Our patron saint (also known as “The Honey Tongued Doctor” and “Ambrogio”) was born around 340 A.D. in Trier, southern Gaul (modern Germany). He is a Latin Father of the Church and a Doctor of the Church.
His father was Prefect of Gaul (a region of western Europe that covered roughly what is now France, Belgium, and neighboring parts of Italy, the Netherlands, and Germany). Ambrose was the brother of Saint Marcellina and Saint Satyrus. He was educated in the classics, Greek, and philosophy at Rome. He was a poet and noted orator and he was a convert. Ambrose distinguished himself as a lawyer and as consular governor of Liguria and Æmilia, with his residence in Milan.
When the bishop of Milan died, a dispute over his replacement was leading to violence. Saint Ambrose intervened to calm both sides. While he was striving to hold an orderly election of a bishop to that see in 374, he impressed everyone involved so much that while he was still an unbaptized catechuman, he was chosen to fill the see. Ambrose resisted, claiming that he was not worthy, and out of his reverence for Baptism, as he was still only preparing for it. To prevent further violence, he assented, was baptized, ordained as a priest, and consecrated bishop on December 7, 374. He immediately gave away his wealth to the Church and the poor both for the good it did, and as an example to his flock.
Saint Ambrose studied the Scriptures and the Fathers, and preached every Sunday, frequently on virginity. His popularity enabled him to withstand the fierce Arian heretics and the encroachments of the secular powers on the Church. His influence over the rulers was such that, when Emperor Theodosius had caused the massacre of thousands of citizens at Thessalonica, Ambrose insisted on the emperor doing public penance, which the emperor did. Ambrose’s preaching helped convert Saint Augustine of Hippo, whom Ambrose baptized and brought into the Church. He called and chaired several theological councils during his time as bishop, many devoted to fighting heresy. Saint Ambrose welcomed Saint Ursus and Saint Alban of Mainz when they fled Naxos to escape Arian persecution and then sent them on to evangelize in Gaul and Germany.
The title “Honey Tongued Doctor,” initially bestowed because of his speaking and preaching ability, led to the use of a beehive and bees in his iconography, symbols which also indicate wisdom. This led to his association with bees, beekeepers, chandlers, and wax refiners. Ambrose left many writings on Scripture, priesthood, virginity, and doctrinal subjects, and composed many hymns and is one of the founders of Christian hymnology. Ambrosian Chant, Ambrosian Hymnography, and the Milanese (Ambrosian) Rite are named after him.
Saint Ambrose died of natural causes on Holy Saturday, April 4, 397 at Milan, Italy , and his relics are at the Basilica of Milan.