According to legend, when Ambrose was an infant, he was left outside one day, slumbering in his cradle in the warm sunlight. Suddenly, a swarm of bees discovered him. They landed on his face and crawled about, right into and out of his tiny open mouth. Then the swarm of bees flew away again—leaving him completely unharmed.
Those who witnessed this strange event believed it was a sign. Ambrose, they declared, was going to be a prestigiously eloquent man and rise to high places.
Whether or not the bees were indeed a prophecy, Ambrose went to school. Very soon, men in high offices of the government noticed him and his gift of speech. They became his patrons, and when he was old enough, one of them obtained a governorship for him.
Ambrose took up his office in Milan. As governor, he was firm but gentle; prudently stayed out of political and religious quarrels; honest in speech, but persuasively eloquent.
When Ambrose was about thirty-five, the bishop of Milan died. This bishop had adhered to the Arian heresy, denying the divinity of Christ. Upon his death, the Arians and the orthodox Christians clashed over who was to be elected as successor.
Ambrose, as the secular governor, pleaded for peace and order amid the tumult. Using words of wisdom, he did everything he could to prevent chaos. It had a surprising effect that he did not expect. Both sides of the crowd—impressed with Ambrose’s eloquence and fairness—suddenly began calling for Ambrose himself to be made bishop!
At first he strongly resisted the office—running away several times, begging the emperor not to allow him to leave his governorship, and even trying to hide—but in the end he submitted.
Ambrose’s popularity increased during his episcopacy. His door was open to all who sought his wisdom, and the daily stream of visitors constantly interrupted his study. Despite this busyness, he educated himself thoroughly and wrote extensively. His theological works were so important that he is one of the four original doctors of the Church.
In addition to this, Ambrose’s holiness (and homilies!) helped convert another great saint and doctor of the Church: St. Augustine of Hippo.
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