St. Ambrose tries to avoid becoming bishop of Milan

Pocket Bard’s notes: I like the idea of St. Ambrose running away from people who want to give him a position of power. I see it in my mind’s eye like a Marx Brothers or Mel Brooks scene, with St. Ambrose constantly looking over his shoulder and then running into the crowd of people who are cheering his name. I imagine it could be an awesome few minutes of a movie.

As an aside, there’s a bit of a frame story that I’ve omitted from the excerpt below, about St. Ambrose’s sister kissing the hand of a bishop, and then later kissing St. Ambrose’s hand. It’s cute, but makes the story longer and a bit more difficult to deliver, so I’ve left it out.

St. Ambrose tries to avoid becoming bishop of Milan
The Golden Legend, Volume I, trans. William Granger Ryan, p.229-230

Ambrose made his studies in Rome and pleaded cases in the courts with such eloquence that the emperor Valentinian appointed him to govern the province of Liguria-Emilia. After his arrival in Milan, the capital of the province, the bishop of the city died and the populace gathered in the cathedral to choose a new bishop. A noisy disturbance broke out, however, between the Arians and the Catholics over the election, and Ambrose went to the church to quell the commotion. As he entered, a child’s voice was heart, crying “Ambrose the bishop!” All present took up the cry and unanimously acclaimed Ambrose to be their bishop.

Ambrose thereupon tried to frighten the people into changing their minds. He left the church, went straight to the tribunal, and there, contrary to his usual moderate practice, sentenced several persons to be tortured. The populace, undeterred, shouted: “Your sin be upon us!” Deeply troubled, Ambrose went home and tried to pose as a mere teacher of philosophy, but the public would have none of it and called him out again. Then he publicly had women of the street brought to his house, hoping that the people, seeing this, would revoke their decision; but this, too, failed, and the crowds continued to take his sin upon themselves. Then he determined to flee the city by night, but in the morning, when he thought he had reached Pavia, he found himself at the gate of Milan called the Porta Romana. There the people found him and would not let him out of their hands.

All this was reported to the most clement emperor Valentinian, who was delighted that judges appointed by him should be considered for the priesthood, and the worthy ruler was particularly pleased that his word to Ambrose had been fulfilled. When he had dispatched him to Milan with his new commission, he had said to him: “Go, and act not like a judge but like a bishop.” Meanwhile, in the interval before the answer to the report came back, Ambrose managed to hide again, but the people found him. Then it was realized that he was only a catechumen. He was baptized immediately and within a week was elevated to the episcopal throne.


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