St. Marcellina , the elder Sister of St. Ambrose of Milan, (c. 327 – 397)
Commemorated on July 17
SHE was eldest sister to SS. Ambrose and Satyrus, and after the death of her father, who was prefect of the Gauls, removed to Rome with her pious mother and brothers. She was discreet beyond her years, and from her cradle sought with her whole heart the only thing for which she was created and sent into the world. Being charged at Rome with the education of her two brothers, she inspired them, by words and example, with an ardent thirst of virtue. She taught them that nobleness of blood cannot enhance merit, nor make men more illustrious unless they despise it; and that learning is an unpardonable crime and folly, if by it a man should desire to know every thing that is in heaven and earth but himself; for with the true knowledge of ourselves are all our studies to begin and end, if we desire to render them in any degree advantageous to ourselves. She kindled in their tender breasts a vehement desire, not of the show of virtue, but to become truly virtuous. In her whole conduct all her view was only the glory of God. The better to pursue this great end she resolved to renounce the world; and on Christmas-day, in 352, she put on the religious habit, and received the veil from the hands of St. Liberius the Pope of Rome (August 27 ), in St. Peter’s church, in presence of an incredible multitude of people. The pope, in a short discourse on that occasion, exhorted her frequently to love only our Lord Jesus Christ, the chaste spouse of her soul, to live in continual abstinence, mortification, silence, and prayer, and always to behave herself in the church with the utmost respect and awe. He mentioned to her the page of Alexander the Great, who, for fear of disturbing the solemnity of a heathenish sacrifice by shaking off his hand a piece of melted wax that had fallen upon it, let it burn him to the bone. 1
Marcellina in her practice went beyond the most perfect lessons. She fasted every day till evening; and sometimes passed whole days without eating. She never touched any fare but what was of the coarsest kinds, and drank only water. She never laid herself down to rest till quite overcome with sleep. The greater part both of the day and night she devoted to prayer, pious reading, and tears of divine love and compunction. St. Ambrose advised her in the decline of her life to moderate her austerities, but always to redouble her fervour in tears and holy prayer, especially in reciting often the psalms, the Lord’s prayer, and likewise the creed, which he calls the seal of a Christian, and the guard of our hearts. She continued at Rome after the death of her mother, living not in a nunnery but in a private house with one fervent virgin, the faithful companion of all her holy exercises. St. Ambrose died in 397. She survived him, though it is uncertain how long. Her name is mentioned in the Roman and other Martyrologies on the 17th of July.
See St. Ambrose, l. 3, de Virgin, c. 1, 2, 3, 4, t. 2, p. 1741, and Ep. 20 et 22, ed. Ben and Cuper the Bollandist, t. 4, Julij, p. 231.
Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume VII: July. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
Abba said: “Our fathers practised continence and poverty and detachment from all things up to the time of their death. But we have stuffed our stomachs and moneybags full.”
He also said: “Our fathers made it their business to avoid distractions to the soul. But in our days we have them aplenty, as well as our manual work”
Abba Athanasius also told us this about himself:
“I was wondering once about what was worth striving for and what was not. And I went into an ecstasy, and someone came to me and told me to follow him. He led me into a place full of light and glory and set me in front of a doorway, the like of which it is beyond my power to describe, for we could hear inside a countless multitude praising God. We knocked on the door and someone inside heard us and called out:
“‘What do you want?’
“‘We want to come in,’ said my guide.
“‘No one who lives carelessly can enter here. But if you want to come in, go back and strive to be able to count all the vanities of the earth as nothing worth.’“
John Moschus. “Spiritual meadow”. 130. The teachings of Athanasius and his wonderful vision.
Kontakion of Ambrose, Bp. Of Milan
Flashing lightning-like with godly doctrines, thou, O Ambrose, dravest off the darkness of the impious error of Arius; and working wonders and signs by the Spirit’s might, thou, O good shepherd, didst heal divers sufferings. Righteous Father, thou initiate of sacred mysteries, entreat Christ God to grant great mercy unto us.