Friday, January 1, 7340

Ambrose (c. 340-397) - Ambrosian Hymn

Saint Ambrose (c. 340 - April 4, 397) was a bishop of Milan who became one of the most influential ecclesiastical figures of the fourth century. He is counted as one of the four original doctors of the Church.

Ambrose was born into a Frankish Christian family between about 337 and 340 and was raised in Trier. He was the son of a praetorian prefect of Gallia Narbonensis; his mother was a woman of intellect and piety. There is a legend that as an infant, a swarm of bees settled on his face while he lay in his cradle, leaving behind a drop of honey. His father considered this a sign of his future eloquence and honeyed tongue. For this reason, bees and beehives often appear in the saint's symbology.

After the early death of his father, Ambrose followed his father's career. He was educated in Rome, studying literature, law, and rhetoric. Praetor Anicius Probus first gave him a place in the council and then in about 372 made him consular prefect of Liguria and Emilia, with headquarters at Milan, which was then beside Rome the second capital in Italy. Ambrose made an excellent administrator in this important position and soon became very popular.

There was a deep conflict in the diocese of Milan as well as the rest of the Church between the Trinitarians and the Arians. In 374, Auxentius, bishop of Milan, died, and the Arians challenged the succession. The prefect went personally to the basilica where the election should take place, to prevent an uproar which was probable in this crisis. His address was interrupted by a call "Ambrose for bishop!" which was taken up by others upon which he was univocally elected bishop.

Ambrose was known to be personally Trinitarian, but also acceptable to Arians due to the charity shown in theological matters in this regard. At first he energetically refused the office, for which he was in no way prepared: Ambrose was neither baptized nor formally trained in theology.

Upon his appointment, St. Ambrose fled to a colleague's home to seek hiding. Upon receiving a letter from the Emperor praising the appropriateness of Rome appointing individuals evidently worthy of holy positions, St. Ambrose's host gave Ambrose up. Within a week, Ambrose was baptized, ordained and duly installed as bishop of Milan.

As bishop, he immediately adopted an ascetic lifestyle, apportioned his money to the poor, donating all of his land, making only provision for his sister Marcellina, and committed the care of his family to his brother. Saint Ambrose also wrote a treatise by the name of "The Goodness Of Death".

Ambrose is traditionally credited but not actually known to have composed any of the repertory of Ambrosian chant, much as the later pope St. Gregory I the Great is not known to have composed any Gregorian chant, the plainsong or "Romish chant." However, Ambrosian chant was named in his honor due to his contributions to the music of the Church; he is credited with introducing hymnody from the Eastern Church into the West.

Ambrose composed several original hymns, four of which still survive, along with music which may not have changed too much from the original melodies. Each of these hymns has eight four-line stanzas and is written in strict iambic tetrameter. Marked by dignified simplicity, they served as a fruitful model for later times.

Deus Creator Omnium

Aeterne rerum conditor (Eternal Founder of All Things)

Version 1

Version 2

Jam surgit hora tertia

Jam Christus astra ascendante

In his writings, Ambrose refers only to the performance of antiphonal psalms, in which solo singing of psalm verses alternated with a congregational refrain called an antiphon.

St. Ambrose was also traditionally credited with composing the hymn Te Deum, which he is said to have composed when he baptised Saint Augustine, his celebrated convert.

Ambrose is the subject of a curious anecdote in Augustine's Confessions which bears on the history of reading:

“ When [Ambrose] read, his eyes scanned the page and his heart sought out the meaning, but his voice was silent and his tongue was still. Anyone could approach him freely and guests were not commonly announced, so that often, when we came to visit him, we found him reading like this in silence, for he never read aloud. ”

The extraordinary aspect of this passage, of course, is that Augustine felt it noteworthy that Ambrose could read silently, implying that hardly anyone else could at the time.

Others opine that what was well written was intended to be read aloud in the ancient world, and this was customary. Ambrose surprised Augustine not by his ability to read silently, but by his habit of reading silently.

[7400 Jalatarang / 7340 Ambrose]