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E05216: A hymn, almost certainly by Ambrose of Milan, is written in Latin in Milan (northern Italy) sometime after 386 (Apostolorum supparem). It is dedicated to *Laurence (deacon and martyr of Rome, S00037), and mentions *Xystus/Sixtus II (bishop and martyr of Rome, S00201).

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posted on 2018-03-19, 00:00 authored by dlambert
Ambrose of Milan, Apostolorum supparem

Apostolorum supparem
Laurentium archidiaconum
pari corona martyrum
Romana sacrauit fides.

Xystum sequens hic martyrem [5]
responsa uatis rettulit:
“Maerere, fili, desine,
sequere me post triduum.”

Nec territus poenae metu,
heres futurus sanguinis, [10]
spectauit obtutu pio
quod ipse mox persolueret.

lam tunc in illo martyre
egit triumphum martyris:
successor aequus syngrapham [15]
uocis tenens et sanguinis.

Post triduum iussus tamen
census sacratos prodere
spondet pie nec abnuit,
addens dolum uictoriae. [20]

Spectaculum pulcherrimum!
egena cogit agmina
inopesque monstrans praedicat:
“Hi sunt opes ecclesiae.”

Verae piorum perpetes [25]
inopes profecto sunt opes.
Auarus inlusus dolet
flammas et ultrices parat.

Fugit perustus carnifex
suisque cedit ignibus; [30]
“Versate me, martyr uocat,
uorate, si coetum est, iubet.”

‘The Roman faith has consecrated
the near-equal of the Apostles
the archdeacon Laurence
with the equal crown of martyrdom.

When this man followed the martyr Sixtus [5]
he reported what that prophet said:
“Do not grieve, my son,
you’ll follow me in three days’ time.”

He was not shaken by fear of pain,
this future heir of his blood, [10]
with pious gaze he looked upon
what soon he would accomplish.

Now then, in that martyr,
He pursued the triumph of a martyr:
He was an equal successor [15]
Holding a contract of the voice and of blood.

Then after three days he was ordered
To give up sacred wealth
He dutifully responds and does not refuse,
But adds a trick to this victory. [20]

A most glorious spectacle!
He gathered up the ranks of poor,
showed forth the penniless, and proclaimed:
“These are the riches of the church.”

True and enduring holy treasure [25]
Is accomplished in the poor.
Thus mocked, the greedy man was riled
And prepared the vengeful flames.

The torturer, when burned, fled off
and departed from his fires; [30]
“Turn me over,” called the martyr,
“and eat me, if I’m cooked,” he bids.

Text: Fontaine 1992. Translation: Dunkle 2016, lightly adapted.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Laurence/Laurentius, deacon and martyr of Rome : S00037 Xystus/Sixtus II, bishop and martyr of Rome : S00201

Saint Name in Source

Laurentius Xystus

Type of Evidence

Liturgical texts - Hymns


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Italy north of Rome with Corsica and Sardinia

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Milan Sardinia Sardinia Sardegna Sardinia

Major author/Major anonymous work

Ambrose of Milan

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Chant and religious singing

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops The socially marginal (beggars, prostitutes, thieves) Ecclesiastics - Popes Torturers/Executioners


This hymn is one of several, which is attributed to Ambrose and dedicated to saints. The majority of these saints are martyrs with a special connection with Milan or, in this case, Rome. They are associated with the conflict with the Homoian/Arian Christians in Milan in the 380s, which came to a head with the conflict over the basilicas in 385 and 386 (for a full account of this conflict see the discussion on E05211). In Confessions 9.7, Augustine referred to the way Ambrose encouraged the congregation to sing together ‘in the eastern manner’ (more orientalium) during this period. Scholars have identified many motivations which led to the composition of these hymns, and it is likely they served multiple purposes. The hymns promoted a specifically Nicene form of Christianity and were likely composed by Ambrose to respond to doctrinal rivals. This is a view promoted by Brian Dunkle and Daniel Williams. The hymns on the martyrs in particular should be seen in the context of Ambrose’s use of the cult of the martyrs to bolster his own authority in a conflicted Milanese church. He also sought to connect his Nicene followers with the Roman church, in contrast to the ‘foreign’ Homoian church. Additionally, they promote a sense of unity and group identity amongst the sinners, particularly in the face of a hostile Homoian sect. Michael Williams refers to this motivation as he draws parallels between the hymns and late Roman acclamations. The attribution of the hymns on the martyrs to Ambrose has been questioned over the years. Yet more recent work, especially by Cécile Lanéry has argued that the manuscript witness for the hymns supports the argument that they were composed by Ambrose. Furthermore, Lanéry identifies echoes of the content of Ambrose's hymns on the Roman martyrs in several of Augustine's works (including Sermons 302, 203 and 305A, Letter 80,Treatise on John 27.12 and On Holy Virginity 44.45). She argues this is further evidence of Ambrose's authorship.


This hymn was most likely composed to be sung on Laurence’s feast day. It provides an early account of Laurence’s martyrdom. It includes many of the same details as two later accounts of Laurence's martyrdom: Prudentius’ hymn on the same martyr composed around 400 (E00782) and the Martyrdom composed in Rome in the fifth century (see E02513). See also the account of Laurence's martyrdom provided in De officiis (E05285). In particular, Ambrose includes a reference to a joke Laurence apparently made shortly before his death, as he told the executioner that he was cooked and could be turned over so the other side could be cooked to be eaten. The same joke appears in Prudentius' hymn and Laurence's Martyrdom. It is not clear where Ambrose heard or read this detail, but it is probably that all three works drew on some common source.


Edition: Fontaine, J., Ambroise de Milan: Hymnes (Paris: Cerf, 1992). Translation: Dunkle, B., "Appendix," in: Enchantment and Creed in the Hymns of Ambrose of Milan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016). Further Reading: Dunkle, B., Enchantment and Creed in the Hymns of Ambrose of Milan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016). Lanéry, C., Ambroise de Milan hagiographe (Paris: Institut d’Études Augustiniennes, 2008). McLynn, N., Ambrose of Milan: Church and Court in a Christian Capital (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994). Williams, D., Ambrose of Milan and the End of the Arian-Nicene Conflicts (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995). Williams, M., The Politics of Heresy in Ambrose of Milan: Community and Consensus in Late Antique Christianity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017).

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