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Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Saint Ambrose

Ambrose came from a noble Roman family. His father was a Roman prefect in Gaul and his mother was (so we're told) a woman of intellect and piety.

There is a legend that when he was a baby, a swarm of bees settled on little Ambrose's face while he lay in his cradle, leaving behind a drop of honey. His father considered this a sign of his future honeyed-tongued eloquence.

Ambrose had a classical education in Rome, where he studied law. In 370 he was appointed a Consular Magistrate in Upper Italy with his headquarters at Milan. In this office Ambrose's kindness and wisdom won the esteem and love of the people.

In 374 he was appointed Bishop of Milan despite having had no theological training or even having been baptized . Ambrose became the most distinguished Ecclesiastic in Italy despite having no priesthood experience. After reluctantly accepting the decision he wass baptized, ordained and consecrated within a week before proceeding to give away his property to the poor.

Ambrose was musical and composed several hymns, which each had eight four-line stanzas. The best known is the hymn "Te Deum," which is based on the text "Te Deum Laudamus", ("We praise thee O God"). It is claimed it originated when Ambrose was baptising St Augustine. He improvised the hymn starting with the words "Te Deum Laudamus."

Troubled that in the Mass one individual sang all the Psalms and hymns whilst the congregation merely listened. Ambrose introduced to the western church congregational singing - antiphonal singing which allowed congregation to sing alternating parts of the music.

Ambrose was one of the first people to practise silent reading. Most of his contemporaries, including Augustine, thought it was impossible to read without translating the words into sound and mouthing them.

Ambrose, it appears, remained celibate all his life. He viewed virginity as superior to marriage and is alleged to have founded an institution for virgins in Rome.

Ambrose is recognised as one of the original four Doctors of the Church, along with Augustine, Jerome and Pope Gregory II.

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