Ambrose of Milan (340-397) is known as a ‘Doctor of the Church’, a title accorded to people who have made a significant contribution to the church through their lives and teachings. Until the end of the Middle Ages there were four: Gregory the Great, Jerome, Augustine of Hippo, an Ambrose of Milan.
Ambrose’s contribution was through his ministry as a bishop, and the many writings he left behind in which are contained his teachings. He made an important contribution to hymnody, as he is credited with introducing the singing of hymns into the liturgy of the Western Church. ‘Ambrosian Chant’ is a repertory and style of chant named after him, in which chants are sung antiphonally. This style is similar to ‘call and response’, where one person or group sings a phrase and the another responds with a different, related phrase.
The hymn texts he wrote are mainly ‘office hymns’, which are hymns for use at the regular prayers said throughout the day by religious communities. Many of them are still used today. For example:
Splendor paternae gloriae (‘Splendour of God’s Glory Bright’), office hymn for Lauds;
Veni Redemptor Gentium (‘Come Thou Redeemer of the Earth’), office during Advent; and
Deus Creator Omnium (‘God that All Things Didst Create’), office hymn for Saturday Vespers.