Evaluations of Saint Ambrose

I listened carefully to Ambrose as he preached to the people, although not with the good intention that I should have had, but simply to hear his eloquence. ... The content of his speeches left me disinterested and scornful. ... But gradually there came into my mind, along with his words which I loved, also the content which I despised. For at first it seemed to me that the catholic doctrine could be defended, but it was not yet victorious. Then I began to think more intently as to whether I could, with the correct foundations, convince the Manichaeans of the falsity of their position. ... Then in my wavering I determined that I would have to leave the Manichaeans...and I decided to become a catechumen in the catholic church until certain points were clarified. (Augustine, Confess., 5.13-14, as quoted in Martin Chemnitz, Loci Theologici [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1989], Vol. I, p. 249)

Augustine had indicated to us that he had heard a very wise and most pious answer given by Ambrose of blessed memory when he was about to die, which he praised and proclaimed often. For when that venerable man was lying in his last illness and was asked by the faithful who were standing with tears at his bedside that he should request free passage for himself from the Lord of life, he said to them: “I have not lived in such a way that I am ashamed to live among you; but neither am I afraid to die, because we have a good Lord.” And in this our Augustine as an old man admired and praised the polished and balanced words. For it must be understood that he said, “Neither am I afraid to die, because we have a good Lord,” lest it be believed that he had with too much confidence prided himself on his own purified morals. However, “I have not lived in such a way that I am ashamed to live among you,” this he had said with respect to what men were able to know of a human being. For knowing the examination of divine justice, he says that he has more confidence in the good Lord than in his own merits. And to Him he also said daily in the Lordís Prayer: “Forgive us our debts,” etc. (Posidonius, De vita Augustini, ch. 27, as quoted in Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent, Part I [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1971], p. 510)

Ambrose was a straightforward defender of faith against a reliance on works; if he had been involved in controversy he would perhaps have excelled all others. (Martin Luther, Table Talk, 51, Lutherís Works, Vol. 54 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1967], p. 8)

[Concerning] faith and the teaching of true religion. ... Hilary and Theophylact are good, and so is Ambrose. The last sometimes treats excellently of the forgiveness of sins, which is the chief article, namely, that the divine majesty pardons by grace. For our righteousness, or the righteousness of works, isnít worth anything. (Martin Luther, Table Talk, 252, Lutherís Works, Vol. 54 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1967], pp. 33-34)

How Ambrose came to the leadership of the church is known from history. He wrote many things... There...is extant his commentary on Luke. He wrote on Isaiah, a work which antiquity held in the highest authority of all his writings. But it no longer is extant. ...he speaks most accurately about justification. There are also some other writings by him which are definitely doctrinal. Yet he has some statements which are not so satisfactory, particularly on free will and original sin. These were seized upon by the Pelagians as being his firm opinion. But Augustine, in his Contra Julianum, Bk. 1, shows clearly how these statements are to be understood. Ambrose was held in great authority even among the easterners, who criticized Jerome because in speaking of him he gave him too little honor. (Martin Chemnitz, “Treatise on the Reading of the Fathers or Doctors of the Church,” Loci Theologici,Vol. I, p. 32)

Return to the Saint Ambrose Home Page