Thursday, February 19, 2015

Ambrose of Milan - Reluctant Leader

Sometimes the best person to have in charge is the person who does not want to be. Such a person was Ambrose of Milan. The church of Milan was having trouble choosing a bishop. It was divided between those who affirmed the deity of Christ and those who denied it. There was danger of a riot. A secular official named Ambrose came down and made a powerful speech in favor of harmony. And the people decided Ambrose should be the next bishop. He, himself was reluctant to accept the position; he was still in the process of preparing to be baptized. He accepted baptism, but the Emperor Valentinian had to urge him before he would be bishop. But once he was chosen, he took the position seriously. He studied, preached, and wrote hymns. He was serious about his duties and was a competent administrator. He was known for ministering to the poor and needy and teaching new converts.

Ambrose shows up most of all as a man of principle. He stood up for the deity of Christ, even against the Empress Justina. He deprived Maximus, a claimant to the throne of emperor, of church fellowship until he repented of murdering his predecessor. He did the same to the Emperor Theodosius when, in response to a riot in Thessalonica, Theodosius put to death many innocent along with the guilty. With Martin of Tours, Ambrose opposed the use of force against heresy. He so impressed Augustine of Hippo that it led to Augustine's conversation to Christianity.

Ambrose was not an exceptional theological thinker. He was eclipsed in the defense of the deity of the Christ and the Holy Spirit by the Cappadocians: Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzens, and Gregory of Nyssa. He was eclipsed in theology in general by his pupil Augustine of Hippo. He did have too great a tendency to honor the martyrs of the past, which helped lay the foundation for the idea of saints. But in general, this reluctant leader was a strong bishop who stood firm under pressure. Sometimes the best person for the job is not the one who puts himself forth.

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