Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries

By Everett Ferguson | Go to book overview

40. Milan: Ambrose

Ambrose went from being a Roman provincial governor and unbaptized catechumen to being bishop of Milan in 374. Two sets of instructions that he gave in his latter capacity to the newly baptized — On the Sacraments and On the Mysteries — are his principal works of interest to this study.1 They were given in the latter part of his episcopate (d. 397), perhaps around 390.

The stylistic differences appear not to indicate separate authorship: On the Sacraments has the marks of actual oral delivery only lightly retouched, whereas On the Mysteries is a more polished literary presentation of the material. On the Sacraments is a fuller but not so well-organized account. The differences in content are not so great, but may reflect lectures given in two different years. Both works have their setting in the postbaptismal instruction given in the week after

1. Text and French translation by B. Botte, Ambroise de Milan: Des Sacrements, Des Mystères, Explication du Symbole, Sources chrétiennes 25 bis (Paris: Cerf, 1961); text and German translation by Josef Schmitz, Ambrosius: De Sacramentis, de Mysteriis; Über die Sakramente, Über die Mysterien, Fontes Christiani 3 (Freiburg: Herder, 1990). I use but revise the translation (with useful introduction and notes by J. H. Srawley) by T. Thompson, St. Ambrose: “On the Mysteries” and the Treatise “On the Sacraments” by an Unknown Author (London: SPCK, 1919). Studies of Ambrose’s baptismal theology and liturgy include Johannes Quasten, “Baptismal Creed and Baptismal Act in St. Ambrose’s De mysteriis and De sacramentis,” in Mélanges Joseph de Ghellinck S.J., Vol. 1: Antiquité (Gembloux: J. Duculot, 1951), pp. 109–120; L. L. Mitchell, “Ambrosian Baptismal Rite,” Studia liturgica 1 (1962): 241–253, reprinted in L. L. Mitchell, Worship: Initiation and the Churches (Washington, DC: Pastoral Press, 1991), pp. 75–89, including a comparison with the later Ambrosian liturgy; E. J. Yarnold, “The Ceremonies of Initiation in the ‘De Sacramentis’ and ‘De Mysteriis’ of St. Ambrose,” Studia patristica 10 (1970): 453–463; Hugh M. Riley, Christian Initiation, Studies in Christian Antiquity 17 (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1974), passim; William Ledwich, “Baptism, Sacrament of the Cross: Looking behind Ambrose,” in Bryan D. Spinks, The Sacrifice of Praise (Rome: Edizioni Liturgiche, 1981), pp. 199–211; Everett Ferguson, “Catechesis and Initiation,” in Alan Kreider, ed., The Origins of Christendom in the West (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2001), pp. 229–268 (248-256). For Augustine’s references in his Confessions to baptismal practice in Milan see chap. 51.

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