Ambrose of Milan


b at or nr Treves (Trier, Germany) c339–340, d Milan, Italy 397. Son of the Praetorian Prefect of Gallia Narbonensis, Gaul, he trained and practised as a lawyer before being made Governor of Aemilia-Liguria in N Italy, based in Milan. When the heterodox (Arian; see Athanasius) Bp of Milan died in 374, the church laity demanded by acclamation that Ambrose, a Christian by conviction, a catechumen under instruction but not yet baptized, should succeed him. With some reluctance he accepted the unexpected call, and was baptized, ordained priest and made bishop in what was (probably and hopefully) record time. He first gave himself to theological study, and soon became known for his preaching and firmly orthodox teaching in the face of immorality, paganism, heresy and the encroaching power of the state. With Jerome, Augustine of Hippo (qv) and Gregory he has long been revered as one of the 4 ‘Doctors’ of the Latin church. Augustine, who twice quotes an Ambrose hymn, providentially owed much to him, and among the latter’s many writings was De Officiis Ministrorum, an ethical guidebook with special relevance to the clergy. His knowledge of Gk helped him to relate to the Eastern churches and their leaders and writings. He also wrote many valuable letters, may have drafted the so-called Athanasian Creed (included in the English BCP), probably introduced antiphonal singing in alternating parts, and certainly wrote several hymns. Though the authorship of some is in doubt, many current hymnals include versions of one or more attributed to him. He certainly wrote Deus Creator omnium, which has reached us in various translations including Creator of the earth and sky, and ends with the first known single-stz Lat doxology. Writing in non-rhyming octosyllabics (in 4-line stzs, the forerunners of English LM), he has been dubbed ‘the father of the church’s song’, certainly the beginnings of Latin hymnody. Earlier traditions credited him with authorship of Te Deum (dismissed by some as a ‘pleasant legend’—see notes to 160 and 177) so that the original of the anonymous 16th-c Jerusalem, my happy home contains the lines ‘Te Deum doth Saint Ambrose sing,/ Saint Austin doth the like;/ old Simeon and Zachary/ have not their songs to seek’. No.941.

Hymns and songs by Ambrose of Milan

Number Hymn Name
941 O splendour of God’s glory bright