More on Augustine (and Ambrose)

Last week, I mentioned visiting the church of San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro in Pavia, resting place of the relics of St. Augustine. This week, I thought I’d share a few more pictures of the church and the tomb, as well as a favorite panel from the monument, a scene of young Augustine listening to St. Ambrose preaching.

San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro, Pavia, Italy

Ambrose, then bishop of Milan, is another of my favorite theologians. He was the first Christian thinker to formulate the doctrine of baptism of desire, which–1530 years later–became the subject of my doctoral dissertation. (Augustine was the second… I’m not quite sure where I fall on the list, but it’s significantly farther down.)

In any case, below is Augustine’s description of his encounter with Ambrose to accompany the photos.

St. Ambrose preaching

“And so I came to Milan to Ambrose the bishop, known throughout the world as among the best of men, devout in your worship. At that time his eloquence valiantly ministered to your people ‘the abundance of your sustenance’ and the ‘gladness of oil’, and the sober intoxication of your wine. I was led to him by you, unaware that through him, in full awareness, I might be led to you. That man of God received me like a father and expressed pleasure at my coming with a kindness most fitting in a bishop. I began to like him, at first indeed not as a teacher of the truth, for I had absolutely no confidence in your Church, but as a human being who was kind to me. I used enthusiastically to listen to him preaching to the people, not with the intention which I ought to have had, but as if testing out his oratorical skill to see whether it merited the reputation it enjoyed or whether his fluency was better or inferior than it was reported to be. I hung on his diction in rapt attention, but remained bored and contemptuous of the subject-matter. My pleasure was in the charm of his language. It was more learned than that of Faustus, but less witty and entertaining, as far as the manner of his speaking went. But in content there could be no comparison. Through Manichee deceits Faustus wandered astray. Ambrose taught the sound doctrine of salvation. From sinners such as I was at that time, salvation is far distant. Nevertheless, gradually, though I did not realize it, I was drawing closer.”

St. Augustine

Confessions, Bk. V, xii (23)

Author: Anthony Lusvardi, SJ

Anthony R. Lusvardi, S.J., teaches sacramental theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He writes on a variety of theological, cultural, and literary topics.

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