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E00850: The Life of *Ambrose (bishop of Milan, northern Italy, ob. 397, S00490) by Paulinus of Milan, presents him as a miracle-worker and defender of the Church and orthodoxy against Arians and emperors. Written in Latin, probably in North Africa, c. 422. Overview entry.

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posted on 2015-11-12, 00:00 authored by robert
Paulinus of Milan, Life of Ambrose

The Life of Ambrose is presented as written at the request of Augustine of Hippo, who asked Paulinus to follow the example of the Lives of Antony, Paul and Martin (see E00692 and E00631, § 1). It is meant to present the entire life of its hero (§ 2). The narrative starts with two prophetic signs which predict his future mastery of words and election to the bishopric: When he is a toddler a swarm of bees, flies over his mouth (§ 3) and when he is a boy, he once gives his hand to kiss to his sister, apparently joking that he will become a bishop, but actually predicting his episcopacy (§ 4).

There follows the description of his episcopal election. When as the governor of the province of Liguria-Aemilia he is busy with putting down the turmoil in Milan caused by the conflict in the church after the death of the Arian bishop Auxentius, a child suddenly calls ‘Ambrose for bishop’, the crowd joins in (§ 6) and ultimately Ambrose is forced to accept the people’s choice, and is baptised and ordained (§§ 7-9). After his election a paralysed woman is healed when she touches his garments (§ 10).

As bishop Ambrose has to face the hostility and plots of the empress Justina who supports Arians, but thanks to God’s assistance his enemies are punished by death and exile. The plan of taking over a Catholic basilica by the Arians fails, since the soldiers who were to execute it join the people gathered in the church (§§ 11-13). Thanks to a revelation, Ambrose discovers the bodies of the martyrs Gervasius and Protasius in Milan (§§ 14-16, see $E00904).

An Arian is converted to the Catholic faith when he sees that Ambrose is assisted by an angel (§ 17). Two Arian courtiers who challenged Ambrose to a dispute, but failed to attend, are punished by God with death (§ 18). Ambrose rebukes the emperor Maximus (§ 19). The demons sent against him by a sorcerer are unable to penetrate into his house (§ 20). He casts out a demon from a boy (§ 21). He rebukes the emperor Theodosius and forces him to make a public penance (§§ 22-24). He also rebukes the emperors Valentinian II and Eugenius (§§ 25-27). He expels a demon from a boy in Florence and then brings a child back to life (§ 28). He discovers the bodies of the martyrs Vitalis and Agricola in Bologna (§ 29, see $E00853).

The Franks know his name and believe in his power which makes generals win wars (§ 30). He predicts the victory of the emperor Theodosius over Eugenius (§ 31). He discovers the body of the martyr Nazarius (§§ 32-33, see $E00905). He defends a man who sought asylum in a church and is assisted in this by a miracle (§ 34). He corresponds with Fritigil, queen of the Marcomanni, and through his influence this tribe makes peace with the Romans (§ 36). He predicts the future to a magistrate (§ 37).

He holds frequent fasts and vigils and gives his property to the Church. He efficiently fulfils his episcopal duties (§ 38). He considers himself a sinner (§ 39). He predicts his death (§ 40). The author saw fire entering Ambrose’s mouth (§ 42). He gives a criminal 'to Satan for the destruction of his flesh' (§ 43), and heals a crippled man (§ 44). When Ambrose becomes ill, count Stilicho, fearing the ruin of Italy, tells some bishops to make Ambrose ask God for the extension of his life (§ 45). He predicts who will be his successor (§ 46). Before his death, he is visited by Christ (§ 47). After his death, when his body is transferred to the Basilica Ambrosiana in which he is to be buried, the demons cry through the mouth of the possessed that they are being tortured by him. Crowds of Christians, but also Jews, participate in his funeral (§ 48, see $E00894). He appears to many people, predicting the future and promising help and protection against enemies (§§ 49-52, see $E00895).

Men who disparage the memory of Ambrose are punished by God (§§ 53-54). The author encourages his readers to imitate the example of Ambrose and to shun the voices of the detractors (§ 55), and asks Augustine for prayer (§ 56).

Summary: Robert Wiśniewski.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Ambrose, bishop of Milan (ob. 397) : S00490

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Lives of saint


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Latin North Africa

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Carthage Carthago Karthago قرطاج‎ Qarṭāj Mçidfa Carthage

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miracle after death Punishing miracle Miracles experienced by the saint Miracles causing conversion Healing diseases and disabilities Healing diseases and disabilities Power over life and death Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Revelation of hidden knowledge (past, present and future) Miraculous sound, smell, light Miraculous protection - of communities, towns, armies

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Children Women Ecclesiastics - bishops Foreigners (including Barbarians) Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Officials Other lay individuals/ people


Paulinus was a deacon of the Church of Milan. As a young cleric he met Ambrose, but at some point he moved to Africa where he was responsible of the estates of his church. In Africa he belonged to the circle of Augustine of Hippo at whose request he wrote the Life of Ambrose, c. 422 (Lamirande, 1981). Paulinus places the Life of Ambrose in the tradition of monastic hagiography, but his work is the life a bishop, and it mentions the earlier life of its hero only in order to show that he was destined to episcopal dignity from birth. It also omits everything which is not directly connected with this office. One aspect of Ambrose’s activity which is strongly emphasised is his attitude toward emperors, whom he frequently rebuked for their misdeeds. This pattern, which can be found also in the Life of Martin by Sulpicius Severus, assimilates the bishop to the Old Testament prophets, especially Elijah and Elisha. Another feature of Ambrose’s episcopal activity presented in the Life is his struggle against the Arian heresy. Miracles demonstrate the veracity of the Nicene faith and punish its enemies. Punishing miracles can appear in many lives of saints, but one can hardly find another vita in which God would kill every one who expressed his lack of sympathy towards the hero (§§ 11, 18, 54). Another type of miracle well represented in this text are the visions thanks to which Ambrose discovered relics of several martyrs. These episodes mirror the growing need for relics in the West, but they also serve to link Ambrose with the martyrs – the bishop was eager to become one of them, but since he had no occasion for martyrdom he provided the Church in Italy with its own, long forgotten martyrs.


Editions: Pellegrino, M., Vita di S. Ambrogio (Verba Seniorum 1; Rome, 1961). Bastiaensen, A.A.R., Vita di Ambrogio (Vite dei santi 3; Milan, 1975), with Italian translation by L. Canali. English translations: Lacy, J.A, in: J.R. Deferrari (ed.), Early Christian Biographies (Fathers of the Church 15; Washington DC, 1952), 25-66. Ramsey, B., Ambrose (London 1997), 195-218. Further reading: Lamirande, E., "La datation de la Vita Ambrosii de Paulin de Milan," Revue des Études Augustiniennes 27 (1981), 44-55. Lamirande, E., Paulin de Milan et la Vita Ambrosii. Aspects de la religion sous le Bas-Empire (Paris - Montreal, 1983).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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