Ambrose (340 – 397) was a layman, not even yet baptized when in 374, as Governor of Aemilia-Liguria in northern Italy, he went to a church to quell a conflict between Arians and Catholics over the choice of the next bishop. As the cultured and educated Ambrose, well trained in law and rhetoric, began to speak, the restive crowd began to chant in unison, ‘Ambrose for bishop!’ There is nothing wrong with a democratic choice for our bishops, or by popular acclaim, so long as the Holy Father approves and ratifies the choice, and such may go some way to improving our episcopal candidates. The sensus fidelium and all that. I’m sure many readers have in their mind a vigorous, orthodox priest who would make a fine bishop, but never will in our current milieu. Certainly, it worked well in Ambrose’s case, one of the greatest pastors in the history of Christendom, known not least for his composition of chants – not specifically the task of a bishop, but a fitting accessory – more beautiful and ornate than the one which summoned him to office.

Still technically a pagan, but with Christian sensibilities, Ambrose fled into hiding, but eventually relented with the emperor’s urging, accepting in quick succession baptism, confirmation and ordination, after which, as bishop, he adopted an ascetic lifestyle of prayer, study, writing and pastoral work.

He was a great foe of the aforementioned heresy of Arianism, that Christ was not quite truly God, a political heresy, lingering long after its condemnation at Nicaea in 325. As someone once reflected, Arianism was a fitting foil for power hungry emperors and potentates, who could ‘reduce’ a non-divine Christ to a sort of quasi-divine demi-God who could then be manipulated to their own purposes, instead of the truly omnipotent God, to Whom every knee – emperor, president, prime minister or not – must bow . The insidious influence of Arianism is still with us, as our world leaders shrug their shoulders, and turn away from Christ and His message; at least, for now…

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