John Lilburne's journal about Saint Ambrose of Milan (340-397) as described in The Restless Flame by Louis de Wohl.



About John Lilburne







1615 L Fri 7 Dec 2001

The first reading today is Isaiah 29:17-24

Today is also the memorial of Saint Ambrose (340-397), bishop of Milan. In a novel about Saint Augustine entitled The Restless Flame, Louis de Wohl describes Augustine meeting the bishop, Ambrose:

He had to wait a while. The bishop was talking to what seemed to be a laborer and his family. ... Then they left, and the bishop looked at his next visitor.

Augustine greeted him courteously and introduced himself as the newly appointed professor of rehetoric.

"Ah", said the bishop.

Augustine told hiim that he had been professor of rhetoric in Carthage at the age of twenty.

"Oh", said Ambrose.

But then he had found the field there too small and had gone to Rome for a year -- and now he was happy to be in Milan, the city whose renown had been increased so much by its present bishop.

"And are you a Catholic?" asked Ambrose.

"I was brought up a Catholic", said Augustine. "I don't know for certain what I am now, I'm afraid."

"Oh", said Ambrose. "I hope you will be happy in Milan. I wish you much success in your work. Come and see me whenever you feel the need for it." (page 160).

Another part of the book is when Ambrose is told to evacuate his basilica by the emperor. He sends a message saying he will not.

Two hours later a stronger detachment of Goths arrived at the square, half a cohort of the fifteenth legion composed entirely of Germans. They walked through the excited crowd as if they were on the parade ground, shields up and spears in readiness. All of them were Arians.

A few stones and other missiles were thrown at them, but there was no direct attack, and their leader, the Centurion Liutari, gave a contemptuous smile. This was easy. He could not understand why they were all so white-faced at the palace.

He made his men form a semicircle in front of the basilica, and with fifty men he himself ascended the stairs. On the fifth stair he stopped.

Bishop Ambrose stood on the threshold, the mitre on his head, the golden crozier in his hand. His clerics were beside him, but he alone seemed to fill the breach of his fortress.

"Go away, old man", said Liutari, a little annoyed. "I have orders to occupy this building."

As an answer, the bishop pronounced in ringing tones the excommuication of the officer and his soldiers.

Liutari winced. This man was not a bishop of his church, but a curse is a curse, and he looked very powerful. Besides, the people here might react. He looked over his shoulder, and what he saw fulfilled his worst expectations. There was blue murder in the eyes of the crowd. In a dozen, in two dozen places they were picking up stones. And almost everywhere he could now see the glitter of steel. He and his men were outcasts, forsaken. He was an experienced soldier. He knew that a trained body of men could handle a crowd, however superior in numbers, in all circumstances but one: when it had made up its mind. In a few minutes, in a quarter of an hour at the latest he and his men would be torn to pieces.

He turned back to the bishop.

"Let's talk this over, old man", he said. "My orders say --"

"You will enter here over my dead body", said Bishop Ambrose loudly.

Cries of rage came from the crowd. A stentorian voice roared, "Touch our Father Ambrose, and none of you will live!"

Liutari looked back again. Perhaps if one grabbed that man and made an example of him, the crowd would be sufficiently impressed. Then he saw that about a third of his men were wavering. A curse was a curse.

He raised his hand. "I shall send for further instructions", he shouted.

The crowd jeered. It jeered still more when fifty men under the command of an officer left the square, and loudest when Paronius appeared an hour later, assured them that it all was a most regrettable misunderstanding, and ordered Liutari and his men to escort him back to the palace.

Ambrose remained standing where he was till the last Goth had disappeared. Then the crowd went down on their knees to receive his blessing. (pages 205 - 207).

Powerful stuff.

Copyright J.R. Lilburne, 7 December 2001. Last updated 8 December 2001.

Links to other sites:

Ambrose in

A painting of Ambrose at

The Restless Flame at