The missional Ambrose

lent2016

Reading: John 8

26 ‘I have much to say in judgment of you. But he who sent me is trustworthy, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.’ 27 They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father. 28 So Jesus said, ‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. 29 The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.’ 30 Even as he spoke, many believed in him.

31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’

 

Augustine’s stay in Rome was very short. The students were no more diligent and honest than their Carthaginian counterparts. Then, unexpectedly, he received an offer of assuming the prestigious post of rhetoric teacher in the imperial capital of Milan. He accepted gladly and soon set out from Rome heading north. Bishop Ambrose was diligently performing pastoral duties in the city of Milan and would later play an important role in Augustine’s conversion. Augustine describes his first impression of the famous preacher:

"This man of God welcomed me with fatherly kindness and showed the charitable concern for my pilgrimage that befitted a bishop. I began to feel affection for him, not at first as a teacher of truth, for that I had given up hope of finding in your Church, but simply as a man who was kind to me. With professional interest I listened to him conducting disputes before the people, but my intention was not the right one: I was assessing his eloquence to see whether it matched his reputation. I wished to ascertain whether the readiness of speech with which rumour credited him was really there, or something more, or less. I hung keenly upon his words, but cared little for their content, and indeed despised it."

When Augustine met Ambrose for the first time in his life, he was stricken above all by his human virtues: openness, kindness, and a good heart. The bishop of Milan must have had those in abundance, since Augustine was not afraid to state that he was welcomed like a son.

Ambrose did not immediately try to convert the young but already famous teacher or touch upon subjects directly relating to faith and the church. At the time he was convinced that faith is above all the result of one’s own examinations, efforts, work, and philosophical inquiries. It took a lot of effort, wisdom, and patience on Ambrose’s part to convince Augustine that faith is primarily a gift from God, who kindly regards those who open their hearts and minds. It is not man who is supposed to find the Truth, Ambrose said to him once, but simply allow the Truth to find him.

Lord may the Truth set us free. Amen.