Ambrose of Milan vs. Gertrude the Great

Today in Lent Madness action, it's Ambrose of Milan vs. Gertrude the Great. 4th century Italian bishop and theologian vs. 13th century German nun and spiritual writer.

Yesterday, Cornelius the Centurion sent Adomnan of Iona to a "thin place" 59% to 41% to advance to the Elate Eight.

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Ambrose of Milan

Ambrose became bishop of Milan after a child’s voice sounded offering his name to serve – leading him on a journey to being baptized and ordained as bishop within a week. That said, while he may have been speechless at the time, Ambrose left a vast legacy in his position as one of the Doctors of the Church.

Perhaps one of his most famous quotations has now become a commonplace aphorism. Ambrose, travelling readily among Christian communities, proffered this advice for being in community with fellow Christians: “When I am in Rome, I fast as the Romans do; when I am at Milan, I do not fast. So likewise you, whatever church you come to, observe the custom of the place.” The common aphorism: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

Like his pupil, Augustine, Ambrose was enamored of the free grace of God, given to humanity. “He sheds incorporeal grace on corporeal things,” he writes, also saying “Let God alone be sought as the judge of loveliness, Who loves even in less beautiful bodies the more beautiful souls.” Ambrose understood God’s love for humanity, and God’s identification with our lives and experiences, saying that “God waits for our tears, that He may pour forth His Goodness.”

That said, he had his moments, too. In a world without public address systems, Ambrose once wrote of his frustration of not being able to hear in Church: “Is anything more unbecoming than the divine words should be so drowned by talking, as not to be heard, believed, or made known, that the sacraments should be indistinctly heard through the sound of voices, that prayer should be hindered when offered for the salvation of all?” Be sure to offer that to your Junior Warden the next time Satan enters the sound system. Or, on second thought, perhaps don’t: “if you can not calm your mind, check at least your tongue. For so it is written: Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips that they speak no guile. Seek peace and pursue it.” Seems like Ambrose needs to have a chat with… Ambrose about how to resolve this dispute.

Yet for Ambrose, the Christian faith came down, again and again, to mercy and grace: “Nothing graces the Christian soul so much as mercy; mercy as shown chiefly towards the poor, that you may treat them as sharers in common with you in the produce of nature, which brings forth the fruits of the earth for use to all.”

David Sibley

Gertrude the Great

Gertrude shares her profound insights into the nature of God and the soul in her only remaining work, The Herald of Divine Love. Gertrude encapsulates the essence of her spiritual journey marked by a profound intimacy with the sacred heart of Christ. From it, we get prayers like this one:

"O Sacred Heart of Jesus, fountain of eternal life, Your Heart is a glowing furnace of love. You are my refuge and my sanctuary."

"O my adorable and loving Savior, consume my heart with the burning fire with which Yours is aflamed. Pour down on my soul those graces which flow from Your love. Let my heart be united with Yours. Let my will be conformed to Yours in all things. May Your Will be the rule of all my desires and actions. Amen."

At age 25, Gertrude had her first vision of Jesus. As she was walking, she bowed her head to an older woman. When she raised her head, she saw Jesus's face transposed on the woman's face. Jesus said, "Thy salvation is at hand; why art thou consumed with grief? Hast thou no counselor, that thou art so changed by sadness?" The vision continued and was the beginning of her vision of herself as the bride of Christ, known as nuptial mysticism.

Gertrude's emphasis on the transformative power of divine love reflects her departure from any other interests than a deeper relationship with the divine. She wrote:

"Bodily and spiritual affliction are the surest sign of Divine predilection. Gratitude for suffering is a precious jewel for our heavenly crown. Man should always firmly believe that God sends just that trial which is most beneficial for him."

And this zinger: "I praise, adore, bless, and thank you to the best of my ability for your wise mercy and your merciful wisdom! For you, my Creator and my Redeemer, have sought to curb my stiff-necked obstinacy under your sweet yoke with the remedy best suited to my infirmity."

Gertrude was known to be sympathetic to souls in purgatory and prayed this prayer:

"Eternal Father, I offer you the Most Precious Blood of your Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the Holy Souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal Church, for those in my own home and in my family. Amen."

A legend says that every time you say this prayer, Jesus promises to release a thousand souls from purgatory. Whether or not that's true, it's good to pray for sinners because that includes us.

Miriam McKenney

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33 comments on “Ambrose of Milan vs. Gertrude the Great”

  1. Another day of a 1/2 vote to each.
    I went with Gertrude because of her prayer for the release of souls from Purgatory.
    Even so early on this day, I see she needed the vote.

  2. Ecstasy vs quotes for daily living. I am voting for Ambrose and his simple, down to earth wisdom.

    1. I also voted for Ambrose for that very reason. I'm also the Junior Warden at my church! And for his reference to gardening in sharing the produce of nature with all. I'm a big supporter of the food banks and reclaiming food that has been pulled from food businesses shelves.

  3. Ambrose, the unofficial saint of "I Didn't Sign Up For This" yet rose to God's call in a mighty way.

  4. Who to favor? I make a decision based on their individual "saintliness" and add to that their effect upon the church going forward. On that basis, Ambrose gets my vote

  5. Ambrose got my vote today, though both are worthy. Glad they got the internal server error fixed from when I checked an hour ago.

