Much as St. Andrew was called to discipleship by the preaching and ministry of St. John the Baptist, so was St. Augustine of Hippo converted to the faith by the preaching and ministry of St. Ambrose of Milan. Not the same circumstances, to be sure, but both St. Ambrose and St. Augustine are significant figures in the history of the Church; both of them confessed Christ Jesus and contributed to an orthodox theology and practice of the pastoral ministry.
As we remember and give thanks for St. Ambrose this week (7 December), we certainly consider the conscientious way in which he took on the duties of the office to which he was rather abruptly elected, going from the catechumenate to the bishopric in the course of a couple weeks. His reading of the Holy Scriptures and his eloquent preaching and catechesis are instructive even to this day, centuries later.
St. Ambrose is also known especially for his hymnody, in particular the way in which his beautiful and powerful hymns confessed the faith and catechized the people in contrast and counterpoint to those of the Arians. It remains the case that sturdy and substantive hymnody, beautiful in its art and clear in its theology, is one of the best ways to teach the Word of God and to sustain the faith of His holy people in Christ Jesus. A good hymn will continue to ring in the ears and remain in the heart and head long after the fact, after most any given sermon has slipped away from memory. That may be humbling for all of us preachers, but it’s also an encouragement to take seriously the beauty and benefits of good hymns, which resound to the praise and glory of our dear Lord, Jesus Christ.
“On Christ, the true Bread, let us feed; let Him to us be Drink indeed; and let us taste with joyfulness the Holy Spirit’s plenteousness. Alleluia!”