Since today is the feast of Saint Ambrose, Patron of the Veneration of Mary, I thought it was a good day to share with you some of St. Ambrose’s writings when it comes to the Blessed Virgin Mary. In his writings, we see some of the first significant Marian doctrine to penetrate Christianity in the West. Not only did he write a lot on the Blessed Virgin Mary, but the quality also is quite enlightening. Although he did not begin to study Theology until he was elected Bishop of Milan (see today’s post above), his studies in general on the faith and on Mary’s role in Salvation History used both lungs, both the East and West. He took to the Eastern traditions to learn about Mary because so much of what we have in regards to her role comes originally from the East.
For Saint Ambrose, his Marian teachings stem from Mary’s Perpetual Virginity. He was astounded by how she consecrated herself to God. It is from here that all his writings develop. Below are some excerpts from his different writings focusing on Mary.
Writing a letter to his sister, St. Marcellina, who took a vow of virginity herself, says,
“The first impulse to learn in inspired by the nobility of the teacher. Now, who could be nobler than the Mother of God? Who more splendid than she, whom Splendor chose? Who more chaste than she, who gave birth to a body without bodily contact? What should I say, then, about all her other virtues? She was a virgin, not only in body but in her mind as well, and never mixed the sincerity of her affections with duplicity. – De virginibus
Focusing on Isaiah 7:14, Saint Ambrose says,
“Such an incredible and unheard-of birth needed to be announced to her before it could be believed. A virgin giving birth is the sign of a divine mystery, not a human one. And so he says, ‘Let this be a sign for you: Behold, the virgin shall conceive in her womb and bear a son’ (Isaiah 7:14). Mary had read this passage; therefore, she believed that the prophecy would come true, but she could not have read about how it would happen.” Expositio in Lucam
He took on not only the Arians (Jesus is a demigod like Thor) but also Docetism (Jesus was a phantom/ghost). Answering them and saying that Jesus was truly human and born of a human mother, he says,
“He is the Son of man because the Virgin is a human creature. That which is born of flesh is flesh; that which is born of a human being is called man.” – Enarratio in Psalmum
“Christ assumed, not some thing resembling flesh, but the reality of our flesh: a true body.” – De sacramentis
“What was the reason for the Incarnation? It has to be this: the flesh that had sinned had to be redeemed by the same flesh.” – De Incarnationis dominical sacramento
Saint Ambrose believed that Mary was an extraordinary woman. About Mary at the Annunciation, he says,
“She does not appear to have doubted the event but asked how it would take place. Clearly, if she asked it would happen, she must have believed in its fulfillment. Thus she merited to hear the words, ‘Blessed are you, because you have believed’ (Lk. 1:45).” – Expositio in Lucam
At the foot of the Cross, St. Ambrose says that Mary shows great fortitude, especially with the Apostles scattered,
“His mother stood before the Cross, and, while the men fled, she remained undaunted…She did not fear the torturers…His Mother offered herself to his persecutors.” – De institutione virginis
St. Ambrose is the first early Church Father to align Mary with the Church; he calls her a type of the Church, he says,
“Well [does the Gospel say]: married but a virgin; because she is the type of the Church, which is also married but remains immaculate. The Virgin [Church] conceived us by the Holy Spirit and, as a virgin, gave birth to us without pain. And perhaps this is why holy Mary, married to one man [Joseph], is made fruitful by another [the Holy Spirit], to show that the individual churches are filled with the Spirit and with grace, even as they are united to the person of a temporal priest.” – Expositio in Lucam
As we begin this week, let us always remember the great saints of the past that fought with great conviction through rhetoric to defend the Incarnation and the role of Mary in the Church. Pray for those individuals that deny her role and importance in the Life of Christ. Pray for all Bishops, that they, like St. Ambrose, can have the fortitude and strength to provide us solid orthodox teachings.
Gambero, Luigi. Mary and the Fathers of the Church. Ignatius Press, 1999.