St. Ambrose, one of the four Latin doctors of the Western church, was the spiritual father of Augustine and prolific bishop in the city of Milan in the late fourth century CE. Being elected by acclamation of the people following the death of the Arian Bishop Auxentius in 374, Ambrose took to the task of putting his administrative skills to service for the church. Though not a profound theologian by the likes of Augustine, his concern for pastoral ministry is clearly seen in his use of hymns in the liturgy for the church of Milan. In his sermon Contra Auxentium, Ambrose shares this insight:
“They declare also that the people have been beguiled by the strains of my hymns. I certainly do not deny it. That is a lofty strain, and there is nothing more powerful than it. For what has more power than the confession of the Trinity which is daily celebrated by the mouth of the whole people? All eagerly vie one with the other in confessing the faith, and know how to praise in verse the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So they all have become teachers, who scarcely could be disciples.” (Contra Auxentium, 34).
Theologically rich, Trinitarian-confessing hymns make teachers out of disciples. The hymns of Ambrose effectively stopped the advance of Arian (or Arian-influenced) teaching in the church of Milan and stayed the physical onslaught of the pro-Arian empress Justina in her attempt to procure a basilica in Milan for Arian worship. Ambrose’s hymns combated heresy and established orthodox conviction in the hearts of his parishioners. I wonder, does our modern-day evangelical worship have the same effect?