Ambrose of Milan (339–397), also called St. Ambrose, was the first early church father to be born into a Roman Christian family. He is best remembered for his successful fight against Arianism, his contributions to church music, his stance on the separation of church and state, and his influence on the conversion of who would later become Saint Augustine.
Ambrose was born shortly after the First Council of Nicea into a wealthy and powerful Roman family. He became the governor of northern Italian provinces and was summoned to settle a conflict between rival religious factions: orthodox Catholics and Arians. Ambrose supported the Nicene Creed and spoke against Arian theology. However, he was so well respected by both sides of the conflict that they demanded he become their bishop.
Ambrose’s experience in politics served him well in his role as bishop. Among his most distinctive teachings was his perspective on the relationship between church and state. Contrary to many of his peers, Ambrose held that the church was not morally subject to the ruling government. Rather, he taught, the government was subject to the moral authority of the church. Ambrose went so far as to ban the ruling emperor, Theodosius, from communion unless he repented of his role in a massacre of civilians.
While he agreed that Rome was the “spiritual” head of the universal church, Bishop Ambrose did not support the idea of Rome being the legal or governmental authority over all Christians.
With fraternal affection,
Fr. Homero C