The Saint Who Converted Saint Augustine
Today, the seventh day of December, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Saint Ambrose. What you might not know is that if we did not have Saint Ambrose, we would not have the Augustinian Order as we know it today!
Let's start at the beginning ...
Who Was Saint Ambrose?
Ambrose became the Archbishop of Milan in present-day Italy in the year 374. In addition to giving to the poor and reforming the liturgy of his diocese, he focused on converting many in his diocese back to the Catholic, Christian Church. He was particularly effective given that he had a great gift for rhetoric and public speaking. He was author renowned for his academic and spiritual contributions to writings on Christian doctrine.
What Was Ambrose's Relationship to Saint Augustine?
At the age of 31, Augustine was teaching in Milan. He was also constantly seeking for Truth in his life. He was raised Christian but fell away from the faith in his late teenage years. He explored a variety of different faiths throughout his twenties; but his curiosity piqued when he encountered Ambrose ...
Both Augustine and Ambrose had exceptional oratory skills. In fact, one of the reasons Augustine had approached Ambrose was because of his interest in his public speaking skills. And yet, the more intently that Augustine listened to Ambrose's arguments, the more Augustine began to reconsider his own doubts about Christianity.
In the summer of 386, Augustine had a miraculous conversion. While outdoors one day, he heard the voices of children singing, "Tolle lege! Tolle lege!" or, "Take up and read! Take up and read!" He first dismissed the chant as some sort of children's game but eventually realized that this may instead be a call from God. Augustine picked up a bible and read the first passage he saw:
“[Not] in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual excess and lust, not in quarreling and jealousy. Rather, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh. — Romans 13:13-34
Augustine later explained that from that passage alone, he did not need to read any further for "all the darkness of doubt was dispelled." On Easter Vigil the following year -- on April 24, 387 -- Ambrose baptized Augustine in Milan.
From that point on, Augustine was ordained a priest in 389; he was ordained to be the Bishop of Hippo in present-day Algeria in the year 395. He developed a community of brothers in Hippo that followed Augustine's Rule. This fourth century community eventually gave inspiration to canonically found the Augustinian Order as we know it today.
In addition to both being canonized saints, both Saints Ambrose and Augustine are recognized as Doctors of the Church. According to Catholic Online:
“This is a very special title accorded by the Church to certain saints. This title indicates that the writings and preachings of such a person are useful to Christians “in any age of the Church.” Such men and women are also particularly known for the depth of understanding and the orthodoxy of their theological teachings. While the writings of the Doctors are often considered inspired by the Holy Spirit; this does not mean they are infallible, but it does mean that they contributed significantly to the formulation of Christian teaching in at least one area. — Catholic Online
Saints Ambrose and Augustine were among the first saints to receive such a title. Both were named Doctors of the Church on September 20, 1295, by Pope Boniface XIII.
More on Saint Ambrose
Saint Ambrose, however, was much, much more than simply "the man that converted Augustine." He lived in the same city as one of the co-emperors of Rome and is now the patron saint of beekeepers among other things! Click the button below to learn more about Saint Ambrose on Catholic Online!