Lent Madness: Stephen vs. Ambrose

It’s the church’s first martyr versus the ultimate ecclesiastical fast tracker. In recent action Hilda of Whitby beat the Venerable Bede 55% to 45%. Click here to view the updated tournament bracket: Lent Madness 2010

Stephen, a deacon, is venerated as the church’s first martyr. According to the Acts of the Apostles he was tried by the Sanhedrin for blasphemy against Moses and God. Following his trial he was stoned to death by an outraged mob incited by Saul of Tarsus (the future St. Paul).

In his final speech before the court, he accused the Jewish leadership of persecuting prophets who spoke the truth: “Which one of the Prophets did your fathers not persecute, and they killed the ones who prophesied the coming of the Just One, of whom now, too, you have become betrayers and murderers.” Before his death he asks for forgiveness for those who will kill him. At the end we read in Acts, “But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’

St. Stephen’s Day is celebrated on December 26th and is mentioned in the first line of the Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas” — “Good King Wenceslas looked out on the Feast of Stephen…”

A Collect for Stephen: We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen, who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to your Son Jesus Christ, who stands at your right hand; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Ambrose (337-397) was the Bishop of Milan and one of the most important figures in the 4th century church. He was born into a Roman Christian family and a legend developed that as an infant, a swarm of bees settled on his face while he lay in his cradle, leaving behind a drop of honey. This was considered as a sign of his future eloquence and “honeyed” tongue. For this reason, bees and beehives often appear in paintings of Ambrose.

He served as governor of a northern Italian province and when a controversial election for bishop arose in Milan, he went to help avert a crisis situation. While there, the cry arose “Ambrose, bishop!” Not even being baptized, he strongly refused the call. But he relented and was baptized, ordained a priest, and consecrated a bishop all within a week.

As bishop he adopted an ascetic lifestyle and gave away his land and money to the poor. He strongly and boldly opposed the so-called Arian heresy which subverted orthodox trinitarian thought by claiming Jesus who not equal to the Father (that there was a time prior to the existence of Jesus; ie. they were not “co-eternal”).

In addition to many theological writings, Ambrose composed a number of hymns including the Te Deum, which he reportedly wrote on the occasion of Augustine’s baptism.

A Collect for Ambrose: O God, you gave your servant Ambrose grace eloquently to proclaim your righteousness in the great congregation, and fearlessly to bear reproach for the honor of your Name: Mercifully grant to all bishops and pastors such excellence in preaching and faithfulness in ministering your Word, that your people may be partakers with them of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


2 Comments on “Lent Madness: Stephen vs. Ambrose”

  1. C. Cooper says:

    A tough choice, but the collect for St. Ambrose won me over. Lord knows we need prayer for “bishops and pastors!”

  2. Father Tim says:

    When in doubt, the quality of the collect is always a good fallback. The moral? When you’re canonized, always make sure you get a good one.

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