Te Deum laudamus

Te Dominum confitemur

St. Ambrose

St. Ambrose was Bishop of Milan at the end of the 4th century. Previously he had been Governor of Aemilia and Liguria. When he went to quell the troubles that were brewing between the Orthodox and the Arians in electing a new Bishop of Milan, the people were so impressed by him that they began to cry out, “Ambrose for Bishop.” One big trouble–Ambrose was still a catechumen. He was immediately baptized and, eight days later, made a bishop.

St. Ambrose was an exemplary bishop, defending the Orthodox faith of Nicaea against the newest onslaught of Arianism. But he also defended the moral teachings of the Church against no one less than the Emperor Theodosius. When the governor of Thessaloniki had been killed in a riot, Theodosius punished the city by massacering more than seven thousands citizens. When the Emperor came to Milan (the imperial residence in the West) and tried to enter the Cathedral, Ambrose stood against him and excommunicated him. Theodosius humbly accepted this rebuke and joined the ranks of the penitents.

St. Ambrose was also famous for his beautiful hymns. His simple phrases encapsulate the great truths of our Faith. Probably the most famous hymn attributed to St. Ambrose is called the Te Deum (from its first words). It is used in the West as a service of thanksgiving (comparable to the Artoklasia in the Greek Church) and is sung at very solemn times. The hymn is a magificent monument of the Orthodox faith and the effect this Faith should have in our lives. Here is a translation of the beginning.

We praise you, O God. We acknowledge you to be the Lord. The whole earth worships you as the eternal Father. All Angels, the Heavens and all Powers, the Cherubim and Seraphim with ceaseless voice cry out: Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts, the heavens and earth are filled with the majesty of your glory.

After meditating on the transcendence of the Father, the hymn turns to praise of the Son and the history of salvation. One of the most moving verses of the hymn is this:

Tu ad liberandum suscepturus hominem, non horruisti virginis uterum.

When you took it upon yourself to free humanity, you did not despise the Virgin’s womb.

Such a profound formulation of the divine kenosis or emptying; God himself submitted to dwell in a Virgin’s womb, to undergo nine months of gestation and then a human birth.

The hymn concludes with a simple and yet profound prayer of faith.

In te Domine speravi; non confundar in aeternum.

I have hoped in you , O Lord; may I never be confounded.

I have attached a video of this beautiful hymn attributed to St. Ambrose. I chose this particular video because, although it may not be the best “performance”, it is sung in the context of Liturgy and prayer.