  6. Ambrose, hands down, for his clear, uncomplicated wisdom and clarity in expressing it.

  7. I was all set to vote for Gertrude the Great, but I was persuaded to go for Ambrose because of the eloquence of Fr. Sisley. You’re a great writer and a Jeopardy champion.

  8. Ambrose is one of my favorites! He fought heresies but was tolerant of heretics, to the point of trying to mitigate the death penalty against one and excommunicating two Catholic bishops who had murdered another. The hand of God was in his election.

  9. While Gertrude is a lovely soul and has many sweet sayings, I have to vote for the one who said "When in Rome do as the Romans do"...I would have guessed those words came from Shakespeare.
    Also his becoming bishop before he was even baptized due to a child offering his name is intriguing. Surely God was at work there.

  10. The mosaic depiction of Ambrose resonated immediately- “had me at hello “ so to speak. Here’s a man who did his best to live into his calling.
    Ambrose got my vote but I have to acknowledge how much I appreciate Gertrude’s prayer “for sinners everywhere,” including ourselves, our homes and families. Seems especially important these days.

  11. I’ve always been amazed by the story of Ambrose, a person thrust into a roll of leadership, without past experience. Yet he rose to the occasion with wisdom and aplomb, utilizing God’s gifts with grace and humility. An inspiration to many. Ambrose is my choice.

  12. I wanted to vote for Gertrude the Great however the selection button did not work. I tried multiple times including closing the message/app as well.

    Perhaps there may be a correlation as to why she is trailing in the poll this morning?

  13. Devastated by the loss of Adomnan yesterday. But today is another day, and because I have shared with Ambrose the frustration of being unable to hear worship, and for his practical down to earth wisdom, Ambrose gets my vote.

  14. If/when Ambrose advances to the next round, I hope there will be some mention of the lovely hymns attributed to him that mark the daily cycle of sleeping and waking, work and prayer. They reflect a wholesome and balanced gratitude and love for the created order and a humble awareness of our place in it.

    Gertrude's almost masochistic devotion represents a later, and (to my mind) far less healthy spirituality, which has had far too much prominence among Catholic-minded Christians for many hundred years.

  15. Both write-ups today are very good. I went with David Sibley's witty account of Ambrose. I have seen many laments this Lent about Satan infesting the voting system; perhaps Ambrose could intercede for us. Gertrude too is a fascinating figure, but I cannot warm to this "nuptial mysticism." Human beings should get to have their full bodily human lives, and the divine should work with and in that and not promise "consummation" later. King talks in his letter from the jail in Birmingham about how "pie in the sky" is simply not a substitute for civil rights here on this earth, and I have too many trans students not to be fully aware of how people are hindered from exploration and acceptance of their own bodies and are politically marginalized. I prefer to move "nuptial mysticism" away from individuals and into the public "body" to assert that all bodies have basic rights and beauty of soul. When in Rome, eat pasta, but in the U.S., continue the struggle for Reconstruction.

  16. Two excellent arguments for today's respective contestants, but David Sibley's writeup on Ambrose had me chuckling, so my vote goes for the Milanese.

  17. Maybe I'm viewing the ancient saints through 21st century eyes, but Gertrude seems obsessed with herself and her personal relationship with Christ. Reminds me of a former coworker about whom we joked that every sentence she uttered included "me", "my", "mine", or "I". Also, noted that the prayer for souls in Purgatory and for sinners everywhere specifically included sinners in her own home and in her family -- but not Gertrude herself.
    I respect Gertrude's writing, however I think Ambrose did more for the church and all its followers.

  18. No fair!!!. These two were SO close in my mind! But I went for Ambrose because of his emphasis on mercy.

  19. I voted for Gertrude because women don't get enough votes throughout the centuries. I knew Ambrose would win and agree that he should but he can manage without my vote.

    My mother had a baby that died before birth. One day my sister and I were cleaning the staircase and talking about things that we did not think controversial when my mother came to the staircase and said: "My baby did not go to Purgatory!" (She was crying.) I no longer believe in Purgatory - at least for unborn babys.
    Liz Stevens

    1. One of things that bothered me in catholic school was the nuns talking about some mystical (or perhaps mythical?) place called "Limbo" for those poor unborn and unbaptized babies. BAH!

  20. I swear, I should make out my entire bracket and then vote for the one I didn't pick. I think there's only been two so far that I've actually picked "right."

    Ah well, all the Saints are right for someone.

  21. I don’t agree that afflictions are sent by God. So for that reason I give my vote to Ambrose. And I liked a lot of what he expressed.

  22. Raised as a roman catholic, Purgatory was a big part of my upbringing. One of the (many) reasons I left and became an Episcopalian was all that talk of saying a certain thing to "spring" souls from Purgatory. So, unfair prejudice or not, I must cast my vote today for Ambrose. Besides, "When in Rome..........." Glad to learn the origin. Thanks, Ambrose!

  23. Yeah, well, Ambrose was all in for enslaving people, and beating them if they didn't behave. Go, Gertrude!

  24. Gertrude gets/got my vote. She saw Jesus, She had several visions. Her prayers are engaging and to the point. Her prayers for all those who may be in purgatory shows her compassion and mercy.

  25. Today's choices were real toughies. I chose Gertrude because her prose and poetry are so enchanting! But Ambrose was wonderful, too.