Hagiography 108 St Ambrose of Milan: a Mortal Man who is Immortal

By Martin Nchedo Umeatuegbu

Ambrose of Milan has so many records in the Church and in the history of Christianity. He is among various saints whose feast days are not the dates of their death. Particularly, his own feast day, December 7, is the date he was ordained a bishop.

Today, Ambrose has a liturgical rite, the Ambrosian Liturgy, named after him which is popular in the Archdiocese of Milan and Bergamo, both in Italy, and in Diocese of Lugano in Switzerland. While these are important facts, both in the history of theology and theology of history, they still beg one important fact to be made clear: the significance of the name, Ambrose.

This name which traces to Greek, implies “immortal”, hence can be used as equal to or synonym for another name, “Athanatos” (derivative for Athansius), which implies “Everlasting” or “Eternal.” For to be immortal means to be eternal – without end.

If Ambrose’s name means immortal, but the person of Ambrose is mortal, having died, how then is he immortal? In other words, how can we say that someone who is mortal is at the same time immortal? Is this not a contradiction in terms?

Ambrose’s passage out of time becomes his mortality – his death. Yet, having died, he lives in eternity with God; he becomes immortal on account of his enjoyment of eternal bliss in heaven. This is why we venerate him today as Saint – one who is immortal with and in God.

On this account of his immortality, he is saluted as Doctor of Veneration of the Virgin Mary. Therefore, the sense of his mortality is constituted by his eternal destination to heaven; an immortal place of unending joy, the heavenly Jerusalem. He attained this by leading a holy life while still in the mortal nature on earth.

The second sense of immortality with reference to the Holy Ambrose is by the virtue of his works filled with divine inspiration. Ambrose, though has passed from this world, yet he still lives in his writings where we hear his voice. One great impact he has too is in his love for music, so that the way he organised his choir contributed so much to the spiritual benefits of everyone.

From Ambrose, we can learn that after the priest, the next preacher at Mass is the choir, for God speaks to souls through songs, just as He speaks to our souls through good books. Music and writing, therefore, become universal languages of the soul. For in both, one can encounter God in a solemn way of conversion of the heart.

Ambrose, by his holy life, teachings and writings, remains immortal, and goes further to encourage us to use our talents in a way that is beneficial to others. He gives us a yardstick on how to measure the success or failure of our talents.

If by our talents, we make positive impacts on the lives of others, it means we have used them successfully. If they make negative or no impacts on others, then we have failed. Our talents should not be used to promote immorality as present in our modern world, but good values. In this way, devoid of being immoral, we become immortal in the minds of those who know us and who come after us.

May St Ambrose by his immortal presence teach us to be like Christ by using our talents for God’s glory and for good of humans. Amen.

Martin Nchedo Umeatuegbu writes from Onitsha