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E00896: The Life of *Ambrose (bishop of Milan, ob. 397, S00490) by Paulinus of Milan, recounts how clerics in Milan (northern Italy) and North Africa, who spoke badly about the late bishop were punished with sudden death. Written in Latin, probably in North Africa, c. 422.

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posted on 2015-11-25, 00:00 authored by robert
Paulinus of Milan, Life of Ambrose 54

Igitur Donatus quidam natione Afer, presbyter tamen ecclesiae Mediolanensis, cum in convivio positus, in quo erant nonnulli militares viri religiosi, detraheret memoriae sacerdotis, aspernantibus illis et deserentibus linguam nequam, subito vulnere percussus gravi, de eodem loco in quo iacebat alienis manibus sublatus in lectulum positus est, atque inde ad sepulcrum usque perductus. In urbe etiam Carthaginiensi, cum apud Fortunatum diaconem, fratrem venerabilis viri Aurelii episcopi, ad convivium convenissem una cum Vincentio Colusitano episcopo, Murano etiam episcopo Bolitano, sed et aliis episcopis et diaconibus, tunc Murano episcopo detrahenti sancto viro rettuli exitum presbyteri superius memorati: quod ille de alio dictum de se oraculum maturo sui ictu comprobavit. Nam de eodem loco in quo iacebat, cum subito vulnere ingenti esset percussus, alienis manibus ad lectum usque portatus est, atque inde ad domum in qua hospitabatur reductus diem clausit extremum. Is finis virorum illi detrahentium fuit, quem videntes qui tunc audierant admirati sunt.

'Now, a certain Donatus, an African by race, yet a presbyter of the church at Milan disparaged the memory of Ambrose at a banquet at which were some military men of devout nature, who scorned his scurrilous speech and turned from him. Suddenly he was inflicted with a serious wound and was raised from the spot in which he lay by hands of others and placed on a couch, and from there was carried straight to his grave. Again, in the city of Carthage I went for a meal to the house of the deacon Fortunatus, a brother of the venerable bishop Aurelius. Vincentius, Bishop of Colositanum, Muranus, Bishop of Bolita, as well as other bishops and deacons were also present. When, on this occasion Bishop Muranus was disparaging the holy man, I mentioned to him the fate of the above-mentioned presbyter, and this story concerning another he confirmed by his own early demise. For, from the very place in which he was lying, after being suddenly struck by a huge wound, he was carried to bed by hands of others. And thence, being taken back to the house where he was staying, he brought his last day to a close. Such was the end of those defaming Ambrose, so that those who were present and saw it were struck with awe.'

Text: Bastiaensen 1975, 120. Translation: Lacy 1952, 65, altered by 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 - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Uncertainty/scepticism/rejection of a saint

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Punishing miracle Power over life and death

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy


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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