, approve, and blame, by the measure of their vain conceits, the great God who has given them everything they are and have, and who, out of infinite love for His creatures, has deigned to humble Himself and become one of ourselves, although knowing that men would make this very condescension an argument for denying that He is God.
Remove our prejudices, O thou great lover of truth! and crush within us those time-serving and unwise theories, which tend to make us Christians forget that Jesus is the King of this world, and look on the law, which equally protects error and truth, as the perfection of modem systems. May we understand that the rights of the Son of God and of His Church do not cease to exist, because the world ceases to acknowledge them; that to give the same protection to the true religion and to those false doctrines which men have set up in opposition to the teachings of the Church, is to deny that all power has been given to Jesus in heaven and on earth; that those scourges which periodically come upon the world are the lessons which Jesus gives to those who trample on the rights of His Church, rights which He so justly acquired by dying on the cross for all mankind; that, finally, though it be out of our power to restore those rights to people that have had the misfortune to resign them, yet it is our duty, under pain of being accomplices with those who would not have Jesus reign over them, to acknowledge that they are the rights of the Church.
And lastly, dear saint, in the midst of the dark clouds which lower over the world, console our holy mother the Church, who is now but a stranger and a pilgrim amidst those nations which were her children, but have now denied her; may she cull the flowers of holy virginity among the faithful, and may that holy state be the attraction of those fortunate souls who understand how grand is the dignity of being a bride of Christ. If, at the very commencement of her ministry, during the ages of persecution, the holy Church could lead countless virgins to Jesus, may it be so even now in our own age of crime and sensuality; may those pure and generous hearts, formed and consecrated to the Lamb by this holy mother, become more and more numerous; and so give to her enemies this irresistible proof that she is not barren, as they pretend, and that it is she that alone preserves the world from universal corruption, by leavening it with angelic purity.
Let us consider that last visible preparation for the coming of the Messias: a universal peace. The din of war is silenced, and the entire world is intent in expectation. ‘There are three silences to be considered,’ says St. Bonaventure, in one of his sermons for Advent; ‘the first in the days of Noah, after the deluge had destroyed all sinners; the second, in the days of Cæsar Augustus, when all nations were subjected to the empire; the third will be at the death of Antichrist, when the Jews shall be converted.’ O Jesus! Prince of peace, Thou wiliest that the world shall be in peace, when Thou art coming down to dwell in it. Thou didst foretell this by the psalmist, Thy ancestor in the flesh, who, speaking of Thee, said: ‘He shall make wars to cease even to the end of the earth, He shall destroy the bow, and break the weapons; and the shield He shall bum in the fire.’ And why is this, O Jesus? It is, that hearts which Thou art to visit must be silent and attentive. It is that before Thou enterest a soul, Thou troublest it in Thy great mercy, as the world was troubled and agitated before the universal peace; then Thou bringest peace into that soul, and Thou takest possession of her. Oh! come quickly, dear Lord, subdue our rebellious senses, bring low the haughtiness of our spirit, crucify our flesh, rouse our hearts from their sleep: and then may Thy entrance into our souls be a feast-day of triumph, as when a conqueror enters a city which he has taken after a long siege. Sweet Jesus, Prince of peace! give us peace; fix Thy kingdom so firmly in our hearts, that Thou mayst reign in us for ever.
RESPONSORY OF ADVENT
(Roman breviary, Matins of the first Sunday)
R. Aspiciebam in visti noctis, et ecce in nubibus cœli Filius hominis veniebat: et datum est ei regnum et honor. * Et omnis populus, tribus et linguæ servient ei.
V. Potestas ejus potestas æterna, quæ non auferetur, et regnum ejus quod non corrumpetur. * Et omnis populus, tribus et linguæ servient ei.
R. I looked in the vision of night, and lo! in the clouds of heaven there came the Son of Man: and empire and honour was given unto him. * And all peoples, and tribes, and tongues, shall serve him.
V. His power is an everlasting power that shall not be taken away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed. * And allpeoples, and tribes, and tongues, shall serve him.
 Ezech. iii. 9.
 Ibid. xiii. 5.
 Ps. xlv. 10.