Ambrose made Christian Milan musical.
I saw him at rest in the crypt of the city…a greater treasure than exists on Wall Street. Christians honor the bodies of our dead, because we do not fear death or the dead. In the case of our heroes, we love seeing them at rest with the sure knowledge that in the Last Day we will be with them.
Ambrose brought many hymns to the Church and profound prayers. Not for him was a crabbed Christianity afraid of beauty, his Church was fit for a great city, world class art given to all freely. The service was as reverent and lovely as he could make it and so God was honored and generations of Milanese converted.
His rhetoric coupled with powerful arguments made Augustine consider Christianity, but it was a miracle that brought him to Christ: a Milanese miracle. An angelic voice called the rhetorician to take the Bible and read. He did and the soul prepared by Ambrose and a mother’s prayer was born again.
Ironic that what is now called a city of superficiality was the spiritual birthplace of Augustine, the patron of being true about self. It is easier to be true to self, in the degenerate modern sense if following our passions. Being true about self is harder for the knowledge as Plato knew shatters our belief in perfectibility. We see ourselves as so infected by the world that we are hardly recognizably human.
One solution is to gouge out our eyes and mourn, but I can testify that such a man is still miserable. The stereotypical Milanese simply dresses up the wreckage and takes life as it comes.
Ambrose did not fear beauty, even Augustine was too cautious here. Ambrose embraced it and let it burn up all the evil in his soul. Ambrose was transformed and became different than he was.
To look at Ambrose’ body today in Milan is to see a skeleton in beautiful attire. That is no different than most of us, but his position in his Church is under the altar and so my eyes were caught up to the great dome above where in the iconography Ambrose sits enthroned with his Savior.
Like all of us, Ambrose is dead in himself, but alive in Christ. He is simultaneously a sinner and a saint. His physical body was sown and his spiritual body is alive. Both sights were presented to me as I prayed in his Milanese church.
The greatest news is that there is no skill, merit, or test to pass to become like Ambrose. As a teacher I can reach students greater than I, our generations Augustine. As a man I can become different than I am.
How? Not by any doing, because it would be I who would be doing it! I mar all I touch. No. It is God who uses philosophical truth, artistic beauty, and moral examples of goodness to transform me.
Just as I am without one plea. As Jesus did for Ambrose, He waits to do for me.