Today we celebrate the feats of Saint Ambrose. I believe he is the only bishop in history of the church that was elected a bishop before he was baptised. At that time there were large parts of the church that followed the teaching of Arianism. The Arians denied that Christ had a divine nature. The Arian bishop of Milan died and the city was divided on a successor. It got so bad that supporters of rival candidates were battling in the streets.
Ambrose was a provincial governor and had his official residence in Milan. He made an impassioned plea to crowds to choose a successor in a spirit of peace. Apparently a voice from the crowd shouted “Ambrose for bishop”. All took up the cry. Although he wasn’t baptised he was a professed christian. Within a week, he was baptised, ordained priest and consecrated bishop. This happened on this day, 7th December 374.
As it says in Butlers Lives of the Saints, “He completely changed his way of life, gave his lands to the Church and his money to the poor, and began to study the Fathers and the scriptures. He lived simply and worked extremely hard , always at the service of those who wanted to come and see him.” He was a key figure in the conversion of St Augustine and baptised him at the Easter vigil in 387.
Today the process of choosing a bishop is definitely not by popular acclamation. According to Canon law a person must be outstanding in strong faith, good morals, piety for soul, wisdom,prudence and be held in good esteem; be at least 35 years old be a priest ordained for at least five years; hold a doctorate or at least a licentiate in sacred scripture, theology or canon law or at least be well versed in these disciplines. In our own diocese of Southwark we are waiting the appointed of an area bishop for Kent and also one of the South East area of the diocese now that Bishop Pat Lynch has retired. Let us pray for wisdom and discernment in the appointment of suitable priests as area bishops for our diocese.
St Ambrose wrote many prayers and hymns among them this simple prayer:
O Lord, who has mercy upon all, take away from me my sins, and mercifully kindle in me the fire of your Holy Spirit. Take away from me the heart of stone: give me a heart of flesh, a heart to love, to adore you, Lord, a heart to delight in you, to follow, to rejoice in you, for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.