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Ambrosius [Ambrose of Milan, Aurelius Ambrosius] (Hymn-Writer)

Born: c340 (or c333) - Augusta Treverorum, in the Roman province of Gaul. Today the city of Trier, Germany, stands there
Died: Easter Eve, 397 - Milan, Italy (buried: Basilica Sant’Ambrogio, Milan, Italy, in a glass coffin, between the martyrs Gervasius and Protais)

Abrosius [Ambrose, St. Ambrose, Ambrose of Milan, Aurelius Anbrosius] was the third child of Ambrosius, who was the Prefect of the Gauls, Ambrosius is thought to have been born in Trier. After the death of their father, the children, with their mother, went to Rome, where Ambrosius received a typical Roman education, excelling in Greek. At first he studied law, as did his brother, and began his career in the court of Probus, the Pretorian Prefect of Italy. In 374 he was appointed Consular of Liguria and Aemilia, which brought him to Milan. While in Milan, the old bishop, Auxentius, died. As the church was electing a new one, and Ambrosius was helping to keep order, a child was said to have called out--"Let Ambrosius be bishop!"

Although he was only a catechumen at the time, the mob took up the cry, and a week later, on December 7, 374, Ambrosius was consecrated bishop of Milan. After Emperor Valentinian died in 375, Ambrosius began to have violent disagreements with his widow, Justina, since she was an adherent of the Arian party. In his battles with Justina, Ambrosius received the support of Gratian, the elder son of Valentinia, and Theodosius, who later became emperor. Ambrosius had to fight the Arians alone, which he did successfully. His eloquence was noteworthy enough to bring the young Augustine to Milan to hear his preaching, which converted him to the Christians faith. At the Easter Vigil of 388 Ambrosius baptized Augustine, who was to become the greatest theologian in the West. Medieval legend has it that he and Augustine composed the Te Deum during the baptism. Historians, however, are not persuaded it happened thus.

Ambrosius is considered the Father of Latin hymnody for his introduction of metrical hymnody into the Daily Office of the West. Many later hymns from the sixth century Rule of Benedict were thought to be by him, or at least in his spirit, so they are called ambrosiani. Modern scholarship credits him with writing four hymns for certain: "Splendor paternae gloriae," "Veni redemptor gentium," and "Aeterna Christi munera."

Ambrosius was a strong leader who did not bend the laws of the church for the mighty. His refusal to allow Theodosius into the church after a massacre shows his sheer grit. Ambrosius died on Easter 397.

A scholar and statesman, Ambrosius was also a poet. He deserves a special place in the tradition as the Father of Church Song. He wrote hymns against the Arians and secured the Trinitarian theology of the West. Though he has been credited with beginning antiphonal psalmody by Augustine in his Confessions, modern scholars doubt he did. Because of the unusual sweetness of his lyrics, his symbol in later iconography was the bee hive.

Source: Hynbuts Website; MGG1 (MGG1, Bärenreiter, 1986)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (May 2006); Thomas Braatz (May 2006)

Chorale Texts used in Bach’s Vocal Works





Veni, redemptor gentium > Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (German version by Martin Luther)

Links to other Sites

St. Ambrose 340-397 (Hymnuts)
Ambrose of Milan (Cyber Hymnal)

Ambrose of Mylan (Hymns & Carols of Chritmas)


R. Wirtz: Ambrosius und seine Zeit, 1924
E. Jammers, Zum 1600jährigen Geburtstage des Ambrosius, AMz (1940)
E. Jammers: Rhythmische und tonale Studien zur Musik der Antike und des MA. II, AfMf VIII (1943) 30-35

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