The permanent influence of such a man can only be measured by the dignity and power of the pulpit itself in all countries and in all ages. So far as pulpit eloquence is an art, its greatest master still speaketh. But greater than his art was the truth which he unfolded and adorned. It is not because he held the most cultivated audiences of his age spell-bound by his eloquence, but because he did not fear to deliver his message, and because he magnified his office, and preached to emperors and princes as if they were ordinary men, and regarded himself as the bearer of most momentous truth, and soared beyond human praises, and forgot himself in his cause, and that cause the salvation of souls,—it is for these things that I most honor him, and believe that his name will be held more and more in reverence, as Christianity becomes more and more the mighty power of the world.
Theodoret; Socrates; Sozomen; Gregory Nazianzen’s Orations; the Works of Chrysostom; Baronius’s Annals; Epistle of Saint Jerome; Tillemont’s Ecclesiastical History; Mabillon; Fleury’s Ecclesiastical History; Life of Chrysostom by Monard,—also a Life, by Frederic M. Perthes, translated by Professor Hovey; Neander’s Church History; Gibbon; Milman; Du Pin; Stanley’s Lectures on the Eastern Church. The Lives of the Fathers have been best written by Frenchmen, and by Catholic historians.
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Of the great Fathers, few are dearer to the Church than Ambrose, Archbishop of Milan, both on account of his virtues and the dignity he gave to the episcopal office.
Nearly all the great Fathers were bishops, but I select Ambrose as the representative of their order, because he was more illustrious as a prelate than as a theologian or orator, although he stood high as both. He contributed more than any man who preceded him to raise the power of bishops as one of the controlling agencies of society for more than a thousand years.
The episcopal office, aside from its spiritual aspects, had become a great worldly dignity as early as the fourth century. It gave its possessor rank, power, wealth,—a superb social position, even in the eyes of worldly men. “Make me but bishop of Rome,” said a great Pagan general, “and I too would become a Christian.” As archbishop of Milan, the second city of Italy, Ambrose found himself one of the highest dignitaries of the Empire.
Whence this great power of bishops? How happened it that the humble ministers of a new and persecuted religion became princes of the earth? What a change from the outward condition of Paul and Peter to that of Ambrose and Leo!